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U.S. Department of Agriculture Paves Way for Widespread Use of Toxic Pesticides

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U.S. Department of Agriculture Paves Way for Widespread Use of Toxic Pesticides

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is closing out 2011 in much the same way it started the year—approving the use of genetically modified (GM) crops designed to withstand pesticide applications. On Dec. 27, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approved the use of two more GM crops and announced the availability of assessments for two additional GM crops. The end of the year announcements, however, include a holiday bonus—the department is on the verge of approving not just glyphosate-resistant crops, but crops engineered to withstand the systemic herbicide, 2,4-D.

The move to engineering crops resistant to 2,4-D comes on the heels of reports from the field and in the lab that GM crops—and specifically, those engineered to be glyphosate tolerant—are creating herbicide-resistant weeds. Not a new concept, the “pesticide treadmill” is catching up with biotechnology breakthroughs. Chemical companies must continually develop new and stronger pesticides to combat the unwanted weeds in farmers’ fields that have developed resistance to certain chemicals. The use of glyphosate-tolerant GM crops, and the accompanying use of glyphosate, has created glyphosate-tolerant weeds. Not missing a beat, chemical companies are developing GM crops resistant to stronger pesticides, such as 2,4-D.

The development of GM crops that are resistant to persistent, toxic pesticides lays to rest one of original lies told about GE crops—that their widespread use would lead to the end of toxic pesticides like 2,4-D that have been associated with the development of Parkinson’s disease and other medical disorders in humans and animals.

APHIS has prepared a plant pest risk assessment and an environmental assessment on the 2,4-D resistant corn engineered by Dow, Inc., as well as assessments on a Monsanto-made soybean engineered to produce an omega-3 fatty acid. APHIS has proposed to deregulate both crops, and is accepting public comment on its determinations through Feb. 27, 2012.

APHIS also announced the full deregulation without conditions of another Monsanto-made soybean, this time with tolerance to glyphosate and a modified fatty acid profile, as well as a corn engineered by Monsanto to be drought tolerant.  (Readers may recall that a competing company, Pioneer, released drought-tolerant corn developed through conventional breeding methods earlier this year.)

In a year marked by a steady stream (and at times, a deluge) of GE crop approvals, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition developed a policy on genetically engineered crops and livestock that supports farmer choice and enterprise, consumer choice, and a regulatory process informed by independent, open scientific assessment.

For more information, click here.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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