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Court Orders EPA to Close Loophole, Factory Farms Required to Report Toxic Pollution

The DC Circuit Court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday to close a loophole that has allowed hazardous substances released into the environment by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to go unreported.

"We applaud the DC Circuit Court's clear decision to enforce this vital environmental safeguard to protect public safety," said Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Smith, who helped argue the case before the court.

"In the words of the court, the risk of air emissions from CAFOs 'isn't just theoretical; people have become seriously ill and even died' from these emissions. But the public cannot protect itself from these hazardous substances if CAFOs aren't required to report their releases to the public. The loophole also prevented reporting of these toxics to local and state responders and the court held that plainly violated the law."

CAFOs are large-scale livestock facilities that confine large numbers of animals in relatively small spaces. A large CAFO may contain upward of 1,000 cattle, 2,500 hogs or 125,000 chickens. Such facilities generate a massive amount of urine and feces, which is commonly liquefied and either stored under the facility or nearby in open-air lagoons. This waste is known to release high levels of toxic pollutants like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the environment.

The court's decision closes a loophole that exempted CAFOs from the same pollutant reporting required of other industries to ensure public safety. Prior to the promulgation of this loophole at the end of the Bush administration in 2008, federal law long required CAFOs, like all other industrial facilities, to notify government officials when toxic pollution levels exceeded public safety thresholds.

"Corporate agricultural operations have always been well-equipped to report on hazardous substances," said Abel Russ of the Environmental Integrity Project. "Now they will once again be required to do so."

This ruling is the latest turn in Earthjustice's advocacy on behalf of environmental and animal advocacy groups including Waterkeeper Alliance, Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety and Environmental Integrity Project.

"People have a right to know if CAFOs are releasing hazardous substances that can pose serious risks of illness or death into the air near their homes, schools, businesses and communities," said Kelly Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance.

"This ruling ensures that the public will be able to obtain this information in the future and will hopefully spur EPA to start responding when hazardous substances reach toxic levels."

Nearly three-quarters of the nation's ammonia air pollution come from CAFOs. Once emitted into the air, this ammonia then redeposits on land or water, adding to nitrogen pollution and water quality impairments in places like the Chesapeake Bay.

"CAFO waste pollutes our air and waterways and creates dangerous food pathogens. This decision forces these operations to be transparent about their environmental impact," said Paige Tomaselli of the Center for Food Safety.

CAFOs can be terrible air polluters. People who live near them often suffer from constant exposure to foul odors and the toxic effects of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Low levels of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and high levels can be fatal.

"This safeguard isn't just about protecting the environment; it's about making entire communities safe for the people who live in them," said Sierra Club staff attorney Katie Schaefer.

Unsurprisingly, CAFO pollution also severely impacts the animals raised at the CAFO.

"Animal factories force billions of animals to suffer dangerously high levels of toxic air pollution day after day for their entire lives," said Humane Society of The United States' Chief Counsel Jonathan Lovvorn. "This ruling helps shine a light on the horrors of factory farms and the hidden costs to animals, people and the environment."

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EPA Sued for Approving Dow's Deadly Pesticide Combo

Farmers, conservation groups and food and farm justice organizations stood up today to protest against the contamination of rural communities, our food supply and the environment by filing a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration.

The groups are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under new administrator Scott Pruitt for approving Dow AgroScience's Enlist Duo, a mixture of the weed-killing chemicals glyphosate and 2,4-D—both of which are known to be highly toxic. The novel combo pesticide is sprayed directly on corn, soybean and cotton plants that are genetically engineered by Dow specifically to survive exposure to the pesticide. The EPA approved the use of the pesticide in 34 states.

Farmers will be hit hard by the human health damages of Enlist Duo and are put at risk financially by 2,4-D's known tendency to volatilize, drift and damage neighboring crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that Enlist Duo's approval will lead to as much as a seven-fold increase in agricultural use of 2,4-D—a component of the infamous Vietnam-era defoliant "Agent Orange," which has been linked to Parkinson's disease, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other reproductive problems. The other component of Enlist Duo is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's flagship pesticide Roundup. Glyphosate was classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015.

"Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are endangering farmers and the environment by caving to Big Ag and approving this highly toxic pesticide combo," said Sylvia Wu, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety and legal counsel in the case. "Fortunately, we have laws written to protect farmers and the environment, and we intend to have the Court enforce them."

