Pages tagged "Glyphosate"
An eye-opening look into a shadowy industry group that is shaping food policy around the world. International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is "an American nonprofit with an innocuous sounding name that has been quietly infiltrating government health and nutrition bodies around the world." Their work might be familiar to you.
After decades largely operating under the radar, ILSI is coming under increasing scrutiny by health advocates in the United States and abroad who say it is little more than a front group advancing the interests of the 400 corporate members that provide its $17 million budget, among them Coca-Cola, DuPont, PepsiCo, General Mills and Danone.
The organization, which championed tobacco interests during the 1980s and 1990s in Europe and the United States, has more recently expanded its activities in Asia and Latin America, regions that provide a growing share of food company profits. It has been especially active in China, India and Brazil, the world’s first, second and sixth most populous nations.
Over the past decade, ILSI has received more than $2 million from chemical companies, among them Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer last year. In 2016, ILSI came under withering criticism after a U.N. committee issued a ruling that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, was “probably not carcinogenic,” contradicting an earlier report by the W.H.O.’s cancer agency. The committee, it turned out, was led by two ILSI officials, one of them Alan Boobis, the vice president of ILSI-Europe who has done consulting work for the chemical sector.
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The Macron Government of France is offering its farmers a way out of glyphosate dependency within the next 3 years
The Macron Government of France is offering its farmers a way out of glyphosate dependency within the next 3 years.
Millions have been following European discussions on the possible ban (or a new licensing period) for glyphosate-based herbicides; discussions which stemmed from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declaring glyphosate a probable human carcinogen in March, 2015.
Glyphosate application to pear trees (Credit: Chris Hardy)
European countries finally voted, in November, 2017 to allow glyphosate to be used another 5 years on farms. Although not the time period desired by many, this was less than the time wanted by industry, some countries, and some European agencies.
Germany, after initially abstaining, in a surprise, politically-motivated, change-of-heart, voted to back the European Commission’s proposal to extend the use of the weed-killer for 5 years. The surprise came when then Agricultural Minister Christian Schmidt took it upon himself to cast Germany’s deciding yes vote supporting 5 more years of glyphosate. Neither Chancellor Merkel nor Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks had been notified of his intent. After the vote, French President Macron said he would take all necessary measures to ban the product, as soon as an alternative was available, and at the latest within three years.
The French solution to glyphosate
In November, 2018, the French government presented possible mechanisms for achieving such a ban. Here is my best understanding on how the French government sees a transition away from glyphosate use while protecting farmers financially.
Overall, the plan emphasizes good farming practices and encourages dialogue among farmers. The government has also declared that no one will be left without a solution if they abandon glyphosate.
The plan also involves:
1. An online platform where farmers can publically declare they are glyphosate free, or are in the process of committing to a glyphosate phase-out. The government anticipates that 25,000 organic farmers will sign up on the online platform since none use glyphosate.
2. A glyphosate phase-out support component where farmers can share experiences online with other farmers (both organic and conventional) who are involved in the phase-out process.
3. A “technical resource bank”–not fully described–but it appears experts will interact with farmers who have questions on how to phase out glyphosate use.
4. A tax for those farmers using glyphosate amounting to 1 Euro per Kilo of glyphosate used. This is referred to as a “phytosanitary” tax on the use of a pollutant. It is anticipated that this tax will generate $50 million euros ($57 million dollars) annually to help farmers transition away from pesticide use.
5. A National “Glyphosate Task Force” will be formed and led by the Ministries of Ecological Transition and Agriculture. With the support of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), and other national agencies, they will report on the actions undertaken and the progress made by farmers in transitioning away from glyphosate based herbicides.
Supporting Macron’s ground-breaking plan, INRA declared that alternatives to glyphosate already exist for nearly 2/3 of the agricultural crop land.
