USDA panel gets altered-crops pay plan

Washington — California voters this fall will decide a ballot measure that would require labeling of foods containing genetically engineered material. But the Department of Agriculture is already tied in knots over how to deal with the contamination of organic and conventional foods by biotech crops.
On Monday, a USDA advisory panel will consider a draft plan to compensate farmers whose crops have been contaminated by pollen, seeds or other stray genetically engineered material. The meeting is expected to be contentious, pitting the biotechnology and organic industries against each other.
The draft report acknowledged the difficulty of preventing such material from accidentally entering the food supply and concerns that the purity of traditional seeds may be threatened.
It also cited fears on both sides that official action to address contamination could send a signal to U.S. consumers and export markets in Europe, Japan and elsewhere that the purity and even safety of U.S. crops are suspect.
An official who was not authorized to speak for the record described the current stalemate as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Known as AC21, the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture consists of representatives from across agriculture. Its current incarnation was created by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to appease critics after his decision in January 2011 to approve genetically engineered alfalfa, a plant that can spread easily.
Genetically engineered crops are also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Genetic engineering entails the insertion or deletion of genes, often from different species, into a plant to produce a desired trait. Up to now the chief traits are resistance to insects and herbicides.
U.S. corn 90% biotech
Bioengineered crops dominate U.S. commodities, including 90 percent of U.S. corn. In some states, penetration is all but complete, including 99 percent of the Arkansas cotton crop. Most processed foods contain genetically engineered material.
USDA’s organic certification does not permit bioengineered material unless trace amounts show up despite a farmer’s best efforts to avoid it. Many food companies do their own testing and have rejected contaminated shipments.
The biotech industry, which includes Monsanto, DuPont and other seed companies, argued that contamination is minimal. Organic growers, they said, get a premium for their crops and should “assume the economic risks associated” with certifying that their crops meet organic standards.
The organic industry said biotech companies should be responsible for containing their own genes and that contamination threatens the right of farmers to choose how to farm.
Vilsack directed the advisory committee to find a way for the two sides to co-exist. The panel has wrestled with the issue for more than a year but remains divided. The draft suggests using taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance to compensate farmers whose crops have been contaminated.
Lisa Bunin, organic policy coordinator for the Center for Food Safety, a Washington nonprofit that opposes genetic engineering, said crop insurance would put the burden of proof and the cost on the victims of contamination. She said the focus should be on preventing contamination, and that California’s Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of genetically modified foods, shows that people are “waking up to the realization that there are hidden ingredients in their food.”
Compensation is “just a way to hide the effects of … contamination,” Bunin said, calling the draft a “last-ditch attempt by the biotech industry to institutionalize transgenic contamination.”
No guarantee
Panel member Isaura Andaluz, head of Cuatro Puertas, a nonprofit heritage seed bank in Albuquerque, issued a blistering critique of the draft earlier this month. Andaluz said she was shocked that the panel’s report said “it is not realistic to suggest that commercial seed producers can guarantee zero presence” of genetically engineered material in seed varieties that are organic or not genetically engineered.
If that is true, she wrote, Vilsack’s co-existence plan already has failed.
The biotech industry fears that setting a suggested threshold of 0.9 percent engineered content, above which a product would be considered contaminated, would imply a safety limit, falsely signaling to consumers and export markets that bioengineered crops are unsafe.
The draft report said methods have been developed to keep “gene flows” segregated, citing the example of sweet corn grown in fields next to popcorn.
Environmental groups worry, however, that bioengineered crops threaten wild plants, too. Engineered canola and grasses spread easily in storm winds and floods, turning up miles from where crops are planted.
Oversight is split among three agencies, USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Under a rule developed in 1992 under former Vice President Dan Quayle, bioengineering is presumed safe for food and the environment.
Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent E-mail clochhead@sfchronicle.com

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/USDA-panel-gets-altered-crops-pay-plan-3814480.php#ixzz25etipAVA

Politicians struggle to put brakes on genetically altered fish

The latest move by politicians to limit or ban the sale of genetically modified fish has been stymied.

A U.S. Senate bill, which would have prohibited the sale of genetically engineered salmon unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could find the fish would cause no significant environmental harm, was withdrawn from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee late last week.

It’s just one of many such bills proposed in the last two years that haven’t gotten any traction.

A bill advanced in the California Assembly, requiring the labeling of all genetically engineered fish sold in the state, was struck down in January by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
A U.S. Senate amendment that would have required rigorous environmental testing of the salmon failed in May on a 46-50 vote.

In this latest case, “we withdrew it because we knew it wasn’t going to pass,” said Julie Hasquet, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who sponsored the bill.

“But he’s never going to stop trying to prohibit the sale and production of these fish,” Hasquet said. “He’ll be coming back at it.”