This is the second lawsuit the groups have had to bring over the product. After the groups challenged its initial approval in 2014, the Obama Administration agreed to reanalyze some of its impacts. Unfortunately, the EPA then reaffirmed its original approval and dramatically expanded it, allowing Enlist Duo to be sprayed in more than twice as many states and on cotton in addition to corn and soybeans.

"EPA knows that spraying a hundred thousand tons of this pesticide on millions of acres every year will threaten the survival and recovery of some of our most iconic endangered species, but it refuses to follow the law that protects them," Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. "We will hold EPA accountable."

Enlist crops and Enlist Duo are part of a disturbing, industry-wide trend where crops are genetically engineered to withstand multiple pesticides, allowing pesticide companies like Dow and Monsanto to sell both expensive GE seeds and large quantities of the pesticide cocktails that are sprayed on them. While these GE crop systems initially provide a quick-fix way to kill weeds, the intensive spraying triggers rapid evolution of weed resistance to the chemicals. Just as overuse of antibiotics breeds resistant bugs and more antibiotics to kill them, so these GE crop systems drive a toxic spiral of increasing weed resistance and pesticide use.

In addition to health risks, significant crop damage from pesticide drift and increases in both weed resistance and pesticide use, spraying Enlist Duo on millions of acres will contaminate waterways and important wildlife habitat. EPA's own assessments found that Enlist Duo is highly toxic to numerous plants and animals, including endangered and threatened species found in or near agricultural fields.

"In reissuing an expanded approval for this toxic chemical cocktail, the EPA has shown an utter disregard for human health, our drinking water and endangered species like the iconic whooping crane," Stephanie Parent, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said.

The petitioners bringing the lawsuit are National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, represented jointly by legal counsel from Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety.

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USDA Grants Final Approval for Monsanto/Scotts' Genetically Engineered Grass

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a final deregulation decision Wednesday approving Monsanto and Scotts' genetically engineered (GE) bentgrass, even as the highly invasive creeping grass continues to spread unchecked beyond its Oregon and Idaho test plots.

Decades-old outdoor experiments have proven the bentgrass impossible to control since it escaped from "controlled" plots and invaded irrigation ditches, riverbanks and the Crooked River National Grassland, crowding out native plants and the wildlife that depends on them. Despite more than a decade of efforts and millions of dollars spent, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Scotts and Monsanto have failed to curb the spread of the invasive grass. Yet now the USDA has capitulated to Monsanto's and Scotts' request that federal regulators relinquish any authority over the GE grass, leaving local landowners and state of Oregon to wrestle with the problem.

"The USDA's decision ignores a groundswell of united opposition from state departments of agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, university professors, scientists, farmers and conservationists," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the environmental health program at the Center for Biological Diversity.

"Because this blatant bow to industry will continue to harm farmers, endangered species and the precious landscape, the USDA has left us with no choice but to explore our legal options to return the burden of controlling this weedy grass back to the shoulders of the corporate profiteers who brought it into the world."

The GE bentgrass has already illegally contaminated at least three Oregon counties and the ultralight grass seeds and pollen have proven impossible to eradicate. Farmers and noxious weed experts in eastern Oregon have been outspoken critics of the proposal to approve the grass. In response to widespread contamination, GE creeping bentgrass was declared a noxious weed in Malheur County in 2016. With this approval the responsibility for controlling contamination now shifts from the USDA, Scotts and Monsanto to individual farmers and landowners, left alone to grapple with the problem.

"This decision is a slap in the face to family farmers," said Jerry Erstrom, chairman of the Malheur County Weed Board.

"It's extremely disappointing that the USDA has ignored the concerns of those of us affected by the existing contamination, as well as the Oregon and Idaho departments of agriculture and concerned folks from across the region. I just can't believe that they will turn this loose and let Scotts and Monsanto walk away from what they did here."

Unlike the USDA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized the danger of the novel GE grass and its likelihood of spreading out of control. The federal wildlife agency concluded that if approved, the grass is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered Willamette daisy and Bradshaw's lomatuim and harm the critical habitat of the endangered Fender's blue butterfly and Willamette daisy.

"USDA's approval of this genetically engineered grass is as dangerous as it is unlawful," said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "The agency is giving Monsanto and Scotts a free pass for the harm their product has already caused farmers and the environment and is irresponsibly gambling future harm on nothing more than their empty promises." The Center for Food Safety won a 2007 legal victory declaring the GE creeping bentgrass field trials unlawful. Kimbrell authored this December 2016 article on the GE bentgrass saga to date.

