Tag Archives: crops

Groups sue General Mills, say herbicide in Nature Valley granola bars

Three nonprofit organizations this week sued General Mills for allegedly misleading the public by labeling Nature Valley brand granola bars as “Made with 100% NATURAL whole grain OATS.” The lawsuit says the herbicide chemical glyphosate, an ingredient in Roundup and hundreds of other glyphosate-based herbicides, is present in the granola bars.

The plaintiffs include Moms Across America, Beyond Pesticides and Organic Consumers Association and they are represented by The Richman Law Group, which filed the complaint under the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act.

“As a mother, when I read ‘100% Natural,’ I would expect that to mean no synthetic or toxic chemicals at all,” said Zen Honeycutt, founder and executive director of Moms Across America. “Glyphosate is a toxic chemical that the EPA recognizes as a ‘reproductive effector’ which ‘can cause liver and kidney damage’ and ‘digestive effects.’ It is unacceptable that Nature Valley granola bars contain any amount of this chemical.”

A national survey conducted by Consumer Reports in 2015 finds that 66 percent of consumers seek out products with a “natural” food label under the false belief they are produced without pesticides, genetically modified organisms, hormones, and artificial ingredients.

“Glyphosate cannot be considered ‘natural’ because it is a toxic, synthetic herbicide,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “Identified by the World Health Organization  as a carcinogen, it should not be allowed for use in food production and certainly not in food with a label that suggests to consumers that the major ingredient – oats – is 100 percent natural, when it is produced with and contains the highly hazardous glyphosate.”

“Food grown with dangerous pesticides like glyphosate isn’t natural. Consumers understand this. That’s why sales of natural products are booming. Unfortunately, companies’ misleading claims trick consumers into buying just what they’re trying to avoid. This has to be stopped,” added Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association

The case specifically cites the use and presence of the weedkiller glyphosate in General Mills’ Nature Valley Granola products.

The chemical is used during the production of oats, the major ingredient in these products, which are marketed as “natural” and labeled “Made with 100% Natural Whole Grain Oats.” As a result, glyphosate is present in the natural-labeled products.

Proponents of glyphosate herbicide use say the residue levels found in many foods and beverages in the United States are below the EPA allowable levels established in 2014 and therefore consumers have no reason to be concerned.

However, a 2015 study published in the journal Environmental Health found chronic, low-dose exposure to glyphosate as low as 0.1 parts per billion leads to adverse effects on liver and kidney health.

A study released in early 2016 found glyphosate can cause changes to DNA function resulting in the onset of chronic disease, including diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.

The lawsuit alleges that, when marketing Nature Valley products, General Mills misleads and fails to disclose to consumers of the use and presence of glyphosate and its harmful effects.

The plaintiffs are asking a jury to find that General Mills’ “natural” labeling is deceptive and misleading and therefore a violation of law, and require its removal from the market.

Editor’s note: This report will be updated.

Rules on GMO crops in Hawaii before US appeals court

The fight over regulating genetically engineered crops in three Hawaii counties was back in a federal courtroom.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Honolulu last week on ordinances that seek to regulate or outlaw genetically engineered crops in Hawaii, Kauai and Maui counties.

Agrichemical companies and trade associations sued each county and federal court rulings sided with the businesses. The counties and interested environmental groups want the 9th Circuit to overturn the decisions.

Lawyers representing the counties argued that state laws do not specifically address genetically engineered crops relevant to the proposed regulations. The counties, which have policing powers to protect their residents, assert that they have the right and obligation to regulate the industry.

They also argued that the Hawaii Supreme Court should have taken up the issue as there is no written opinion specifically on genetically engineered crops in the state.

“This matter should have been turned over via certified question to the Hawaii Supreme Court because it’s an important issue for the entire state of Hawaii,” said David Minkin, representing the county of Kauai at the hearing.

The state Department of Agriculture regulates harmful plants in Hawaii, however, and attorneys representing the agrichemical companies said the state could and would specifically regulate genetically engineered plants if they felt it was warranted. The department has not said genetically engineered crops are harmful.

“The issue in this case isn’t whether pesticides or GE plants should be regulated or what those regulations should be. The only question here is who does the regulating. Under current Hawaii law, the answer is clear,” said Chris Landau, representing the companies in the Kauai and Big Island cases. “The state has comprehensive schemes in place.”