Some politicians and environmentalists worry that there is too little known about the health and environmental impacts of these animals to allow full-scale production. Several studies have found reasons for concern, including one in July 2011 that showed engineered salmon could breed with wild salmon – despite biotechnology company AquaBounty Technologies’ claim that they can’t.

Environmentalists worry that if the engineered salmon were to somehow get loose and breed with wild salmon, they’d threaten natural salmon populations.

Calls and emails to AquaBounty, based in Massachusetts, were not returned.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/08/07/4704402/politicians-struggle-to-put-brakes.html#storylink=cpy

Ocean-Farmed Fish, Brought to You by Monsanto and Cargill

By Food & Water Watch
03 July 12

Soy Industry Stands to Gain Hundreds of Millions Annually from Open Ocean Aquaculture

If proponents of soy in aquaculture have it their way, soy will be used to feed fish in open ocean pens in federal waters, a move that would negatively impact the marine environment as well as the diets of both fish and consumers.

Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe’s new report, “Factory-Fed Fish: How the Soy Industry is Expanding Into the Sea,” shows how a collaboration between two of the most environmentally damaging industries on land and sea – the soy and open ocean aquaculture industries, respectively – could be devastating to ocean life and consumer health. And since much of the soy produced in the United States is genetically engineered (GE), consuming farmed fish would likely mean eating fish that are fed GE soy.

“Our seas are not Roundup ready,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “Soy is being promoted as a better alternative to feed made from wild fish, but this model will not help the environment, and it will transfer massive industrial farming models into our oceans and further exacerbate the havoc wreaked by the soy industry on land – including massive amounts of dangerous herbicide use and massive deforestation.”

The powerful soy industry, which is well represented in Washington, D.C. and Brussels, stands to gain over $200 million (€160 million) each year by aggressively promoting the use of soy to feed farmed fish at a time when more and more consumers are eating seafood sourced from aquaculture or fish farms. Close to half of the seafood we consume globally comes from these factory fish farms.

Unfortunately, increased use of soy in fish feed could do greater harm to the health of fisheries by increasing the amount of soybeans grown. Like other monoculture crops, soybeans require large amounts of fertilizer for their production. Much of this fertilizer gets washed off the fields and into waterways that eventually lead to important fisheries such as the Gulf of Mexico or the Chesapeake Bay. The nitrogen and phosphorus from this fertilizer contributes to the dead zones in these fisheries, reducing the number of fish that live there and the ability of fishermen to catch them.

for full article click here.

Superweeds: A Long-Predicted Problem for GM Crops Has Arrived

After a decade of intensive genetically modified plant cultivation, weeds have emerged that are resistant to the most popular herbicide.

I was a member of the FDA Food Advisory Committee when the agency approved production of genetically modified foods in the early 1990s.

At the time, critics repeatedly warned that widespread planting of GM crops modified to resist Monsanto’s weed-killer, Roundup, were highly likely to select for “superweeds” that could withstand treatment with Roundup.

I wrote about this problem in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety. I added this update to the 2010 edition:

Late in 2004, weeds resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup began appearing in GM plantings in Georgia and soon spread to other Southern states. By 2009, more than one hundred thousand acres in Georgia were infested with Roundup-resistant pigweed. Planters were advised to apply multiple herbicides, thereby defeating the point of Roundup: to reduce chemical applications.

Today, the idea that planting of GM crops is “widespread” is an understatement.

So, according to Reuters, is Roundup resistance.

For full article: The Atlantic

GE corn & sick honey bees – what’s the link?

No farmer in their right mind wants to poison pollinators. When I spoke with one Iowa corn farmer in January and told him about the upcoming release of a Purdue study confirming corn as a major neonicotinoid exposure route for bees, his face dropped with worn exasperation. He looked down for a moment, sighed and said, “You know, I held out for years on buying them GE seeds, but now I can’t get conventional seeds anymore. They just don’t carry ‘em.”

This leaves us with two questions: 1) What do GE seeds have to do with neonicotinoids and bees? and 2) How can an Iowa corn farmer find himself feeling unable to farm without poisoning pollinators? In other words, where did U.S. corn cultivation go wrong?

The short answer to both questions starts with a slow motion train wreck that began in the mid-1990s: corn integrated pest management (IPM) fell apart at the seams. Rather, it was intentionally unraveled by Bayer and Monsanto.

Honey bees caught in the cross-fire
Corn is far from the only crop treated by neonicotinoids, but it is the largest use of arable land in North America, and honey bees rely on corn as a major protein source. At least 94% of the 92 million acres of corn planted across the U.S. this year will have been treated with either clothianidin or thiamethoxam (another neonicotinoid).

As we head into peak corn planting season throughout the U.S. Midwest, bees will once again “get it from all sides” as they:

fly through clothianidin-contaminated planter dust;
gather clothianidin-laced corn pollen, which will then be fed to emerging larva;
gather water from acutely toxic, pesticide-laced guttation droplets; and/or
gather pollen and nectar from nearby fields where forage sources such as dandelions have taken up these persistent chemicals from soil that’s been contaminated year on year since clothianidin’s widespread introduction into corn cultivation in 2003.
GE corn & neonicotinoid seed treatments go hand-in-hand.

