If You buy ROUND UP you are helping to build Monsanto’s income while destroying our agriculture.


I’m going to print an article in the morning’s HuffPo intact. I suggest you read it AND go to all the links involved AND to most of their links. What you will discover is that there is a worldwide problem, both in providing us with increased birth defects and dreadful diseases as about ten major chemical companies, with Monsanto in the lead, spreads its poison around the world.

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Roundup Birth Defects: Regulators Knew World’s Best-Selling Herbicide Causes Problems, New Report Finds

by Lucia Graves at HuffPo

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.”

Although glyphosate was originally due to be reviewed in 2012, the Commission decided late last year not to bring the review forward, instead delaying it until 2015. The chemical will not be reviewed under more stringent, up-to-date standards until 2030.

One of the things you will discover as you tour the links (and their links) are facts like Monsanto’s GMO corn seed (which accounts for 83% of our corn crop) is registered by the EPA as an “insecticide” due to chemical contents built into the seed. I don’t know if I have ever thought of a vegetable or grain as an “insecticide”— certainly a good reason for growing organic.

In another article in HuffPo a month ago there was this finding:

“Recent research claims that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified crops contain an organism, previously unknown to science, that can cause miscarriages in farm animals.”

It doesn’t look like any research was followed by the previous findings into whether this caused similar miscarriages in humans. As the Washington Post commented on Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready Seeds (RRS) that are spreading throughout our Nation’s agriculture:


“You can’t recall them the way you can a car or a plastic toy. They’re out there for good. And no one knows what their full impact will be.”

Will have more to come on this topic… meanwhile, I’m getting back to the all-organic Shepherdstown Community Garden (where we are finding that it is quite a hard task to avoid the chemical subjugation of growing things.)



A Conversation About Organic Agriculture with Chuck Benbrook

In this regular series we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature Chuck Benbrook, Chief Scientist at the Organic Center.

Name: Chuck Benbrook

Affiliation: The Organic Center

Location: Enterprise, Oregon

Bio: Dr. Charles Benbrook is Chief Scientist at the Organic Center. He worked in Washington, D.C. on agricultural policy, science and regulatory issues from 1979 through 1997. He served for 1.5 years as the agricultural staff expert on the Council for Environmental Quality at the end of the Carter Administration. Following the election of Ronald Reagan, he moved to Capitol Hill in early 1981 and was the Executive Director of the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture with jurisdiction over pesticide regulation, research, trade and foreign agricultural issues. In 1984 Benbrook was recruited to the job of Executive Director, Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, a position he held for seven years. In late 1990 he formed Benbrook Consulting Services.

On Nourishing the Planet: Promoting agricultural and economic development in Africa requires intimate understanding of the resources people have to work with, and the factors shaping the decisions farmers make about what to grow and how.  Such understanding is a prerequisite to cost-effectively relax multiple constraints in unison.  The "Nourishing the Planet" project excels at gathering and sharing this sort of key information and, for this reason, has much to contribute in shaping development assistant programs that produce meaningful, sustained results.

Can you describe the possible ways that organic agriculture methods can help improve farmers' income, increase food security, and decrease world hunger?

If you dispassionately look at what is needed to promote productivity and food security in chronically food short regions, core organic farming principles and practices have much to contribute, and certainly far more than the GMO and chemical-intensive corn-soybean production system in the U.S. corn belt.   This is particularly true in restoring soil fertility and reversing the steady decline in soil organic matter.

Six core principles and objectives of organic farming must form the foundation of sustainable food systems, and hence food security in Africa -

   * Build the quality of the soil by increasing soil organic matter;
   * Promote above and below-ground biodiversity for its inherent, multiple benefits (biological control, more diverse diet, lessening risk of catastrophic crop loss, etc);
   * Integrate crop and livestock operations to exploit synergies between the two;
   * Use crop rotations, cover crops, multi-cropping systems, and agro-foresty to utilize available sunlight and moisture more fully, especially in the spring and fall months;
   * Avoid the use of toxic chemicals and hot fertilizers because of their potential to burn up organic matter, kill or reduce populations of non-target organisms that play valuable roles in food chains ultimately helping to feed people, and pose risks to people living in close proximity to treated areas; and
   * Produce high-quality, nutrient dense products that will hopefully command a premium price in the market place, reflecting their true value.