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Since 1974, when Roundup was first commercially sold, more than 1.6 billion kilograms (or 3.5 billion pounds) of glyphosate has been used in the U.S. Photo credit: Flickr

Monsanto, California Battle Over Listing Glyphosate as a Carcinogen

Next week, Monsanto and California's Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) will face off over the agency's plan to list the herbicide glyphosate as a carcinogen. The outcome of this legal battle could have major ramifications to California's long-established regulatory program.

It all started back in Sept. 2015 when the OEHHA issued a notice of intent to list the chemical as known to the state to cause cancer under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as Proposition 65. The OEHHA determined that glyphosate met the criteria under the "Labor Code" listing mechanism, which directs the office to add a chemical or substance to the Prop 65 list of known carcinogens if it meets certain classifications by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The France-based IARC concluded that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A)" in March 2015.

Monsanto then filed a lawsuit against the OEHHA in January 2016 to prevent the listing, arguing that the Labor Code listing mechanism is unconstitutional because the office delegated law-making authority "to an unelected and non-transparent foreign body that is not under the oversight or control of any federal or state government entity."

Glyphosate happens to be the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, the world's most popular herbicide. The chemical is applied onto "Roundup Ready" crops that are genetically modified to resist applications of the spray. The agribusiness giant has long maintained the safety of their flagship product and has vehemently denied glyphosate's link to cancer and has also demanded a retraction of the IARC's report. The company's lawsuit also cited the OEHHA's own 2007 study concluding that the chemical was unlikely to cause cancer.

In response, the OEHHA filed a motion to dismiss Monsanto's lawsuit. The office asserted in its motion that the listing mechanism "simply provides a way for OEHHA to make the most of scarce resources." According to the motion, IARC's scientific determinations are "the gold standard in carcinogen identification," and are trusted and relied upon by state governments, the federal government and foreign governments alike.

At the upcoming Jan. 27 hearing in Fresno Superior Court, both sides will make their arguments before a judge decides whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed.

"Monsanto's lawsuit is significant for a number of reasons," Kevin Haroff and Marina Cassio of Marten Law wrote in a blog post. "It raises fundamental issues over how scientific health assessments can appropriately be used as the basis for governmental actions, with broad-reaching implications for both consumers and the overall economy. As a practical matter, it also challenges a key element of a unique California regulatory program that has now been in place for three full decades."

The OEHHA's Labor Code listing mechanism using IARC's classification scheme has been tested in court before. In 2013's Styrene Information & Research Center v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (SIRC v. OEHHA), the trial court and appeals court determined that the OEHHA could not just rely on the IARC's classification scheme to list a chemical as a known carcinogen in the state. Rather, the court decided that a listing must always be supported by a finding that the chemical in fact is known to the state to cause cancer. In the end, the OEHHA was required to reevaluate four listed substances and six substances under consideration for listing.

"Put another way, an IARC Group 1 or 2A classification decision could create a presumption that a chemical must be listed as a known carcinogen under Proposition 65; however, court decisions construing the application of the Labor Code listing mechanism and similar provisions suggest that at least in some circumstances the presumption should be a rebuttable one," Haroff and Cassio point out.

"This may be important to how the courts will respond to Monsanto's legal challenge to OEHHA's proposed glyphosate listing," the authors continue. "Monsanto's argument that Proposition 65 improperly delegates lawmaking power to IARC assumes that OEHHA plays no independent role in identifying chemicals known to the state to cause cancer using the Labor Code listing mechanism. OEHHA could counter that that it does play an independent role, since under SIRC v. OEHHA, it has an independent obligation to find that there is evidence sufficient to establish that a chemical is 'known to the state of California' to cause cancer."

On the same day of the hearing, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman will hold a press conference in Fresno in support of the OEHHA. The press conference will take place outside the courthouse at Noon PST and EcoWatch will stream the event live on Facebook.

Kennedy and Michael L. Baum, senior partner at Baum Hedlund, will speak in support of the state of California's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, will speak in support of protecting farm workers from harmful herbicides and pesticides.

Several of Baum Hedlund's and Kennedy's California Roundup cancer clients will also be speaking at the press conference.

Since Monsanto's lawsuit was filed, a number of organizations have intervened on both sides. The organizations that support California's OEHHA include the AFL-CIO, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Canadian Labor Congress, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law Foundation.

The organizations supporting Monsanto include California Citrus Mutual, California Cotton Ginners & Growers Association, California Grain and Feed Association, Almond Alliance of California, Western Plant Health Association and Western Agricultural Processors Associations.