Over the last 15 years, U.S. corn cultivation has gone from a crop requiring little-to-no insecticides and negligible amounts of fungicides, to a crop where the average acre is grown from seeds treated or genetically engineered to express three different insecticides (as well as a fungicide or two) before being sprayed prophylactically with RoundUp (an herbicide) and a new class of fungicides that farmers didn’t know they “needed” before the mid-2000s.

A series of marketing ploys by the pesticide industry undergird this story. It’s about time to start telling it, if for no other reason than to give lie to the oft-repeated notion that there is no alternative to farming corn in a way that poisons pollinators. We were once — not so long ago — on a very different path.

How corn farming went off the rails
In the early 1990s, we were really good at growing corn using bio-intensive integrated pest management (bio-IPM). In practice, that meant crop rotations, supporting natural predators, using biocontrol agents like ladybugs and as a last resort, using chemical controls only after pests had been scouted for and found. During this time of peak bio-IPM adoption, today’s common practice of blanketing corn acreage with “insurance” applications of various pesticides without having established the need to do so would have been unthinkable. It’s expensive to use inputs you don’t need, and was once the mark of bad farming.

Then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, GE corn and neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) seed treatments both entered the market — the two go hand-in-hand, partly by design and partly by accident. Conditions for the marketing of both products were ripe due to a combination of factors:

regulatory pressures and insect resistance had pushed previous insecticide classes off the market, creating an opening for neonicotinoids to rapidly take over global marketshare;
patented seeds became legally defensible, and the pesticide industry gobbled up the global seed market; and
a variant of the corn rootworm outsmarted soy-corn rotations, driving an uptick in insecticide use around 1995-96.
Then, as if on cue, Monsanto introduced three different strains of patented, GE corn between 1997 and 2003 (RoundUp Ready, and two Bt–expressing variants aimed at controlling the European Corn Borer and corn root worm). Clothianidin entered the U.S. market under conditional registration in 2003, and in 2004 corn seed companies began marketing seeds treated with a 5X level of neonicotinoids (1.25 mg/seed vs. .25).

… and in the space of a decade, U.S. corn acreage undergoes a ten-fold increase in average insecticide use. By 2007, the average acre of corn has more than three systemic insecticides — both Bt traits and a neonicotinoid. Compare this to the early 1990s, when only an estimated 30-35% of all corn acreage were treated with insecticides at all.

Adding fuel to the fire, in 2008 USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Board of Directors approved reductions in crop insurance premiums for producers who plant certain Bt corn hybrids. By 2009, 40% of corn farmers interviewed said they did not have access to elite (high-yielding) non-Bt corn seed. It is by now common knowledge that conventional corn farmers have a very hard time finding seed that is not genetically engineered and treated with neonicotinoids.

Enter fungicides
In 2007, what’s left of corn IPM was further unraveled with the mass marketing of a new class of fungicides (strobilurins) for use on corn as yield “boosters.” Before this, fungicide use on corn was so uncommon that it didn’t appear in Crop Life’s 2002 National Pesticide Use Database. But in the last five years, the pesticide industry has aggressively and successfully marketed prophylactic applications of fungicides on corn as yield and growth enhancers, and use has grown dramatically as a result. This despite the fact that these fungicides work as marketed less than half the time. According to this meta-analysis of efficacy studies, only “48% of treatments resulted in a yield response greater than the economic break-even value of 6 bu/acre.”

At least 94% of the 92 million U.S. acres planted in corn is treated with pesticides known to harm bees.

Back to the bees. Neonicotinoids are known to synergize with certain fungicides to increase the toxicity of the former to honey bees up to 1,000-fold, and fungicides may be key culprits in undermining beneficial bee microbiota that do things like make beebread nutritious and support immune response against gut pathogens like Nosema. Fungicide use in corn is likewise destroying beneficial fungi in many cropping systems, and driving the emergence of resistant strains.

As with insecticides and herbicides, so too with fungicide use on corn: corn farmers are stuck on a pesticide treadmill on high gear, with a pre-emptively pressed turbo charge button (as “insurance”). Among the many casualties are our honey bees who rely on corn’s abundant pollen supply.

Keeping us all tethered to the pesticide treadmill is expected behavior from the likes of Monsanto. But what boggles the mind is that all of this is being aided and abetted by a USDA that ties cheap crop insurance to planting patented Bt corn, and a Congress that refuses to tie subsidized crop insurance in the Farm Bill to common-sense conservation practices like bio-intensive IPM. Try explaining that with a waggle dance.

Original source found here:
http://www.panna.org/blog/ge-corn-sick-honey-bees-whats-link