CBAN News Roundup
- US Opens Canada to GM Grass Contamination: Press Release from CBAN
- Monarch Butterfly Decline Linked to GM Crops: Roundup Ready Crops eliminate milkweed habitat
- Monsanto's Roundup and Human Health: Two new reports
- GM Salmon to Feed the World? Youtube video on issue of fish used to feed farmed salmon
- GMO Maize Ploughed Under Throughout Hungary: GM seeds are banned in Hungary
Press Release: July 13, 2011, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
US Opens Canada to GM Grass Contamination: US Department of Agriculture will not regulate genetically modified bluegrass, decision could be applied to future GM crops
Ottawa. July 13, 2011. Canadian environmental groups today expressed new concerns about a serious threat of contamination from genetically modified (GM) plants across the U.S. boarder after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided last week not regulate a GM herbicide-tolerant grass, potentially opening the door to similar decisions on future GM crops.
U.S. company Scotts Miracle Gro is now free to sell its herbicide-tolerant “Roundup Ready” Kentucky bluegrass in the U.S., without regulatory oversight. In an exchange of letters with Scotts, the USDA declared that it lacked authority over the new GM bluegrass because Scotts did not use a certain “plant pest” in the process of genetically engineering.
“GM grass is a nightmare scenario for contamination into Canada,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, “GM plants do not stop at our border. To make matters worse, the grass is engineered to be tolerant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, so the GM grass will add to the spread of superweeds. Herbicide tolerant weeds are already a major problem for U.S. farmers.”
“This is a transparent effort to avoid any government oversight,” said George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, a U.S. sustainable agriculture non-profit. “USDA’s rubberstamp here illustrates a larger regulatory disfunction: the placing of biotech profit above protection of the environment and public.”
“Its unacceptable that corporations are being given the green light to contaminate our environment with genetically modified plants, and for what? Weed-free lawns and golf courses?” said Sharon Labchuk of EarthAction PEI.
“Genetically modified alfalfa plantings in the US are already a profound contamination concern for Canadian farmers, although we know GM alfalfa is under legal challenge,” stated Maureen Bostock of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario, “Because grasses and alfalfa are perennial, their contamination will just keep spreading year after year.”
“In the case of this GM grass, US regulation has gone from weak to nonexistent,” said Eric Darier of Greenpeace, “The stage is now set for the testing and commercial release of GM crops in the U.S. without any oversight whatsoever.”
Scotts licensed the “Roundup Ready” GM herbicide-tolerant technology from Monsanto which markets the brand-name Roundup herbicide. The GM Kentucky bluegrass is intended for lawns while Scotts also has a GM creeping bentgrass, intended for use on golf courses, that has been on the list for commercialization since 2002. Scotts was fined $500,000 in 2007 after its GM bentgrass spread from from field tests in Oregon.
For more information: Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 241 2267 ext 25; George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety, 415 826 2770; Sharon Labchuk, EarthAction PEI, 902 621 0719; Maureen Bostock, Ecological Farmers of Ontario, 613 259 5757; Eric Darier, Greenpeace, cell 514 605 6497.
In Midwest, Flutters May Be Far Fewer
By Andrew Pollack, New York Times, July 11, 2011
As recently as a decade ago, farms in the Midwest were commonly marred — at least as a farmer would view it — by unruly patches of milkweed amid the neat rows of emerging corn or soybeans.
Not anymore. Fields are now planted with genetically modified corn and soybeans resistant to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to eradicate weeds, including milkweed.
And while that sounds like good news for the farmers, a growing number of scientists fear it is imperiling the monarch butterfly, whose spectacular migrations make it one of the most beloved of insects — “the Bambi of the insect world,” as an entomologist once put it.
Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, and their larvae eat it. While the evidence is still preliminary and disputed, experts like Chip Taylor say the growing use of genetically modified crops is threatening the orange-and-black butterfly by depriving it of habitat.
“This milkweed has disappeared from at least 100 million acres of these row crops,” said Dr. Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas and director of the research and conservation program Monarch Watch. “Your milkweed is virtually gone.”
The primary evidence that monarch populations are in decline comes from a new study showing a drop over the last 17 years of the area occupied by monarchs in central Mexico, where many of them spend the winter. The amount of land occupied by the monarchs is thought to be a proxy for their population size.
“This is the first time we have the data that we can analyze statistically that shows there’s a downward trend,” said Ernest H. Williams, a professor of biology at Hamilton College and an author of the study along with Dr. Taylor and others.
The paper, published online by the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, attributes the decrease partly to the loss of milkweed from use of “Roundup Ready” crops. Other causes, it says, are the loss of milkweed to land development, illegal logging at the wintering sites in Mexico, and severe weather.
