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Arkansas Plant Board Backs Dicamba Ban Next Summer in Blow to Monsanto

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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Trump's Pick for Top EPA Post Under Scrutiny for Deep Ties to Chemical Industry

From Scott Pruitt to Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump has notoriously appointed a slew of individuals with serious conflicts of interests with the departments they oversee.

The latest is Michael L. Dourson, Trump's pick to head the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the government's chemical safety program. Media reports reveal that the toxicologist is under intense scrutiny for his extensive ties to the chemical industry and a resumé dotted with some of the biggest names in the field: Koch Industries Inc., Chevron Corp., Dow AgroSciences, DuPont and Monsanto.

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Arkansas Could Become First State to Ban Dicamba

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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17 States Investigate Dicamba Damage Complaints Spanning 2.5 Million Acres

Complaints of crop damage from the powerful and volatile weedkiller dicamba have increased rapidly around the country.

According to weed scientist and University of Missouri associate professor Kevin Bradley, 17 state governments are investigating more than 1,400 official complaints of dicamba-related injuries this year covering 2.5 million acres.

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'Cancer Alley' Residents Sue DuPont

Thirteen Louisiana residents who live in the shadow of one of the most toxic factories in the country recently filed a lawsuit against the facility's co-owners, DuPont and Denka, in an attempt to stop or reduce the production of an air pollutant linked to serious health problems, including cancer.

The plaintiffs are currently seeking approval from a local judge to file a class action lawsuit that would allow anyone who has lived, worked or attended school within a defined boundary around the plant over the past five years to take legal action against the plant's owners.

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Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Blipperman / Wikimedia

Will Cape Fear Become the Next Flint, Michigan as DuPont Dumps GenX Into River?

By Josh Gay

In February, DuPont and its spinoff Chemours finally agreed to pay out the $670+ million settlement stemming from their toxic chemical Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), commonly known as C8. The chemical was shown to cause kidney, pancreatic, liver and testicular cancer, high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), pregnancy issues, including preeclampsia, thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis in thousands of cases.

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Studies with conflict of interest showed a 50% higher frequency of outcomes favorable to the interests of the GMO crop company. Photo credit: Flickr

Conflicts of Interest Found in Many GMO Studies

One of the main concerns of the anti-GMO crowd is the supposed outsized influence that the biotech industry has over academia, science and public policy. For instance, you might have heard of the term "Monsanto shill"—which refer to professors, scientists and politicians who are paid to push certain products.

Now, a new study published in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal PLOS ONE gives more credence to the anti-GMO concern.

French researchers have determined that financial conflicts of interest can be found in a large number of published articles on GMO crops. Significantly, if a conflict of interest was determined, the study's outcome tended to be more favorable to the company that funded it.

For the study, the research team combed through hundreds of published articles focusing on the efficacy or durability of genetically modified Bt crops and any ties that the researchers carrying out the study had with the biotech industry. These articles focused on GM maize and cotton developed by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Pioneer. Such crops have been inserted with a pest-resistant toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.

A conflict of interest was determined if an author declared an affiliation to one of the biotech companies or received funding or payment from them.

"We found that ties between researchers and the GM crop industry were common, with 40 percent of the articles considered displaying conflicts of interest (COI)," the study states. "In particular, we found that, compared to the absence of COI, the presence of a COI was associated with a 50 percent higher frequency of outcomes favorable to the interests of the GM crop company."

This means that conflicts of interests are not only pervasive in GMO research, it could be leaving an impact.

Thomas Guillemaud, lead author and director of research at France's National Institute for Agricultural Research, told AFP that he and his team found 579 articles that clearly indicated if there was or was not any financial conflict of interest.

Of the 350 articles without conflicts of interest, 36 percent were favorable to GM crop companies. However, of the 229 studies with a conflict of interest, 54 percent were favorable to GM companies.

However, the authors admitted their study had some limitations:

"First, we explored only two characteristics of Bt crops: efficacy and durability. Other characteristics and consequences of these transgenic plants, including all those relating to the environment (e.g. the impact of Bt crops on non-target insects) or health, merit a similar analysis."

"Second, as we used the addresses of authors to identify their affiliations, only one type of affiliation, that relating to employment, was considered. However, authors may have affiliations to GM crop companies of other types, such as being members of advisory boards, consultants, or co-holders of patents, and this could also have a significant impact on the outcomes of studies on GM crops. We did not consider these affiliations as they are not usually reported in articles (COI statements became obligatory in some journals only recently and, as revealed here, they remain very rare). The consideration of other types of affiliation would require a survey that would be difficult to perform given that more than 1,500 authors were considered in this study.

"Third, we have considered only the links between authors and GM crop companies. Other stakeholders (e.g. Greenpeace, The Non-GMO Project, The Organic Consumers Association, The Network of European GMO-free Regions) oppose GM crop companies in being openly against the use of GM crops. An inverse relationship might therefore be expected between the outcomes of studies on GM crops and the presence of COIs relating to these stakeholders. We were unable to test this hypothesis because we identified no financial interests connected with anti-GMO stakeholders, in terms of the professional affiliation of the authors or their declared funding sources.

"Finally, this study focused exclusively on financial COIs. Non-financial COIs, also known as intrinsic or intellectual COI—due to personal, political, academic, ideological, or religious interests—might also have a significant impact on the outcomes of research studies. It is difficult to decipher intellectual COIs and, as for the detection of non-professional affiliations with GM crop companies, it would be a major challenge to perform such an analysis given the large number of authors considered."

But as Guillemaud noted to AFP, "The most important point was how we also showed there is a statistical link between the presence of conflicts of interest and a study that comes to a favorable conclusion for GMO crops."

