Human activity threatens to make summer nights a little less magical.
A study published in BioScience Monday set out to assess the greatest threats to the world's approximately 2,000 species of fireflies. While very little population data exists for most species of the "iconic" glowing beetles, researchers in the field have observed a decline in recent years.
"We looked around and said, 'huh, there just don't seem to be as many fireflies around as there used to be,'" lead study author and Tufts University biology professor Sara Lewis, who has spent her career studying the mating rituals of a few firefly species, told Popular Science.
So the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established a Firefly Specialist Group in 2018 to assess the glowing insects' conservation status. As part of that work, they sent out a survey to 350 members of the Fireflyers International Network asking them the chief risks faced by the species they studied.
The answer? Habitat loss, artificial light and pesticides, in that order.
According to a Tufts University-led team of biologists associated with the International Union for the Conservation… https://t.co/CbObfkRmJx— Tufts University (@Tufts University)1580845620.0
However, some firefly species are particularly vulnerable because they require very specific conditions. The Malaysian firefly Pteroptyx tener, famous for its synchronized light shows, needs mangroves to flourish. Previous research had noted the species' decline due to the clearing of mangroves to plant palm oil plantations and aquaculture farms.
Artificial light is a major problem for fireflies because they use their famous bioluminescence to find mates, and bright human lights can disrupt these courtship signals.
"In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms – including our own – light pollution really messes up firefly mating rituals," study coauthor and Tufts PhD candidate Avalon Owens explained in the press release.
The use of agricultural pesticides like organophosphates and neonicotinoids threatens fireflies, especially during their larval stages, when they spend as many as two years living below the ground or underwater. This makes them especially sensitive to pesticides that end up on lawns or in the soil, according to Popular Science.
While more specific research is needed on the impact of these chemicals on fireflies, the evidence suggests that they are harmful to the glowing bugs as they are to other insects, the Tufts release explained.
Indeed, the plight of fireflies is reflected across the insect class. A November 2019 study warned that 41 percent of insects are threatened with extinction, which could lead to an "insect apocalypse" with serious consequences for humans and other life on Earth.
Dave Goulson, the University of Sussex biology professor who authored that study, told CNN that the threats of habitat loss and pesticide use were also the leading causes of the overall insect decline.
"Of course fireflies are particularly vulnerable to light pollution, more so than perhaps any other insect group, so it makes sense that this also emerges as a major concern," Goulson said.
Lewis expressed hope that focusing the spotlight on fireflies could raise awareness about the plight of insects generally and build the will to save them.
"Fireflies are actually an insect that everybody can get behind," she told Popular Science.
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By Julia Conley
In addition to devastating effects on bee populations and the pollination needed to feed humans and other species, widely-used pesticides chemically related to nicotine may be deadly to birds and linked to some species' declines, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan studied the pesticide imidacloprid, in the nicotine-linked class of chemicals called neonicotinoids, or neonics, and found that the pesticide had effects on migrating birds' health and ability to reproduce.
We've heard a lot about neonics & bees—but they're hurting birds too.— EHN (@EnvirHealthNews) September 12, 2019
A first-of-its-kind study on wild birds shows the pesticides make them lose weight and delays migration.https://t.co/LDep60W0ay
The scientists gave small amounts of the pesticide to white-crowned sparrows and found that the limited consumption caused the birds to lose weight and delay their migration.
Within hours of being given the neonics, the birds stopped eating and lost an average of six percent of their body weight and about 17 percent of their fat stores, making it impossible for them to complete their long flights south. The birds took at least an extra 3.5 days to recover and migrate.
"It's just a few days, but we know that just a few days can have significant consequences for survival and reproduction," Margaret Eng, an ecotoxicologist who led the study told Science magazine, where the research was published Friday.
The disruption of the species' normal migration led to decreased ability to reproduce and survive, the researchers found.
The study "causatively links a pesticide to something that is really, tangibly negative to birds that is causing their population declines," study author Christy Morrissey told the Associated Press. "It's clear evidence these chemicals can affect populations."
More than 70 percent of North American farmland bird species are currently experiencing population declines.
The research shows for the first time "behavioral effects in free-living birds as result of neonicotinoid intoxication," Caspar Hallmann, an ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands, told National Geographic after reviewing Eng's study.
Scientists in Europe revealed in 2017 that neonicotinoids can decimate honey bee populations, threatening food sources for humans and other species.
The European Union banned the use of neonics in 2018 due to their effects on pollinators.
The EPA announced in May it would cancel the registrations of 12 neonicotinoid pesticides, but in July, the Trump administration removed restrictions on sulfoxaflor, a neonic that's been found to kill bees in low doses.
"Agricultural pesticides, especially bee-killing neonics, have no place on our national wildlife refuges," senior Center for Biological Diversity attorney Hannah Connor said. https://t.co/3MsMEC46BW— Center for Bio Div (@CenterForBioDiv) August 9, 2018
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
The COVID-19 Delta variant has left businesses and schools across the country backpedaling from their goals for more integrated, in-person participation.
In many areas, virtual learning and remote work are becoming the norm once again, and often, this comes with a significant increase in residential energy consumption. For those concerned about increased electric bills and a greater carbon footprint, however, researchers say solar energy could prove effective in offsetting the costs of working and learning from home.
Turning Back to Virtual Learning
Although most school districts across the country opened back up with the intention of holding 100% in-person classes, spreading of the Delta variant has already forced many classrooms into stints of remote learning.
As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, "a cluster of three or more potentially linked cases at one school over 14 days could represent an outbreak and could lead to having a group of students or even a class quarantine at home."
