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Water protectors of all persuasions gathered in talking circles at Borderland Ranch in Pe'Sla, the heart of the sacred Black Hills, during the first Sovereign Sisters Gathering. At the center are Cheryl Angel in red and white and on her left, Lyla June. Tracy Barnett

By Tracy L. Barnett

Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.

For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.

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albedo20 / Flickr

By Pat Thomas

Throughout the U.S., major food brands are trying to get rid of GMO ingredients — not necessarily for the right reasons, but because nearly half of consumers say they avoid them in their food, primarily for health reasons.

But the CEO of Impossible Foods, purveyor of the Impossible Burger, is bucking that trend.

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Wine makers in West Texas are reeling from herbicide drift injuries on their grapevines, an emerging threat to the state's $13 billion a year industry, NPR's Morning Edition reported Tuesday.

The damage likely originates from use of Monsanto's dicamba and Dow's 2,4-D formulations on nearby cotton fields. The companies sell cotton seeds that are genetically modified to withstand applications of the weedkillers. If farmers use the products improperly, the highly volatile chemicals can get picked up by the wind and land on off-target crops. When exposed to the herbicides, the leaves on non-target plants are often left cupped and distorted.

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Significant cupping of leaves from dicamba drift on non-Xtend soybeans planted next to Xtend beans in research plots at the Ashland Bottoms farm near Manhattan, KS. Dallas Peterson, K-State Research and Extension / CC BY 2.0

Two of the nation's largest independent seed sellers, Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place limits on the spraying of the drift-prone pesticide dicamba, Reuters reported.

This could potentially hurt Monsanto, which along with DowDupont and BASF SE, makes dicamba formulations to use on Monsanto's Xtend seeds that are genetically engineered to resist applications of the weedkiller. Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, as well as other companies, sell those seeds.

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Brian Smith and his cousin Hughes, both fifth generation soybean farmers in Mississippi County, Arkansas, stand in soybean fields their family tend to that show signs of having been affected by dicamba use in August, 2017. Getty Images

A University of Missouri report released Thursday estimates that drift damage from the pesticide dicamba has occurred across 1.1 million acres of agricultural crops, trees and other plants so far this year.

This comes less than a year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many states introduced additional restrictions meant to prevent off-target damage from the pesticide. Last year dicamba drift wreaked havoc on a reported 3.6 million acres of soybean crops not genetically engineered to resist the notoriously drift-prone pesticide.

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Late Wednesday, a coalition of environmental organizations and farmers represented by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed new legal papers in federal court seeking the reversal of Scott Pruitt and the Trump Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approval of Dow Chemical's toxic pesticide, Enlist Duo. The novel pesticide is a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D, to be sprayed over the top of corn, cotton and soybeans that are genetically engineered by Dow with resistance to both pesticides.

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Just this year, more than three million acres of crops across the country have been reportedly damaged by a highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide, dicamba. That's on top of the similar, widespread complaints from the year before.

States such as Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois have now received so many reports of dicamba-linked crop damage that officials face four years of backlogs of cases to investigate, driving up costs for lab tests and overtime, Reuters reported.

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The Arkansas Plant Board has approved new regulations that prohibit the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31, 2018 after receiving nearly 1,000 complaints of pesticide misuse in the state.

Arkansas, which temporarily banned the highly volatile weedkiller in July, could now face legal action from Monsanto, the developers of dicamba-resistant soybeans or cotton and the corresponding pesticide, aka the Xtend crop system.

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Survey participant Vilicus Farms is a first generation, organic, dryland crop farm in northern Hill County, Montana. Anna Jones-Crabtree / Vilicus Farms / Flickr

An overwhelming majority of surveyed farmers are concerned about the proposed Bayer-Monsanto merger and believe it will have a negative impact on independent farmers and farming communities, a recent poll has found.

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Soybean pod and seed damage caused by dicamba. jwolf7447/Instagram

Several U.S. weed scientists have turned down an invitation to attend Monsanto's dicamba summit near St. Louis this week, as controversies unfold over the company's new Xtend Crop System, Reuters reported.

Experts have linked the highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide to the damage of 3.1 million acres of crops that are not genetically engineered to resist the powerful chemical. Arkansas, which has logged the most dicamba-related complaints, is a step away from banning the chemical (again) next summer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also consulting with state officials and scientists, including ones in Arkansas, on potential regulations.

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By George Kimbrell

One year down, three to go. Trump and his enablers are hell bent on destroying or selling to the highest bidder the federal agencies they are charged with running in the public interest. In the past year, they have been unrelenting in their attacks on food safety, environmental protections, climate change, government transparency and so many other values we hold dear. We are in the midst of the most significant environmental and public health challenges imaginable. We're no longer dreading the harm the Trump administration could do to our health and environment—we're living it.