The OEHHA has received more than 9,300 written comments in response to the listing. The comments are mostly from individuals and groups supporting the proposed listing. Monsanto, chemical producers and industry groups have also submitted comments opposing the listing. The public comment period is now closed, and OEHHA has yet to take final agency action on the listing.

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Has Europe Been Right All Along to Renounce GE Crops?

By Reynard Loki

Editor's note: The terms GE (genetic engineering) and GMO (genetically modified organism) are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are different. GMOs, which are produced when plant breeders select genetic traits that may also occur naturally, have been around for centuries. Common examples are seedless watermelons and modern broccoli. The subject of much recent debate are GE foods, which have only been around in recent decades and are produced by transferring genes between organisms. The resulting GE organisms—either plant- or in the case of GE salmon, animal-based—would not otherwise occur in nature. This article is about GE foods.

In 1994, a tomato known as Flavr Savr became the first commercially grown genetically engineered food to be granted a license for human consumption. Scientists at the California-based company Calgene (which was scooped up by Monsanto a few years later) added a specific gene to a conventional tomato that interfered with the plant's production of a particular enzyme, making it more resistant to rotting. The tomato was given the all-clear by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Since then, both the U.S. and Canada have embraced the genetic engineering of food crops, while Europe has broadly rejected the use of such technology. Only five EU nations—the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain—grow GE crops and in such minor amounts that all five countries make up less than 0.1 percent of GE cultivation worldwide.

It appears Europe has been right all along to renounce GE crops. An in-depth examination recently published by the New York Times found that GE crops have largely failed to achieve two of the technology's primary objectives: to increase crop yields and decrease pesticide use.

Pesticides in particular have come under increasing fire in recent years, not only for their negative impact on human health and wildlife, but for decimating populations of key food crop pollinators; specifically bees, which we rely on to pollinate a third of food crops.

While consumer awareness of the effects of pesticides has grown, the ongoing battle over GE crops has largely zeroed in on whether or not such foods are safe to consume. But as the New York Times investigative reporter Danny Hakim points out in his article about the paper's analysis, "the debate has missed a more basic problem"—that GE crops have "not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides."

Analyzing academic and industry research, as well as independent data, the New York Times compared results on the two continents and found that the "U.S. and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields—food per acre—when measured against Western Europe." The paper also cited a recent National Academy of Sciences report that found "little evidence that the introduction of GE crops were resulting in more rapid yearly increases in on-farm crop yields in the U.S. than had been seen prior to the use of GE crops."

New York Times: Behind the Times?

For many farmers, researchers and activists, the New York Times' conclusion was not news. Ronnie Cummins, co-founder of Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Minnesota, told AlterNet that the paper's analysis simply "confirms what many of the world's best scientists have said for years: GE crops have benefitted no one except the corporations selling the chemicals required to grow them."

"I'm glad that the New York Times has now discovered what those of us in agriculture have known for 20 years, that the old and exaggerated claims of genetic engineering by Monsanto and their allies are bogus," Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer, told AlterNet. "They have not panned out and I'm glad that now the newspaper of record has made this clear to a lot of people." Gerritsen and his wife Megan have owned and run Wood Prairie Family Farm in northern Maine for 40 years. "A lot of us have been saying this for a long time," he said.

While it may not be news for those working toward a more sustainable food system, the New York Times story was unexpected. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, an environmental nonprofit based in Washington, DC, told AlterNet that the New York Times piece is "a surprising ray of light illuminating the longstanding GE crops debate." He said that the paper "for so many years had ignored the science about genetic engineering and bought the Big Lie" that Monsanto and its cohorts have been telling the public for so long: "that GE crops 'reduce pesticide use, increase yield and are key to feeding the world.'"

Seeing Through Monsanto's Propaganda

These recent findings fly in the face of Monsanto's stated claim that "the introduction of GM traits through biotechnology has led to increased yields." But the company is sticking to its guns. When shown the New York Times' findings, Robert T. Fraley, the company's chief technology officer, claimed the paper had selectively chosen the data in its analysis to put the industry in a bad light. "Every farmer is a smart businessperson and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don't think it provides a major benefit," said Fraley. "Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously."

On its website, Monsanto backs its claim by citing statistics reported by PG Economics, a UK-based agricultural industry consultancy. However, that firm that has been exposed as a corporate shill by Lobbywatch.org, a UK-based nonprofit that tracks deceptive PR practices. PG Economics has been commissioned to write reports on behalf of industry lobby groups whose members include the Big Six agrichemical giants: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Syngenta.