Considerable descriptions are provided in the online platform giving farmers suggestions about changing their farming techniques. The great news is that the recommendations include the use of cover crops, no or minimal tillage and other procedures that encourage healthy soils and discourage weeds and pathogens. It thus appears there may be a major shift to agroecological or perhaps regenerative agricultural principles.
A clear description of how the program is envisioned to develop is offered here.
Glyphosate in Germany
The situation with France’s neighbor Germany seems less well developed and is apparently more complicated by political issues. Here is the situation as of November 6, 2018.
The German Minister for the Environment (Svenja Schulze) is calling for a binding date for the complete cessation of the use of glyphosate. The Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture (Julia Klockner) is resisting a complete phase-out program. She is suggesting a ban on glyphosate in public parks and private gardens and a 2020 start on a program setting aside 10% of each farm to be glyphosate-free. Key details of her suggestions are not yet available though. There is no information as to whether that 10% of the farm is always in the same area or if it rotates around the farm. There is also no mention as to a schedule for increasing the 10% farm set aside area over time.
Schulze also wants to establish pesticide protected areas and establish new regulations on all future pesticide uses in the environment. She does not wish to have new future pesticides without new regulations intended to protect the environment from harms to “biodiversity.”
But aren’t all pesticides harming biodiversity? There are no synthetic pesticides that are 100% directed at a pest only. Exactly how harms to biodiversity will be defined and measured is apparently not yet determined.
Unlike France, neither German minister has provided timing, and other details on their glyphosate phase-out programs, nor how farmers can best be making such a transition.
Through these announcements and actions, the French Government is making it clear it believes there are alternatives to using glyphosate (and other toxic herbicides) in commercial farming practices. This is a fact known to organic farmers since the beginning of agriculture. It’s called organic, agroecological, sustainable, or more recently regenerative agriculture. What is new in all this is the French government is offering mechanisms using 21st century technologies and knowledge to help farmers adopt and adapt traditional farming practices with the aid of online information, robust communication and assistance, and financial incentives to make the switch and get it right. The rewards include lower energy inputs, carbon dioxide sequestration from the atmosphere back into the soil, higher soil organic matter to better hold moisture, increased soil fertility and provide for greater biodiversity, while improving pollinator health, fewer toxic synthetic pesticides in our foods and bodies, and potentially higher financial returns to the farmers. The actual benefits from such a model agricultural system were recently documented in a small North Italian farming town that opted to stop using synthetic pesticides.
It is our hope that this French program to abandon glyphosate use on commercial farms and in public places takes hold and becomes a model for other nations. Perhaps U.S. States, and communities may also be considering a ban on glyphosate. The State of Carinthia, Austria is another example of how pesticides can be banned.
These are important green shoots for sustainable agriculture. Let’s see them nurtured.
As the EPA extends use of the controversial herbicide for two more years, farmers continue to take sides, and the effects on rural America are snowballing.
John and Lisa Zuhlke used to get along well with their neighbor of 10 years. Before they began raising more than 350 varieties of heirloom vegetables and honey on their five-acre operation in Aurora, South Dakota, two years ago, they maintained an amicable relationship with the soybean grower next door. He would scoop snow from their driveway and road and let them hunt his land for dove geese, says John Zuhlke.
Dicamba—the controversial weed killer—upended their relationship.
In August 2017, the leaves on Zuhlke’s vegetable crops started looking deformed, curling up around the edges, or cupping. “It was weird to me. I’d never seen anything like it,” he says. When he asked his neighbor about it, he was told the neighbor had sprayed Engenia, one of three “low volatility” dicamba products that have been approved to spray on fields of dicamba-resistant soybeans after the seedlings have emerged.
Zuhlke lost over $11,000 worth of crops that summer, and had to let over 300 tomato plants rot in the field. Offered no apology, he made a claim on his neighbor’s liability insurance. But the insurance company refused to pay, blaming the product. And while the neighboring farmer had been careful when spraying in the past, that has changed. “Now he hates us,” says a frustrated Zuhlke, who has reported pesticide damage to the state’s department of agriculture three times in two years.
