Nature outsmarts genetically modified crops

by Anna Knapp
Examiner.com
October 2, 2011

The organic food movement is all about ingesting food that is free of poisons. Conventional food is promoted as 1) being fresher longer due to genetic modification and 2) helping farmers keep more of the crops they plant, using plants that kill the pests that try to eat them, all while ignoring the need to understand the effects of ingestion of these foods. Buying local and organic at places such as Down to Earth, Garden Patch, the Farmer’s Market, and the Purple Porch Co-op, to name a few, is essential after learning of the scientific findings of this past summer.

According to Tom Philpott of Mother Jones, the industry that supports the genetic modification of our food has taken a hit this past growing season. It has been found that Monsanto’s Bt corn is not immune to pests’ destruction. In late July, scientists in Iowa found that the major pests that affect corn plants, corn rootworms, have been devouring genetically modified corn plants. Monsanto’s Bt corn has been designed to be toxic to these pests, but as usual nature always finds a way. The rise in these superinsects has also been affecting crops in Illinois and Minnesota.

A 2008 study was conducted by the University of Missouri and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on these rootworms. They found that within three generations, rootworms that ate Monsanto’s Bt corn were thriving at the same rate as rootworms that ate pesticide-free corn. It truly is amazing to watch nature at work.

So what’s next? More pesticides in our food? It is clear that nature trumps all and that no matter how much poison is genetically modified into our food, nature will always win out. If this version of Bt corn doesn’t stop the pests, and Monsanto tries yet again to create a stronger version, how much poison will have to go in the next batch? All the more reason to buy organic!

Brazil is GMO Country

PRNewswire
August 3, 2011

The area in Brazil planted with transgenic seeds is now growing at a faster pace than the growth of the entire planted area for crops of soybeans, corn and cotton – the three crops with genetically modified varieties that have been approved, as indicated by the 1st review of the adoption of biotechnology in the 2011/12 harvest, conducted by the consulting firm Celeres.

The area planted with transgenic soybeans for the next harvest will be 13.4% greater than it was in the 2010/11 harvest, occupying 20.8 million hectares (82.7% of the total area projected). With the approval of a new event in 2010, there are now four technologies that have been released in Brazil, including herbicide tolerance (TH), insect resistance (RI) and combinations.

“This growth is the result of constant improvement of the biotechnological varieties, which are increasingly well adapted to the different productive regions of the country,” observes Anderson Galvao, managing partner at Celeres and coordinator of the study. He emphasizes that for the first time in the history of Brazilian agriculture, with 8.8 million hectares, the Central Western region – traditional producer of conventional soybeans – has exceeded the Southern region in absolute terms for area allocated to transgenic soybeans.

GM cotton, for its part, which had three new events approved in the past year, will occupy 606 thousand hectares, equivalent to 39% of fields under cultivation (an increase of 62.7% over the previous cycle). Cotton seeds with RI, TH and combined technologies are currently available to growers. “The growth in the adoption of biotechnology for cotton crops shows that certain gaps that existed in the supply of technologies are beginning to be filled, supplying the real needs of cotton growers. When the producer sees competitive advantages in the technology, he adopts it immediately,” Galvao says.

In the case of corn, GM hybrids will be present in 9.1 million hectares, or 64.9% of the area under cultivation, including summer harvests (4.5 million hectares, or 54% of the area under cultivation) and winter harvests (4.6 million hectares, equivalent to 80.4% of the area under cultivation). Brazil now has 16 GM events approved (including RI, TH and combined technologies), five of them having been approved by the CTNBio in the last 12 months.

To Galvao, corn cultivation has been the most successful by far in adopting biotechnology in Brazil: in four years, it already occupies more than half of the land where corn is grown. He also notes that a substantial portion is planted with materials thought of as low-tech, especially in the Northern and Northeast regions. “Considering only the hectares planted with high-tech materials, transgenic hybrids account for more than 70% of the area planted,” he underscores.

“This rapid pace in adopting biotechnology for the growing of corn is a reflection of the direct and indirect benefits that transgenic hybrids reap for growers, who can now compete as equals in the international market,” he stresses. A second review of the adoption of biotechnology for this harvest is scheduled for December, after work on the summer harvest crop is finished.

Playing with Food: The Scalpers of our Daily Bread

As food prices reach record highs, how much is the speculation in agricultural commodities to blame?