"Most of the yield advancement since GE crops were first commercialized is attributable to traditional breeding techniques, not the GE traits," Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Wisconsin, told AlterNet. Kastel, who worked for several agribusiness giants including International Harvester, J.I. Case and FMC before making what he calls the "paradigm shift to sustainable farming," said that since GE crops were introduced in the U.S., farmers have experienced boom-and-bust cycles and today are "generally hurting," regardless of the scale of their farming operations. "GE crops have not been a panacea for economic sustainability," he said.

Instead, GE crops have been a source of financial growth for the agrichemical industry. Kimbrell said that the Big Six "make tens of billions of dollars in profits by selling ever more pesticides, especially herbicides. Why would they spend hundreds of millions of research dollars and then billions in advertising and lobbying to promote crops that actually 'reduce pesticides' and thereby destroy their bottom line? Are these companies committing economic suicide in an altruistic attempt to feed the world? Obviously not. You can accuse Monsanto of many things, including myriad corporate crimes over many decades, but altruism is not one of them. The vast majority of [genetically engineered crops] are not designed to decrease herbicide use, but to massively increase it."

A Toxic Plague

The New York Times' Hakim notes that, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, while insecticide use has actually fallen by a third since GE crops were introduced in the U.S. in the mid-'90s, herbicide use has exploded, growing by more than a fifth over that same period. French farmers, by contrast, have been able to reduce insecticide use by a far greater margin—65 percent—while decreasing herbicide use by more than a third. "Although some insecticide use has been reduced, overall agrochemical applications have grown exponentially," said Kastel.

American tomatoes may take longer to rot than their conventionally grown European counterparts. But with GE tomatoes being one of the most pesticide-contaminated foods in the U.S. food supply—not to mention the fact they won't feed more people (there'll be a staggering 8.5 billion of us by 2030, 11.2 billion by 2100)—the Flavr Savr is just a trick and perhaps ultimately a dangerous one. While the real toll of industrialized GE agriculture on human and environmental health is hard to calculate, its track record is dismal. By some estimates, pesticides have killed an estimated 250 million bees in a just a few years. The New York Times reported that some commercial beekeepers have lost more than a third of their bees in 2013. Pesticides have also impacted populations of fish, amphibians and songbirds.

But it's not just wildlife that suffers. The general public is ingesting pesticides on a regular basis. Kastel notes that "eaters are consuming copious amounts of biological insecticides built into the genome of corn," adding that "the cumulative health impacts are unknown." People who live near GE crops have to contend with an additional health impact: pesticide drift, agrichemicals blown into their communities by the wind.

The heavy reliance on pesticides has started a vicious cycle, leading to the rise of pesticide-resistant superweeds. "Weeds and insects are becoming resistant to the herbicides and genetic insecticides that are spliced into the plants," said Gerritsen. "To combat resistance, some farmers are using a chemical cocktail of multiple herbicides while biotech companies are introducing resistance to even more powerful and toxic chemicals." He estimates there may be 60 to 80 million acres of farmland in the U.S. with "superweeds" that have built up a resistance to Roundup. Cummins said superweed resistance has forced farmers to "use higher and higher amounts of increasingly dangerous poisons" so that "soils are eroded and degraded. Water is polluted. Foods are contaminated. And to what end?"

It may take years, even decades to fully understand the unintended consequences of industrialized agriculture. "These chemicals are largely unknown," David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, told the New York Times. His research has linked the loss of millions of IQ points among children 5 years old and younger in the U.S. to a single class of insecticides. "We do natural experiments on a population," he said, referring to human exposure to agrichemicals, "and wait until it shows up as bad."

Activists of the World, Unite

Hakim also points out that "profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades," noting that anti-GE sentiment across the pond has been much more active, with Monsanto drawing the ire of thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, as GE opposition is firmly established as a primary plank of Europe's Green political movement.

The prospect of a Monsanto-Bayer merger has only galvanized the opposition in Europe, even as activists recognize new and different kinds of challenges ahead. Jan Perhke of the Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers, a German NGO, says that Bayer's diversification has made it a more difficult target than Monsanto, whose business is simple: GE seeds and pesticides. Monsanto, which has emerged as the primary worldwide target of the anti-GE movement, has been steeped in controversy recently, particularly since Roundup's main ingredient glyphosate was deemed a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization in 2015.