The study does not suggest the monarch will become extinct. But it questions whether the annual migration, the impetus for butterfly festivals around the United States and waves of tourism to Mexico, is sustainable.
Still, the paper does not present any data backing its contention that genetically engineered crops are reducing monarch populations. Some experts dispute that the monarch populations are declining at all, and say it is unclear whether the biotech crops are having an effect.
Andrew K. Davis, an assistant research scientist at the University of Georgia, said censuses of adult monarchs taken each fall at Cape May, N.J., and Peninsula Point, Mich., did not show any decline.
It could be that “even though the overwintering population is getting smaller and smaller, once they come northward in the spring they are able to recoup the numbers,” Dr. Davis said. His paper disputing that there has been a decline in the monarch population was published online by the same journal.
Leslie Ries, a research professor at the University of Maryland, said other butterfly counts she had examined also did not show a decline, but rather year-to-year fluctuations. Since milkweed populations are not likely to fluctuate as much, the milkweed is probably not the major determinant of butterfly populations, she said.
But two other researchers, Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota and John M. Pleasants of Iowa State, cite other evidence for a decline: the number of monarch eggs in the fields of the Midwest.
“Monarch production has decreased significantly” Dr. Pleasants said. “The reduction is caused by loss of milkweed resources available to them.”
The two scientists have submitted a paper to a scientific journal and said they did not want to discuss their data before publication.
Roundup Ready crops contain a bacterial gene that allows them to withstand Roundup or its generic equivalent, glyphosate, allowing farmers to kill the weeds without harming the crop.
Because they make weed control much easier, the crops have been widely adopted by farmers. This year, 94 percent of the soybeans and 72 percent of the corn being grown in the United States are herbicide-tolerant, according to the Department of Agriculture.
That in turn had led to an explosion in the use of glyphosate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About five times as much of the weed killer was used on farmland in 2007 as in 1997, a year after the Roundup Ready crops were introduced, and roughly 10 times as much as in 1993.
Farmers, of course, have always tried to eliminate weeds, by tilling or by spraying other herbicides. But while herbicides often had to be used before crops emerged from the ground, glyphosate can be sprayed later in the growing season because it won’t damage the resistant crops. That and the general effectiveness of glyphosate have led to greater weed control.
“It kills everything,” said Lincoln P. Brower, an entomologist at Sweet Briar College who is also an author of the paper documenting the decline of monarch winter populations in Mexico. “It’s like absolute Armageddon for biodiversity over a huge area.”
The amount of milkweed on farms in Iowa declined 90 percent from 1999 to 2009, according to Robert G. Hartzler, an agronomist at Iowa State. His study, published last year in the journal Crop Protection, found milkweed on only 8 percent of the corn and soybean fields surveyed in 2009, down from 51 percent in 1999.
Because of weed-control efforts, even before the advent of Roundup Ready crops, any one farm is not likely to harbor that much milkweed.
But the sheer amount of farmland in the Corn Belt has meant that farms, in aggregate, have accounted for a vast majority of monarch births, according to another study published by Dr. Oberhauser and colleagues in 2001. That study estimated that in Iowa, farms produced 78 times the number of monarchs as nonagricultural sites, and in Wisconsin and Minnesota, 73 times as much.
And while monarchs come from other parts of the country as well, the Midwest is widely believed to be where most of them are hatched.
Still, even Dr. Hartzler said in his paper that it was difficult to assess what impact the decline of Iowa milkweed was having on monarch populations.
A spokesman for Monsanto, the inventor of the Roundup Ready crops and the manufacturer of Roundup, agreed, saying “knowledge is still evolving about whether and how agriculture in Iowa affects monarch population biology.” And what is true of Iowa, he said, might not apply to other regions.
This is not the first time genetically modified crops have been thought to threaten the monarch.
In 1999, researchers at Cornell reported that monarch caterpillars could be killed if they ate milkweed onto which the researchers had dusted pollen from another type of engineered crop known as BT corn. That corn has a bacterial gene allowing it to produce a toxin that kills certain pests.
But subsequent research, financed in part by the biotechnology industry, found that caterpillars were not likely to be exposed to lethal amounts of BT corn pollen under actual field conditions. That concern has died down.
Scientists say it is not surprising that suppressing weeds would have an effect on insects, and probably not just the monarch.
The National Academy of Sciences discussed this in a 2007 report on bees and other animals that pollinate crops. The report cited a British study that found fewer butterflies in fields growing genetically engineered beets and canola than in fields growing nonengineered crops.
That raises the somewhat radical notion that perhaps weeds on farms should be protected. “There’s a change in agricultural thinking, because the weed-free field was the gold standard,” said May Berenbaum, head of entomology at the University of Illinois.