What are some specific innovations, policies and techniques that could be implemented to promote organic agriculture while also improving livelihoods?

Obviously, the combination of new practices, inputs, and technologies needed will vary tremendously based on local conditions.  Nearly everywhere, soil quality must be restored, a process that will require a number of years and a proper sequence of changes in management systems and inputs.  What a farmer does in the first three years of this journey will differ considerably from common practices ten years down the road.

Early steps will be dependent to a greater degree on fertilizer and organic soil amendments from outside the farm, and will often need to be shipped hundreds of miles into the region, while in later years, much more of the organic materials needed to sustain soil quality will be generated on the farm or locally.

Unfortunately, many projects and policy initiatives have delivered uneven, unsustainable results because they stopped at just subsidizing fertilizer, and failed to support the farmer's evolution toward more biologically-based methods to sustain soil fertility.

It is critical to support this incremental evolution, because the real and sustainable economic benefits to farm families kick in only after the transition is well along toward systems that have a high level of internal self-sufficiency, stability, and resilience.

It would be helpful for researchers and development organizations to provide recommendations for cost-effective trajectories of change in soil quality, including recommendations for the most cost-effective steps, and investments that will promote sustainable progress during each stage of the process.

More efficient capture and use of water, especially through micro-irrigation schemes, will also deliver significant benefits in many areas.  Diversifying rotations to include small plots of several short season vegetable crops in various combinations will also deliver multiple benefits.  Diversifying livestock enterprises to include more small livestock like chickens and rabbits is also a promising addition to the development assistance tool kit.

The lack of safe storage and markets for new crops, or difficulties in storing and utilizing new foods, often emerges as a major constraint to positive changes on the farm, and in terms of the diversity and quality of diets.  It seems to me that this is an obvious area for development assistance programs to target resources.

Why should wealthy consumers care about hunger in other parts of the world?

For the same reason that everyone should - helping assure everyone has enough to eat is a universal moral imperative.  There is no chance for peace and stability in a world where chronic poverty and hunger afflicts one-sixth of mankind. Hungry people are desperate people, and the actions they sometimes take, or embrace, to feed themselves and their families erode the fabric of civilization, just as erosion saps soil quality.

In your chapter, "Biotechnology: Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem-or Both?" you make the point that developed nations should use biotechnology to better understand "the linkages between indigenous resources and knowledge and agricultural production and farm family well being." Can you elaborate on this statement?

Some people are convinced that breakthroughs in plant breeding in Africa depend on access to, and use of a set of genes, markers and molecular technologies discovered and now used in the U.S. and Europe by plant biotech companies. I doubt it.  I just don't see Roundup Ready or Bt GE crops making much of a difference on most of the African continent.

Instead, I think that the modern tools of molecular biology should be deployed to understand and better utilize the genetic diversity that exists on the African continent. These tools are also extremely valuable in rooting out the subtle interactions between soil microbes, plants, pests, and the environment that can make or break a crop, and turn a nutritionally deficient diet into one that is both rich in nutrients and robust across seasons and circumstances.

There are many ways to work toward this goal that fully exploit cutting-edge science and technology.  We need to find the pathways that will deliver tangible results more quickly and cost-effectively than creating a new food like Golden rice, which remains after many years and millions of dollars an intriguing technical challenge, but not a sound investment if the goal is to promote food security where it is currently lacking.

Can biotechnology be used to improve sustainable agriculture and farming in the developing world?

Sure, but the biotechnology applications will be very different than the GE crops now planted around the world.

In the publication, "The Impacts of Yield on Nutritional Quality: Lessons from Organic Farming," you conclude that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally produced fruits and vegetables. Can you give a few examples of why organic produce is more nutritious and how this knowledge can help farmers in the United States and Europe, as well as the developing world?

In the U.S. and Europe, there has been a steady decline over 40-plus years in the nutrient density of conventionally grown foods, driven largely by incrementally higher nitrogen fertilizer levels and crop yields.  Agronomists call this essentially unavoidable relationship between yields and nutrient density the "dilution effect."  Organic farmers do not have access to the cheap sources of readily available nitrogen that serve as the fuel driving the dilution effect.