"We have tried to put the focus not only on Monsanto and to let people know that behind Monsanto there are many agrochemical multinationals which are very big and also have very dangerous products," Perhke told DW. There has been speculation that, if the merger goes through, Bayer will drop the Monsanto name, which would force activists to rebrand their campaigns.

Many anti-GE activists can be found in Vermont, the first state to pass GMO-labeling legislation. In its 2016 report Vermont's GMO Addiction: Pesticides, Polluted Water, and Climate Destruction, the nonprofit group Regeneration Vermont describes the terrible impact chemical-based industrial agriculture has had on the state's economy and environment:

The true nature of GMO agriculture in Vermont today is a stark and dangerous difference from the promises of its corporate advocates. According to data collected by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, pesticide use is up 39% and increasing rapidly while, at the same time, new pesticides are being added to the arsenal. Climate-threatening nitrogen fertilizers have been up about 17% per year in the decade of GMO's rise to dominance (2002-2012) and climbing as our denuded soils require more and more inputs for high production. And the pollution to our climate, water and soil from these increases continues to rise, keeping us on a steady degenerative decline, environmentally, economically and culturally.

Lining Corporate Coffers

"The great economic promise of genetically engineered crops has flowed primarily to bankers, suppliers and the biotechnology industry," said Kastel. "Rather than improving the bottom line, it enabled farmers to grow larger and automate crop production with fewer people involved."

The agrichemical industry is the chief beneficiary of those economic benefits. Over the past 15 years, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto and Syngenta have grown more than sixfold. And these companies are profiting on both ends. "They sell the seeds and the poisons sprayed on those seeds. Great for their bottom line, terrible for the rest of us and the planet," said Kimbrell. "For Monsanto and the other chemical companies, genetically engineering crops is just another way to significantly increase profits." If the mergers of Monsanto and Bayer on one side, and Syngenta and ChemChina, a Chinese state-owned agrichemical company, on the other, were to go through, the two newly created behemoths would each have combined values in excess of $100 billion.

Meanwhile, bees are dying in worrisome numbers, in part due to the increased use of neonicotinoids, a dangerous class of pesticides produced by Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical and commonly used on GE corn, soybean, canola and cereal, as well as many fruits and vegetables. But because bees work for free, the estimated $15 billion in ecosystem services they provide to society each year is not included in economic calculations.

Is It Too Late?

Even as crop yields have shown no improvement versus conventional methods, U.S. growers have increased their use of herbicides as they have converted key crops—including cotton, corn and soybean—to modified varieties. Meanwhile, American farmers have been overtaken by their counterparts in France, Europe's biggest agricultural producer, in the overall reduction of pesticides.

Is it too late for the U.S. and Canada to get off this ruinous track of industrialized agriculture? For advocates of sustainable agriculture, regenerative agriculture and agroecology—who seek to place farming within the context of natural ecosystems as opposed to objects of chemical-based production—the answer is a resounding no.

"Research has shown that agroecologically based methods—such as organic fertilizers, crop rotation and cover crops—can succeed in meeting our food needs while avoiding the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture," argues the Union for Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "As farmers incorporate these practices into their work, many benefits emerge: Less pollution. Healthier, more fertile soil that is less vulnerable to drought and flooding. A lighter impact on surrounding ecosystems, resulting in greater biodiversity. Reduced global warming impact. Less antibiotic and pesticide resistance."

In fact, a 2015 global study conducted by researchers at Washington State University and published in the peer-reviewed Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences found that despite lower yields, the profit margins for organic agriculture are significantly greater than conventional agriculture. Part of that increased profit margin may come from not having to pay a premium for Big Ag's seeds and pesticides.

"Why would a farmer want to pay a premium for Roundup Ready soybeans if the Roundup is no longer working?" Gerritsen said. "What has been happening, widespread, is that farmers are going back to non-GE soybeans and growing them as they did before the Roundup Ready soybeans came in 20 years ago. Then, the best among them have figured out that there is a growing market worldwide for a non-GMO soybeans."

He notes that some U.S. farmers raising conventionally grown, non-GMO soybeans have found competitive markets in Asia, where they receive a premium for their produce. An added benefit for these farmers is that they can save their seeds instead of having to buy them each season from Monsanto, which actually leases its seeds and regulates them as intellectual property. For thousands of years prior, seeds were considered a part of the wealth of the commons, free and available to anyone who planted and grew crops.