As of August 24, at least 80 school districts have been forced to halt in-person instruction in some capacity due to viral outbreaks.
At the end of the last academic year, an elementary school teacher in Marin County, California, who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 infected at least 12 students while experiencing mild symptoms, according to a recent CDC report. The majority of her class was ineligible for vaccination, due to their age.
Cases like this illuminate the obstacles that schools are facing in their efforts to protect students. Eight states have passed laws banning mask mandates in public schools, and because students younger than 12 years of age are ineligible for vaccination, classrooms can quickly become hotspots. This forces students to quarantine and learn remotely, which raises energy consumption within homes.
A Bright Future for Remote Work
Some of the most successful companies in the world have maintained and refined opportunities for remote work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these corporations are moving toward permanent implantation of remote and hybrid working models, especially in industries like software, finance and media.
Studies suggest that these models could prove wildly successful, even in a post-pandemic era, not only because they expose employees to fewer health risks, but also because they promote higher productivity and greater mental wellness.
According to LinkedIn's 2020 Workforce Confidence Index, about half of the country's working professionals believe that their industry can operate successfully in a remote setting.
Minimizing Energy Costs and Environmental Impacts of Virtual Meetings
Increased use of home appliances, electronics, heating and air conditioning all contribute to higher electric bills and a greater carbon footprint for those working and learning from home.
At the onset of the pandemic, residential energy consumption increased by up to 10% and energy bills for remote workers increased by up to $50 per month, according to a study by Dr. Steve Cicala, a research fellow for the National Bureau of Economic Research and associate professor at Tufts University.
"The relative energy intensity of heating and cooling the entire homes of employees rather than a single office suggests that the future of working from home is not as green as one might think based on reduced commuting alone," Cicala writes in the study.
Drawing from solar panels could actually be the cleanest, most energy-efficient and cost-effective strategy to offset the energy costs of working from home. But is it worth installing solar panels on your home to offset increased energy costs due to COVID-19 quarantining?
"If people think they might be working from home and using more electricity long term, this would be a good time to think about prospective efficiency improvements," Cicala says in an interview with Tufts, "LEDs instead of old bulbs and plasma TVs, rooftop or community solar to spin the meter back a bit, or perhaps updating some old power-hungry appliances around the house."
Although market barriers and soft costs limit the expansion of the solar industry, the average cost of solar panels has dropped by more than 70% in the last decade. Federal solar tax credits can further reduce the cost of installation by 26%, and some states also offer their own incentives.
Beyond slashing costs, powering homes with solar energy can support the electric grid through net metering. This credits residences that produce more energy than they consume and allows them to export excess energy to the grid, providing surrounding consumers with clean energy.
While the barriers for entry are higher in certain states, solar panels are becoming more universally accessible. As remote work and schooling become the "new normal" once again, solar energy could be vital in preventing further financial and environmental crises related to the pandemic.
The long-term study seems to have borne out the prophecy of Rachel Carson's seminal 1962 book Silent Spring, in which the author describes the nefarious trickle down effects of chemical pesticides that could "still the leaping of fish." While it is impossible to say that the use of pesticides caused the collapse of the fishery, the correlation is extremely strong.
The researchers looked at the degradation of the food chain around rice paddies after the introduction of the pesticide neonicotinoids in 1993 in Japan. The study showed an immediate decline in insect and plankton populations in Lake Shinji after the pesticide was sprayed in nearby rice fields, as The Guardian reported.
The decline in insects and plankton then led to the collapse of eel and smelt populations, which rely on the tiny insects for food. The scientists looked at other possible causes for the collapse of the smelt and eel fisheries, but those were all ruled out. The scientists say there is "compelling evidence" that neonicotinoids are the culprit, as The Guardian reported.
The pesticide has previously been linked to declines in pollinator populations. Researchers have found that it lowers the sperm count of bees and shortens their lifespan, as EcoWatch reported. Its role in colony collapse disorder and in declining butterfly populations caused the European Union to ban the world's most popular insecticide for all outdoor use in 2018, as Reuters reported.
Previous studies have also linked ripple effects of the pesticide's application to cause collapses of mayflies, dragonflies and snails. A Dutch study found that bird populations declined where the insecticide was sprayed. In that case, the absence of swallows, starlings and tree sparrows does not mean they were dying, but possibly moved to riper feeding grounds.
By contrast, the study is the first time a potential link has been shown between the insecticide and its effect on other animals, including vertebrates, according to a press release from the American Association for The Advancement of Science.
The year that the insecticide was first applied, 1993, coincided with an 83 percent decrease in the average amount of springtime plankton. A year later, the smelt harvest collapsed from 240 tons per year to just 22 tons in a single year, according to the study. Additionally, the midge, Chironomus plumosus, which smelt also feed on, was one of the worst affected bugs. It vanished completely from all 39 locations sampled in 2016, despite being abundant in 1982.
The researchers noted that Rachel Carson's book was prophetic. In their paper, The Guardian reported, the Japanese researchers said how "she wrote: 'These sprays, dusts and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests and homes – nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the 'good' and the 'bad', to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams.' The ecological and economic impact of neonicotinoids on the inland waters of Japan confirms Carson's prophecy."
"This disruption likely also occurs elsewhere, as neonicotinoids are currently the most widely used class of insecticides globally," worth more than $3 billion per year, they said, as The Guardian reported.
The German company Bayer is the world's largest producer of neonicotinoids.
"The annihilation of humble flies and the knock on effects on fish serve as further testament to the dreadful folly of neonicotinoids," said Matt Shardlow, from the charity Buglife, to The Guardian. "Let's hope this is a wake-up call for Asian countries and they move to quickly ban the chemicals from paddyfields."
