Will New York Become the First State to Allow Genetically Engineered Moths?
Although not on most people's radar here, New York is one step closer to becoming the first state to have genetically modified, non-sterile insects released outside without cages.
Last week, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS) ended the public comment period for its most recent environmental assessment of the proposed field release of a genetically engineered (GE) diamondback moth, an insect that causes serious damage to cruciferous crops such as broccoli and cauliflower. The release would be the first open-air trial in the U.S. of a GE agricultural pest created with a technology that doesn't use sterility as a way to control population.
USDA's assessment supports the permit application by Dr. Anthony Shelton of Cornell University and paves the way for trials that would take place on the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in bucolic upstate New York. Although the comment period occurred in the middle of planting season, the USDA did not honor a request by Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and Food & Water Watch for a 30-day extension to allow interested parties to properly assess the complex report. Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York Liana Hoodes described the lack of an extension as "unfortunate for the farmers of the region who may be significantly affected by these trials."
If the permit is approved, Cornell will be able to release up to 30,000 GE moths per week for three to four months for up to two years. The modified moths are imported from Oxitec, Ltd., the same British company that engineers the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which is at the center of a fierce controversy in the Florida Keys.
Oxitec's designer moth uses the same technology employed with their modified mosquitoes that have already been released in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands. As in those programs, the male GE moth is not sterile but instead carries an engineered trait designed to kill most of its female offspring. However, although approximately 99 percent of the females will not survive to adulthood, many will die on the target crop, which raises concerns about ingestion of the tiny GE larvae by livestock, wildlife and humans if the process is eventually put into widespread use. In addition to this obvious ick factor, watchdog organizations have also questioned the use of tetracycline as the agent that switches off the lethality gene in the laboratory, citing antibiotic resistance among other issues.
This phase of the project follows closed cage trials that Cornell conducted in 2015. Critics of the open release proposal point out that data from those experiments have still not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Consumer advocate groups—including the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Consumers Union, GeneWatch UK and Friends of the Earth—have written to Cornell and asked for more details about the earlier trials.
"Doing this new environmental assessment without releasing previous data is irresponsible," Jaydee Hanson, Center for Food Safety senior policy analyst, said.
On the last day to submit comments, the USDA had received nearly 600 responses to their assessment of the open release plan, the overwhelming majority of which were opposed to granting the permit. About 40 commenters—primarily academics and conventional farming and biotech industry representatives—expressed support. Among those who asked the USDA to reject the proposal, commenter Jessica Visconti of Paramus, New Jersey, made a very simple plea: "Do not do this," she wrote.
Monsanto, the maker of the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, filed a motion June 16 in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California to reconsider the chemical's addition to California's Proposition 65 list of agents known to cause cancer.
The agrochemical giant made this move based on a June 14 Reuters investigation of Dr. Aaron Blair, a lead researcher on the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) committee, that classified glyphosate as a "2A probable human carcinogen" in March 2015.
By Avery Friedman
Algae is often considered a nuisance, but for Sweden, the rapidly growing sea plant is now an asset.
As the Scandinavian country works to cut all of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, it's using algae to sop up the carbon emissions from cement.
By Itai Vardi
A recent intensification in protests against Williams Partners' planned Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania prompted a state senator to propose legislation aimed at limiting demonstrations.
Last month, Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Martin (R-Norman) announced his intention to introduce legislation that would pass the costs of law enforcement responding to protests onto the demonstrators. Martin also helped introduce a different bill that would criminalize protests at natural gas facilities.
The so-called "first and last mile" problem is one of the biggest hurdles with public transportation. How do you encourage more people to take Earth-friendlier commutes when their homes are miles away from the train or bus station?
One solution, as this Estonian electric scooter company proposes, is to simply take your commute with you—literally. Tallinn-based Stigo has developed a compact e-scooter that folds to the size of a rolling suitcase in about two seconds.
[Editor's note: I'm still in shock after hearing the news that Lucia Grenna passed away in her sleep last week. When we first met in April of 2014 at a Copenhagen hotel, I was immediately taken by here powerful presence. We spent the next couple days participating in a Sustainia climate change event where Lucia presented her audacious plans to connect people to the climate issue. I had the chance to partner with Lucia on several other projects throughout the years and work with her incredible Connect4Climate team. I was always in awe of her ability to "make the impossible possible." Her spirit will live on forever. — Stefanie Spear]
It is with a heavy heart that Connect4Climate announces the passing of its founder and leading light, Lucia Grenna. Lucia passed peacefully in her sleep on June 15, well before her time. We remember her for her leadership and extraordinary ability to motivate people to take on some of the greatest challenges of our time, not least climate change.
By Stacy Malkan
Neil deGrasse Tyson has inspired millions of people to care about science and imagine themselves as participants in the scientific process. What a hopeful sign it is to see young girls wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Forget princess, I want to be an astrophysicist."
As Trevor Noah noted during The Daily Show episode last night (starts at 2:25), the real reason Trump has these rallies is to "get back in front of his loyal crowds and feed of their energy." Noah believes that "Trump supporters are so on board with their dude he can say anything and they'll come along for the ride."