But moving from industrial agriculture to organic farming isn't easy, especially when the transition period to get organic certification exposes growers to financial risk. The authors of the Washington State University study say that the impetus for change must come from policymakers, who should "develop government policies that support conventional farmers converting to organic and other sustainable systems, especially during the transition period," a 36-month withdrawal period from the time a farmer last used an unapproved material, like a pesticide.

But considering the powerful Big Ag lobby, getting policymakers to help farmers move to organic is a daunting task. Gerritsen acknowledges that "it's hard to out-gun the tremendous resources of Monsanto and what basically amounts to a calculated propaganda effort to misrepresent reality, to gain position and dominance." He said the deck is stacked against farmers. "Sadly, this is nothing new to agriculture. The history of agriculture is one where farmers who were spread out and independent by nature and by geography have a hard time competing with the concentrated power structures within agriculture. This has gone on for 150 years. Only now, the accelerated rates of concentration is no more stark than in the seed industry. Just a small handful of companies now control the vast majority of world seed resources. Monsanto is chief among them."

If regulators approve the $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger, the resulting corporation would have control of nearly a third of the world's seed market and nearly a fourth of the pesticide market.

"In all probability, one story, albeit a major one, is probably not enough to finally debunk Monsanto and friends' Big Lie about GE crop technology," Andrew Kimbrell said about the New York Times' analysis. "You will probably continue to see the common sense-defying claims for a while yet. But if as the ancients said, the truth is like a lion; just let it loose. Then maybe we can finally go past the already failed but still dangerous GE experiment and move to an ecological agriculture that really will reduce and eventually eliminate pesticides and provide a secure sustainable food future for us all."

Whether or not the U.S. and Canada will move toward a more sustainable agricultural model remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: The 20-year-old experiment with genetically engineered crops has proven to be a false promise, suggesting that the creation of completely new organisms is better left in the hands of Mother Nature, not scientists in laboratories.

"When you begin to genetically engineer organisms by mixing plant and animal genes, you now have the ability to alter ecosystems, which can have unintended consequences," Robert Colangelo, founding farmer and CEO of Green Sense Farms, America's largest network of commercial and sustainable indoor vertical farms, told AlterNet. "Mankind does not have a good track record when it tries to alter nature."

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

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USDA Gives Monsanto and Scotts' Glyphosate-Resistant Grass Green Light

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final environmental impact statement Wednesday giving the green light to genetically engineered (GE) creeping bentgrass, a highly invasive grass genetically engineered by Monsanto and Scotts to withstand what would normally be a fatal dose of the herbicide glyphosate.

Decades-old outdoor experiments have proven the novel grass impossible to control, as it escaped from "controlled" plots and invaded irrigation ditches, river banks and the Crooked River National Grassland, crowding out native plants and the wildlife that depends on them. Despite more than a decade of efforts and millions of dollars, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Scotts and Monsanto have been unable to exterminate the escapes. Now the USDA has granted the industry's request that it relinquish any authority over the GE grass.

"USDA's approval of this genetically engineered grass is as dangerous as it is unlawful," said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "The agency is giving Monsanto and Scotts a free pass for the harm their product has already caused farmers and the environment and is irresponsibly gambling future harm on nothing more than their empty promises."

The GE bentgrass has already illegally contaminated at least three counties and the ultralight grass seeds and pollen have proven impossible to eradicate. Farmers and noxious weed experts in eastern Oregon have been outspoken critics of the proposal to approve the grass. In response to widespread contamination, GE creeping bentgrass was declared a noxious weed in Malheur County in 2016. With this approval responsibility for controlling the contamination now shifts from USDA, Scotts and Monsanto to become solely the problem of individual farmers and landowners.

"It just tears me up to think about the environmental and economic havoc this grass could wreak upon our community," said Jerry Erstrom, farmer and chairman of the Malheur County weed board. "The USDA has ignored the concerns of farmers in the areas affected by the existing contamination. I just can't believe that they will turn this loose and let Scotts and Monsanto walk away from what they did here."

Unlike USDA the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized the danger of the novel GE grass and its likelihood of spreading out of control, concluding that if approved it is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered Willamette daisy and Bradshaw's lomatuim and harm the critical habitat of the endangered Fender's blue butterfly and Willamette daisy.

