Friday, February 14, 2014


unlabeled GE sweet corn coming to a store near you?
February 14th, 2014

Place Your Bets Now: GM vs Democracy in the EU

By Eve Mitchell
“What a hot potato.”
EU Health and Consumer Commissioner Borg’s understatement opened his presentation of the cultivation application for GM Pioneer1507 maize to the European Council on Tuesday. Having been thumped to and fro like a flat football since before Christmas, we were expecting a vote on the application to answer the question once and for all. We didn’t get it.
Instead we got another round of “indicative votes” from EU Member States, and the outcome was grim. The Greeks currently hold the rotating Presidency of the Council, and being firmly anti-GM they are presumably keen not to be painted into any procedural corners that would see a new GM crop authorised on their watch. So Member States were asked to say what they would do if there was a vote. Only 5 out of 28 countries said they would vote in favour of the crop. Given the clear vote in the European Parliament on 16 January instructing the Council to reject the application, one would have thought that was that. It isn’t. Not by a long shot.
The Council operates under a qualified majority system, with each country casting a weighted number of votes – UK and France have 29 votes, Sweden 10, Malta 3, and so on. Since the UK voted in favour of the GM crop (much to the dismay of British people and against the clear opposition to GM in the Scottish and Welsh Governments), and since big-hitter Germany abstained, the indicative votes did not demonstrate a sufficient qualified majority either way. The law says that if an actual vote was cast and produced that result, the Commission would be bound to take a decision on the file. (The Commission’s last foray into this territory was with the highly controversial Amflora potato; its authorisation was recently annulled by the second highest court in the EU for failing to abide by the law. One suspects the Commission is on tenterhooks here, but it also seems prepared to press the GM point.)
Thankfully the Greeks seem reluctant to ask for such a vote.
Still with me?
A complex legal discussion in the Council chamber tried to find a way through the marsh. Many member states had urged the Commission to withdraw the application altogether to avoid undermining the credibility of the European project in the run-up to the May elections, saying they did not see how approval by politically-appointed Commissioners could be explained to the electorate after rejection by the Parliament and the clear majority of EU countries. The Greens say they will call for the resignation of the Commission with a formal motion of censure if it approves the file. A number of member states told the Council it would help an awful lot if countries would stand up for their convictions and vote “no” rather than abstaining, but clearly four couldn’t manage it. So here we are, in the marsh, waiting to see who blinks first.
Governing is a complex business, especially among 28 countries, and democracy is a hard-won and precious thing. Often the test of governing structures is how well they cope with contentious issues. Many commentators are calling this situation an example of the “absurd” nature of EU GM regulation. We need to be a bit careful here: everyone signed up to the rules of the game a long time ago, so we can’t say we didn’t know what would happen in such circumstances. It could also be a lot worse – this process means we still only grow one GM crop here. Even so this mess sure does make a citizen scratch her head in wonderment.
One way to sort this out is what I call “proper identification of the bad guy”. We need to remember that the real problem here is corporate-driven GM food, not democratic bureaucracy. When it comes to GM pollen contamination in honey, the EU (lead by a UK MEP) performs all sorts of contortions to hide it from consumers rather than ban the crop causing the problem. When it comes to deciding on new GM crops, following the law means ignoring the wishes of both the Parliament and the majority of EU member countries – so why not just ban GM crops if they really threaten the fabric of European togetherness as claimed?
Are crops no one wants to eat really worth it, particularly when the annual industry mouthpiece “assessment” of global GM uptake demonstrates a “plateau” in GM cultivation in major GM markets? It’s not even clear if Pioneer Hi-Bred will ever sell 1507 in the EU – while suing the Commission for delay in processing the 1507 maize application Pioneer Hi-Bred said, “Once cultivation approval is granted, DuPont Pioneer will evaluate the situation and the available options, and will take a strategic decision on the marketing of the product based on these considerations.” Honestly.
Many pro-GM politicians say we need to keep politics out of the GM discussion and “stick to the science” – a laughable position if you read any of the above. An adamant proponent of this position is UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson. 
So where is the Right Honourable Secretary of State while this is breaking loose?  Consulting with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to agree a democratic position for the UK on GM cultivation? Helping badgers in the flooded West Country learn to swim? No. In the run-up to the vote Paterson gave a pro-GM speech at a conference hosted by Big Biotech industry lobby group EuropaBio. (True story: the Countess of Mar felt compelled to ask a formal Parliamentary Question to clarify if Paterson was to “represent the policy of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, the policy of the United Kingdom Government, or his personal views” during the EuropaBio event – answer: UK. In that speech Patterson said of Pioneer1507 maize, “The UK has no current interest in planting this particular crop.” Yet the UK still voted in favour of it, mind you.). Soon the Secretary of State is off to Addis Ababa to help the EU’s colourful Chief Scientist Anne Glover, another Brit, sell GM crops to Africans. No politics there.
GM vs Democracy? The wheel is spinning. I know where my money is.