While the state gives counties some power to regulate issues on a local level, those ordinances cannot conflict with state laws.

In Kauai, the county wants to require the companies to report exactly where and what they are growing and seeks to ban the use of pesticides. The companies argue that the reporting process itself is a form of regulation, and the farms would risk both vandalism and espionage if that reporting were required.

Alika Atay, 62, who is a certified natural Hawaiian farmer who has lived on Maui his entire life, said his major concern is the heavy usage of pesticides.

“In a very short period of time these people have come to our island and they have poisoned our island, “Atay said.

“They are killing the Hawaiian people … if they kill us — or kill our land, kill our water — where do we have to go? This is our home. We must protect our home,”Atay said.

Companies that develop new types crops are drawn to Hawaii’s warm weather, which allows them to grow more generations of crops and accelerate their development of new varieties.

Monsanto and Dow Chemical have research farms in Maui County.

U.S. District Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled last June that federal and state law pre-empts that county’s ban on cultivating genetically engineered crops, making it invalid. She stressed then that her order addressed only the question of county authority.

Two years ago, Kauai and Hawaii counties adopted measures regulating GMO crops and pesticides. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren struck them down, saying state law superseded them.

UN: Growing environmental threat from animal-to-man diseases

The most worrying environmental threats facing the world today range from the rise in diseases transmitted from animals to humans to the increasing accumulation of toxic chemicals in food crops as a result of drought and high temperatures, according to a U.N. report.

The U.N. Environment Agency’s Frontiers report also highlighted the threat to human health posed by the alarming amount of plastic waste in the oceans, and scientific evidence suggesting that losses and damage from climate change are inevitable, with “profound consequences” for ecosystems, people, assets and economies.

The report emphasizes “the critical relationship between a healthy environment and healthy people,” and stresses the importance of combatting global warming by moving to a low-carbon future.

According to the report, the 20th century saw dramatic reductions in ecosystems and biodiversity — and equally dramatic increases in the numbers of people and domestic animals inhabiting the Earth.

This increased the opportunity for viruses, bacteria and other pathogenic agents to pass from wild and domestic animals through the environment to cause diseases in people, the report said.

These diseases — called “zoonotic” or “zoonoses” diseases — include Ebola, bird flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus and Zika virus, it said.

In the last two decades these emerging diseases have had direct costs of more than $100 billion, the report said, and “if these outbreaks had become human pandemics, the losses would have amounted to several trillion dollars.”

According to the report, “around 60 per cent of all infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic as are 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases.” And “on average, one new infectious disease emerges in humans every four months,” it said.

While many zoonotic diseases originate in wildlife, livestock often serve as a bridge, the report said, citing the case of bird flu which first circulated in wild birds, then infected domestic poultry which in turn passed the virus to humans.

As for toxic chemicals in crops, normally plants convert nitrate into amino acids and protein but drought slows the conversion causing nitrates to accumulate and become toxic to animals, the report said.

Worldwide, over 80 plant species are known to cause poisoning from accumulation of nitrates and wheat, barley, maize, millet, sorghum and soybeans are among the crops most susceptible, it said.

“Acute nitrate poisoning in animals can lead to miscarriage, asphyxiation and death,” the report said, and it can ruin the livelihoods of small farmers and herders.

Another toxin associated with climate change is hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid that can accumulate in plants such as cassava, flax, maize and sorghum, it said.

Mycotoxins, which are chemical by-products of the growth of mushrooms and other fungi, “can cause severe damage to the health of animals and humans, even at small concentration,” the report said. And “mycotoxin-producing fungi infect many crops such as coffee, groundnut, maize, oilseeds, peanut, sorghum, tree nuts and wheat.”

Aflatoxins, which are fungal toxins that can cause cancer and stunt fetal growth, are another emerging problem in crops, the report said.

Senate Republicans fail to stop GMO labeling

Senate Republican efforts to stop mandatory labeling of GMO foods have stalled with the demise of the Dark Act.

The Senate, on a 48-49 vote in mid-March, fell short of the necessary numbers to move ahead on legislation that would have barred states from requiring the labeling. Vermont is set to require such labels this summer, and other states are considering similar laws.