"This outrageous decision by regulators to ignore the ongoing harm to Oregon farmers, endangered species and the precious landscape we all share is a disturbing reminder that federal regulators don't primarily serve taxpayers and citizens, but rather the wishes of corporations like Monsanto and Scotts," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the environmental health program at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Those of us dedicated to protecting Oregon's natural resources will explore all legal options necessary to place the burden of controlling this invasive weed back where it belongs—on the shoulders of the corporate profiteers who brought it into the world."

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Court Fails to Protect Bees From Toxic Pesticides

A judge in the Northern District of California delivered a crushing blow Monday to the nation's beekeepers and imperiled honeybees. The judge ruled against the beekeepers and public interest advocates in a lawsuit seeking to protect honeybees and the broader environment from unregulated harms caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) lax policies for seeds coated with certain insecticides known to cause massive die-offs of honeybees.

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The seed-coatings in question are the bee-killing neonicotinoids, or "neonics," which are strongly linked to the record-high colony mortality suffered by commercial beekeepers, as well as to water pollution and risks to birds and other beneficial species. Corn and soybean seeds, in particular, coated with these chemicals are planted across nearly 150 million acres of the U.S., in what is by far the most extensive type of insecticide application in the nation.

"It is astounding that a judge, EPA or anyone with any common sense would not regulate this type of toxic pesticide use, especially when the seed-coatings are so broadly applied and there is so much at risk," Andrew Kimbrell, director of Center for Food Safety, said. "Study after study has shown that seeds coated with these chemicals are a major culprit in catastrophic bee-kills. Now more than ever our country's beekeepers, environment and food system deserve protection from agrichemical interests and it is EPA's job to deliver it."

The EPA has exempted the seeds from regulation or mandatory labeling, despite their known toxicity. This exemption was the basis of the lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety in the public interest and on behalf of several impacted beekeepers.

The judge dismissed the case on an administrative procedure basis, not on the fundamental question of whether the exempted seeds are harming honeybees. In fact, the judge stated in his conclusion: The court is most sympathetic to the plight of our bee population and beekeepers. Perhaps the EPA should have done more to protect them, but such policy decisions are for the agency to make.

"The broader implications of this decision drive the nails in the bee industry's coffin," said Jeff Anderson, a California and Minnesota-based commercial beekeeper and honey producer, who was the lead plaintiff in the case. "Of course as a beekeeper I am concerned about my livelihood, but the public at large should also be alarmed. More than one-third of the average person's diet is generated by pollinators that I help manage."

The Center for Food Safety is representing the plaintiffs in the case and said the group is considering all options.

Trump Picks 'Puppet' for Special Interests Mike Pompeo to Head CIA

By Carey Gillam

News that President-elect Donald Trump has asked U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo to be CIA director shows just how dark the days ahead might be for America's burgeoning food movement, which has been advocating for more transparency and fewer pesticides in food production.

Mike Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests

Pompeo, a Republican from the farm state of Kansas, was the designated hitter for Monsanto and the other Big Ag chemical and seed players in 2014 when the industry rolled out a federal effort to block states from mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. Pompeo introduced the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" in April of that year with the intention of overriding bills in roughly two dozen states.

In bringing the bill forward, Pompeo was acting on behalf the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents the interests of the nation's largest food and beverage companies. The bill, which critics called the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" Act, or the "DARK Act," went through two years of controversy and compromise before a version passed and was signed into law by President Obama this summer. The law nullified a mandatory labeling bill set to take effect in Vermont in July of this year, and it offered companies options to avoid stating on their packaging whether or not a product contained GMO ingredients.

Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests. If he accepts Trump's offer to head the CIA, it could spell a significant setback for consumers, according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

"The worst choice I can think of," Kimbrell said of Pompeo. "Far from draining the swamp, Pompeo is the ultimate "swamp" creature. He is little more than a puppet for the big chemical and biotech companies."

Consumer groups have pushed for mandatory labeling for years because of concerns that genetically engineered crops on the market now carry potential and actual risks for human health and the environment. A chief concern has to do with the fact that most GMO crops are sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. The World Health Organization has declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and residues of glyphosate are increasingly being detected in commonly consumed foods.

The Trump transition team answer for those consumer concerns about pesticides doesn't look reassuring either. Trump has named Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead transition efforts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That's happy news for the agrichemical industry because Ebell appears to be a big fan of pesticides. His group's SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website champions the safety and benefits of chemicals used in agriculture and elsewhere, and discounts research that indicates harm.

"The EPA is supposed to protect us from dangerous chemicals, not defend them, as Ebell would almost certainly do if he ran the agency," the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement.

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