This year, the leaves on Zuhlke’s black walnut and cherry trees even curled up. Lab results he posted on Twitter indicated a cocktail of pesticides: dicamba, glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup), and 2,4-D. As far as he could tell, however, “no one within a half of a mile sprayed,” he says.
Dicamba was first registered in the U.S. in 1967. Known to be volatile, becoming vapor at high temperatures, it was typically only used to clear fields of weeds before planting in late fall or early winter—at times when it would do little damage to nearby plants and didn’t impact growing crops. The new formulations, introduced by Monsanto (now Bayer), Dupont, and BASF in 2016 and 2017, claimed to lower dicamba’s volatility, and therefore its drift potential, in warm spring and summer weather. But the herbicides have proved so problematic for neighboring farms that both Arkansas and Missouri placed temporary bans on them in 2017.
Independent researchers were not allowed to test the products’ volatility before they were registered, and many are still struggling to get a clear picture of how it moves and under which conditions it volatilizes. Many pesticide experts shared a common a sense of dread when dicamba was first registered for use on soybeans and cotton—but the ensuing damage exceeded their fears. “Even the most pessimistic pesticide specialist was shocked by the amount of off-target movement and damage in 2017,” says Andrew Thostenson, a pesticide specialist at North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo.
On Halloween evening, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a long-awaited decision reauthorizing dicamba’s registration for two more years, with additional restrictions to the already-complicated label. And while some of those restrictions may help some farmers avoid harming their neighbors’ crops, it will likely continue to sour more rural relationships in the years ahead.
The world’s most used weedkiller damages the beneficial bacteria in the guts of honeybees and makes them more prone to deadly infections, new research has found.
Previous studies have shown that pesticides such as neonicotinoids cause harm to bees, whose pollination is vital to about three-quarters of all food crops. Glyphosate, manufactured by Monsanto, targets an enzyme only found in plants and bacteria.
However, the new study shows that glyphosate damages the microbiota that honeybees need to grow and to fight off pathogens. The findings show glyphosate, the most used agricultural chemical ever, may be contributing to the global decline in bees, along with the loss of habitat.
“We demonstrated that the abundances of dominant gut microbiota species are decreased in bees exposed to glyphosate at concentrations documented in the environment,” said Erick Motta and colleagues from University of Texas at Austin in their new paper. They found that young worker bees exposed to glyphosate exposure died more often when later exposed to a common bacterium.
Other research, from China and published in July, showed that honeybee larvae grew more slowly and died more often when exposed to glyphosate. An earlier study, in 2015, showed the exposure of adult bees to the herbicide at levels found in fields “impairs the cognitive capacities needed for a successful return to the hive”.
“The biggest impact of glyphosate on bees is the destruction of the wildflowers on which they depend,” said Matt Sharlow, at conservation group Buglife. “Evidence to date suggests direct toxicity to bees is fairly low, however the new study clearly demonstrates that pesticide use can have significant unintended consequences.”
Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, said: “It now seems that we have to add glyphosate to the list of problems that bees face. This study is also further evidence that the landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict.”
Photo from Pexels.
Missteps by agribusiness giants allowed the invasion. Now they're off the hook for cleanup.
In the failing light of an unusually warm January day, Jerry Erstrom and I race along a dirt track behind Rod Frahm’s white pickup. Here, near Ontario, Oregon, a stone’s throw from the Idaho border, Frahm grows onions, squash and corn. But today, he wants to show us something he’s growing against his will: a genetically engineered turfgrass designed for golf courses.
Frahm slams on the brakes next to a dry irrigation ditch, jumps out and yanks up a clump, winter-brown but laced with new green shoots. Beneath his gray fedora, his dark eyes glint with anger as he holds out the scraggly specimen. “I have it in a lot of my ditches,” he says.