The procedural vote is a setback for the food industry, which has lobbied to block Vermont’s law.

The industry argues that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are safe and the labels could be costly for agriculture, food companies and consumers. Congressional Republicans have opposed a patchwork of state laws and worked to find a solution on the issue before Vermont’s law kicks in.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans also are made into popular processed food ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil. The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients.

The Food and Drug Administration says they are safe. But advocates for labeling say not enough is known about their risks. Among supporters of labeling are many organic companies that are barred by law from using modified ingredients in their foods.

Those advocates have been fighting state by state to enact the labeling, with the eventual goal of a national standard.

Compromise sought on GMO labeling

Republican senators were hoping to find compromise with Democrats who have supported mandatory labeling. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, tweaked the bill that advanced from his committee this month to require the Agriculture Department to measure whether food companies were using voluntary labels. If not enough companies were doing so in three years, the department would require the labeling.

But that wasn’t enough for most Democrats.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the committee, said she worked until late Tuesday night to try to find agreement with Roberts. She said she agrees that GMOs are safe, but “a growing number of American consumers want to know more about the food they eat. And they have the right to know.”

She said she believes that it is still possible to find compromise on the issue and she is still talking to Roberts about the legislation.

The House passed a bill blocking the state laws last year.

Critics: State’s plan to save bees provides little protection from pesticides

Packed into brains the size of a sesame seed, bees’ navigational systems enable them to locate and pollinate $55 million worth of Wisconsin crops annually.

But Wisconsin has become a hard place to be a bee.

The state’s honeybee colony die-off rates, among the highest in the nation, last year was around 60 percent. Beekeeper surveys show 15 percent is generally considered to be an acceptable loss rate.

Wisconsin pollinator populations have been declining for years, endangering the growth of apples, cranberries, cherries and many other fruits and vegetables that rely on bees, butterflies and other pollinators to fertilize them, helping them produce seeds and fruit.

And critics say a recently issued draft of a pollinator protection plan for Wisconsin may offer only limited relief for the insects. The plan recommends voluntary actions such as increasing roadside plantings and pollinator-friendly home gardens, but sets no targets for decreasing the use of a controversial class of agricultural pesticides, neonicotinoids, that attack insects’ brains.

“If it’s all voluntary, it’s basically something that no one has to follow, so what is the point?” asked Harriet Behar, an organic farming specialist with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable agriculture. Behar keeps 25 beehives on her 216-acre farm in Crawford County in southwestern Wisconsin.

Many scientists and beekeepers including Behar believe large-scale farming practices for crops such as corn and soy — which together represent a $2.6 billion industry in Wisconsin — are important contributors to pollinator declines.

“Corn growers, soybean growers don’t need pollinators, so (they) may be less sensitive to the impact their chemicals have on the rest of the environment,” said Claudio Gratton, professor of entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who worked on the pollinator proposal for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Endless acres of corn and soy with few flowering plants to provide pollen or nectar leave  pollinators with little to eat. For wild bees that build their homes underground, there are few undisturbed places near flowering plants to nest. Other factors such as parasites, pathogens, beekeeping practices that may spread viruses and extreme weather, including drought and severe cold, also can take a toll on bees.

There are also pesticides, including so-called neonics, which act like nicotine in how they target the insect brain.

Pesticide use widespread

Introduced in the 1990s as more targeted toward specific pests and less harmful to humans and wildlife than older, more toxic insecticides — including organophosphates such as parathion and malathion — neonics quickly grew in market share and have become the most widely used insecticides worldwide, with billions in annual sales.

Politically powerful agrochemical interests, including insecticide maker Syngenta, are among the largest producers of neonics. Representatives of Syngenta and the industry trade association CropLife America helped draw up Wisconsin’s pollinator plan. They insist the link between bee population declines and proper use of their products has not been made.

Neonics can be delivered through spraying, by injection, such as into tree trunks, by drenching the soil around plants and by coating seeds with it before planting.

Seed coating is the biggest factor driving increased use of neonics. In January, a group of farmers, beekeepers and advocates filed a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency for exempting neonic seed coatings from regulation. The plaintiffs say the lack of regulation will harm pollinators and the environment.