"When studies had a conflict of interest, this raised the likelihood 49 percent that their conclusions would be favorable to GMO crops," he added. "We thought we would find conflicts of interest, but we did not think we would find so many."

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The South River in red. No fish other than trout should be eaten from these waters due to elevated mercury levels. Photo credit: South River Science Team

DuPont to Pay $50 Million for Mercury Pollution, Largest Settlement in Virginia History

Chemical company Dupont Co. will pay Virginia a stunning $50 million to clean up decades of mercury pollution. The proposed settlement is the largest natural resource settlement in the state's history and the eighth largest in the nation, state and federal officials said.

"Today's settlement, the largest of its kind in Virginia history, is the culmination of a coordinated effort by countless partners at both the state and federal level," Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. "Thanks to their hard work, Virginians and the environment will benefit from unprecedented investments in land conservation and habitat restoration. I applaud and appreciate the meticulous monitoring by our state agencies, the thorough analysis of the scientific advisory committee, and DuPont's willingness to come to the table and make this happen."

"[The settlement] ranks 8th in all of time of natural resource damage settlements across the country ... and that includes such big cases like Deep Water Horizon and Exxon Valdez," Paul Phifer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services said, according to the Associated Press.

The case dates back several decades when a former DuPont factory outside the city of Waynesboro leaked mercury—a chemical used for the plant's rayon production—into the South River from 1929 to 1950. The pollution was finally discovered in the 1970s and DuPont has worked with federal and state officials on cleanup solutions over the years.

Still, the mercury remains persistent and has been difficult to remove. The South River is one of the area's leading tributaries so any contamination eventually flows into the Shenandoah River. According to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, the South River Science Team found that South River and South Fork Shenandoah River fish continue to have elevated mercury concentrations some 60 years later after the DuPont plant ceased production.

Mercury is highly toxic and can travel up the food chain and can have a whole host of terrifying problems for aquatic life and humans alike. Fish consumption advisories in affected areas are in place to this day.

"Over 100 miles of river and thousands of acres of floodplain and riparian habitat were impacted from the mercury," the Department of Justice said in a statement. "Some of the assessed and impacted natural resources include fish, migratory songbirds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Recreational fishing opportunities were also impacted from the mercury."

NBC29 notes that the historic settlement would go towards wildlife habitat restoration, water quality enhancement and improvements to recreational areas.

"DuPont has agreed to provide $42.3 million in support of restoration projects in the South River and South Fork Shenandoah watersheds. The trustees will use these funds for a number of restoration projects to enhance natural resources in the region," Mike Liberati, South River project director for the DuPont Corporate Remediation Group, said in a statement.

"In keeping with its long history of cooperation with, and participation in, government initiatives, and its ongoing support of the local community, DuPont's is committed to a long-term presence in the Waynesboro area and to maintaining transparency with its citizens," Liberati continued.

The trustees, through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Commonwealth of Virginia, invite feedback on actions to restore the river and wildlife habitat and improve public lands and recreational resources. A draft restoration plan and environmental assessment (RP/EA) was also released today for a 45-day public comment period. The plan results from stakeholder meetings beginning in 2008 to determine how best to compensate the public for the injured natural resources and their uses.

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Trump Picks Dow Chemical Chief to Head American Manufacturing Council

In the midst of three pending mega-mergers between agrichemical corporations, Donald Trump's recent pick of Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris to head the American Manufacturing Council signals yet more serious potential conflicts of interest in top government posts that could damage American farmers, the health of the public and the environment. The council serves as a liaison between the U.S. manufacturing industry and the federal government.

Tuesday, shareholders of agrichemical giant Monsanto approved a proposed takeover of the company by Bayer. Meanwhile, Liveris' company, Dow Chemical, is in the midst of negotiating a merger with DuPont.

"Andrew Liveris should be disqualified for the position due to his likely conflicts of interests. Serving as head of the American Manufacturing Council could allow Liveris to use a government post to benefit Dow Chemical and to line his own pockets," said Friends of the Earth Food Futures campaigner Tiffany Finck-Haynes.

The final decision on the mergers will fall to the Department of Justice, where Trump named Jeff Sessions as potential Attorney General. Sessions, who has received campaign contributions from Monsanto and Bayer, will head the agency investigating the economic impact and antitrust implications of the proposed mergers.

"Donald Trump's picks demonstrates that he is willing to allow corporate interests to control the food that's grown in our country and determine what's on our plates," said Finck-Haynes. "Despite his promise to 'drain the swamp,' his actions prove he is more concerned with advancing corporate interests than protecting the American people, workers and farmers."

The top six agrichemical and seed companies are currently negotiating mergers, which could result in just three powerful multinational corporations controlling this industry. If Monsanto and Bayer, Dow and DuPont and Syngenta and ChemChina form their proposed partnerships, they will control nearly 70 percent of the world's pesticide market, 80 percent of the U.S. corn-seed market and more than 61 percent of commercial seed sales.

The day before Trump's announcement, DuPont's Chief Executive Ed Breen, said a Trump administration won't impact the proposed Dow-DuPont merger. Edward Liveris and Breen, chief executive officers of Dow and DuPont, are expected to earn $80 million from the merger. Meanwhile, Dow already plans to eliminate 2,500 jobs and 8 percent of its Michigan workforce due to its takeover of the smaller company Dow Corning and DuPont is implementing a cost-cutting plan by planning to cut1,700 workers in Delaware, in preparation for the merger.

"Trump's appointment signals that he will rubber stamp these mega-mergers, limiting farming and food options and increasing prices for farmers and consumers," said Finck-Haynes. "The mergers would also further tilt the balance of power away from independent science and the health and safety of the American people towards the influence of chemical corporations."

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