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U.S. Beekeepers File Suit Against Trump EPA Charging 'Illegal' Approval of Insecticide Linked to Mass Die-Off
By Jon Queally
A group of beekeepers joined forces on Friday against Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by filing a lawsuit over the agency's move to put a powerful insecticide — one that scientists warn is part of the massive pollinator die-off across the U.S. — back on the market.
The lawsuit charges that the EPA's approval of sulfoxaflor — touted by its manufacturer, agro-chemical giant Corteva, as a "next generation neonicotinoid" — was illegally rendered as it put industry interests ahead of the health of pollinators and ignored the available science.
"Honeybees and other pollinators are dying in droves because of insecticides like sulfoxaflor, yet the Trump administration removes restriction just to please the chemical industry," said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, the legal aid group representing the beekeepers. "This is illegal and an affront to our food system, economy, and environment."
According to a statement by Earthjustice:
EPA first approved sulfoxaflor in 2013, but thanks to a lawsuit brought by Pollinator Stewardship Council, the American Beekeeper Federation, and Earthjustice, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The Court ruled EPA failed to obtain reliable studies regarding the impact of sulfoxaflor on honeybee colonies.
In 2016, EPA re-approved sulfoxaflor subject to significant restrictions to reduce the risk to honeybees and other pollinators. On July 12, 2019, without any public notice, the Trump administration removed these restrictions on sulfoxaflor and approved a host of new uses for the bee-killing insecticide.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include beekeeper Jeff Anderson, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, and the American Beekeeper Federation.
"It is inappropriate for EPA to solely rely on industry studies to justify bringing sulfoxaflor back into our farm fields," said Michele Colopy of the Pollinator Stewardship Council. "Die-offs of tens of thousands of bee colonies continue to occur and sulfoxaflor plays a huge role in this problem. EPA is harming not just the beekeepers, their livelihood, and bees, but the nation's food system."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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5 Biggest Pesticide Companies Are Making Billions From 'Highly Hazardous' Chemicals, Investigation Finds
Poor people in developing countries are far more likely to suffer from exposure to pesticides classified as having high hazard to human health or the environment, according to new data that Unearthed analyzed.
The analysis shows that the world's top five pesticide makers are making billions, accounting for more than 36 percent of their income, from chemicals that are proven to hazards to humans and the environment and are contributing to the precipitous demise of bee populations, as Unearthed reported.
The researchers found that the sale of these highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), disproportionately occurred in poorer nations, which often have fewer regulations than industrialized nations, according to The Guardian. In India, for example, sales of HHPs were nearly 60 percent, while in the UK it was just 11 percent.
The report from the investigative team at Unearthed focused on the practices of Bayer, BASF, Corteva (formerly Dow and DuPont), FMC and Syngenta, which are continuing to sell HHPs like neonicotinoids and glufosinate that have been banned in other parts of the world, according to the produce industry publication Fresh Produce Journal.
Unearthed dove into data collected by Phillips McDougall, the leading agribusiness analysts, from buyer surveys that concentrated on the best sellers in the top 43 pesticide buying countries, as The Guardian reported.
While regulations have stopped the sale of certain pesticides in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, it has hardly slowed down chemical companies, which sold $4.8 billion worth of products containing HHPs in 2018, as The Guardian reported. Bayer called the analysis "misleading" but did not offer proof of that assessment.
Since the investigation focused on just 43 countries, it covered less than half of the companies' global sales. That suggests that the companies actually made billions more from pesticides that regulatory agencies have said pose hazards like acute poisoning or chronic illness in people, or high toxicity to bees and other wildlife, according to Unearthed.
The investigation found that pesticide manufacturers sold the majority of its highly hazardous pesticide in low- and middle-income countries like Brazil and India, where experts say the risks posed by using these chemicals are greatest, according to Unearthed. The biggest market for HHPs were for corn and soya crops.
About a quarter of sales were from products known to be human carcinogens or dangerous to reproductive health. Another 10 percent were toxic to bees. An additional 4 percent of chemicals sold are acutely toxic to humans. Every year, nearly 200,000 suicides are linked to pesticide poisoning, almost entirely in developing countries, according to The Guardian.
"This investigation shows that there is a huge disconnect between what those companies are saying in the international policy arena and what they are actually doing," Meriel Watts, a senior science and policy advisor to the Pesticide Action Network, said to Unearthed.
Baskut Tuncak, the United Nations' special rapporteur on toxic substances and human rights, told Unearthed, "There is nothing sustainable about the widespread use of highly hazardous pesticides for agriculture."
"Whether they poison workers, extinguish biodiversity, persist in the environment, or accumulate in a mother's breast milk, these are unsustainable, cannot be used safely, and should have been phased out of use long ago," Tuncak said.
- 5 Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Beds - EcoWatch ›
- Insects Could Go Extinct Within a Century, With 'Catastrophic ... ›
blueflames / E+ / Getty Images
By Jake Johnson
The rapid and dangerous decline of the insect population in the United States — often called an "insect apocalypse" by scientists — has largely been driven by an increase in the toxicity of U.S. agriculture caused by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS One.
The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids, which were banned by the European Union last year due to the threat they pose to bees and other pollinators.
Kendra Klein, Ph.D., study co-author and senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, said the U.S. must follow Europe's lead and ban the toxic pesticides before it is too late.
"It is alarming that U.S. agriculture has become so much more toxic to insect life in the past two decades," Klein said in a statement. "We need to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides to protect bees and other insects that are critical to biodiversity and the farms that feed us."