By 2012, virtually all corn seed, and about 30 percent of soybean seed planted in Wisconsin and across the country, was coated with neonics, said Paul Mitchell, a UW-Madison associate professor who co-directs the UW-Extension’s Nutrient and Pest Management Program. Neonic-coated seeds also are widely used on other crops such as potatoes and in lawns and gardens.

Neonics are systemic, meaning they are absorbed and remain in the tissue of the plant. They are also potent neurotoxins. Neonics are chemically designed to attack the nervous system of pest insects that eat any part of a treated plant, causing paralysis and death. 

With widespread reliance on neonics, unintended exposures to beneficial insects such as pollinators can happen.

Seeds coated with neonics have become sort of an insurance policy for many farmers, said Gratton, who along with Christina Locke, a postdoctoral researcher in Gratton’s laboratory, worked on the pollinator plan.

“Ag practices depend on us taming nature. Farmers don’t like variability and uncertainty,” Gratton said.

“With neonics, there is less application since it’s present in the plant the entire season; it’s a one-and-done idea. Overall there is less used, but there are also a lot of unintended consequences.”

Scientists have identified multiple routes by which beneficial insects such as bees suffer unintended exposures to neonics, even if they are not feeding on the treated plants, as a pest might.  

Bees can be exposed through the pollen or nectar of treated plants, by coming into contact with dust kicked up by planting treated seeds, by contacting droplets of water on plants, and by visiting flowers and other plants unintentionally contaminated through neonics’ persistence in soil and water.

It is clear that high enough doses of neonics — such as those that occur from accidental exposures during spraying — can kill bees. Questions about neonics center on lower-level exposures, like those bees might encounter in a field of treated corn or soy.  

Pierre Petelle, a vice president of CropLife Canada, wrote in a 2014 blog post on the industry group’s website that many of the lab studies used to justify restrictions expose bees to “unrealistically high doses of neonics.”

David Flakne, a representative of Syngenta and one of the stakeholders invited by DATCP to contribute to the pollinator plan, said neonics are safe when used as directed. 

“Scientific evidence clearly shows that bees and other pollinators can coexist safely with modern agricultural technology, such as neonic insecticides, when product labels are followed,” Flakne wrote in an email to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Growing evidence of harm

Scientists say while there are multiple causes of bee declines, studies continue to emerge that question whether bees and neonics can safely coexist at field-realistic exposures. By binding to receptors in bees’ brains, some research has found, neonics seem to scramble their sophisticated mental circuitry.

One study of honeybees that were exposed to nonlethal levels of neonics showed they were both more likely to have trouble navigating back to the hive and less likely to survive than unexposed bees. Numerous studies found that both wild and managed bees exposed to neonics showed a reduced ability to find food, weaker brood development, reduced memory and more vulnerability to disease, according to a 2013 paper by European researchers funded by several environmental foundations.

An international task force that examined more than 800 peer-reviewed studies concluded that the widespread use of neonics and a similar systemic insecticide, fipronil, are important contributors to the decades-long trend of declining populations of pollinators and other insects, which are “vital to food security and sustainable development.”

A study funded by the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board and conducted in the state’s Central Sands area detected leaching of neonics into groundwater and found that high-capacity irrigation well water was recycling neonics back onto farmland. The findings raised concerns about how this ongoing, low-level exposure might be affecting “non-target organisms” such as bees, the authors said.

Some neonics are restricted in Europe and are the subject of lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada due to concerns about their impact on pollinator health and lack of sufficient regulation.

The EPA also has suspended approval of new neonic-based insecticides and is re-evaluating neonics currently on the market. The agency in January issued its first of four pollinator risk assessments on the oldest neonic, imidacloprid, which showed it is “a threat to some pollinators” when used in cotton and citrus.

Farmers weigh risks and alternatives

Russell Groves, an insect ecologist and vegetable crop specialist at the UW-Madison Department of Entomology, said farmers continually search for ways to reduce the risk of crop loss due to pests in part to meet consumer demand for low food prices. Groves said federal policies also incentivize larger farms, where natural pest solutions are less practical.