Just to be sure, Erstrom produces a plastic vial the size and shape of a .22 caliber cartridge. He stuffs a few blades into it, adds water, and mashes the mixture with a wooden rod, like a bartender muddling mint. Then he inserts a plastic strip and hands it to me. It’s like a pregnancy test: One line confirms it’s working, while the other detects a gene that unmasks the intruder.
We wait, batting away gnats and breathing in the aroma of onions, whose colorful skins litter the county roads. Then the results appear: This is indeed the variety of creeping bentgrass that agribusiness giants Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup.
The grass arrived here uninvited, after crossing the Snake River from old seed fields in Idaho. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which vets most new genetically engineered products, had not approved the plant’s release. But in 2010, landowners discovered it growing in great mats throughout the irrigation system that stretches like a spider web across Malheur County.
Creeping bentgrass has not created a catastrophe, as some anti-GMO groups warned it would. But it thrives in canals and ditches, where it collects sediment and impedes water flow, and it has proved difficult to control. That makes it a headache for Frahm and other growers — like the heavy snows that crushed their onion sheds last year, and the host of other weeds they already battle.
No one believes the bentgrass can be fully eradicated, either. And as long as it’s around, some fear it could contaminate non-GMO crops and invade natural areas. “It just scares the bejeezus out of me,” says Erstrom, a retired Bureau of Land Management natural resource specialist who chairs the Malheur County Weed Advisory Board.
So far, Scotts has led the battle to rein in its escapee, with some recent success. But in a series of decisions over the last several years, the USDA has relieved Scotts of future responsibility in return for the company’s promise not to market the grass. Scotts has pledged not to turn its back on the problem, but after this summer, it no longer has to bankroll cleanup efforts. Now, Erstrom and others say there are no legal safeguards to keep the task — with its reported $250,000 annual price tag — from becoming the burden of local growers and the state and county governments.
To critics, the case laid bare glaring weaknesses in the country’s oversight of genetically engineered, or GE, crops. While biotechnology’s defenders say the process is already overly rigorous, others have long argued that regulations, which haven’t changed significantly since 1987, don’t do enough to protect agriculture and the environment. Neither the USDA nor any government agency must weigh the full social, economic and ecological impacts of GE products, says Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University. “There’s really no place that’s looking at this broadly from a risk-benefit perspective.”
In Malheur County, landowners must reckon with the consequences. Erstrom says the USDA’s handling of bentgrass has forced a polarized community to grapple with a problem it didn’t create. “They took it out of Scotts’ hands and dumped it into the laps of the irrigation district and the farmers.”
Photo from Flickr.
Across a 1,000-mile long expanse of farm country from the Great Plains to the Midwest, millions of acres of crops have withered, leaving some fields little more than a brown swath of death.
With thousands of complaints of crop damage across more than 3 million acres in 24 states — including some 100 complaints in Iowa — a longtime University of Missouri plant researcher is calling it possibly the greatest pesticide-caused crop damage in U. S. history.
The culprit is the notoriously drift-prone pesticide dicamba that was supposed to be the answer to weeds’ escalating resistance to the world’s most popular pesticide — Monsanto’s glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
As glyphosate-resistant superweeds sprouted across millions of U.S. acres, farmers were assured that spraying both dicamba and glyphosate on a new generation of Monsanto crops genetically altered to resist both pesticides would be the cure.
But the latest pesticide “solution” has created new problems for farmers who choose not to plant those GE crops. With more than 2,600 complaints of widespread damage to soybeans, fruit trees and vegetables, eight states have limited use of dicamba and several class-action lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto.
More than simply an indictment of one pesticide, the dicamba dilemma has spotlighted the challenges of the nation’s increasing dependence on crops genetically altered to resist pesticides, a dependence that has directly fueled an even greater addiction to highly toxic chemicals.
Photo from Flickr.Read more
This was the first year that farmers were allowed to spray it on soybean and cotton fields. (Some farmers did use dicamba illegally last year, provoking disputes between farmers that in one case, led to murder.) Many farmers embraced the new tool. But it quickly turned controversial: Farmers couldn't seem to keep dicamba confined to their own fields.