Felicity Lawrence
UK Guardian
June 3, 2011

With food prices reaching record highs again this year, what goes on inside a 650ft Chicago skyscraper topped by a statue of the goddess Ceres is coming under intense scrutiny.

It is here that the world’s oldest futures and options exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), was established in 1848 to serve the great grain belt that had opened up in the American midwest. And it is here that the international price of agricultural commodities is set to this day.

“There’s a lot of weather in the market, the northern growing season has been traumatic, with drought in Europe and China and tornadoes and floods in the US. No one is panicked yet, but any additional crop loss, say in Russia, will quickly bring new worry to the market and that could quickly turn to panic. We may be one more event away from panic,” Dan Basse, president of AgResource, one of Chicago’s most respected commodity analyst companies, warned as we watched the opening of a day’s trading last month.

G20 agriculture ministers will meet in Paris on 22 June to discuss food security and prices. Speculative activity and how to contain it is high on their agenda.

Debate has been raging since 2008, when price rises provoked riots around the world, about whether or not the new money that has flooded into the commodities markets since 2003 is the cause of the problem – and if so, how to regulate it.

In Chicago, before the financial day begins, teams of traders pump themselves up outside on chain-smoked cigarettes and outsize McDonald’s coffees. The coloured blazers they use to make themselves easily identifiable on the trading floor have been reduced to bright jackets with string-vest backs to counter the heat generated by a day’s speculation. They keep on their toes in training shoes.

Inside, when the bell announces the start, there is a frenzy of noise. Traders yell at one another and wave their arms in violent gesticulation, palms out to signal sell, palms in to signal buy. There are “scalpers” who buy and sell within seconds, “floor brokers” hedging for corporate accounts, and hundreds of runners rushing orders to the recorders.

At the end of May, the price of corn was up again – most traders and analysts expected it to continue rising along with other commodities.

Basse is one of those who thinks underlying fundamentals – a serious mismatch between supply and rapidly growing global demand – are behind this year’s price rises.

“Speculation is the easy thing to point the finger at and it’s easy to fix. Back in 2008, when prices were up and there was lots of money pouring in, that may have pushed prices up, but today we don’t see that as having a significant effect,” Basse said.

“Look at growth in world livestock demand and in biofuels demand, and you can see what’s been driving the agricultural bull market.”

He painted a troubling picture of what is likely to come. He estimates the world needs to bring around 10.3m hectares of new land a year into food production “just to keep stocks steady”, but he says that will be increasingly hard to do as the land that remains available is reduced to what is environmentally fragile.

A “weekend” farmer of GM crops himself, Basse admits the promise that biotech seeds would deliver big increases in yields has turned out to be illusory. He also fears that “superweeds are coming on so fast with GM that US farmers are going to have to go back to more traditional cultivation methods [as opposed to the practice with GM seeds of not tilling the soil and simply spraying to control pests] – but they don’t have the capacity to do that.”

Europe, Basse said, will soon have no choice but to lift its ban on imports of GM crops for animal feed. With its own crops suffering drought, it will have to turn to Brazil, the only major supplier of non-GM imports. However, the Chinese have already bought up large chunks of the Brazilian crop. The policies in the US and the EU of promoting biofuels will be unsustainable.

The company that owns CBOT, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange group (CME), also rejects the notion that the enormous rise in speculation in agricultural commodities in recent years has caused food price rises.

Farmers and processors of physical goods have long used commodities exchanges such as Chicago’s to hedge against risks such as bad harvests. Speculators willing to take the risk perform a useful role in providing liquidity. But much of the recent growth in speculation has been through new “structured” products invented by banks and sold to investors.

After intense lobbying, banks won deregulation of commodities markets in the US in 2000, allowing them to develop these new products. Goldman Sachs pioneered commodity index funds, which offer investors a chance to track changes in a spread of commodity prices including key agricultural commodities.

Between 2003 and 2008, investment in commodity index funds rose from $13bn to $317bn (£193bn). But the CME’s head of product development, Fred Seamon, said: “There is no credible evidence that suggests index funds or any group of traders are a cause for high prices or increased volatility. There may be a correlation, but that’s a completely different thing.”

CME argues that the volume of speculation is not a problem, because the overall composition of the agricultural commodities market has not changed; the increase in activity by index funds has been matched by an increase in trading by those who are commercial participants, that is those who have a direct interest in the physical goods.

