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By Maia Danks
The U.S. military has plans to create genetically modified marine organisms that can be used as underwater spies for the military. Fantastic as this idea may seem, the Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has actually launched a new program that aims to tap into the "natural sensing capabilities" of marine organisms, who are highly attuned to their surroundings, to track enemy traffic undersea.
By Watcharapol Daengsubha
Last weekend, farmers, scientists and activists from all over the world gathered at the Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, to present the case against destruction caused by one of the corporate giants that promotes industrial farming.
Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague on Oct. 15.Greenpeace
The symbolic Monsanto Tribunal aimed to hold Monsanto—the giant agrochemical company—to account for its alleged atrocities against humanity and the environment. This event is far from over. It will echo back through the food system as the tribunal's participants bring home lessons, solutions and renewed hope for change.
First day of the tribunal, judges Tulkens (left) and Dior Fall Sow.Greenpeace
Five internationally renowned judges heard 30 witnesses. Experts gave their accounts of the environmental damage wrought by Monsanto. One testimony described how monoculture has caused a great loss to seed variety. They compared the patenting of seeds to a new form of colonization.
Seng Channeang, Cambodian small-scale farmer.Greenpeace
These testimonies will give people all over the world a well-documented legal brief to be used in lawsuits against other similar corporations.
"Although this is not legally binding, it is legally sound," said Arnaud Apoteker, member of the steering committee of the tribunal. "The witnesses were presenting real cases to real judges. The lessons from this event can be used in ensuing local battles."
One of the 30 witnesses, Feliciano Ucam Poot, a Mayan farmer from Mexico, submitted evidence to support his allegations that glyphosate and other chemicals are linked to children's sickness.
"Before the introduction of glyphosate and other agrochemicals, I did not see our people suffer from sickness like this," he said. "A lot of people are suffering like us and this tribunal will ensure that our stories will be heard around the world."
Scene from the Monsanto Tribunal Press Conference on Oct. 15.Greenpeace
Do we need these agrochemicals to feed the world? A question asked of Hans Herren, a renowned scientist and president of the Millennium Institute at the Monsanto Tribunal. "By producing less waste we can feed 10 million people. We need to make more health per acre, not calories per acre," he said.
Running parallel to the tribunal hearings was a People's Assembly, where people from around the world discussed solutions to the impacts caused by industrial agriculture. As many of the witnesses pointed out, one of the greatest challenges they face is to make their voices heard. This assembly provided a much needed forum for communities to come together and find sustainable solutions to common problems.
The People's Assembly, The Hague.Greenpeace
"We should fight for ourselves. Nobody is free from danger if our food is toxic," said Farida Akhter of UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternatives), Bangladesh.
The stories of people like Feliciano and the concerns of Farida are echoed by millions of voices from across the world; from beekeepers in Mexico to small scale producers in France and farmers in India.
The judges of the tribunal will assess these allegations, examine all evidence put forth and publish their findings in December.
Judges at the Monsanto Tribunal.Greenpeace
These issues aren't limited to farmers and environmentalists—they concern us all. We all have a choice: As citizens and consumers, we can all make decisions to shape the future we want.
Here are 12 things you can do to start the eco-food revolution.
Watcharapol Daengsubha is a food and ecological agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
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Amid news of a Zika outbreak in the Miami area, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) has cleared the experimental release of genetically modified (GMO) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help combat the virus.
Earlier this year, Monsanto commercially launched its Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans—a product undoubtedly attractive to soy farmers. The new seeds not only promised higher yields, but it would be a new tool in a soy farmer's arsenal to battle superweeds that have evolved to resist the herbicide glyphosate, aka Roundup. Xtend soybeans are genetically altered to withstand both glyphosate and an existing herbicide called dicamba.
But in reality, the promise of Monsanto's splashy new bean appears to be short-sighted, leaving farmers with the much worse end of the bargain. Here are three reasons why.
1. It's illegal to use dicamba on GMO soy
Even though dicamba has been around for decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet approved dicamba's over-the-top use on genetically engineered soybeans. However, as NPR reported, even though Monsanto has given growers clear instructions not to use the herbicide on the crops, farmers are (illegally) using it anyway. Officials estimate that 200,000 acres in Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel and Tennessee have been affected.