GMOs Are Killing the Bees, Butterflies, Birds and... ?

(Credit: Reuters/Nigel Roddis)
“It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray.” – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

When the honeybees, our most important food pollinators, started dropping like proverbial flies, scientists scrambled to identify their killer (or killers). Attention eventually turned to the increased use of a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Scientists now believe at least some of these pesticides play a major role in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the ongoing demise of honeybee colonies.
Who makes the neonicotinoids? Syngenta, Bayer CropSciences and Dow Agrosciences.
Who’s using them, and for what purpose? Companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow Agrosciences... in the herbicides and pesticides and seeds they sell to farmers who grow genetically engineered crops. Crops that eventually end up in our food, or in the feed used to fatten up animals in factory farms—animals we slaughter for food.

We need bees in order to grow food, or at least some of it. Yet the food—GMO food, drenched in neonics—we are growing is killing the bees.
It’s not just the bees that are dying. Butterfly and bird populations are in decline, too. And it’s not just the neonicotinoids that are to blame. Other herbicides and pesticides, especially Monsanto’s Roundup, used to grow GMO crops—and also used to contain (kill) weeds in cities and home gardens —are decimating pollinators, fish and wildlife, and some would argue, humans, too.
As consumers ask more and more questions about the impact of GMO foods and crops on our health and environment, we’re making smarter choices about the foods we choose to eat. Does my child’s cereal contain sugar from genetically engineered beets? Did that steak on my dinner plate come from an animal raised on a factory farm, and fed a diet of Roundup-ready GMO corn, canola, soy or cotton seed?
But we need to look at the bigger picture, too. That means calling for an end to the use of Monsanto’s Roundup in urban areas, on our lawns, roadways, schoolyards and parks.  It means paying close attention to the seeds and garden plants we buy for our home gardens.
It means asking ourselves what can we do to pressure Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and Dupont’s customers, both rural and urban, into understanding that their widespread, reckless use of neonics and other toxins is destroying our food, soil, water, air and wildlife? And that organic, sustainable, non-chemical alternatives exist?

It means asking ourselves, how do we force food manufacturers to stop using these poison-drenched GMO crops in their processed food products? How do we get through to the politicians who protect the interests (profits) of pesticide and junk food makers, at the expense of all else? Before it’s too late?
We do it by making intelligent and ethical buying decisions. By boycotting the corporations who refuse to hear us. But voting out the politicians who sell us out to the industry lobbyists who fund their political campaigns.
We do it by all of the above. Over and over again.
Bee Week of Action just the bee-ginning
February 16 marks the end of a national Bee Week of Action. This week, more than 27,000 activists, coast to coast, delivered valentine cards to managers of Home Depot and Lowe’s stores, and handed out bee education leaflets to store customers.
The actions, organized by Friends of the Earth, the Organic Consumers Association and 10 other groups, focused on pressing Home Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling garden plants pre-treated with neonicotinoids. OCA and our allies also collected more than 650,000 signatures on petitions to Home Depot and Lowe’s, and sent letters to the CEOs of both companies. Home Depot responded this week, saying that it is “working on” a policy to address neonics. We’re hopeful, that with enough pressure, Home Depot and Lowe’s will take these killers off their shelves and promote organic alternatives.
Our goal this week was to draw attention to the plight of honeybees, the damage caused by neonics, and the fact that consumers—most of them unknowingly—contribute to the problem when they purchase plants that may attract bees, only to kill them.
It’s a strong campaign. One that OCA is committed to supporting until Home Depot and Lowe’s end the sales of bee-killing plants.
But the problem is bigger than bees. The use of neonics isn’t limited to garden plants. Neonics aren’t the only toxins killing bees. And bees aren’t the only victims of agribusiness’s chemical assault on the environment.
As the bees go, so goes our food
When the honeybees started dying en masse, the alarm bells went off. Bees are critical to food production. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than a quarter of America’s diet relies on pollination by honeybees.
No bees, no food. Or at least, no apples, cherries, onions, celery, cabbage, and a long list of others, including almonds and blueberries which, according to the American Beekeeping Federation, are 90-percent dependent on bees for pollination.
Estimates are that nearly a third of the honeybee population has been wiped out since 2006. Once scientists pinpointed neonics as the likely suspect, more studies were launched.
Under pressure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to study the link between at least three types of neonics and the mass die-off of bees. Despite the fact that their counterpart in the EU took the precautionary step of requiring companies to suspend the use of neonics for at least the next two years, until further studies could be done, the best the U.S. EPA could come up with was a requirement that certain neonics carry warning labels.