“That’s an indefensible position,” Chicago–based hedge fund manager Mark Newell of Quiddity retorted. He and another hedge fund manager, Mike Masters, prepared testimony to the US Senate when it was looking into the effect of speculation on food prices in 2008.

“When billions of dollars of capital is put to work in small markets like agricultural commodities, it inevitably increases volatility and amplifies prices – and if financial flows amplify prices of food stuffs and energy, it’s not like real estate and stocks. When food prices double, people starve ,” Masters said.

The UN rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, added his weight to Masters’ side of the debate at the end of last year when he concluded a speculative bubble was responsible for a significant part of the food price rises.

An OECD study, however, did not find a link. Aid agencies such as Oxfam and Christian Aid are calling for reregulation.

In the US, the regulator – the Commodities Futures Trading Commission – has until July to produce a new framework for the commodities markets for Congress. It has been looking at imposing limits on the size of positions that traders can take, and at regulating the commodity index fund trades that are currently unregulated because they take place “over the counter”; that is, between investors and banks. But the financial industry has proved resistant to reforms. G20 ministers will have to decide their own position soon, too.

Newell, meanwhile, remains convinced that without action prices will continue to go up, partly because of underlying fundamentals, but also because, just like in 2008, “the game’s afoot again”.

‘What are the bees telling us?’

Rady Ananda
Activist Post
April 11, 2011

While industries continue to pollute the planet with their toxic chemicals, toxic waste and toxic spills, Earth’s pollinators sing a swan song that leaves no doubt as to the folly of modern civilization.  Our ability to hear and appropriately respond to the crisis of declining pollinators will determine humanity’s survival.

Chemical Extermination of the Species. Bees have felt it more than others.

“In 1923, Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, philosopher and social innovator, predicted that in 80 to 100 years honeybees would collapse.”  Queen of the Sun

Steiner believed the industrialization of bees would lead to their demise. It looks like he was right. In the past two decades, the United States has lost 100-300 billion bees, and the problem has spread to Europe and beyond. But several factors above industrialized beekeeping operations contribute to this massive die-off.

Pollinators are further sickened by lack of a diverse diet from the tens of millions of monoculture acres. By ingesting genetically modified crops, pollinators also ingest GM microbes, to their detriment. By and far, though, agrochemicals contribute most to pollinator decimation. In a last ditch effort to save the hive, some bees seal off hive cells that contain inordinate amounts of pesticide. But even these hives eventually die.

Bolstering industry’s multi-factor assault on nature, the ubiquitous communications industry adds electromagnetic pollution, causing bees (and birds) to lose their ability to navigate. Taking advantage of weakened, disoriented bees, exotic pathogens like the Varroa mite, imported via globalized trade, suck the remaining life out of them. And, so, we see the collapse of the honeybee and North American bats.

Much of this we learn in Taggart Siegel’s part philosophical love story, part documentary, Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us? Theatrically released on March 25, the award-winning film is further supported by a newly released report from the United Nations Environment Programme, Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators.

A sure way to collapse an ecosystem is to decimate a keystone species – one from which the entire localized web of life radiates. Pollinators contribute nearly ten percent to the global food economy, or about $218 billion USD (€153 billion) a year. Of the 100 or so crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, bees pollinate 71 of them, according to UNEP’s report. Among the 20,000 known bee species worldwide, the honeybee, Apis mellifera, is most important, contributing between $33 and $82 billion annually (€22.8 to €57 billion).

So while we are witnessing the planet’s sixth extinction spasm (popularly detailed in Ed Wilson’s The Diversity of Life), it is the bee that garners our deserved attention.

“Bees are the legs of plants,” Michael Pollan explains in Queen of the Sun. They co-evolved so that the sessile organism feeds the aerial one in exchange for propagation. That mutualism supports much of life today. Without pollinators, crops will collapse. As crops collapse, myriads of species, including humans, will starve.

When pollinators go, so will flowering plants. The chain reaction collapse can easily then lead to the end of the Age of Mammals. This would be similar to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. The “terrible lizards” will have outlasted us by 100 million years. Only about half of all species survived that last extinction spasm – notably alligators and crocodiles. But human survival is hardly guaranteed if 40% of our food sources vanish. While gators and crocs can go a year or more without eating – and this survival mechanism vastly contributes to the species’ longevity – humans cannot.

