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Groups Challenge USDA's Proposed Deregulation of GE Corn and Soybeans

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Groups Challenge USDA's Proposed Deregulation of GE Corn and Soybeans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released for public input its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on Friday, which calls for the deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans engineered to be tolerant to the toxic herbicide 2,4-D.

The new varieties of GE crops are being produced by Dow AgroSciences under the brand name “Enlist.”
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

These new varieties of GE corn and soybean, created partly due to proliferate weed resistance resulting from the widespread use of glyphosate (Roundup) on other GE crops, is set to usher in dramatic increases in 2,4-D use with associated health and environmental hazards, according to environmental scientists. The GE crops are being produced by Dow AgroSciences under the brand name “Enlist.”

According to Nichelle Harriott, senior scientist at the national environmental group Beyond Pesticides, “The engineered varieties will not only spawn new weed resistant strains, but contaminate the environment and increase the public health risks to cancer and Parkinson’s disease, especially in farmworkers and farming communities exposed to 2,4-D.”

The failure of GE-glyphosate (Roundup) tolerant crops to live up to their promises is a main contributing factor behind the development of stacked varieties such as “Enlist,” which combines resistance to 2,4-D and glyphosate. So widespread is glyphosate resistance that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted emergency use exemptions for pesticides without registered uses in agriculture, like fluridone. One 2012 report shows that GE crops have been responsible for an increase of 404 million pounds of pesticide, or about 7 percent, in the U.S. over the first 16 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996-2011), which means that 2,4-D use is expected to increase dramatically in GE fields.

While the USDA attempts to assure the public that 2,4-D is safe, the science has raised serious concerns about the safety of this herbicide, which was used as a key ingredient in “Agent Orange,” used to defoliate forests and croplands in the Vietnam War. Scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL). It is also neurotoxic, genotoxic, and an endocrine disruptor. Studies have also reported that occupational exposure to 2,4-D is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

The proposed deregulation of these GE crops is being met with criticism from farmers, environmentalists and other concerned groups. Similar to previous decisions to deregulate other varieties of GE soybeans, alfalfa and sugar beets, safety advocates charge that the USDA fails to take into account several scientifically-validated environmental concerns, such as the indiscriminate nature of GE gene flow among crops, a heavy reliance on faulty data and a high degree of uncertainty in making safety determinations. Deregulation of 2, 4-D GE corn and soybeans also underplays the issue of 2,4-D drift that has been a documented problem to off-site locations, endangered species and non-target crops, as well as the threat of dioxin contamination.

The agency once again overlooks the problem of herbicide-resistant weeds (and insect resistance to engineered “plant incorporated protectants”), and the widespread corruption of conventional seed varieties by GE strains, along with documented severe health and economic injury to non-GE and organic farmers and markets. In Southern states, glyphosate-resistant horseweed, ryegrass and pigweed are a concern for soybean farmers, while resistant horseweed and volunteer Roundup Ready soybeans have become problem weeds for Mississippi rice. In Australia, weed scientists have now documented cases of glyphosate resistance in rigid ryegrass across large areas and are encountering it in other weed species in different parts of the world.

Instead of chemical-intensive and genetically engineered strategies that exacerbate weed and insect problems, the USDA should only allow sustainable, integrated pest management strategies, including organic practices, to minimize and even avoid the production challenges that most GE organisms have been falsely-marketed as solving. These strategies can also help farmers get off the pesticide treadmill which constantly demands greater amounts of synthetic inputs.

“In the age of organic agriculture it is irresponsible to be introducing a failed technology reliant on 2,4-D with all its known hazards to human health and the environment,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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