Thursday, December 29, 2011
Bt: The lesson not learned
By Janet Raloff
December 29th, 2011
Science News reported 60-plus years ago how indiscriminate use of DDT ruined that chemical’s value. Now history seems to be repeating itself with Bt
The more things change, the more they stay the same, as a Dec. 29 Associated Press report on genetically engineered corn notes. Like déjà vu, this news story on emerging resistance to Bt toxin — a fabulously effective and popular insecticide to protect corn — brings to mind articles I encountered over the weekend while flipping through historic issues of Science News.
More than a half-century ago, our magazine chronicled, real time, the emergence of resistance to DDT, the golden child of pest controllers worldwide. Now much the same thing is happening again with Bt, its contemporary agricultural counterpart. Will we never learn?
The new AP story cites rather vague references to the fact that corn genetically engineered to produce the insect-targeting Bt toxin no longer knocks out a major scourge — the Western corn rootworm — as it recently had. These beetle larvae are developing resistance to the toxin (named for its initial source, the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis). And the worst part: Early evidence of resistance occurs in secret as the voracious larvae again chomp away at roots buried beneath a masking layer of soil.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Bt Crops Failures & Hazards
Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji
December 14, 2011
The claim that genetically modified organisms are the most promising way of increasing crop yields is falsified by many independent scientific studies, as well as direct experience with GM crops in India, China, Argentina and the United States. Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji reviews evidence on Bt crops
This report has been submitted to the EPA on behalf of the Institute of Science in Society. Please circulate widely and forward to your policy-makers
Rising insect resistance to genetically modified (GM) crops including Monsanto’s biggest selling crop, Bt corn, is threatening their utility and profitability. Insect resistance has prompted a new investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to documents in the newly opened docket (Docket No: EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0922) , “severe” damage to corn by rootworm has occurred in four states in the US. Further, the EPA describe Monsanto’s insect resistance monitoring program as “inadequate”. The EPA will collect public information to tackle the damage that could cause serious crop and economic damage. Amidst this investigation, Monsanto are seeing significant falls in their share prices . Comments and information regarding insect resistance can be submitted to the EPA on their website .
In 2010, GM crops engineered to produce insecticidal toxins from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium, were grown on more than 58 million hectares of land globally . First commercialised in the US in 1996, it is also the only commercialised GM crop grown in the EU, with Spain being the largest producer. Despite their widespread commercialisation, the evidence for their functionality is still elusive, while evidence of their harm to the environment, people’s health, economic security and self-determination is continually mounting.
GM proponents have repeatedly claimed that Bt crops can help combat world hunger by increasing crop yields while reducing pesticide use, thereby providing a more productive and environmentally safe option over traditional varieties. However, as highlighted by a recent report conducted by 20 Indian, Southeast Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people, these claims are false. Pesticide use has increased, while GM crop yields are lower than conventional varieties (see  Transgenic Cotton Offers No Advantage, SiS 38) and world hunger is at epic proportions .
Risk assessments of Bt toxins to date have been inadequate, not least due to inexplicable lack of reliable data on the concentrations of Bt toxin produced in plants, including the roots and pollen. The purported efficacy and safety of these products cannot be established when exposure levels have not be reliably determined. A new study reported a standardised method to test Bt toxin levels and still found significant variation in results, highlighting the variability in previous studies . In particular, reports of declining concentrations in the food chain and soils are unreliable and need to be re-evaluated and repeated. Despite these inadequacies in risk assessments so far, evidence of the Bt toxicity to environment and health is steadily accumulating.
The present review summarises all the evidence surrounding the efficacy and safety of Bt crops with regards to pest control, human health and environmental impact.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Farmers using even more pesticides with GM crops
By Ken Roseboro
The Organic & Non-GMO Report
July 21, 2011
Proponents of genetically modified crops have long claimed that GM crops would reduce pesticide usage, but government statistics show that claim to be false.
According to the 2010 Agricultural Chemical Use Report released in June by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), use of the herbicide glyphosate, associated with genetically modified crops, has dramatically increased over the last several years, while the use of other even more toxic chemicals such as atrazine has not declined. The data show that overall use of pesticides has remained relatively steady, while glyphosate use has skyrocketed to more than double the amount used just five years ago.
The report shows that in the states surveyed, 57 million pounds of glyphosate were applied last year on corn fields. Ten years prior, in 2000, this number was only 4.4 million pounds, and in 2005, it was still less than half of current numbers at 23 million pounds.
GM proponents claim glyphosate reduces the need for farmers to use older, more toxic herbicides such as atrazine. Also not true. In 2000, 54 million pounds of atrazine were applied across surveyed states, by 2005 57.4 million pounds were used, and in 2010, the total dipped slightly to 51 million pounds.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
AgResearch stalls ‘damaging’ report
By Kiran Chug
The Dominion Post
June 23, 2011
Attempts to shut down a scientific report critical of AgResearch’s practices at its genetic engineering laboratories have been revealed through the company’s internal documents.
The report has sparked a war of words between the Canterbury University professor who wrote it, and the Crown research institute he criticises.
Professor Jack Heinemann, from the university’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, wrote the report, which was published in an international peer-reviewed journal last month.
Its publication came about a year after he was asked by GE Free New Zealand to look into AgResearch’s monitoring of the risk of horizontal gene transfers at its Ruakura facility.
AgResearch receives a mixture of taxpayer funding and commercial backing, with about three-quarters of its funding for research carried out at Ruakura coming from public funds.
The report looked at the agency’s offal holes containing genetically engineered cow carcasses and its monitoring of the risk of material from those pits contaminating the soil.
Correspondence made available to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act reveals that staff who saw a draft of Prof Heinemann’s critical report found it to be “at face value quite damaging”.
“Generally the report looks and sounds authoritative and thorough. The response should be to take it seriously. This is particularly important as it questions the rigour of AgR scientific processes - an issue that any scientific institute must regard as an issue of core competency.”
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Roundup birth defects
By Lucia Graves
June 8, 2011
WASHINGTON — Industry regulators have known for years that Roundup, the world’s best-selling herbicide produced by U.S. company Monsanto, causes birth defects, according to a new report released Tuesday.
The report, “Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?” found regulators knew as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate, the chemical on which Roundup is based, can cause birth defects in laboratory animals.
But despite such warnings, and although the European Commission has known that glyphosate causes malformations since at least 2002, the information was not made public.
Instead regulators misled the public about glyphosate’s safety, according to the report, and as recently as last year, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, the German government body dealing with the glyphosate review, told the European Commission that there was no evidence glyphosate causes birth defects.
The report comes months after researchers found that genetically-modified crops used in conjunction Roundup contain a pathogen that may cause animal miscarriages. After observing the newly discovered organism back in February, Don Huber, a emeritus professor at Purdue University, wrote an open letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting a moratorium on deregulating crops genetically altered to be immune to Roundup, which are commonly called Roundup Ready crops.
In the letter, Huber also commented on the herbicide itself, saying: “It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders.”