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Neil Young: Say No to GMOs on ‘Behalf of All Living Things’

Food
Neil Young: Say No to GMOs on ‘Behalf of All Living Things’

As he travels Europe on his sold-out two-month tour, Neil Young is warning his audiences to not be fooled into thinking genetically modified crops are the answer to food security problems.

Young—whose tour is promoting his anti-corporate album The Monsanto Years—along with other celebrities and organizations signed the Letter from America, an open letter to the citizens, politicians and regulators in the UK and EU. Based on American experience, the signees testify the potential harmful effects of the UK and EU adopting genetically modified crops.

The letter reads:

We are writing as concerned American citizens to share with you our experience of genetically modified (GM) crops and the resulting damage to our agricultural system and adulteration of our food supply.
In our country, GM crops account for about half of harvested cropland. Around 94% of the soy, 93% of corn (maize) and 96% of cotton grown is GM.

The UK and the rest of the EU have yet to adopt GM crops in the way that we have, but you are currently under tremendous pressure from governments, biotech lobbyists, and large corporations to adopt what we now regard as a failing agricultural technology.

Polls consistently show that 72% of Americans do not want to eat GM foods and over 90% of Americans believe GM foods should be labeled. In spite of this massive public mandate, efforts to get our federal and state governments to better regulate, or simply label, GMOs are being undermined by large biotech and food corporations with unlimited budgets and undue influence.

As you consider your options, we'd like to share with you what nearly two decades of GM crops in the United States has brought us. We believe our experience serves as a warning for what will happen in your countries should you follow us down this road.

"I support the Letter from America because it speaks truth to power, showing the harm GMOs have caused American farms and farmers, our environment, our health and even science and democracy," Young said. "Please take this seriously on behalf of all living things."

The letter is a product of Beyond GM, which aims "to raise the level of the debate on genetically modified organisms in the UK and elsewhere," according to the organization's website.

Glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup—and the continuation of its use in the EU is a hotly debated subject. The European Commission approved an 18-month extension the day before its license was scheduled to end.

Extension was approved even without majority approval from the EU's member states, as reported by EcoWatch.

"This decision by the commission to extend the approval of glyphosate in spite of last week's vote shows a disdain for the opposition by the public and EU governments to this controversial toxic herbicide," Green Party MEP Bart Staes said.

Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis noted that the 18-month extension will allow the European Chemicals Agency to further assess the product's safety.

"As the reckless decision by the EU Commission to overrule all objections and relicense the hazardous chemical glyphosate shows, they and the UK government put corporate profits before the health of citizens and the environment," Lawrence Woodward, Beyond GM's co-director, said. "Only citizens taking action will redress this balance and we are proud to have Neil Young standing with on this."

Glyphosate is the "most widely applied pesticide worldwide," according to a February 2016 report published in Environmental Science Europe. To date, 18.9 billion pounds of glyphosate have been used globally, according to the report. The chemical's use has risen almost 15-fold since "Roundup Ready" genetically engineered crops were introduced in 1996.

Because of its wide use, glyphosate has been a subject of many studies into whether it causes cancer or not. Two major studies, in March 2015 and May 2016, have found contradictory results.

The first study, conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO)'s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded that glyphosate "probably" causes cancer in humans. But the second study, conducted by WHO's Meeting on Pesticide Residues and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, concluded the chemical was "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet."

Greenpeace EU has questioned whether the second report was influenced by industry ties. The organization alleges that Alan Boobis and Angelo Moretto, experts involved in the second study, have ties to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Europe, which receiving a majority of its funding from private companies, including Monsanto.

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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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