New Generation of Genetically Engineered Crops Found to Drastically Increase Use of Toxic Pesticides
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has quietly approved the first of a new generation of genetically engineered (GE) crops resistant to more toxic herbicides. The first crop to pass the low regulatory bar was a Bayer soybean variety genetically engineered to withstand direct application of the herbicide isoxaflutole (IFT), which according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a “probable human carcinogen.”
Center for Food Safety (CFS) projects at least a four-fold rise in national use of this toxic herbicide thanks to these new GE soybeans, and a host of related human health and environmental harms. Additional scientific detail about this and other new GE crops can be found here.
“Bayer’s new GE soybeans represent the next wave in agricultural biotechnology—crops that dramatically increase farmers’ use of and dependence on toxic herbicides,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety.
Dubbed FG72, these GE soybeans were developed by Bayer CropScience, the second-largest agrichemicals firm in the world.
The EPA has designated IFT as a “probable human carcinogen” based on animal tests in which it triggered liver and thyroid tumors in rats. IFT and its major breakdown product persist in surface waters, and despite its limited use, at present is frequently detected in tests. It is also toxic to aquatic organisms, wild plants and important crops (e.g. vegetables.). IFT is so toxic that three states—Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota—rejected the Bayer-EPA label for this herbicide as insufficiently protective of human health, the environment and neighboring crops.
First generation GE crops, like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) varieties, are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. Skyrocketing use of glyphosate with RR crops has wiped out biological diversity in our fields, for instance nearly wiping out milkweed and thereby contributing to a dramatic decline in Monarch butterfly populations. Glyphosate use has also triggered an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds that now infest roughly half of farmers’ fields.
“Bayer and other biotech companies are now poised to introduce a host of ‘next-generation’ GE crops resistant to more toxic herbicides as a false ‘solution’ to massive weed resistance," said Freese. "But their effect will be to generate still more intractable weeds resistant to multiple herbicides.”
“It’s ironic that supposedly ‘cutting-edge’ biotechnology is taking American agriculture a half-century and more backwards into a more toxic past,” continued Freese.
Dow AgroSciences is awaiting USDA approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans. 2,4-D is one of the oldest herbicides, introduced in the 1940s. It formed part of Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War, and has been linked by medical scientists to an often-fatal immune system cancer in farmers, among other adverse effects.
“Don’t listen to the industry hype,” Freese concluded. “Biotechnology means toxic, unsustainable agriculture. We need to evolve our agriculture beyond antiquated, pesticide-promoting GE crops towards cutting-edge agroecological techniques for managing weeds instead of eradicating them. Organic agriculture is one path, low-input systems that minimize pesticide use is another.”
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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