The problem was worst in Arkansas, where almost 1,000 farmers filed formal complaints of damage caused by drifting dicamba. But the rogue weedkiller has hit fields across soybean-growing areas from Mississippi to Minnesota.
According to estimates compiled by weed scientist Kevin Bradley at the University of Missouri, at least 3 million acres of crops have seen some injury. Most are soybeans that aren't resistant to dicamba, but vegetable crops like watermelons, fruit trees and wild vegetation have been injured as well. The dicamba vapors didn't typically kill the plants but left behind curled leaves and sometimes stunted plants.
"There is no precedent for what we've seen this year," says Bob Scott, a weed specialist with the University of Arkansas.
The Arkansas State Plant Board now has taken the lead in cracking down on the problem. On Thursday, it voted unanimously to ban the use of dicamba on the state's crops from mid-April until November. This amounts to a ban on the use of dicamba in combination with Monsanto's genetically engineered crops. It's not a final decision: The governor and a group of legislative leaders have to sign off on the Plant Board's regulatory decisions, but they usually do so. That won't happen, however, until after a public hearing set for Nov. 8.
The board also approved a steep increase in fines — up to $25,000 — for farmers who use dicamba and similar herbicides illegally.
Farmers planted a new kind of seed on 25 million acres of soybean and cotton fields this year. Developed by Monsanto, the seeds, genetically modified to be resistant to a weed killer called dicamba, are one of the biggest product releases in the company’s history.
But the seeds and the weed killer have turned some farmers — often customers of Monsanto, which sells both — against the company and alarmed regulators.
Farmers who have not bought the expensive new seeds, which started to appear last year, are joining lawsuits, claiming that their crops have been damaged by dicamba that drifted onto their farms. Arkansas announced a 120-day ban of the weed killer this summer, and it is considering barring its use next year after mid-April. Missouri briefly barred its sale in July. And the Environmental Protection Agency, not known for its aggressiveness under President Trump, is weighing its own action.
“I’m a fan of Monsanto. I’ve bought a lot of their products,” said Brad Williams, a Missouri farmer. “I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that there would be some kind of evil nefarious plot to put a defective product out there intentionally.”
Yet he has been dismayed both by damage to his soybean crops, which were within a wide area of farmland harmed by dicamba, and by the impact even to trees on his property. Leaves, he said, were “so deformed you couldn’t even really identify the differences between them.”
The dispute comes as American agriculture sits at a crossroads.
Genetically modified crops were introduced in the mid-1990s. They made it possible to spray weed killers — chiefly Monsanto’s Roundup — on plants after they emerged from the ground, ridding fields of weeds while leaving crops undamaged.
But weeds are becoming more resistant to Roundup, so the industry is developing seeds that are tolerant to more herbicides. Environmentalists and some weed scientists worry that making seeds resistant to more weed killers will increase the use of pesticides.
Monsanto and another company, BASF, have also developed a new, less volatile version of dicamba, which has been around for decades. DowDuPont, which has its own dicamba-resistant seed, is introducing crops resistant to 2,4-D, another old herbicide.
Monsanto formally challenged Arkansas’ ban earlier this month, insisting that 99 percent of its customers were satisfied. It plans to double the use of its new dicamba-resistant soybeans seeds to 40 million acres by next year.
“New technologies take some time to learn,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy. “Thus far, what we’ve seen in the field, the vast majority, more than three-quarters of them, has been due to not following the label.”
The company has also claimed that Arkansas’ decision was “tainted by the involvement” of two scientists tied to a rival, Bayer. Considering that Bayer is acquiring Monsanto, it was an awkward step. Bayer called the men “pre-eminent weed scientists.”
Some foresaw drift problems with dicamba.
For years, Steve Smith, once a member of a dicamba advisory panel set up by Monsanto, urged the company to change course. Mr. Smith, the head of agriculture at Red Gold, a tomato processor based in Indiana, aired his concerns at a congressional hearing in 2010.