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The herbicide dicamba, which has been linked to devastating crop damage around the U.S., could be banned in Arkansas next year.

The Arkansas Dicamba Task Force has recommended a cut-off date for the use of the highly drift-prone and volatile herbicide by next April 15 for the 2018 season.

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In his vineyard, Bobby Cox uses hand-for-scale to show how long his grape leaves should actually be. Chemical damage from herbicide drift causes leaves to shrivel and suffer from strapping, interrupting the grape productivity. Photo credit: Bobby Cox

Wineries in Texas are worried that federal approval of two highly volatile and drift-prone herbicides used on neighboring genetically modified (GMO) cotton fields will cause widespread damage to their vineyards, The Texas Tribune details.

Dicamba damage on a grape leaves. Uky.edu

The herbicides in question are Monsanto's dicamba-based XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, which was approved in November by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Dow AgroSciences' 2,4-D-based Enlist Duo, which the EPA also proposed to register for use on GMO cotton seeds. Enlist Duo is already used on GMO corn and soybean crops in 15 states.

"The approval of these formulations will wind up affecting every vineyard up there," explained Paul Bonarrigo, a Hale County vintner who believes that his withering grapevines have been damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba and 2,4-D on nearby cotton farms. Bonarrigo believes that the state's $2 billion wine industry is in jeopardy.

The debacle is yet another chapter in the expanding issue of herbicide-resistant weeds, or superweeds, that have evolved to resist the herbicide glyphosate, or Roundup. In response to weeds such as pigweed that have infested farms across the U.S., agribusinesses such as Monsanto and Dow have developed ever stronger weedkillers to help farmers.

As noble as that might sound, Monsanto was especially criticized when it decided to sell its dicamba- and glyphosate-resistant soybean and cotton seeds to farmers before securing EPA approval for the herbicide designed to go along with it. Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced earlier this year.

Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soy farmers resorted to spraying older versions of dicamba on their crops. But dicamba, as well as the herbicide 2,4-D, are extremely prone to drift, meaning the chemicals can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring fields that cannot withstand the chemical damage. When exposed to the herbicide, leaves on non-target plants are often left cupped and distorted.

Researchers from Ohio State University published a study in September showing that herbicide spray drift from the 2,4-D and dicamba can severely damage wine grape plants near agronomic crops.

Common leaf injury symptoms observed in vines 42 d after being treated with (a) glyphosate, (b) 2,4-D, (c) dicamba, and (d) nontreated controlOhio State University

Although Monsanto said it warned farmers against illegal dicamba spraying, this past summer, dicamba drift caused 10 states to report widespread damage on thousands of acres of non-target crops such as peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans.

Last month, Missouri's largest peach grower filed a lawsuit against Monsanto over claims that dicamba drift damaged more than 7,000 peach trees on the farm, amounting to $1.5 million in losses. This year, the farm said it lost more than 30,000 trees, with financial losses estimated in the millions.

Regulators assured to The Texas Tribune that the new pesticides are less likely to vaporize and drift, and the risk of damage will lessen if farmers follow safety precautions.

"I don't see this as being any more of an issue than what we have today," Steve Verett, executive vice president of the Plains Cotton Growers, told the publication. "I understand there are other sensitive crops as well. No matter what the product is or the farmer that's spraying, they need to make sure that the product they're spraying stays on their farm."

Kyel Richard, a spokesman for Monsanto, added that the company has conducted training exercises and education efforts to minimize "the opportunity for movement off- site and ensuring those herbicides are staying on target and controlling those weeds on the field that they're intended for."

State wineries, however, are worried that with the EPA's approval, use of dicamba and 2,4-D will expand to include 3.7 million acres of cotton fields.

"I could see it basically killing the [wine] industry, honestly," Garrett Irwin, owner of Cerro Santo vineyard in Lubbock County, countered. "If we get the levels of damage that I'm afraid we'll get, vineyards will not be able to recover or produce grapes at any sustainable level, and we're just going to have to go away."

Irwin also commented that cotton and soy farmers are likely to stick with old dicamba and 2,4-D herbicides because the new formulations are more expensive. Additionally, farmers have to upgrade their equipment with anti-drift nozzles to use the new products.

"I honestly don't think farmers will buy the new formulations when older labels that cost less are available and just as effective as the new labels," he said. "In short, I think farmers will buy generic chemicals without the additives to save money because the cotton won't know the difference."

And if they do buy the new herbicides, there will still be some farmers who "will do nothing to correct for negligence in spraying," Irwin said.

Pheasant Ridge Valley winery owner Bobby Cox told The Texas Tribune that he is worried that cotton farmers will have no choice but to switch to the new seeds system.

Cox said that 2,4-D drift in 2015 caused the amount of sugar in his grapes to be about 5 percent less than ideal.