Alan Jewell, a farmer for 42 years with 4,000 acres of corn and soy in Dodgeville, said he is willing to spend a few extra dollars per acre for neonic-coated corn seed to protect it from pests because “grain prices have collapsed … (and) our profit margin doesn’t allow us much wiggle room.”

“Cutworms can kill off 40 to 80 percent of seedlings,” he added. “Then there are wireworms, and all kinds of pests.”

Some farmers, however, are looking for alternatives.

Steve Groff, a farmer and seed dealer in Pennsylvania, said neonics have their place but have been “way overused.” He recently began an experiment with support from Penn State to see if planting neonic-free corn seed would protect the beneficial insects that prey on the slugs that can destroy his corn.  

The experiment was successful, Groff said. “We started seeing that when we planted green, we had less slug pressure.”

By using alternative farming strategies, such as crop rotation, cover cropping and not tilling soil, Groff said he has reduced his insecticide use by 80 percent. He plans to experiment again this year with a larger plot of neonic-free corn seed.

Plan calls for voluntary measures

The 2015 federal plan that encourages states to develop their own pollinator plans has limited discussion about the role of neonics, Gratton and Locke agreed.

“There is probably a reason the White House report includes very little on pesticides,” Gratton said. “Companies that sell insecticides will make a lot of money on seeds. The agrochemical sector is very powerful.”

At the opening of the first stakeholder meeting last year, Mike Murray of DATCP’s pesticide program told the assembled group, “We’re talking about voluntary actions, we’re not on a regulatory track here.”

Donna Gilson, spokesperson for DATCP, also said the agency lacks the resources to do research on pesticides, so it follows EPA’s lead on regulating them.

An EPA analysis of neonic use on soy concluded that “in most cases, there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.” Yet those findings have spurred no restrictions on the use of neonic-treated seed for soy by the EPA or DATCP. 

For Gratton, a restriction on neonics would raise the concern that farmers might revert to older, more toxic pesticides. “A more nuanced strategy,” Gratton said, “may be both more palatable and get you the same result in terms of protecting pollinators and not impacting yields.”

Crackdown on neonics

Other states and countries have taken a more aggressive approach.

After a number of neonic-related bee death incidents, Oregon banned the application of any product containing the neonics dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin on some flowering trees.

Minnesota’s pollinator plan committed to a review of the risks of neonic use, including negative impacts on pollinators, the development of resistance in targeted pest insects and leaching into soil and water. 

The government of Ontario, Canada, has moved to reduce the use of neonic-treated seed for corn and soybean crops by 80 percent by 2017.

Aimee Code thinks Wisconsin’s plan should include stronger measures.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to stay quiet when the science is showing that there is an issue with neonics,” said Code, a pesticide expert with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, one of the invited stakeholder organizations.

Code said given the widespread preventative use of neonics, Wisconsin’s plan should include requirements for scouting and monitoring fields to ensure there is a pest problem before coated seeds get planted. 

“We should be promoting verification of need before use within our pesticide regulation,” she said.

For her part, Harriet Behar, the Crawford County farmer and beekeeper, wants to see “a plan with some teeth in it.”

“Neonics have allowed people to ignore good agronomic processes,” she said. “We don’t have to rotate crops anymore. We just kill everything off with neonics. If we make conservation crop rotation a big push in Wisconsin, so farmers don’t have the pest and disease problems they are currently trying to solve with neonics, that would be a big help.”

Companies may already be moving on to the next new pesticide. Critics call it a pesticide shell game; agrochemical companies describe it as innovation. 

“As concerns are raised, companies always have a new product to replace one which is going out,” said Lex Horan, of the advocacy organization Pesticide Action Network, which works to reduce pesticide use.

In fact, DuPont Pioneer recently announced it had developed a new systemic seed treatment called Lumivia for corn pests which, according to company spokeswoman Jane Slusark, has “low to no impact on pollinators.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

FDA to begin testing food for world’s most commonly used pesticide

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will begin testing food for glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used pesticide.

This marks the first time that a U.S. agency will routinely test for glyphosate residue in food. The news follows the release of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report criticizing the FDA for failing to disclose its failure to test for glyphosate in an annual pesticide residue report.

