Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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- GE crops don’t boost yields, report finds
- Germany bans Monsanto’s GE corn
- Brazilian agribusiness rejects Bayer’s transgenic rice
- People’s ‘Year of Rice Action’
- CropLife ‘shudders’ at White House organic garden
- Plans for US-Mexico border spraying halted
For years, the agricultural biotech industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields. That promise has proven to be empty, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Despite over 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields. Yield increases over the last decade have been largely due to traditional breeding and conventional agriculture improvements. “The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven’t enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. “In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results.” The report, “Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops,” reviewed the three most common GM food and feed crops in the U.S. — herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn and insect-resistant corn (Bt corn) — and evaluated the overall effect genetic engineering has on crop yields compared to other agricultural technologies. The report recommends that USDA increase research and development for proven approaches to boost crop yields, including sustainable and organic farming.
Germany has banned a genetically engineered strain of corn, Monsanto’s MON810, according to the Associated Press. Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn product “‘presents a danger for the environment’…. France, Greece, Austria and Hungary have also imposed ‘safeguard’ bans on the MON810 variety, citing studies that find it unsafe for the environment. In March, EU environment ministers defeated a European Commission proposal that would have forced Austria and Hungary to lift their bans.” The only GE crop currently grown in Europe is the Monsanto-modified corn. “Hubert Weiger, president of the German branch of Friends of the Earth, praised Aigner for ‘not buckling under pressure from a large biotech company,'” AP reported.
“First it was soy, then corn, then cotton, and now it is rice,” writes Dafne Melo (PDF) in Brasil de Fato. “But judging from the public hearing held on March 18th by the CTNBio [Brazil’s National Technical Commission on Biosecurity], GM rice will have a much more difficult time gaining passage.” Agribusiness groups including Embrapa, the Brazilian Business of Agricultural Research, “which are traditionally in favor of transgenics, have come out against GM rice.” In Rio Grande do Sul, the state where 62 percent of Brazil’s rice is grown, Federarroz (Federation of Associations of Rice Farmers) and Farsul (Federation of Agriculture of the state of Rio Grande do Sul) joined the opposition. “‘It was a first, these entities with practically the same position as the social movements like Via Campesina,'” said Leonardo Melgarejo, agronomist and representative of the Ministry of Agrarian Development in the CTNBio. Bayer’s GE rice has been receiving negative responses in the Philippines, Thailand and most other major rice-producing countries. While it has a toe-hold in the U.S., a 2006 incident caused Bayer serious financial losses when a shipment of U.S. rice was rejected in Europe because of contamination by the company’s GE rice.
Spurred by the global food crisis and economic recession which have increased the world’s hungry to 963 million, most of whom live in Asia and depend on small rice farming, people’s movements in 14 countries across Asia are declaring their own People’s Year Of Rice Action (YORA). Small farmers have been driven deeper and deeper into poverty and hunger as agribusiness corporations gain increasing control over rice production. “This is the people’s way of reclaiming their rights over their rice heritage, to life and livelihood,” says Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific. The Year of Rice Action was launched April 4 and will conclude April 4, 2010 — the 50th anniversary of the founding of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). According to the PAN Asia/Pacific, “IRRI promoted the Green Revolution which broke the rice bowls of small rice farmers all over Asia, and poisoned them and the environment with pesticides for decades. In the past, small rice farmers practiced sustainable and ecologically safe cultivation methods but these, along with thousands of traditional local rice varieties, have been largely wiped out by the Green Revolution.” Now, IRRI is promoting a “Second Green Revolution” with genetic engineering and other industrial, high-input technologies “which will prove even more devastating.” For information on actions, visit PAN Asia/Pacific’s YORA page.
Mid America CropLife Association (MACA–a regional chapter of the national and international pesticide trade association), angry that the new White House garden will be organic, has sent an e-mail to their members attacking the decision to go chemical-free. “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” One member leaked the email to food democracy blogger Jill Richardson. The CropLife group, which represents the interests of Dow, Monsanto, DuPont and the rest of the agrichemical industry, and promotes agrofuels and “the safety and value of American food production” to elementary school children, sent Michelle Obama a letter asking her to consider using “crop protection products” (i.e. pesticides) in the garden. Quickly responding to MACA’s below-the-beltway tactics, Credo, the socially responsible activist mobile phone company, has launched a campaign asking concerned citizens to let the MACA chemical executives know what they think about being told to use pesticides.
The U.S. Border Patrol has announced a 30-day delay in its plans to use the herbicide imazapyr to eradicate Carrizo cane growing along a 1.1-mile stretch of the Mexican border. Because the invasive plant can grow up to 30 feet, it provides cover for illegal border crossings. The plan to use aerial spraying sparked outrage on both sides of the border from residents and politicians concerned about health risks to citizens of Laredo, Texas and the Mexican town of Nuevo Laredo. “I’ve always been respectful of the law and sovereignty,” Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza Barrios told Frontera NorteSur, “but herbicides that affect health in both countries can’t be sprayed.” The zone targeted for spraying touches the boundary of the Laredo Community College and ends only a few hundred yards from Nuevo Laredo’s public water intake system. Aerial spraying would threaten more than 1,000 bird and other resident and migratory species in the area for spring hatching. Herbicides based on imazapyr are manufactured and distributed under several trade names by the multinational BASF, DuPont and others. Some formulations of imazapyr are listed as Pesticide Action Network “Bad Actor” chemicals due to their acute toxicity. Alaska Community Action on Toxics cites evidence (PDF) that the persistent and mobile herbicide contaminates soil, groundwater and surface water and irritates the eyes, skin and respiratory system, and that it is “uniquely dangerous to non-target plants”. On March 25, the Border Patrol halted the spraying plan pending negotiations with U.S. and Mexican officials, according to the Dallas Morning News. Residents of the cross-border towns have sued the Department of Homeland Security claiming the plan for aerial spraying violates the U.S. Environmental Policy Act.
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