"Congress must pass the Saving America's Pollinators Act to ban neonicotinoids," Klein added. "In addition, we need to rapidly shift our food system away from dependence on harmful pesticides and toward organic farming methods that work with nature rather than against it."
NEW STUDY: Neonic pesticides are a significant driver of the 'insect apocalypse'.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 6, 2019
Insect abundance has declined 45%. This is a global crisis — we must ban neonics to #SaveTheBees!https://t.co/1DMpzFUArK
According to National Geographic, neonics "are used on over 140 different agricultural crops in more than 120 countries. They attack the central nervous system of insects, causing overstimulation of their nerve cells, paralysis, and death."
With insect populations declining due to neonic use, "the numbers of insect-eating birds have plummeted in recent decades," National Geographic reported. "There's also been a widespread decline in nearly all bird species."
As Common Dreams reported in February, scientists warned in a global analysis that by decimating insect populations, widespread use of pesticides poses a serious threat to the planet's ecosystems and ultimately to the survival of humankind.
Klein said the "good news" is that neonics are not at all necessary for food production.
"We have four decades of research and evidence that agroecological farming methods can grow our food without decimating pollinators," said Klein.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
- New Report Documents Global Insect Decline - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Sound Alarm About Insect Apocalypse - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Sound Alarm About Insect Apocalypse ›
By Jennifer Sass
Yet again, our government scientists—the oft neglected but so important brain trust of our nation—bring the public some very important new data. Pesticide water monitoring experts at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) paired up with scientists from the University of Iowa in a federally funded collaboration to track neonicotinoid pesticides or " neonics" in tap water, including the potential to form chlorinated disinfection byproducts (DBPs) from the pesticides and their metabolites that may be more toxic than the original compounds. And the news isn't good.
Following up on previous research finding neonicotinoids in tap water (Klarich et al. 2017), the scientists now explore whether the neonic compounds or their metabolites that are generated in the environment are transformed into disinfection byproducts during common, important drinking water treatment processes used to protect public health, such as chlorination (Klarich Wong et al. 2019). This paper is the first report of two known metabolites of imidacloprid in tap water; desnitro-imidacloprid and imidacloprid-urea. This is especially concerning because desnitro-imidacloprid is about 319 times more toxic to mammals than imidacloprid, so even much lower levels could be harmful.
In addition to discovering the presence of the two metabolites in tap water, the authors demonstrate the likelihood that these metabolites are further transformed to a new form of neonic-derived chlorinated disinfection byproduct during routine water treatment processes. The scientists simulated the conditions that would occur during realistic drinking water conditions, to show under laboratory conditions that chlorinated chemicals are produced.
These new chlorinated contaminants are untested, untracked and potentially harmful. In other words, their potential impacts on human health could be a big deal! Other types of disinfection byproducts in drinking water are highly toxic, linked to a risk of cancer and birth defects.
Those potential harms could also be a big deal risk-wise because neonics are the most widely used insecticides on the market. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory agencies have been disregarding the potential for neonics to harm vertebrates, because their mechanism of toxicity was thought to be insect-selective. Unfortunately, this caused a regulatory blind spot in the harm they do to beneficial insects like bees, and aquatic invertebrate species that provide a critical food source for amphibians, fish and other aquatic vertebrates. The reason the metabolites (for example, desnitro-imidacloprid) raise a red flag is that science now demonstrates that the insect-selective toxicity is altered, causing them to be more toxic to vertebrates including people and other mammals.
See USGS Pesticide Use Maps for the most current information, but note USGS's disclaimer that beginning in 2015 the data reports no longer include seed treatment uses of pesticides; for the neonics this represents somewhere around 90 percent of total pounds of neonic pesticides used in agriculture—a very serious under-reporting. See below for imidacloprid (note the drop-off since 2015 due to failure to include seed treatments).
USGS Pesticide Use Map - imidacloprid
The study report authors note that although the chlorinated disinfection byproducts derived from neonics have an unknown toxicity profile, it is possible that they may be more toxic than the parent compound. Thus, the authors recommend in the article that the "greater potential toxicity and frequent presence in these water samples of neonicotinoid metabolites demonstrates the need to consider their fate and persistence in drinking water treatment systems (ex. during chlorination and other treatment processes) and their potential effects on human health." NRDC agrees! That's why we are asking EPA to include all the neonic metabolites and chlorinated products in its human health risk assessment of the neonic pesticides, due later this year.
In addition to surface water and drinking water contamination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found neonics inside fruits and vegetables, where they can't be simply washed off due to their systemic nature. And emerging science suggests a link with neonic exposure and potential disorders including neurobehavioral impairments in animal studies, and autism-like effects in prenatally exposed children (see my blog for details).
In addition to including all relevant neonic metabolites in its risk assessment, EPA should also assess the cumulative risks from all the neonic pesticides and their toxic metabolites together. It is alarming that EPA seems to have no plan for conducting a cumulative risk assessment for this toxic and persistent class of pesticides.
The scientific evidence of harm is piling up—EPA must pay attention!
10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About #Neonics https://t.co/uRzBC3NlVx @NRDC @bpncamp @pesticideaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1542060018.0
Jennifer Sass is a senior scientist in the Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
By Stacy Malkan
If you like to give friends and family the gift of knowledge about our food, we're here with recommendations for 2019 books and movies that illuminate the issues close to our hearts. At U.S. Right to Know, we believe that transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – is crucial to building a healthier food system for our children, our families and our world. Kudos to the journalists and filmmakers who are exposing how powerful food and chemical industry interests impact our health and the environment.
Here are our recommendations for best-of-the-year food books and movies. You can also receive a signed copy of the award-winning 2017 book by our colleague, Carey Gillam, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, for a monthly sustainer donation to U.S. Right to Know through Patreon or you can donate directly to USRTK here.
Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food
By Timothy A. Wise, The New Press
Holiday gift-giving solved: #EatingTomorrow!— Timothy A. Wise (@TimothyAWise) December 3, 2019
Olivier De Schutter: "There is a battle for the future of food, and Eating Tomorrow shifts the frontlines.”@drvandanashiva: “Eating Tomorrow is a wake-up call about the future of food."
Ricardo Salvador: “Wise’s writing is riveting." pic.twitter.com/f0nXjqc4Y2
Scholar Timothy A. Wise shows the world already has the tools to feed itself, without expanding industrial agriculture or adopting genetically modified seeds. Reporting from Africa, Mexico, India and the U.S., Wise details how agribusiness and its philanthropic promoters have hijacked food policies to feed corporate interests, and argues that policies promoted by the Gates Foundation-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are failing to deliver productivity and income improvements for small-scale farmers in Africa. Wise also takes readers to remote villages to see how farmers are rebuilding soils with ecologically sound practices without chemicals or imported hybrid or genetically engineered seeds.
"Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on fertilizer and hybrid seed subsidies by Kenya and other African countries over the past few years have gone down the drain, a new book argues," writes Julius Segei in Kenya's largest independent newspaper, the The Daily Nation. "The scholar's verdict that there is little evidence of any green revolution coming to Africa more than 10 years after AGRA is likely to kick up a storm in agriculture and development circles."
The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception
By David Michaels, Oxford University Press (available January 2020)
David Michaels' new book offers an insider's look at how corporations manufacture doubt in science: bogus studies, congressional testimonies, think-tank policy documents and more. He provides new details of high-profile cases involving car manufacturing, professional sports, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Michaels, the former assistant secretary of labor under President Barack Obama, writes that the anti-science policies of the Trump administration are not new, but rather the outcome of decades-long campaigns by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries to stop regulation of deadly products. "This book is written to get you angry enough to want to learn how to defend yourselves, your communities, and our vulnerable planet," writes consumer advocate Ralph Nader. "Let it grip you toward detection and defiance."
A tenacious attorney, Rob Billot, uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world's largest corporations. As the evidence in the film shows, DuPont was aware of the dangers of its Teflon ingredients for many years. While trying to expose the truth, Bilot soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.
In these kinds of movies, "you know going in that you're going to see a story about how bad things are thanks to corporate influence over government as well as the economy," writes movie critic Roger Ebert, "but the extent of the corruption is still shocking, highlighting the implicit question: why fight, if the bad guys have already won? The answer, of course, is that you should fight because it's the right thing to do." Dark Waters is "an effective outrage machine," writes Michael O'Sullivan in The Washington Post, but the movie "doesn't aspire to be something it's not. Like Bilott himself, it gets the job done, not by showboating, but by laying out the facts."
Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World
By Bettina Elias Siegel, Oxford University Press
Many of you have asked if KID FOOD will be released as an audiobook. YES! Here’s a preorder link—along with details re: my East Coast book tour, which starts THIS WEEK! https://t.co/UBnfH6I9Yw @AvivaGoldfarb @marionnestle @pam_koch @dietdetective @greenlightbklyn @audible_com pic.twitter.com/XvhBk6Nppv— Bettina Elias Siegel (@thelunchtray) November 11, 2019
Bettina Elias Siegel, a leading voice on children's food, critically examines how America's food culture exploits children and misleads parents. Siegel exposes predatory food-industry techniques for marketing directly to children and convincing parents that highly-processed products are "healthy." She provides extensive coverage of America's school-food program — including why, even after Obama-era reforms, school meals are still so often dominated by processed foods, many of them bearing popular junk-food trademarks. "This is a gorgeously written, heartfelt, and deeply compelling manifesto arguing why and how we must do better at feeding our kids more healthfully at home, in schools, and on the soccer field," writes Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. "It should inspire all of us to get busy and start advocating for better kid-food policies — right now."
Modified: A food lover's journey into GMOs
By Aube Giroux, feature length documentary now available for purchase or rent online
In this beautiful, moving, award-winning documentary, filmmaker Aube Giroux and her mother embark on a personal investigative journey to find out why GMOs are not labeled on food products in the U.S. and Canada, despite being labeled in 64 countries around the world. Interweaving the personal and the political, the film is anchored around the filmmaker's relationship to her mom, a gardener and food activist who battled cancer during the film's production. Fueled by their shared love of food, the mother-daughter team discovers the extent to which the agribusiness industry controls our food policies, and makes a strong case for a more transparent and sustainable food system. The winner of four Audience Favorite Awards and the 2019 James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award for best documentary, Modified is "beautiful beyond words … compelling and compassionate," writes the journalist Joan Baxter.
Et le monde devint silencieux: Comment l'agrochimie a détruit les insectes
And The World Became Silent: How Agrochemistry Destroyed Insects
by Stéphane Foucart, Editions du Seuil (in French)
[Événement] Stéphane Foucart @sfoucart, journaliste @lemondefr, présente son ouvrage sur l’industrie des pesticides auprès des étudiants dauphinois— Univ Paris Dauphine-PSL (@Paris_Dauphine) November 12, 2019
« Et le monde devint silencieux » @EditionsduSeuil 🐝
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Investigative journalist Stéphane Foucart details how the agrichemical industry orchestrated "the greatest ecological disaster of the early twenty-first century" – the collapse of insect populations. Although pesticide companies claim the disappearance of insects is a mystery due to multiple factors, Foucart reports that the dominant cause is the massive use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and shows how it was made possible by an industry that faked public debate by manipulating science, regulation and expertise. The book shows how the industry exploited science to the point of "making us forget that insecticides … kill insects," writes Annabelle Martella in La Croix (review in French).
