Today, the biotech field is changing again. The assortment of GM crops is about to multiply, far beyond the corn-soybean-cotton mainstays of the past 15 years. Soon coming to market are GM versions of bluegrass, sugar beets, cabbage, wheat and alfalfa, to name a few. Even more striking, the next generation of GM traits promises a bigger bag of tricks.
"Over the past 15 years, it's been principally a story of being able to kill bugs and kill weeds more effectively for growers," said Syngenta's Morgan.
The next GM generation, he said, will focus more broadly - growing crops that require less water, or enhancing certain flavors, or delivering health benefits to consumers.
Here on our ranch, the yard and gardens are now humming with so many busy bees that if I let our two-year-old go barefoot outside, I'd probably get arrested for child endangerment. Meanwhile, a suburban woman recently complained to me that she hadn't seen a single bee in her garden this year. This contrast would make perfect sense to scientists at the University of California - Berkeley, who've just released a study showing that grazing lands provide critical habitats for wild bees and other pollinators.
The research was led by Berkeley environmental sciences professor Dr. Claire Kremen, among the world's foremost pollinator authorities. The team evaluated the role of wild pollinators, concluding that they are essential to our food system and that livestock grazing areas are vital for protecting them. "Preserving rangelands has significant economic value, not only to the ranchers who graze their cattle there, but also to farmers who need the pollinators," Kremen concluded from her study.
Weeds in cotton fields have gotten so tenacious — some with stems 4-inches around — that farmers are paying itinerant crews to chop them down by hand.
"In the Bootheel they're hiring people to go out there with hoes," said Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. "I swung a hoe for 15 years, and I fail to see the romance in it."
The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is getting worse: Weeds are becoming increasingly resistant to Monsanto's Roundup, sold generically as glyphosate, forcing farmers to use other herbicides or "multiple modes of action." But during this season especially farmers are finding that these other modes of action aren't working either — and there appears to be little relief on the horizon. In Missouri, herbicide dealers have sold out of Cobra, one of the herbicides most widely used in tandem with glyphosate.
Nathan Anderson, with the help of dad Randy Anderson and fiance Sarah Joachim, has been restoring a perennial pasture on which they graze a cow-calf herd of eight cows with calves and five heifers. Nathan has taken this pasture, which was once continuously grazed, and implemented a rotational grazing system to try to improve the health of the land and the animals being raised there.
According to Anderson, increased agriculture production since the 1940s has decreased native grass and bird habitat, decreasing their prevalence across the plains of Iowa. One of the high points of the day for Anderson was being able to show others the difference that rotational grazing has made on his pasture in just a little over a year's time. "It's amazing how resilient the environment is and what Nathan has accomplished with proper land management," explains participant Steve Reinart. "By giving pastures short rest periods, we can bring the land back to a healthier state."
A genetically engineered grass expected to hit U.S. markets without government review could speed the evolution of hard-to-control weeds, and perhaps require a return to toxic herbicides scrapped decades ago.
On July 1 — a Friday afternoon, a time usually reserved for potentially controversial news — the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Scotts Miracle-Gro’s herbicide-resistant Kentucky bluegrass would be exempt from tests typically required of transgenic crops.
Scotts Miracle-Gro is the largest U.S. retailer of grass seed, and the modified grass could be widely used in residential lawns. It’s resistant to glyphosate, a front-line herbicide known commercially as Roundup.
The grass will survive extra doses of Roundup, allowing more than usual to be applied. That’s the problem, said agricultural biotechnology expert Douglas Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“The more a chemical is used consistently, the more likely that somebody’s weeds will become resistant. That’s standard, agreed-upon science,” said Gurian-Sherman. “The way that Roundup is used because of transgenic crops exacerbates that problem.”
Originally constituted in 2003, the House Organic Caucus has re-organized. The Caucus recognizes the dramatic growth in organic food sales, now at around 26 billion annually and also acknowledges the growth in organic farming, with over 14,000 organic farms, both large and small, in the US, with larger corporate organic interests such as Earthbound Farms predominantly located in California.
According to the 2010 Agricultural Chemical Use Report released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), use of the herbicide glyphosate, associated with genetically engineered (GE) crops, has dramatically increased over the last several years, while the use of other even more toxic chemicals such as atrazine has not declined. Contrary to common claims from chemical manufacturers and proponents of GE technology that the proliferation of herbicide tolerant GE crops would result in lower pesticide use rates, 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.
Every year in the United States, 325,000 people are hospitalized because of food-borne illnesses and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s right: food kills one person every two hours.
Yet while the terrorist attacks of 2001 led us to transform the way we approach national security, the deaths of almost twice as many people annually have still not generated basic food-safety initiatives. We have an industrial farming system that is a marvel for producing cheap food, but its lobbyists block initiatives to make food safer. Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of our agricultural system...is the way antibiotics are recklessly stuffed into healthy animals to make them grow faster.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and state agency partners finds that pesticide drift from conventional, chemical-intensive farming has poisoned thousands of farmworkers and rural residents in recent years. According to the authors, agricultural workers and residents in agricultural regions were found to have the highest rate of pesticide poisoning from drift exposure, and soil fumigations were a major hazard causing large drift incidents. The study, “Acute Pesticide Illnesses Associated with Off-Target Pesticide Drift from Agricultural Applications — 11 States, 1998–2006,” was published June 6, 2011 in the online edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives
Pesticide News Roundup: The jig may be up for Monsanto & the U.S Dept of Agriculture found 34 unapproved pesticides on the herb cilantro. In Fresno, CA, farm workers and residents protest the use of methyl iodide. And, Finally, a recent CDC study found that pesticide drift from conventional farming has poisoned farm workers and rural residents.