As if Monsanto and Bayer and Dow are going to read those labels and stop selling, and spraying, neonics.
Neonics, more powerful than DDT
Science writer George Monbiot says neonicotinoids are the “new DDT killing the natural world,” 10,000 times more powerful than DDT. In an article published in The Guardian, Monbiot skillfully explains how neonics, when applied to the seeds of crops, remain in the plant as it grows, killing the insects that eat the plant. (According to Pesticide Action Network of North America, the seeds for at least 94 percent of the 92 million acres of corn planted across the U.S. are treated with neonics). Other pollinators, including bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, and beetles that feed from the flowers of the treated crops, absorb enough of the pesticide to compromise their survival, says Monbiot.
But more disturbing? Monbiot points to studies proving that only a small percentage of the pesticide used to coat a seed before it’s planted is absorbed by the plant. Some of it blows off into surrounding habitats. But more than 90 percent enters the soil, where it can remain for up to 19 years, causing who knows what damage.
“This is the story you'll keep hearing about these pesticides: we have gone into it blind,” says Monbiot. “Our governments have approved their use without the faintest idea of what the consequences are likely to be.”
Rounding up the other suspects, identifying the victims
Neonics are in the spotlight when it comes to bees, but scientists warn that other chemicals could be responsible, too, including those used widely in the production of GMO crops.
For instance, there’s Dow’s 2,4-D, closely associated with the infamous Agent Orange defoliant used in Vietnam. Besides being linked to cancer and birth defects in humans, 2,4-D is also toxic to honeybees. While the herbicide may not result in the immediate die-off of bees, scientists report that over time, it severely impairs their ability to reproduce.

And yet, the USDA is on the verge of greenlighting Dow’s two new 2,-4-D-resistant crops (corn and soy). If the USDA follows through, experts predict we’ll see anywhere from a 25 – 50-fold increase in the use of this highly toxic chemical.
Perhaps the most widely used, and most well-known weed-killer in the world is Monsanto’s Roundup. It’s sprayed on home gardens and on roadsides. But by far, the single most use for Roundup is on Monsanto’s  “Roundup-Ready” corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola and cotton.
Roundup is routinely used along with neonics, which implicates it in CCD. But its key active ingredient, one linked by numerous studies to widespread human and environmental health problems, is glyphosate. According to the latest figures available from the EPA, in 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers, double the amount used six years prior. Since 2007, more GMO crops have been approved, more acres of GMO crops have been planted.
Glyphosate, too, has been linked to the die-off of bees. But it’s also the prime suspect in the dramatically declining population of the monarch butterfly. Roundup kills the milkweed plant, the main source of food for monarch butterflies.
According to one leading entomologist, the “main culprit” in the declining population of monarch butterflies is “herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed.”
For whom the bee tolls
The Monarch butterfly isn’t yet on the verge of extinction, and unlike the honeybee, it isn’t critical to our food supply. But does that mean we can, or should, dismiss the impact GMO crops has on its ability to thrive?
We asked Karen Oberhauser, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Minneapolis and director of the school’s Monarch Butterfly Lab. She said that Monarch’s don’t, to our knowledge, play a key role in any ecosystem, unless you count the fact that they provide food for a lot of birds. But, she wrote in an email to OCA:
I would argue that there are both ethical and more selfish reasons that monarchs deserve our protection. From an ethical perspective, just because we have the ability to so alter ecosystems that we can cause the extinction of species doesn't mean that it is ethical for us to do so.  Thus, preserving monarchs is the "right" thing to do. From a selfish perspective, we can learn a great deal about migration, species interactions, insect population dynamics, and insect reproduction by studying monarchs. Monarchs thus have a great deal to teach us about how the natural world works, and I would argue that understanding the natural world will benefit us.
When in 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, her seminal work on the impact of chemicals on our environment, she probably didn’t imagine a world in which millions of tons of evermore powerful chemicals are used not just to eliminate unwanted weeds and insects, but to grow the majority of the corn, soy, beets and other crops that are found in more than 80 percent of our processed foods, and are fed to an equally high percentage of the animals that eventually enter the human food supply.
But here we are. Will we change course, and reverse the damage? Will we save the bees, birds, butterflies—and ourselves—by driving GMOs, neonics and Roundup off the market? And by making the Great Transition to organic agriculture and gardening, before it’s too late?
Or will we maintain the status quo, on the outside chance that we humans will be somehow impervious to the decaying state of our surrounding environment?