“In the wake of intense scrutiny, the Food and Drug Administration has finally committed to taking this basic step of testing our food for the most commonly used pesticide. It’s shocking that it’s taken so long, but we’re glad it’s finally going to happen,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental advocacy group. “More and more scientists are raising concerns about the effects of glyphosate on human health and the environment. With about 1.7 billion pounds of this pesticide used each year worldwide, the FDA’s data is badly needed to facilitate long-overdue conversations about how much of this chemical we should tolerate in our food.”

Leading scientists published an article about the exploding use of glyphosate around the world in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Health.

In the paper, they point to concerns over rapidly increasing use, outdated science and the World Health Organization’s finding that glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen and glyphosate is a leading cause of massive declines in monarch butterflies.

The authors called on regulatory agencies to take a fresh look at the real-world impacts of glyphosate and to start monitoring its levels in people and in food.

“The alarm bell is ringing loud and clear. The current cavalier use of glyphosate, and lax regulation, cannot remain in place,” said Donley. “It’s long past time to start reining in the out-of-control use of this dangerous pesticide in the United States and around the world.” 

Just last week, 35 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressing concerns regarding the potential negative health and environmental impacts of a pesticide, Enlist Duo, that combines glyphosate and 2,4-D. EPA is currently reanalyzing its decision to register the dangerous pesticide following a remand order from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Monsanto also is embroiled in a legal battle with California over the state’s move to list glyphosate as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 law.

As the legal battle plays out, a new report from CBD has found that more than half of the glyphosate sprayed in the state was applied in the California’s eight most impoverished counties.

Monsanto’s glyphosate most widely used weed-killer

Monsanto’s signature herbicide glyphosate, first marketed as “Roundup,” is now the most widely and heavily applied weed-killer in the history of chemical agriculture in both the U.S. and globally, according to a report published today.

The paper, published Feb. 2, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, reports that to date 8.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate have been used globally. Glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready” genetically engineered crops were introduced in 1996.

In 2014, enough glyphosate was sprayed to leave more than three-quarters of a pound of the active ingredient on every harvested acre of cropland in the U.S., and remarkably, almost a half pound per acre on all cropland worldwide (0.53 kilogram/hectare).

The paper by Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., titled “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and Globally,” is available free online at Environmental Sciences Europe. 

“The dramatic and rapid growth in overall use of glyphosate will likely contribute to a host of adverse environmental and public health consequences,” Benbrook wrote.

Last year, 17 of the world’s top cancer researchers voted unanimously to elevate glyphosate’s cancer profile on behalf of the World Health Organization. After the panel of experts reviewed all of the publicly available research, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the weed-killer as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  Following WHO’s action, the state of California is currently in the process of listing glyphosate as a known human carcinogen under its Proposition 65 law.

As Benbrook’s paper notes, other recent studies have found connections between glyphosate exposure and a number of other serious health effects, including liver and kidney damage and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, among others. 

Remarkably, 74 percent of all glyphosate sprayed on crops since the mid-1970s was applied in just the last 10 years, as cultivation of genetically engineered corn and soybean crops exploded on both U.S. and global croplands.  

Glyphosate was first sold commercially in 1974, but its use by farmers was limited at first because the active ingredient killed both weeds and crops. The subsequent development and approval of genetically engineered (GE), herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops dramatically changed how farmers could apply it. Starting in 1996, Monsanto and other seed companies began marketing GE-HT versions of three major crops – cotton, corn, and soybeans – making it possible for farmers to apply glyphosate for months after crops started growing.

The use and efficacy of HT technology, particularly in its first decade, led to its rapid and near-universal adoption in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and a half-dozen other countries. As a result, glyphosate use by U.S. farmers rose from 12.5 million pounds in 1995 to 250 million pounds in 2014, a 20-fold increase. Globally, total use rose from 112.6 million pounds in 1995 to 1.65 billion in 2014, a nearly 15-fold jump.

“My hope is that this paper will stimulate more research on glyphosate use and human and environmental exposure patterns to increase the chance that scientists will quickly detect any problems that might be triggered, or made worse, by glyphosate exposure,” Benbrook added.

