GMO Corn’s Looming Disaster
Responding to a study released last week highlighting the increased resistance of weeds to glyphosate, and the potential introduction of new corn varieties genetically engineered (GE) to be used with more highly toxic weedkillers, farmers are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take action to protect rural economies.
If USDA deregulates 2,4 D resistant corn, farmers will once again shoulder the cost of the failed promise of GE crops.
“Widespread planting of 2,4-D corn will inevitably lead to a surge in the herbicide’s use,” said George Naylor, an Iowa corn and soybean farmer. “This will not only have adverse effects on public health from air and water pollution, but will also pose another economic risk to Midwest farmers whose non-2,4-D resistant crops will take the brunt of more herbicide drift."
The study in last week’s edition of Bioscience projects greatly increased herbicide use and collateral damage to nearby, non-resistant crops and wild habitat. 2,4-D is well understood to drift, both directly after it is applied and through volatilization, drift that takes place long after an application. As a result, farmers growing their products within miles of cornfields where 2,4-D is applied could face crop losses and serious financial hardship. In addition, organic farmers could lose their certification for years if their fields are contaminated.
Authors of the article, relying in part on industry analysis, note that use of 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides, first used during World War II, are expected to increase ten fold over the next decade. Dow AgroSciences is the driving force behind 2,4-D-resistant seeds, while Monsanto, the dominant manufacturer of glyphosate-resistant seeds, is collaborating with the European industry giant BASF (soon moving to the U.S.) in engineering dicamba-resistant seeds. And other pesticide and biotech firms have similar products in the pipeline. For years, Dow, Monsanto, and the rest of the “Big 6”, have argued that genetically engineered crops result in reduced pesticide use or can even “resist” drought, though with little to no documented success, according to independent scientists.
“Genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant seeds are the growth engines of the pesticide industry’s market strategy,” said Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Repackaging antiquated pesticides as new solutions for Midwest economies is a disaster waiting to happen.”
The study also ties the increase in herbicide use to the decline of sustainable weed management. The authors note that USDA has increased funding at major universities for chemically-intensive methods while at the same time decreasing funding for agroecological methods—such as cover cropping, crop rotation and limited tillage—that are successful at improving weed control and reducing weed pressures.
At the same time, weed scientists have been raising red flags around the impending problems of resistance, the reliance on the “pesticide treadmill” and the need to invest in sustainable weed control, or Integrated Weed Management.
"It is only going to get worse," said Lee Van Wychen, director of science policy at the Weed Science Society of America in a Reuter’s interview.
The Weed Society of America just announced it will focus its May 2012 meeting on finding solutions to herbicide resistance. However, concerns remain about Monsanto’s efforts to undermine science and promote the next wave of GE technology, including 2,4-D and dicamba.
"I'm convinced that this is a big problem," said Dave Mortensen, professor of weed and applied plant ecology at Penn State University. "Most of the public doesn't know because the industry is calling the shots on how this should be spun."
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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