Katherine Paul
Katherine Paul is the communications director for the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins
Ronnie Cummins is a veteran activist, author, and organizer. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.;


Wednesday, February 12, 2014


First We Fed Bees High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Now We've Given Them a Killer Virus?

| Wed Feb. 5, 2014 3:00 AM GMT
In the classic board game Clue, murder mysteries have clear solutions: say, Col. Mustard with the candlestick in the dining room. In the stark recent declines of honeybees and other pollinators, however, the situation is murkier.

We've put bees through a lot. They have to deal with nasty parasite, the varroa mite, which didn't make its way to the United States until the late 1980s. They also have to deal with pesticides specifically designed to target those mites (called, yes, miticides). Over the winter, bees in commercial hives often live not on their own honey, as they have evolved to do, but rather a cheap substitute: high-fructose corn syrup. And finally, they are confronted with a range of pathogens.

Over the past month, the dossiers on two of those suspects got a little thicker. In the January issue of the peer-reviewed journal Ecotoxicology, UK researchers delivered yet more evidence that a widely used pesticide class called neonicotinoids might play a decisive role in declining bee health. They fed one set of bumblebees pollen and sugar water containing very low levels a neonic called imidacloprid. The team let the dosed bees forage in a field and compared their pollen-gathering performance to those of an un-dosed control group.

The results: The imidacloprid-exposed bees were much worse at gathering pollen. They brought back pollen on 40 percent of their trips, vs. 63 percent for the control group. And when the dosed bees did manage to snag pollen, they brought back on average 31 percent less than their un-dosed peers.
Exactly why exposure to the neonics—which act as a neurotoxin to bees and other insects—hindered their ability to bring home the bacon "remains unclear," the researchers state. But less food means less-healthy hives, making them more vulnerable to the range of other problems plaguing these critical pollinators.

The bees had caught a virus previously thought to affect only plants.
Another recent study adds new weight to the pathogen theory of bee decline. In this one, US and Chinese researchers looked at six healthy and four struggling honeybee colonies and screened them for the presence of various viruses. They found, surprisingly, that bees in the unhealthy colonies tended to be infected at high rates with tobacco-ringspot virus, a pathogen previously known only to infect plants, not animals. The healthy hives were all free of the virus. Tobacco-ringspot virus gets into the hives via pollen, the researchers state; and once there, it "invades and replicates in different body parts" of the bees. Disturbingly, they found that the virus also replicates in varroa mites, an established bee pest, and that the infected mites could help spread the virus.

How did a plant pathogen end up flourishing in bees and their parasites? Tobacco-ringspot virus is a fast-mutating beast, it turns out, and it has evolved the ability to infect insects. (The authors note 5 percent of all known plant viruses move about via pollen, representing the potential for more "host-jumping" pathogens that can affect insects like honeybees.)

At any rate, the six healthy, virus-free hives survived the winter during the study, while the four unhealthy, virus-riddled ones all collapsed before February.

And of course, neonics and other agrichemicals, including fungicides, have been shown to make bees more susceptible to being laid low by other viral pathogens found in the environment. Human beings can't stop plant viruses from mutating in ways that make them harmful to bees. But we can stop farmers from using chemicals known to hinder bees' resilience in the face of such threats—as Europe did last year, with its two-year moratorium on neonics, instituted to buy scientists more time to study the issue ahead of a possible permanent ban. That seems as wise as training a wary eye on Col. Mustard when he grips that candlestick at dinner.