“This report makes it clear that the use of glyphosate, combined with the dominance of genetically engineered crops, has produced a looming public health threat both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, senior policy analyst at EWG. “Farmers have sprayed billions of pounds of a chemical now considered a probable human carcinogen over the past decade. Growers spray glyphosate several times a year on the majority of U.S. cropland. The sheer volume of use of this toxic weed-killer is a clear indication that this chemical dependency is a case of farming gone wrong.” 

EPA assessment finds pesticide a risk to honeybees

The Environmental Protection Agency, in risk assessment released in early January, said a popular pesticide poses a significant risk to honeybees.

The analysis from the EPA indicates that honeybees can be exposed to imidacloprid — a neonicotinoid pesticide used on 140 crops — at concentrations that negatively affect the health of the hive. The assessment said the pesticide can harm honeybees when used on citrus and cotton but not berries, corn and tobacco.

Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth, said the EPA’s assessment “reinforces the strong body of independent science demonstrating that neonicotinoids are a leading driver of bee declines. It is imperative that the EPA stop delaying action and immediately suspend imidacloprid and other bee-toxic pesticides.”

She added, “With beekeepers facing continued unsustainable losses, and harm to essential native pollinators mounting, the EPA needs to stop dragging its feet and take decisive action to suspend these bee-toxic pesticides.”

Others in the environmental community said the EPA didn’t take its assessment far enough and failed to examine risks to nearly 4,000 North American native bees and all other pollinators, including imperiled butterflies, bats and birds.

“You can’t claim to do a pollinator risk assessment and really only look at one pollinator, the honeybee,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s not only cheating on the purpose of this work but also cheating the native bees, birds, butterflies and other species threatened by this pesticide. In fact, many of these other pollinators are even more vulnerable to neonicotinoids than honeybees.”

A study published in the journal Nature that wild bees are more sensitive to the acute toxic effects of neonicotinoids, specifically that neonicotinoid seed coatings reduce wild bee density, solitary bee nesting and bumblebee colony growth. The EPA, in its review, acknowledged bumblebees are negatively affected by the pesticide at lower levels than honeybees, but failed to assess properly the risk, according to the CBD.

Also, environmental activists said the EPA relied on a single industry-provided study to assess risk to honeybee colonies, despite an abundance of published studies by independent scientists.

“The EPA’s decision to rely on industry-funded research is absolutely unacceptable, particularly when there has been so much research by independent researchers,” Burd said.

While the EPA emphasized honeybee colony risks, its risk assessment found effects on individual honeybees, not on colonies, from most crops.

Burd said, “The EPA refused to make a determination on colony-level risks for specific crops when it had anything less than conclusive evidence on the risks. This flawed methodology caused the agency to dramatically understate the risks of imidacloprid. Also, the colony-level risk assessment only takes into account exposure via nectar, not pollen. So the EPA is analyzing effects on pollinators without even taking pollen into account.”

Bees and other pollinators face myriad other threats, including climate change, genetically engineered crops and monoculture, disease, pests and habitat loss. Studies show low levels of exposure to neonicotinoids increases the risk posed by these other threats on weakened honeybees.

Greenpeace: China farmers illegally growing GMO corn

Farmers are illegally growing genetically modified corn in China’s northeast, said the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace in a report that may generate further distrust of the government’s ability to ensure a safe food supply.

Beijing has spent billions of dollars to develop GMO crops that it hopes will ensure food supplies for its 1.4 billion people but has not yet approved commercial cultivation amid deep-seated anti-GMO sentiment. The new findings seem to confirm concerns that Beijing will be unable to supervise the planting of GMO crops once commercial cultivation is permitted, leading to widespread contamination of the food chain with GM varieties.

In its report, Greenpeace said 93 percent of samples taken last year from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province, part of China’s breadbasket, tested positive for GMO contamination.

Furthermore, almost all of the seed samples taken from grain markets and samples of corn-based foods at supermarkets in the area also tested positive.

“It is very likely that much of the illegal GE corn has already entered grain storage warehouses, wholesale and retail markets across the country, ultimately ending up in citizens’ food,” said Greenpeace in a report.

While Greenpeace said it was not clear how the GMO corn seeds got into the marketplace, it has long been alleged that GMO plants being tested in field trials have been illegally sold to farmers for commercial use.