Foucart won the 2018 European Press Prize for investigative reporting, along with Stéphane Horel, for their Monsanto Papers (translated into English here) articles about how Monsanto manipulated science, influenced the regulatory process and orchestrated stealth PR campaigns to defend its Roundup herbicides.
Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry
By Julie Guthman, University of California Press
Thanks to @uscs professor Julie Guthman for her excellent reporting on how the strawberry industry came to rely on highly toxic soil fumigants. For more on #Wilted, see review by @emonosson11 in @aaas @sciencemagazine https://t.co/AfjdjsgxB2— U.S. Right To Know (@USRightToKnow) December 18, 2019
Julie Guthman tells the story of how strawberries – the sixth highest-grossing crop in California which produces 88 percent of the nation's favorite berry – came to rely on highly toxic soil fumigants, and how that reliance reverberated throughout the rest of the fruit's production system. The particular conditions of plants, soils, chemicals, climate and laboring bodies that once made strawberry production so lucrative in the Golden State have now changed and become a set of related threats that jeopardize the future of the industry. "The strawberry industry's predicament is just one example of how our strategy of dominating ecological systems and focusing on increased output at all cost is short-sighted, with diminishing returns," writes Emily Monosson in a Science magazine review. "Recent efforts to work with, rather than against, natural systems suggest a path forward."
GMOs Decoded: A Skeptic's View of Genetically Modified Foods
By Sheldon Krimsky, MIT Press
Tufts professor Sheldon Krimsky examines health and safety concerns, environmental issues, implications for world hunger and lack of scientific consensus on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He explores the viewpoints of a range of GMO skeptics, from public advocacy groups and nongovernmental organizations to scientists with differing views on risk and environmental impact. Publishers Weekly calls Krimsky's book a "fair-minded, informative primer" that "lays out opposing 'claims and counterclaims,' demystifies the science, and shows where there is consensus, honest disagreement, or unresolved uncertainty." NYU professor Marion Nestle describes the book as "a gift to anyone confused" about GMOs.
And Two More Excellent Food Books From 2018
Seeds of Resistance: The Fight to Save Our Food Supply
By Mark Schapiro, Skyhorse Publishing
Check out Mark Schapiro's new website on seed politics, and his terrific new book Seeds of Resistance https://t.co/QtCduGXSrH— Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) February 19, 2019
Journalist Mark Schapiro reports on the high-stakes battle underway for control of the world's seeds, as climate volatility threatens the security of our food supply. Schapiro investigates what it means that more than half the world's commercial seeds are owned by three multinational chemical companies, and brings to light what the corporate stranglehold is doing to our daily diet – from the explosion of genetically modified foods, to the rapid disappearance of plant varieties, to the elimination of independent farmers who have long been the bedrock of our food supply. The book also documents colorful and surprising stories from the global movement that is defying these companies, and offering alternatives capable of surviving the accelerating climatic changes. "Seeds of Resistance is a wake-up call," writes Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard. "With vivid and memorable stories, Mark Schapiro tells us how seeds are at the frontlines of our epic battle for healthy food."
Formerly Known as Food: How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture
By Kristin Lawless, St. Martin's Press
Not mad about the comparison! “Of all the books that I’ve read on the food industry, hers is one that sticks out. An absolute flamethrower – jawdropping – savage AF. Kristin Lawless is Daenerys Targaryen and Big Food is King’s Landing and I’m here for it.” https://t.co/a7BiHpsh4C— Kristin Lawless (@kristinlawless) December 15, 2019
If you think buying organic from Whole Foods is protecting you, you're wrong. Our food — even what we're told is good for us — has changed for the worse in the past 100 years, its nutritional content deteriorating due to industrial farming and its composition altered due to the addition of thousands of chemicals from pesticides to packaging. We simply no longer know what we're eating. In Formerly Known as Food, Kristin Lawless argues that, because of the degradation of our diet, our bodies are literally changing from the inside out. The billion-dollar food industry is reshaping our food preferences, altering our brains, changing the composition of our microbiota, and even affecting the expression of our genes.
"In this revelatory survey of the dangers of the industrial food system, Lawless offers crucial tools for navigating it safely," writes the author Naomi Klein. "The best ones have nothing to do with shopping advice: she asks us to think holistically about food, why it can't be separated from other struggles for justice, and what it means to demand transformative change."
Reposted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.
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By Jessica Corbett
Pointing to the deaths of more than half a billion bees in Brazil over a period of just four months, beekeepers, experts and activists are raising concerns about the soaring number of new pesticides greenlighted for use by the Brazilian government since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January — and the threat that it poses to pollinators, people and the planet.
Indigenous and green groups have expressed alarm about the dangers of Bolsonaro's anti-environment policies — especially for the Amazon rainforest — since even before Bolsonaro's inauguration. Recent reports highlighting that the Bolsonaro government has approved a record 290 pesticides so far this year have further heightened worries about his environmental agenda and its consequences.
"Between December 2018 and March 2019, more than 500 million bees were found dead by beekeepers in four Brazilian states," SciDev.net reported Friday, citing figures revealed earlier this year. "Beekeepers' associations and agriculture authorities suspect this was caused by the widespread use of two classes of pesticides — fipronil and neonicotinoids — on flowering crops."