On average across most plant-based foods, organically managed crops mature a bit more slowly and produce fruit and vegetables that are somewhat smaller. But in terms of nutrient content per ounce or gram of apple, lettuce, carrot, or grapes, smaller is better.

There is also convincing evidence supporting the conclusion that in some years for some organic crops, a higher level of pest pressure, coupled with the lack of conventional pesticide applications, forces plants to divert energy from growth to defense mechanisms, which typically entail increased biosynthesis of plant secondary metabolites.  Many of these are potent antioxidants and account for a significant slice of the unique health-promoting benefits - and flavors - of fruits and vegetables.

Supporters of biotechnology often make the argument GE crops are necessary to fight food insecurity as climate change and population growth put increased pressure on the food system.  Can you give your thoughts on why or why not biotechnology can feed the world?

Today's commercially significant GE crops are herbicide-tolerant corn, soybeans, and cotton, and Bt corn and cotton.  These crops are designed to simplify weed and insect pest management and are planted, for the most part, in specialized, chemical-intensive systems.  Alternative technology exists to produce the same amount of crops per acre, and likely a bit more at lower cost to the farmer.  Based on these realities, I conclude that today's commercial GE crops are making no unique contribution to world food security needs.

An argument could be made, in addition, that today's GE crop technology has actually undermined progress toward increasing production and meeting global food security needs.  The discovery and commercialization of today's GE crops have totally dominated public and private plant breeding investments for nearly 30 years in three major crops, slowing the pace of progress in other areas of plant genetic improvement that would likely be of more direct benefit to a wider range of farmers around the world.

No one technology or farming system will emerge as universally optimal.  Progress toward global food security will be accelerated by systemic efforts to promote diversity in farming systems and technologies.  A healthy measure of experimentation is desirable in searching for optimal cropping patterns and production practices in a given region.

We must resist the enticing prospect that science and technology will deliver a magic bullet, or even a magic arsenal, that will miraculously optimize yields, stop pests in their tracks, always build soil quality, and thrive despite climate change.  A sober reading of history suggests strongly that this is a pipedream.

Those arguing that global food security will be assured if we just unleash the powers of biotechnology are doing the world's poor a grave disservice.  I know that many biotech promoters feel the same way about people like me who feel just as strongly that the most rapid and sustained progress will come from agricultural development programs and investments grounded in the principles of organic farming and agroecology.

One would hope and expect that the World Bank, FAO, CGIAR, foundations, and development assistance programs will insist that fair and unbiased assessments are made of the net returns to alternative paths to development in the years to come, but thus far I see little evidence of this happening on the ground.  The "Nourishing the Planet" project should do all it can to encourage the major funders and development organizations to sponsor credible, independent assessments.  May the best approach emerge, and let's hope that funders have the courage and political freedom to put the dollars behind the best system, in the hope of accelerating progress toward a goal shared by all.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Togo next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

Valuing What They Already Have

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Richard Haigh doesn’t look like your typical African pastoralist. Unlike many Africans who grew up tending cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock, Richard started his farm in 2007 at the age of 40. He quit his 9–5 job at a nongovernmental organization and bought 23 acres of land outside Durban, South Africa.

He wanted to totally change his life.

Today, he runs Enaleni Farm (enaleni means “abundance” in Zulu), raising endangered Zulu sheep, Nguni cattle (a breed indigenous to South Africa that is very resistant to pests), and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Richard is cultivating GMO-free soya, as well as traditional maize varieties. “All the maize tells a story,” he says. Like the sheep and cattle, many maize varieties are resistant to drought, climate change, and diseases, making them a smart choice for farmers all over Africa.

This sort of mixed-crop livestock system is becoming increasingly rare in South Africa, according to Richard, because of commercial farms that rely on monoculture crops rather than on diverse agricultural systems.

Richard likes to say that his farm isn’t organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. He practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests (pushing them away from the harvest) and ones that attract pests (pulling them away from the harvest) to increase yields. He also uses animal manure and compost for fertilizer.