The UNEP report lists eight reasons for colony collapse disorder: Habitat destruction, invasive species (like the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor), air pollution, electromagnetic pollution, pesticides and other chemical pollution, industrial transport (where a million bees die each year), colony splitting, and diet. The report does not mention genetically engineered crops as a contributing factor to bee decline, but does attack monocultures:

“It is increasingly difficult for pollinators to obtain sufficient pollen sources for all their essential amino acids. Consequently, this can weaken the insects’ immune system, making them more vulnerable to various pathogens.”

In Queen of the Sun, several speakers have no doubt. When plants are genetically altered (via a crude gun method), the process is so unreliable that only one out of thousands of cells transmutes. Dr Vandana Shiva explains that, because of this, antibiotic resistant genes and viral promoters have to be added. “Every genetically engineered seed is a bundle of bacteria, toxins, and viral promoters.”

These GM bacteria, toxins, and viral promoters are transferred into our gut (and that of bees), where they continue to function within the host. Only now, we’re the host. The bee is the host. And bees aren’t doing so well. Science has shown that high fructose corn syrup, a GM product fed to bees, inhibits genetic expression of immunity and detox functions.

Queen of the Sun highlights the delicate balance among the various members of an ecosystem, making the point that genetic integrity is required for the system to work.  In order for the bee (or the flowering plant) to be the best at what it does, its DNA must remain intact.

Both the film and the UNEP report leave no doubt that the collapse of pollinators is the most urgent problem facing humanity today. Both make several suggestions to agribusiness and individuals, including: Stop (or greatly slow) the use of pesticides, grow bee friendly crops, buy organic, provide habitat and fresh water, and become a sustainable beekeeper. The UNEP report notes that pollinator conservation efforts should also plan nursery habitats, since the requirements of larval stages differ from winged adults.

Given that bee and bat decline is most severe in the United States, which has the longest history of deploying GM crops and which uses more agrochemicals than any other nation, the culprit seems pretty obvious. The top six agrochemical companies, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, BASF, Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, and DuPont, also spread genetically modified crops.

Pollinators are keeping score of the corporate war on nature. They are telling us that pesticides, biotechnology, and cell phones are winning.  The tragedy is that when pollinators go, so will flowering plants and, likely, the Age of Mammals.

Check here for a list of upcoming screenings and see this list of 10 things you can do to help bees

Biofuels Emit 400 percent more CO2 than Regular Fuels

Although CO2 is not the pollutant crazy environmentalists portray it to be, where is the environmental solution on the current use of biofuels if they emit more of that ‘pollutant’ than gasoline or diesel?  There isn’t any.  It’s all about monopoly and control.

By Ethan A. Huff

A recent report issued by the European Union has revealed that biofuels, or fuel made from living, renewable sources, is not really all that beneficial to the environment. Rather than reduce the net carbon footprint as intended, biofuels can produce four times more carbon dioxide pollution than conventional fossil fuels do.

Common biofuels like corn ethanol, which has become a popular additive in gasoline, and soy biodiesel, which is being used in commercial trucks and other diesel-fueled vehicles, are often considered to be environmentally-friendly because they are renewable. But in order to grow enough of these crops to use for both food and fuel, large swaths of land around the world are being converted into crop fields for growing biofuels.

In other words, millions of acres of lush rainforests are becoming corn and soy fields in order to provide enough of these resources for their new uses. The net carbon footprint of growing crops for fuel is far higher than what is emitted from simple fossil fuel usage.

According to the report, American soybeans have an indirect carbon footprint of 340kg of CO2 per gigajoule (GJ), while conventional diesel and gasoline create only 85kg/GJ. Similarly, the European rapeseed, a plant similar to the North American canola, indirectly produces 150kg/GJ because additional land in other nations has been converted to grow rapeseed for food in order to replace the native crops that are now being grown for fuel.

Ironically, the amount of direct and indirect resources used to grow food for fuel is quite high compared to that of conventional fossil fuels. Biofuels also do not burn as efficiently and can be rough on the engines they fuel. Ethanol-enriched gasoline can also reduce gas mileage efficiency by upwards of 25 percent, depending on the vehicle.

Growing food for fuel ends up increasing the price of food for consumers. It also puts additional strain on families, many of whom are already having difficulties making ends meet in current economic conditions.

When all is said and done, biofuels seem to be a whole lot of hype with not a lot of benefit. Environmentally, fiscally and practically, biofuels are a disaster. Fossil fuels may not be an ideal form of clean energy, but at this point in time, they make a lot more sense than biofuels.