500,000,000 bees died in Brazil this year, with most showing traces of Fipronil, an insecticide banned in the EU and a possible human carcinogen according to US EPA— Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk) August 20, 2019
That’s after President Bolsonaro allowed a record 290 pesticides, up 27% over last yearhttps://t.co/u3I6IxJf5q pic.twitter.com/E7pgvn6hjZ
Fipronil is banned by the European Union and classified as a possible human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As studies have shown that neonics are harmful to bees, the E.U. and countries such as Canada have moved to outlaw them — while other nations, like the U.S. under the Trump administration, have defied scientists' warnings and rolled back rules.
In Brazil, Bloomberg noted Monday, "the die-off highlighted questions about the ocean of pesticides used in the country's agriculture and whether chemicals are washing through the human food supply — even as the government considers permitting more."
"The death of all these bees is a sign that we're being poisoned," Carlos Alberto Bastos, president of the Apiculturist Association of Brazil's Federal District, told Bloomberg.
Why have more than 500,000,000 bees dropped dead in Brazil so far this year? pic.twitter.com/CKWMt4JABI— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) August 19, 2019
Brazil now has 2,300 pesticides registered for use — and the rate of new pesticide authorizations under the Bolsonaro government is unprecedented, according to Mongabay.
The current authorization rate is the highest ever recorded by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAPA) since the agency began releasing data in 2005. In comparison to the 290 pesticides approved in the first seven months of 2019, just 45 were approved over the same period during 2010. This June and July alone, MAPA published registrations for 93 new pesticides in the Official Gazette.
"In addition to the new products, a new regulatory framework to assess pesticide health risks was established in July that will reduce restrictiveness of toxicological classifications," explained Mongabay. "Under Bolsonaro, 1,942 registered pesticides were quickly reevaluated, with the number considered extremely toxic dropped from 702 to just 43."
Despite recent reevaluations, Bloomberg reported, "about 40 percent of Brazil's pesticides are 'highly or extremely toxic,' according to Greenpeace, and 32 percent aren't allowed in the European Union. Meanwhile, approvals are being expedited without the government hiring enough people to evaluate them, said Marina Lacorte, a coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil."
Given those figures, Victor Pelaez — coordinator for the Observatory of the Pesticide Industry at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) in Brazil — said in an interview with Mongabay, "How do these authorizations address a concern for the health of the population and the environment?"
Pelaez also blasted the Brazilian agribusiness industry for its practice of abundantly applying pesticides.
"Instead of assessing the level of insect infestation in a crop and then doing corrective work, they act preventively and apply pesticides in an indiscriminate way. It is like trying to prevent a cancer that you don't have," he said. "They don't need to keep monitoring the crop, which is much cheaper. It's an agriculture characterized by saturation, not precision."
"We can draw a clear lesson from the looming insect apocalypse — if the tiny creatures that sustain life on Earth are disappearing, there is something alarmingly wrong with the way we are growing food."#SaveTheBeeshttps://t.co/YBF0Glg8Ee— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 18, 2019
This approach to agriculture — which makes up about 18 percent of Brazil's economy — has experts and activists worried about the long-term consequences, in Brazil and beyond, especially considering that an estimated three-quarters of human food relies in part on pollinating insects like bees.
"There are around 20,000 species of bees worldwide that pollinate more than 90 percent of the world's top 107 crops," according to SciDev.net. "Brazil is home to up to 5,000 of these species and 85 out of the country's 141 crops depend on bees as pollinators."
Breno Freitas, an agricultural engineer at Brazil's Ceará Federal University, emphasized to the outlet that pesticide use is only one of the looming threats to bees both in Brazil and around the world, also pointing to deforestation, urbanization, the climate crisis, land-use change, habitat loss, disease and invasive species.
"All these threaten many bee species at the same time, but we still do not know the extent of these problems on bee population worldwide," Roberta Nocelli, a biologist at the Federal University of São Carlos's Center for Agricultural Sciences told SciDev.net.
"Just as important as knowing which is the most toxic insecticide for bees is discussing how these products are being used," added Nocelli, who said that most bee deaths are tied to misusing pesticides.
Freitas noted that most documented bee deaths are for species kept by beekeepers for honey, so "although for the beekeeper these losses are disastrous, little is known about the impact of pesticides on wild bee populations outside apiaries."
"It could be that the situation of some wild species is stable, because they are in the woods, where pesticides are not able to reach," he said. "Or it could be worse than we think, given that many of them have a short flight radius and tend to build their nest within agricultural areas."
Pesticides are killing biodiversity 🐝⚰️🦋— Extinction Rebellion ⌛️ (@ExtinctionR) May 5, 2019
Tomorrow's @IPBES #IPBES7 #GlobalAssessment should make this even more crystal clear than it already is#RebelForLife: https://t.co/ss02kRsOos
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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Honeybees get a lot of attention for their worrisome decline, but many species of bumblebees—which are key pollinators—are also in trouble.
In Michigan, half of its bumblebee species have declined by 50 percent or more, Michigan Radio reported.
"Of those twelve species, about half of them have declined and the other half are stable," Thomas Wood, a post-doctoral research associate at Michigan State University, told the radio station.
Of the six species that have declined, their numbers dropped by more than 50 percent, Wood added. One species, the rusty patched bumblebee, has even gone extinct in Michigan.
In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species, the first bumblebee in the country and the first wild bee of any kind in the continental U.S. to receive Endangered Species Act protection.
The bee, identified by its reddish abdomen, was once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces, but its population plummeted by 87 percent since the late 1990s.
Science Trumps Politics: Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Officially an Endangered Species https://t.co/8tB08Plpfk @BurtsBees @vanishingbees— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1490305806.0
There are many factors tied to Michigan's disappearing bumblebees, Michigan Radio reported, including loss of flowers, destruction of prairie and wooded areas that provide habitat for insects, as well as a controversial class of insecticides called neonicotinoids that have been linked to bee deaths around the world.