But perhaps the most important thing Richard is doing at Enaleni doesn’t have to do with the various agricultural methods and practices he’s using. It’s about the “stories” he’s telling on the farm. By showing local people the tremendous benefits that indigenous cattle and sheep breeds, and sustainably grown crops, can have for the environment and livelihoods, he’s putting both an ecological and economic value on something that’s been neglected. “Local people don’t value what they have,” says Richard, because extension agents have tended to promote exotic livestock and expensive inputs.

In addition, Richard asks himself “what can we do that is specific to where we live?” In other words, how can we promote local sources of agricultural diversity that are good for the land and for people?

Richard is also helping document the diversity on his farm. He’s been sending blood samples to the South African National Research Foundation to help them build a DNA “hoof print” of what makes up a Zulu sheep. This sort of research is important not only for conserving the sheep, but for helping to increase local knowledge about the breeds that people have been raising for generations.

As a result of his conservation work, Richard and Enaleni Farm have been recognized by Slow Food International, which wants to work with the farm and local communities to find ways to ensure that the Zulu sheep don’t disappear.

Richard hopes to share his knowledge about agriculture with local farmers, teaching them how to spot and prevent disease in indigenous sheep, as well as explaining agro-ecological methods of raising food.

 

 

Building Knowledge About Biotechnology in Africa

This is the first of a two-part series to Africa Harvest, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In our Nourishing the Planet project we’re looking at how farmers and researchers all over the world are combining high-tech and low-tech agricultural practices to help alleviate hunger and poverty. One place they’re trying to do this is at Africa Harvest/Biotech Foundation International. The organization’s mission is “to use science and technology, especially biotechnology, to help the poor in Africa achieve food security, economic well-being and sustainable rural development.”

And while the biotechnology component of their mission may be controversial to some, Africa Harvest is determined that Africa will not be left behind when it comes to the development—and use— of the technology by African researchers and farmers. As a result, the organization is focusing on breeding African crops for Africans. “If you want to make a difference on this continent,” says Daniel Kamanga, communications director for Africa Harvest, “you have to look at African crops.” These include staples such as banana, cassava, and sorghum, which are all important sources of nutrients for millions of Africans.

But these are also crops that are heavily impacted by diseases and pests. Bananas, for example, are susceptible to sigatoka virus, fusarium, weevils, nematodes, and others. To combat these problems, Florence Wambugu, the CEO of Africa Harvest and a scientist who formerly worked with Monsanto, helped develop Tissue Culture Banana (TC banana). Banana diseases are often spread through “unclean” planting material. But TC banana technology allows scientists to use biotechnology for the “rapid and large scale multiplication” of disease free bananas—a single shoot can produce 2,000 individual banana plantlets.

Africa Harvest is also working on biofortifying sorghum with Vitamin A, creating “golden sorghum.” 

“But of course, there remains the thorny issue of control—among the biggest stumbling blocks for sharing any technology across countries and regions. Biotechnology has so far been largely owned by the private sector.” So, in addition to researching crop production, Africa Harvest is also working to improve capacity building for scientists all over Africa. “If we’re going to have GMOs on the continent,” says Kamanga, “we want scientists who know how to do it.” Along with that, Africa Harvest is working to strengthen regulatory systems for biotechnology.

And how does Africa Harvest respond to criticism about the development and use of biotechnology in agriculture? According to Kamanga, it’s an “old debate” and one that takes place in 5-star hotels, not in farmers’ fields. The issue now, he says, is how we make the best use of this technology.

Vilsack for Agriculture

So, it's Vilsack. If ever a pick was supposed to say, 'there's no cause for alarm, don't anyone panic,' it would be this one.

That is, with the exception of organic consumer activists. They oppose Vilsack on the grounds that he's good buddies with the Monsanto corporation. Monsanto being, in my opinion, an aspect of the Devil incarnate. Their long campaign to end seed-saving as practiced for millenia is about as greedy, shortsighted and wrongheaded a course of action as I can imagine. Their thuggish enforcement policies and ridiculous disregard for public welfare are legend.

This is more or less their business model: Make new, patentable seed varieties for wind-pollinated plants. Buy up and decommission companies selling other kinds of seed. Aggressively check farms not buying our seed to see if some of our stuff blew into their seed stock and mingled with it. Sue to ruination. Repeat.