Why the EPA Can't Manage To Block This Gnarly Herbicide

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 10:13 AM GMT
In the February 10 issue of the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv has an outstanding piece on Tyrone Hayes, the University of California-Berkeley biologist whose research found that atrazine, a widely used herbicide, caused extreme sexual-development problems in frogs at very low levels. Aviv's article follows a superb Hayes profile by Dashka Slater published in Mother Jones in 2012. Aviv's piece gives some key background on just why it's so hard for the US Environmental Protection Agency to take action on chemicals like atrazine, which in addition to harming frogs, is also suspected of causing thyroid and ovarian cancers in people at low doses. Here's the key bit regarding the EPA and its reliance on cost-benefit analyses to determine what chemicals the public can and cannot be exposed to:
In the U.S., lingering scientific questions justify delays in regulatory decisions. Since the mid-seventies, the E.P.A. has issued regulations restricting the use of only five industrial chemicals out of more than eighty thousand in the environment. Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process—they may sue regulators if there are errors in the scientific record—and cost-benefit analyses are integral to decisions: a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use. Lisa Heinzerling, the senior climate-policy counsel at the E.P.A. in 2009 and the associate administrator of the office of policy in 2009 and 2010, said that cost-benefit models appear “objective and neutral, a way to free ourselves from the chaos of politics.” But the complex algorithms “quietly condone a tremendous amount of risk.” She added that the influence of the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees major regulatory decisions, has deepened in recent years. “A rule will go through years of scientific reviews and cost-benefit analyses, and then at the final stage it doesn’t pass,” she said. “It has a terrible, demoralizing effect on the culture at the E.P.A.”


February 11, 2014
4:40 PM

CONTACT: Food & Water Watch
Michele Merkel - 202-683-4967,
Rich Bindell – 202-683-2457,

Support of Agribusiness Does Not Mean Support of Farmers, Says Iowa Farm Group

WASHINGTON - February 11 - Proponents of the Poultry Fair Share Act today condemned Governor Martin O’Malley’s threat to veto the legislation that would require polluting factory farms to contribute to the clean up of the Chesapeake Bay. The groups speculate that O’Malley is bowing to agribusiness in his hopes of gaining critical support from farmers when he heads to Iowa as part of his presidential bid leading up to 2016 elections.
“Governor O’Malley is sorely mistaken if he thinks he’s going to come here to Iowa and get the support of our farming community because he refuses to hold companies like Perdue liable for their waste,” stated former president and current board member of the Iowa Farmers Union, Chris Petersen. “Companies like Perdue are no friend to real farmers, and neither are politicians like O’Malley who work to keep these big companies free from responsibility.”
A hearing for the Poultry Fair Share Act, introduced this year in the Maryland legislature is set for February 25 before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. The bill, which would require the large Eastern Shore poultry companies to contribute their fair share to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, was introduced in both the House, by Delegate Shane Robinson, and in the Senate by Senator Richard Madaleno, but was pulled from House consideration after Governor O’Malley promised industry that he would veto any bill that asks them to contribute to Bay cleanup in the way that all citizens in Maryland do.
The Poultry Fair Share Act calls for a $.05 per bird fee on any company that places chickens with contract growers in the state. Currently, there are four major poultry companies, all located on the state’s Eastern Shore, that own over 300 million birds and create about a billion and a half pounds of chicken manure every year. This excess waste is having a significant impact of Bay water quality, with agriculture accounting for up to 64 percent of phosphorus loads in the watershed, a pollutant that’s mainly responsible for the slow death of the Bay.
“While Maryland’s communities, counties and households are all contributing to the Bay Restoration Fund through legislative initiatives like the stormwater and sewage/septic fees, a $4.8 billion dollar company like Perdue takes no responsibility for its waste and continues to pollute for free,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “With his premature threat of veto, even before any hearing has been held in the legislature, O’Malley is trying hard to stifle any citizen debate about the bill and the poultry companies’ ongoing contribution to the Bay pollution problem. Thankfully, Sen. Madaleno hasn’t bowed to the bully tactics of O’Malley and is proceeding with the Senate hearing as scheduled.”
“If we’re going to revive the Bay, we need to look at all possible remedies; as political leaders we should be encouraging a healthy dialogue, not attempting to shut it down,” stated Sen. Madaleno. “Given the fact that every Maryland resident is already helping to finance the Bay’s restoration, it’s only fair to look to those industries that pollute the most to contribute to its revitalization efforts.”
The governor’s pandering to Perdue, to the detriment of Maryland citizens, dates back many years. In 2010, O’Malley wrote an email to Jim Perdue promising him he would never seek to hold the company responsible for its pollution problem. With his promise to veto the PFSA, he’s living up to his word to Perdue, if not the people of Maryland who have been promised a clean Bay for decades.


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