Still, she and other insect experts say it is unrealistic to expect farmers to give up the herbicide-tolerant crops — so efforts should be made to preserve or grow milkweed elsewhere, perhaps on farmland set aside for conservation. Monarch Watch is encouraging gardeners to grow milkweed.
Dr. Taylor of Monarch Watch offered a modest, possibly ironic proposal for biotechnology companies. “I would implore them to develop a Roundup-resistant milkweed,” he said.
Monsanto's Roundup and Human Health:
There are two new reports that summarize studies on the human health impacts of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. The ill-effects of glyphosate are serious where exposure is high. The expansion of GM herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready soy in Paraguay and Argentina, for example, is a serious health issue for small scale farmers and indigenous communities who are surrounded by the GM crop and its chemical spraying (See La Soja Mata/Soy Kills http://www.lasojamata.net ).
1. Greenpeace International Report July 2011: Herbicide tolerance and GM crops:
"Independent scientific studies are underscoring the call for an urgent reassessment of glyphosate and its related products. These studies associate exposure to glyphosate with a number of negative effects on human and animal health, including long term or chronic effects:
• Birth defects in the Argentinean state of Chaco, where GM soya and rice crops are heavily sprayed with glyphosate, increased nearly fourfold over the years 2000 to 2009. Similar defects were also found in woman from Paraguay exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides during pregnancy. These defects were compatible with those induced in laboratory experiments at much lower concentrations than normal commercial glyphosate concentrations.
• Glyphosate is a suspected endocrine disruptor. This means it could disrupt production of vital reproductive hormones, such as progesterone and oestrogen. Published studies demonstrate various endocrine effects in animals and human cells associated with glyphosate.
• Studies of illness patterns human populations (epidemiological studies) have linked glyphosate exposure to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) whilst laboratory studies have confirmed that glyphosate and/or its associated products exhibit characteristics typical of cancer causing agents (i.e. genotoxicity or mutagenicity) in animals and both human and animal. Together, these studies suggest that glyphosate may contribute to cancer. Evidence that glyphosate may also affect the nervous system and may even be implicated in Parkinson’s disease."
2. June 2011: Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?: <http://www.scribd.com/doc/57277946/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5>
"• Industry (including Monsanto) has known from its own studies since the 1980s that glyphosate causes malformations in experimental animals at high doses.
• Industry has known since 1993 that these effects also occur at lower and mid doses.
• The German government has known since at least 1998 that glyphosate causes malformations.
• The European Commission’s expert scientific review panel knew in 1999 that glyphosate causes malformations.
• The European Commission has known since 2002 that glyphosate causes malformations. This was the year it signed off on the current approval of glyphosate."
GM salmon to feed the world? After the US House passed an amendment to stop the Food and Drug Administration from spending money in 2012 reviewing GM salmon (to be approved by the Senate), the industry started a new public relations offensive to convince lawmakers that GM salmon is needed to feed the world. View this short video from The Ecologist to see one aspect of how fish farming is actually depleting stocks - Salmon farming requires feeding of sardines and anchovies - and fishmeal production creates pollution that is linked to serious health problems for local communities. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2ZufwW1f7U&feature=player_embedded#at=580>
GMO Maize Ploughed Under Throughout Hungary
Caboodle, Hungary http://www.caboodle.hu/nc/news/news_archive/single_page/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=9216
Some 400 hectares of maize have been destroyed throughout Hungary after the crops were found to have been grown with genetically modified seeds, the deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development in charge of supervision of the food supply chain and agricultural administration told MTI on Friday.
GMO maize has been ploughed under near Szigetvar in the southwest, Letavertes in the east, Szolnok in central Hungary and Fejér County in central-western areas, said Lajos Bognar. However, pollen has not spread from the maize, he added.
Authorities have been checking for GMO crops since the beginning of this year as a new regulation came in force this March which stipulates GMO checks before seeds are introduced to the market. The checks will continue despite the fact that seed traders are obliged to make sure that their products are GMO free, Bognar said.
Controllers have found Pioneer and Monsanto products among the seeds planted. The free movement of goods within the EU means that authorities will not investigate how the seeds arrived in Hungary but they will check where the goods can be found, Bognar said.
Regional public radio in Baranya County (SW Hungary) MR6 reported earlier on Friday that the two biggest international seed producing companies are affected in the matter and GMO seeds could have been sown on up to thousands of hectares in the country.
Local farmers complain that the use of GMO seeds has only been revealed now when it is too late to sow again and the entire year‚s harvest has been lost.
Another problem is that the company that distributed the seeds in Baranya county is under liquidation, therefore if any compensation is paid by the international seed producers, the money will be paid primarily to that company‚s creditors, rather than the farmers.
Unlike several EU members, GMO seeds are banned in Hungary.
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
431 Gilmour Street, Second Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 0R5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext. 25
Fax: 613 241 2506