There's more about how the expense of Monsanto seed, their hold on the purchasing and distribution chains, and the resulting crops' need for ever greater amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides gradually turns farmers into serfs while wrecking the environment, but let's not get into that for the moment. The fact that this genetic contamination gets force-propagated all over the place, and that alternate seed sources have been targeted for shutdown, makes it very difficult to practice organic agriculture. Even the very finance structure of farming reinforces this, as a farmer on contract with Monsanto for a full crop management plan has a guaranteed buyer and is seen as a good credit risk.

I do understand the appeal of GM, though. It sounds nifty. I am myself a huge geek and do love gadgetry and scientific novelty for its own sake, but there's no toy spiffy enough that its coolness can be self-justifying. Public safety and proper ethical guidelines must not get supplanted for either short term gain or curiousity seeking. Until your frankengadget can be reasonably assured to respect the precautionary principles, keep the goddam thing in the lab where it belongs.

Vilsack will need to be watched and pressured on this count with the beadiest of eyes. And considering that Monsanto was represented on the transition team, it isn't as though this lean towards the company and their practices is only a matter of Vilsack's history.

But there's a stance I consider very important for which Vilsack is to be rightly commended, and the Obama team similarly commended for standing up to an entrenched interest: Vilsack supports the right of animal growers to fair access to the courts, open markets with a level playing field for small farmers, and the enforcement of fair and transparent business practices in the livestock industry. John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs, from the link:

... I asked Governor Vilsack how USDA should address the challenge of more effective enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, considering the abysmal record of the Packers and Stockyards Administration over the last decade. He pointed out that the 2008 farm bill contains, for the first time ever, a livestock competition title and that the first priority for USDA's enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act will be proper implementation and aggressive enforcement of the provisions in that title. And, he added, that prioritization includes writing effective rules for enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards prohibition of "unreasonable preferences" in order to prevent price discrimination by packers against family farm livestock producers.

He also told me, "I agree with President-elect Obama's support for the provision in the farm bill that would have prohibited packers from owning livestock - support that he expressed both during the farm bill debate and his campaign. And I agree with Senator Harkin and Senator Grassley who, along with a number of other Senators from farm and ranch states, have been ardent supporters of ending this kind of direct vertical integration by prohibiting packer ownership of livestock."

... Vertical integration decreases market access for family farmers, decreases prices paid to independent producers, and fuels the construction of more and more CAFOs and the demise of more and more family farms. The Senate has twice passed the legislation banning packer ownership of livestock - in two farm bills - but both times it was removed in conference. ...

Enforcement of fair practices has become a joke at the federal level and Iowa is one of the few states where the political establishment has been serious about making up for that lack. Even their worst federal representatives, from a progressive perspective (think Boswell and Grassley), try to hold the line on this issue. As horrible as Monsanto is, Cargill and ConAgra and Tyson's, or any of the other big meatpackers, are every bit as morally culpable for the insanity of our food system and for making life hard on small farmers. That, in turn, makes it much, much harder to keep carbon in the soil, with concentrated animal agriculture responsible for nearly an eye-popping one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization recommending that animal agriculture be decentralized and reintegrated into mixed crop-animal production.

So it's a mix, in my opinion. The chances for getting positive traction on at least one very important issue have gone up considerably with this pick, while other concerns may wind up in a holding pattern.

And hey, as the CfRA blog points out, at least Vilsack believes consumers have a right to have their food labeled properly as to its contents. I'm no Obama, it's really kind of my job to alarm you, but let me just say for now that the public might think very differently about what they're eating if they knew what was in it.

Update [2008-12-16 20:24:59 by Natasha Chart]: You can read some of Vilsack's views on ethanol here. I'm not a fan of corn ethanol, not even a little. Fact remains that it's one of the most politically popular greenwashing projects I know of, probably because of Iowa's electoral significance. That said, Vilsack doesn't come across as a careless enthusiast and seems to respect that there are serious resource use concerns about the industry. I'm willing to suspend judgement on this one for now, with the caveat that my expectations for sanity on ethanol are low.

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