France Bans Monsanto's Roundup as Environmental Groups Push WHO for Stronger Safety Standards
What's a GMO-promoting multinational chemical company to do? Word is getting out that, while the science isn't clear whether genetically modified crops (GMOs) themselves are harmful, the fact that they were created to be resistant to increasing amounts of pesticides such as glyphosate is a problem.
Monsanto, which manufactures the glyphosate weedkiller Roundup, reacted furiously to a report released earlier this year by the World Health Organization (WHO) that glyphosate likely causes cancer. The company demanded that WHO retract the report, repudiating the years of research by multiple scientists. With Roundup the most widely used and top-selling herbicide, Monsanto clearly has a bottom line to protect.
That bottom line has just taken another hit. In Europe, where people are far more suspicious of the extravagant claims and potential dangers of GMOs than in the U.S. and heavily regulates them, the French government has announced this week that it is restricting the sale of glyphosate weedkillers in garden centers.
"France must be on the offensive with regards to the banning of pesticides,” said ecology minister Ségolène Royal. “I have asked garden centers to stop putting Monsanto’s Roundup on sale."
— Ségolène Royal (@RoyalSegolene) June 14, 2015
Meanwhile, concern is growing in the U.S. about the use of glyphosate and the new Enlist Duo herbicide from Dow which combines glyphosate and 2,4-D to combat another problem stemming from glyphosate use: the rise of "superweeds" resistant to pesticides. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should heavily weigh the world’s leading cancer experts’ recent classification of glyphosate as the agency moves through its process to reregister this widely used herbicide," said Mary Ellen Kustin, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
"In the U.S., most glyphosate is sprayed on farmland—roughly 280 million pounds annually. Blanketing genetically engineered crops with glyphosate accounts for the vast majority of the toxic herbicide’s agricultural use. But without requiring labels on GMO foods similar to labeling laws in France and 63 other countries around the world, the U.S. leaves its consumers confused as to whether or not they’re buying GMO foods," Kustin continued.
France's action comes as a coalition of environmental groups sent WHO a letter urging it to set safety standards for glyphosate weedkillers. The group, which includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth U.S., Friends of the Earth Europe, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Pesticide Action Network UK, Food & Water Watch and Toxic Free North Carolina, expressed concern that the eight-member expert advisory committee reviewing WHO's glyphosate/cancer report includes three panelists who have ties to the chemical industry, including Monsanto.
"The WHO is highly respected for protecting public health around the world, and it should move forward immediately to safeguard people from being harmed by glyphosate,” said Natural Resources Defense Council health program director Erik Olson. “At the same time, the WHO should make absolutely sure that its expert review panel is free of conflicts of interest so it can make science-based evaluations of herbicide and pesticide residues on food and advise what levels are safe for people to be exposed to.”
"Time and time again we have seen corporate interests influence major decisions affecting the health of consumers and the environment," said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "We will not stand by and watch WHO-IARC’s conclusion on glyphosate become watered down due to the presence of task force members tied to major biotech firms. Farmers, farmworkers and communities who live and work near farms sprayed with glyphosate are depending on a rigorous, independent review of this chemical and the WHO must provide it.”
Earlier this spring, a lobbyist had to eat his words (shall we say, drink his poison) on French television after claiming glyphosate was so safe, you could drink it. Watch what happens when he is offered the chance to drink some pesticides:
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
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A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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