"It will be catastrophic not only to vineyards but to oak trees, to pecan orchards, to shrubs," Cox said. "If they apply the amount of 2,4-D that they did Roundup and are equally irresponsible with that, it will kill everything green up here. I wish people would understand how important wine growing is for this area, how wonderful of a crop it is on the High Plains. It would be a shame to lose it when we're starting to get recognized."

Not only that, environmental experts worry about dicamba's threat on biodiversity and wonder if pesticide-makers are just creating another cycle of herbicide resistance.

"Once again the EPA is allowing for staggering increases in pesticide use that will undoubtedly harm our nation's most imperiled plants and animals," said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, after the EPA approved the Xtend weedkiller. "Iconic species like endangered whooping cranes are known to visit soybean fields, and now they'd be exposed to this toxic herbicide at levels they've never seen before."

"We can't spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill," he continued. "Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides. We can't fight evolution—it's a losing strategy."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its decisions Friday on whether federal and Hawai'i state laws preempt Hawai'i counties' authority to regulate genetically engineered (GE) crops and pesticide use. Of significance to state and local communities throughout the U.S., the Ninth Circuit ruled that federal law—specifically, the Plant Protection Act—does not prohibit states and counties from passing local laws to regulate and ban commercially-grown GE crops.

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Monsanto has officially broken ground on a $975 million expansion to its Luling plant in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. The facility will manufacture dicamba, a controversial herbicide used in the company's new XtendiMax weedkiller for GMO soybeans and cotton.

Despite the company's promise to bring 120 new full-time jobs to the area, it seems many locals are unhappy with the project.

Angry online comments have flooded the Times-Picayune's coverage of the Feb. 3 groundbreaking. The newspaper's Facebook post of the story has garnered 433 shares and 114 comments so far, with many people criticizing the new plant as well as the company itself.

"120 jobs isn't worth having this toxic company in your backyard...," the top Facebook comment states. The comment was "Liked" 117 times.

"Diacamba [sic] is bad. California just won the right to label Roundup as cancer causing," a newspaper reader commented. "So excited for Cancer Alley to grow."

Indeed, California could become the first state to require Monsanto to label its glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, as a possible carcinogen following a judge's tentative ruling on Jan. 27. Monsanto opposes the ruling, saying its top-selling product is safe.


But Monsanto's $975 million investment on dicamba represents a major shift from its "bread-and-butter glyphosate herbicide business," as Reuters noted. Glyphosate, the world's most widely applied herbicide, has faced intense backlash ever since the World Health Organization's cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer in March 2015.

The other major problem with glyphosate is the proliferation of "superweeds" that have grown resistant to the herbicide. Monsanto's new XtendiMax weedkiller, a combination of dicamba and glyphosate, is designed to address the problem.

Many health and environmental advocates, however, are worried that the company's new focus on dicamba will just put the world on another pesticide treadmill and create stronger weeds.

"Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides," said Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Dicamba was at the center of major controversy in the agricultural space last summer. Monsanto was criticized for selling its dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans to farmers for several growing seasons before gaining federal approval for the pesticide that goes along with it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only approved the XtendiMax formulation in November. The EPA's delayed approval led to farmers illegally spraying older versions of highly volatile dicamba on their crops last summer, sparking a massive swath of complaints from farmers who saw crop damage from the herbicide drifting onto their fields.

Damage was reported across 10 states on a number of non-target crops such as peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans, the EPA said.

XtendiMax is said to be less drift-prone than older versions of dicamba. Monsanto has also given farmers specific instructions for its application. The company has high hopes for its new product, projecting that the XtendiMax system will be utilized on about 15 million soybean acres and 3 million cotton acres in 2017.

"Monsanto is committing to a nearly billion dollar Dicamba expansion where a new tool to fight invasive species/pests will be produced," Mike Strain, Louisiana's commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, said after the groundbreaking ceremony last week.

"This herbicide should greatly benefit our Ag producers. The expansion will also bring approximately 1000 construction jobs to St. Charles Parish and about 100 new direct jobs to the area."

The new facility in Luling is expected to be completed in 2019.

Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant met with Donald Trump in New York to ask the president-elect to bless the companies' planned $66 billion mega-merger.

"It was a productive meeting about the future of agriculture and the need for innovation," a Bayer spokesman told Reuters.

The German chemical giant's pending takeover of the U.S. seedmaker would form the largest seed and pesticide company in the world. Consolidation of the two massive companies—not to mention the deals between DuPont and Dow Chemical Co, and ChemChina and Syngenta—will completely reshape the global seed and pesticide markets.

According to FOX Business, Baumann and Grant told Trump that a successful merger would create or keep jobs in the U.S. It is currently unclear how Trump responded to their plans during the meeting.

"The CEOs are hoping that the prospect of additional U.S. jobs coming from the merger will be enough incentive for the incoming Trump administration to approve the acquisition," FOX wrote.