Neonicotinoids are "acutely toxic to bees and they're used in agriculture. Almost all the corn that's planted in Michigan, and in the Midwest more generally, is treated with these insecticides," Wood explained.
Because of their big, fluffy bodies and unique buzz pollination abilities (where their wing muscles vibrate a flower to release pollen), bumblebees can be more efficient than honeybees in pollinating a variety of fruit and vegetable crops.
"Bumblebees are especially good pollinators; even plants that can self-pollinate produce more and bigger fruit when pollinated by bumblebees," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. "Each year, insects, mostly bees, provide pollination services valued at an estimated $3 billion in the United States."
The good news is we can help the humble bumblebee's survival. The National Wildlife Federation provides several tips in this blog post, including planting native plants and eliminating the use of pesticides.
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The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Wednesday, shows an increase of 144 percent from last year's count and is the highest count since 2006. That's good news for a species whose numbers had fallen in recent years, but conservationists say the monarch continues to need Endangered Species Act protection.
The count of 6.05 hectares of occupied forest is up from 2.48 hectares last winter. The increase is attributable to favorable weather during the spring and summer breeding seasons and during the fall migration. Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. to herbicide spraying and development.
"This reprieve from bad news on monarchs is a thank-you from the butterflies to all the people who planted native milkweeds and switched to organic corn and soy products," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "But one good weather year won't save the monarch in the long run, and more protections are needed for this migratory wonder and its summer and winter habitats."
In 2014 conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service's initial decision was that endangered species protection may be warranted, and a final decision will be issued by June.
"The question is whether the Trump administration wants to do Monsanto's bidding or protect monarchs for future generations," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety. "This year's count is a temporary reprieve that doesn't change what the law and science demands, which is that we protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act before it's too late."
As recently as the mid-1990s, monarchs covered nearly 21 hectares of forest in their wintering ground, falling to less than 1 hectare in 2014. Scientists estimate that 6 hectares is the threshold to be out of the immediate danger zone of migratory collapse.
About 99 percent of all North American monarchs migrate each winter to oyamel fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Scientists from World Wildlife Fund Mexico estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies.
Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the coast of California. Their numbers dropped to fewer than 30,000 this year, down from 1.2 million two decades ago.
A recent study found that if current trends continue, the western population has a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years and more than an 80 percent chance of extinction within 50 years. The western population is now at the threshold of extinction.
The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct spraying with herbicides. In addition to glyphosate, monarchs are threatened by other herbicides and by neonicotinoid insecticides that are toxic to young caterpillars.
Climate change also threatens to disrupt the monarch's migration and render its overwintering habitats unsuitable by the end of the century.
Graph by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity
5 Ways to Make a Difference in the Life of a #Monarch @HFSciencePub @jnp_mn @BetteAStevens https://t.co/ZDP5MNdneR— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543329699.0
It pays to pollinate in Minnesota.
Minnesota's state budget celebrated pollinators last month by crowning the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee the state bee. And, to protect the plump pollinator, the state earmarked $900,000 dollars for bee-friendly spaces, according to Atlas Obscura.
From that money, the state government will pay the gardening bill for residents who are willing to turn their lawn into bee-friendly spaces, by planting flowers known to attract bees, like creeping thyme, self-heal and dutch white clover.
"When people look at these flowers, they see a nuisance, they see a weed. I see a forage for pollinators," said James Woflin, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab, as CBS Minnesota reports.
While the flowers of these plants will attract all bees, the state is particularly interested in the rusty-patched bumblebee, a fat and fuzzy bee that pollinates apples and tomatoes. The new state bee has faced years of declining populations and is on the brink of extinction while making a last stand in Upper Midwest cities, according to Atlas Obscura.
The state's Board of Water and Soil Resources will reimburse homeowners 75-90 percent of the cost for converting a lawn to bee-friendly plants and to have a yard with a diverse set of flowers, shrubs and trees, Star Tribune said. It will cover up 90 percent of the cost in areas with a high potential to support rusty-patched bees.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a guide for gardeners looking to plant flowers that will attract the rusty-patched bumblebee. The guide encourages people to plant anemones and wild lupine, bee balm and purple prairie clover, and goldenrod and New England aster for consistent blooms through the growing season that will entice pollinators throughout spring, summer and fall, Atlas Obscura reported.
"I have gotten a ton of e-mails and so much feedback from people who are interested in this," said State Rep. Kelly Morrison who introduced the bill, as the Star Tribune reported. "People are really thinking about how they can help."
The legislature had proposed additional measures to aid pollinators, but they fell short. Language to ban neonicotinoid pesticides — a popular pesticide used on lawns, gardens and crops that play a role in declining bee populations — in state wildlife management areas was removed from the state budget, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Lawns of bare grass may be great for playing catch, but they are not attractive to pollinators. They also stress the environment since they need to be mowed and fertilized. They also drink a lot of water and demand a soaking even in the midst of drought and water shortages, as Atlas Obscura reported.
"A pound of Dutch white clover is about $7 and it grows low enough that people wouldn't even have to change the way they mow their lawn," Wolfin said to the Star Tribune. "So just by not treating white clover like a weed and letting it grow in a yard provides a really powerful resource for nearly 20 percent of the bee species in the state." He added that roughly 55 of the state's roughly 350 species of bees have been spotted eating Dutch white clover alone.
When people start to convert their lawns, the bees will thrive. "We think that abundant and diverse floral resources will translate to larger and healthier rusty patched bumblebee colonies," said Tamara Smith, a biologist at the FWS's Twin Cities field office, as Atlas Obscura reported.