“The widespread use of dicamba is incompatible with Midwestern agriculture,” he said in his testimony. “Even the best, the most conscientious farmers cannot control where this weed killer will end up.”
Photo from Flickr.Read more
Government emails show persistent effort by multiple officials within EPA to slow safety review of glyphosate
Newly released government email communications show a persistent effort by multiple officials within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to slow a separate federal agency’s safety review of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide. Notably, the records demonstrate that the EPA efforts came at the behest of Monsanto, and that EPA officials were helpful enough to keep the chemical giant updated on their progress.
The communications, most of which were obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, show that it was early 2015 when the EPA and Monsanto began working in concert to stall a toxicology review that a unit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was conducting on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s branded Roundup herbicide products. The details revealed in the documents come as Monsanto is defending itself against lawsuits alleging that it has tried to cover up evidence of harm with its herbicides.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency that along with the CDC is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is charged with evaluating the potential adverse human health effects from exposures to hazardous substances in the environment. So it made sense for the ATSDR to take a look at glyphosate, which is widely used on U.S. farms, residential lawns and gardens, school playgrounds and golf courses. Glyphosate is widely used in food production and glyphosate residues have been found in testing of human urine.
The ATSDR announced in February 2015 that it planned to publish a toxicological profile of glyphosate by October of that year. But by October, that review was on hold, and to this date no such review has yet been published. The documents reveal this was no accident, no bureaucratic delay, but rather was the result of a collaborative effort between Monsanto and a group of high-ranking EPA officials.
For Monsanto, the timing of the ATSDR review was worrisome. In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, and Monsanto feared ATSDR might have similar concerns about the chemical. Previous reports have described how one EPA official, Jess Rowland, communicated to Monsanto in April 2015 his willingness to try to kill the ATSDR review. Rowland, who retired in 2016, was the deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP). Allegations of collusion between Rowland and Monsanto have prompted a probe by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General.
But the trove of documents newly obtained from within EPA and HHS demonstrate that the assistance to Monsanto came not only from Rowland but also from even higher-level EPA officials. Rather than encourage and assist the toxicology review of glyphosate, Monsanto and EPA officials repeatedly complained to ATSDR and HHS that such a review was unnecessarily “duplicative” and should take a back seat to an EPA review also underway.
Photo from Flickr.
Monsanto Co. started an agricultural revolution with its “Roundup Ready” seeds, genetically modified to resist the effects of its blockbuster herbicide called Roundup. That ability to kill weeds while leaving desirable crops intact helped the company turn Roundup’s active ingredient, the chemical glyphosate, into one of the world’s most-used crop chemicals. When that heavy use raised health concerns, Monsanto noted that the herbicide’s safety had repeatedly been vetted by outsiders. But now there’s new evidence that Monsanto’s claims of rigorous scientific review are suspect.
Dozens of internal Monsanto emails, released on Aug. 1 by plaintiffs’ lawyers who are suing the company, reveal how Monsanto worked with an outside consulting firm to induce the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology to publish a purported “independent” review of Roundup’s health effects that appears to be anything but. The review, published along with four subpapers in a September 2016 special supplement, was aimed at rebutting the 2015 assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. That finding by the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization led California last month to list glyphosate as a known human carcinogen. It has also spurred more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts by plaintiffs who claim they contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure.
Monsanto disclosed that it paid Intertek Group Plc’s consulting unit to develop the review supplement, entitled “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.” But that was the extent of Monsanto’s involvement, the main article said. “The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company,” according to the review’s Declaration of Interest statement. “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”
Monsanto’s internal emails tell a different story. The correspondence shows the company’s chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, and other Monsanto scientists were heavily involved in organizing, reviewing, and editing drafts submitted by the outside experts. At one point, Heydens even vetoed explicit requests by some of the panelists to tone down what one of them wrote was the review’s “inflammatory” criticisms of IARC.