Such reports have intensified public opposition to the technology, with some anti-GMO campaigners going as far as suing the government over the failure to disclose information about its approvals for imported GMO crops and plans to allow domestic cultivation.

Among the six corn seed strains that tested positive in the Liaoning seed market, three have not been certified by China’s agriculture ministry, while three others were certified as conventional seeds and therefore had been contaminated by GMO varieties, said the organization.

The agriculture ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the Greenpeace report.

The ministry said last year it was changing regulations to increase supervision of biotech products under development.

The GMO corn strains identified in the survey belong to international companies Monsanto, Syngenta and Du Pont Pioneer, said Greenpeace. None of the companies responded to emailed requests for comment.

Greenpeace blamed an “extremely lax and disorganized” seed market management system for the production and sale of illegal seed varieties.

It said many small seed breeders are not aware of the names of seeds they are breeding on behalf of other companies nor whether the origins of the seeds are legal.

Greenpeace recommends that the government investigate all corn breeding companies and destroy illegal GMO seeds. Additionally, there should be annual inspections of crops in north China during the sowing season, and tougher supervision of GMO crop research and cultivation. It says farmers should be compensated for their losses if GMO crops are destroyed.

The new findings could make Beijing even more cautious about proceeding with commercialization of any GMO crops, frustrating international and domestic seed firms.

Proponents of biotech crops in China argue that commercializing GMO products will reduce the need for farmers to resort to unapproved varieties to boost their yields.

Navajo farmers reject use of water after toxic spill in Colorado

One of the largest communities of Navajo farmers along the San Juan River has voted to keep irrigation canals closed for at least a year following a spill of toxic sludge at a Colorado gold mine.

The unanimous vote by more than 100 farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico, was heart-wrenching and guarantees the loss of many crops, Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said Monday.

But he said farmers don’t want to risk contaminating the soil for future generations.

“Our position is better safe than sorry,” Yazzie said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation EPA have said the water is safe for irrigation, based on surface water testing. Other communities off the reservation have cleared the water for drinking, recreation and irrigation.

The Navajo Nation has been hesitant to lift restrictions on using the river water, mostly over concerns about contaminants being stirred up and washed down the river. The Navajo Nation EPA expects to have test results from soil samples later this week.

Tribal President Russell Begaye has asked several farming and ranching communities impacted by the Aug. 5 spill from the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado, to weigh in by passing resolutions with an official position.

Shiprock is the only community that has submitted a resolution so far, tribal spokesman Mihio Manus said.

Begaye, who grew up in a small farmhouse in Shiprock, said he realizes the impact that keeping the water shut off will have on farmers.

“I am furious that the U.S. EPA has placed the Navajo Nation into this position,” Begaye said in a news release. “Our farms will not last much longer without water, and our resources are depleting.”

Manus said farmers can seek reimbursement for the costs of hauling water through their community centers, or chapters.

The EPA stopped providing agricultural water Friday on the Navajo Nation in an agreement with Begaye. EPA spokesman David Gray said Monday the EPA is evaluating other ways of delivering water to the tribe.

Farmers in Shiprock had rejected water tanks from an EPA contractor after tribal officials complained that one appeared to have oil residue. The EPA said over the weekend that it is looking into the complaint and would work with the tribe to remove 13 tanks from the reservation.

Gray said the EPA believes the irrigation ditch on the Navajo Nation is suitable for use and the agency will continue assessing the tribe’s need for resources.

The EPA is providing hay to ranchers along the river, while the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has set up water tanks for livestock, officials said.

“When the Navajo Nation President lifts the restriction, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Navajo Regional Office will continue to provide water support for livestock for only one week after that decision is made. Then BIA will dismantle our current operations from the temporary water locations,” the agency said in an email to The Associated Press.

A water treatment plant on the Utah portion of the reservation that drew water from the San Juan River also will remain offline until Begaye gives the OK for it to begin operating again, said Deenise Becenti with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

Water is being hauled in to top off a tank so residents can continue to have running water in their homes, she said.

In Shiprock, a constant line of vehicles waits to fill huge containers with water. Yazzie said he spent the weekend watering about 500 of his own plants but estimates that other families have thousands that have been wilting.

“We’re going to struggle to save what we can and what we lose, we’ll expect somebody to provide compensation,” Yazzie said.