As NPR described about Arkansas soy growers:
Farmers in this part of the country are struggling to control a weed called Palmer amaranth, also known as pigweed. Many of the weedkillers they've used in the past don't work anymore. Weed expert Bob Scott says they're desperate for new tools. "If we didn't need this so bad, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Scott said.
2. Dicamba has a drift problem
Dicamba is extremely prone to drift, meaning it can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring fields and even on native plants that cannot withstand the pesticide. When exposed to the pesticide, soy leaves that are not dicamba-resistant are left cupped and distorted. Additionally, the EPA has not yet approved Monsanto's pesticide that is supposed to go with their new GMO soy. Monsanto and DuPont's
new herbicide, DuPont FeXapan herbicide plus VaporGrip Technology, has glyphosate and dicamba, and is designed to reduce drift and lower volatility but still awaits approval.
Agronomist Tom Barber of the University of Arkansas wrote in AgFax that he's seen several thousand acres of soy fields in Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas this season already affected by either drift, volatility, temperature inversions or tank contamination from dicamba herbicide applications.
"Many growers I am sure felt that they did not have a choice, either spray dicamba or lose the crop," Barber
wrote. "Based on the number of acres affected, it appears that many fields of cotton and soybean containing this technology have been sprayed with an off-labeled application of dicamba either preemergence or postemergence or likely, both."
Even worse, farmers who do not want to buy Monsanto's new dicamba-resistant beans now might be forced to get them just to project themselves, Barber explained to NPR.
"They're afraid that they're not going to be able to grow what they want to grow. They're afraid that they're going to be forced to go with that technology," he said.
In response to the dicamba problem, Monsanto execs repeated to Delta Farm Press that farmers are warned about illegal spraying. However, the company's product communications lead Kyel Richard also seemed to pass the buck of enforcement to state regulators:
Richard: "The thing I want to underline is we, as a company, aren't an enforcement agency. We're confident that the state officials will be evaluating the complaints, will investigate and will take appropriate actions.
"As a company, we can't speculate on what action government officials will take—especially those who are investigating complaints of misuse. I'm sure they're working diligently and will be taking action."
3. The vicious superweed cycle
Finally, like the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, superweeds are evolving to withstand the very chemicals meant to kill them. Dicamba is no different. University of Arkansas weed expert Jason Norsworthy discovered in greenhouse experiments that pigweed could evolve resistance to the chemical after just three generations, NPR reported.
Donley pointed out that Monsanto's own analysis has indicated that dicamba use on cotton and soy will rise from less than 1 million pounds to more than 25 million pounds used per year. This will only create superweeds that are resistant both to glyphosate—already the world's
most widely applied herbicide—and dicamba.
"The indiscriminate use of glyphosate created these resistant superweeds in the first place and now these companies want farmers to indiscriminately use dicamba," Donley said about Monsanto and DuPont's new dicamba-glyphosate herbicide . "You don't have to be a genius to know how this will end."
Reuters reported that Monsanto has invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the expected demand for its Xtend products as the company steps away from its "bread-and-butter glyphosate herbicide business." Glyphosate has faced major controversy ever since the World Health Organization's International Agency cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer last year.
Today, Congress chose to favor the interests of the food industry over consumers' right to know what's in the food they eat and feed their families when the House approved the Senate's version of the DARK Act. The bill now goes to President Obama.
With this legislation, both the House and the Senate have voted to do away with basic transparency about how food is produced. They've also revoked a popular and clear state labeling law that is already in effect in Vermont, nullifying future state labeling requirements.
The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable for stripping away this transparency.
If this bill becomes law, the food and biotech industries win what are essentially voluntary requirements. This so-called "compromise," does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance and many loopholes in the bill will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements. The bill gives companies the option to use discriminatory and cumbersome QR codes that require a smartphone to access basic information about the food on store shelves.
We urge President Obama to remember his campaign promise to let consumers know what they are eating by rejecting this bill. This is his final chance to get it right when it comes to food policies that protect people over corporations. He'd do just that by vetoing the DARK Act.