The multibillion-dollar merger still needs regulatory approval in several markets including the U.S. and Europe, and has already been subject to U.S. state and federal antitrust investigations.

While the companies tout the proposed deal as an altruistic plan to feed a growing global population and improve "the lives of growers and people around the world," critics are worried that a successful merger will lead to fewer choices and increased prices for farmers as well as a monopolization of the world food supply.

As it happens, Trump's nominees will be leading antitrust enforcement at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Trump has yet to name his nominee to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Business analysts have said that the president-elect's nominee for attorney general—Sen. Jeff Sessions, a pro-business conservative from Alabama—is good news for any pending mega-deals.

"Sessions' likely nomination and confirmation by the Senate, in which he has served since 1997, is a market positive for merger and acquisition activity," Terry Haines of the investment banking advisory firm Evercore ISI, wrote.

"Sessions as attorney general would shift immediately from the current mostly 'red light' Obama antitrust/competition policy and move towards one that would be friendlier to M&A activity," Haines added.

But as The Wall Street Journal reports, several members of Trump's agricultural advisory committee have spoken out against mega-mergers and have urged the president-elect to block them.

Iowa agribusiness mogul Bruce Rastetter, a member of that committee who has been shortlisted for the empty USDA spot, told The Journal he plans to raise his concerns about the mergers directly with Trump in the near future.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist for Pesticide Action Network, has grave concerns over the merger.

"Just six corporations already dominate worldwide seed and pesticide markets," she said. "Additional consolidation will increase prices and further limit choices for farmers, while allowing Monsanto and friends to continue pushing a model of agriculture that has given us superweeds, superbugs and health-harming pesticides. Instead, we need to invest in agroecological, resilient and productive farming."

By Reynard Loki

Editor's note: The terms GE (genetic engineering) and GMO (genetically modified organism) are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are different. GMOs, which are produced when plant breeders select genetic traits that may also occur naturally, have been around for centuries. Common examples are seedless watermelons and modern broccoli. The subject of much recent debate are GE foods, which have only been around in recent decades and are produced by transferring genes between organisms. The resulting GE organisms—either plant- or in the case of GE salmon, animal-based—would not otherwise occur in nature. This article is about GE foods.

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An article in Sunday's New York Times has struck a blow to the argument that genetically modified (GMO) crops will help "feed the world."

A New York Times report concluded that, compared to Western Europe, the United States and Canada have "no discernible advantage" in yields after embracing GMOs.Flickr

Investigative reporter Danny Hakim's piece argues that in the last two decades GMO crops have been a mainstay in conventional agriculture and the technology has not led to larger yields nor reduced pesticide use, despite the biotech industry's promises of both. He also notes that the fear that GMOs are unsafe to eat are "largely unsubstantiated."

Using United Nations data, Hakim compared the yields of GMO corn and sugar beets in the U.S. and Canada with their non-GMO counterparts in Europe, which is largely suspicious of GMOs and strictly regulates its cultivation.

"The United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields—food per acre—when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany," he wrote.

Hakim's conclusion, he points out, is similar to a report from the National Academy of Sciences that found GMO crops have not, to date, increased actual yields and should not be exclusively relied upon to meet long-term food security needs.

The widespread adoption of GMOs has also increased the use of herbicides, even though top GMO seed supplier/ Roundup maker Monsanto claims its products would "decrease the overall use of herbicides."

As per the New York Times article:

"One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.

"By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage—65 percent—and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent."

The article also highlighted the tragic cycle of ever-stronger herbicides to combat herbicide-resistant superweeds. For instance, 10 states have reported devastating crop damage after farmers illegally sprayed their GMO soybeans and cotton with drift-prone dicamba in order to beat back weeds that have evolved against Monsanto's flagship product, Roundup.

"The NYT has finally admitted what a number of us have been saying for 20 years," Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association, told EcoWatch via email. "GMOs are designed to increase the sales of the proprietary toxic pesticides and patented seeds of Monsanto and the other gene giants, and offer nothing in the way of increased nutrition, yield, adaptation to climate change, nor reduction of pesticide and chemical inputs."

In September, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant appeared in a joint appearance of their proposed $66 billion merger which would create the world's largest seed and pesticide company.

Both chiefs echoed Big Ag's mantra that GMOs increase crop yields in an environmentally friendly way and is one solution to feed a global population that will reach 10 billion by 2050.

"We are fully committed to helping solve one of the biggest challenges of society, and that is how to feed a massively growing world population in an environmentally sustainable manner," Baumann said. "What we do is good for consumers. We help produce efficient, safe, healthy and affordable food. It is also good for our growers because they have better choices to increase yields in a sustainable way."

The New York Times report, however, makes it clear that this narrative needs much further scrutiny.