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EU-Wide Ban on Bee-Harming Pesticides Likely After Major Review

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in a new assessment that "most uses" of three widely used neonicotinoids—imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam—pose a risk to wild bees and honeybees, which play a crucial role in pollination across the globe.

The conclusion, based on analysis of more than 1,500 studies, will likely prompt a total ban on the pesticides from all fields across the European Union when the issue comes to a vote next month, the Guardian reported.

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Trump Watch

Trump EPA Slammed for Ag Giant's 'Absurdly Low' Pesticide Fine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement this week with Syngenta Seeds, LLC over violations of federal pesticide regulations at its farm in Kauai, Hawaii.

The company, a subsidiary of Swiss biotech giant Syngenta AG, agreed to pay a civil penalty of $150,000 and spend another $400,000 on worker protection training sessions.

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EPA Considers Allowing Bee-Killing Pesticide to Be Sprayed on 165 Million Acres of U.S. Farmland

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will consider allowing the bee-killing pesticide thiamethoxam to be sprayed on the most widely grown crops in the U.S. The application, if approved, would allow the highly toxic pesticide to be sprayed directly on 165 million acres of wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, alfalfa, rice and potato.

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Patrick / Flickr

Bee Study Author Fights Back Against Bayer and Syngenta Accusations

By Joe Sandler Clarke

The lead author of a major study which found that neonicotinoid pesticides harm honey bees has hit back against criticism from the chemical companies that part-funded the work.

Dr. Ben Woodcock from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said Bayer and Syngenta, which produce the controversial pesticides, had looked to undermine his work after it was published, despite providing $3 million in funding.

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New Evidence Shows Bayer, Syngenta Tried to Influence Scientists on Bee Study

By Joe Sandler Clarke

Bayer and Syngenta repeatedly asked scientists to give them raw data on a major new study which found that neonicotinoid pesticides cause harm to bees before it was published, according to emails obtained under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Both companies cited their position as co-funders to try to get information from researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), including on experiments paid for by the government backed National Environment Research Council.

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7,000 Kansas Farmers vs. Syngenta Over GMO Corn Dispute

Thousands of Kansas farmers claimed in district court in Kansas City on Monday that Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta rushed its genetically modified (GMO) corn seed to the U.S. market in 2010 before getting China's approval for imports, which rejected shipments of the corn over GMO contamination and caused turmoil in commodity markets.

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16 European Nations Vote Against GMO Crops

The majority of European Union governments voted against a proposal to authorize two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) maize today.

The two varieties of maize, DuPont Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, kill insects by producing its own pesticide and is also resistant Bayer's glufosinate herbicide.

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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."


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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