The Color Orange: Monarch butterfly threatened with extinction

monarchOrange is beautiful on pumpkins and butterflies.  Every summer, the familiar beauty of the Monarch butterfly with its striking orange color graces lawns and gardens and fields across the U.S.  But this iconic butterfly now faces possible extinction due to severely shrinking areas of natural habitat that have been converted to fields of GMO corn and soybeans.

Last winter the cluster of Monarchs wintering in Mexico shrunk to the smallest area in 20 years of record-keeping, from nearly 45 acres in their peak in 1996, to 1.65 acres–approximately the size of one and a quarter football fields.  The yearly migration widely noted as one of the world’s great natural spectacles, is dwindling in numbers so fast that efforts are now underway to declare the Monarch an endangered species.

The Monarch’s fate is directly tied to the eradication of natural habitat, specifically the milkweed plant that once was common to fence rows throughout Midwestern farm country.  “Productivity increases from modern farm technology” as so often spoken of, includes the conversion of thousands and thousands of acres to planting row crops, predominantly genetically modified herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans.  Using GMO seed allows for blanket spraying of broad-spectrum herbicides for weed control over very large areas. corn acresadoption of GM crops The founder of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, Orley “Chip” Taylor, calculates that since 1996, the introduction of herbicide-tolerant soy and corn removed 150 million acres of land that could have borne milkweed.  A 2013 mapping analysis performed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) showed that more than 36,000 square miles of wetlands and prairie—an area larger than Indiana—has been converted to cropland since 2008. The Monarchs are the most visible victims of the accelerated loss of natural habitat throughout the Midwest but not the only ones.  A wide variety of pollinators and other insects, as well as the birds that feed on them are disappearing.


The Color Orange: the color of nightmares

dioxin killsAnother orange, Agent Orange, conjuring images of horrific death and suffering, is also in the news again as farming takes on more and more the appearance of chemical warfare.

Wednesday, September 17th was a very black day for consumers and environmentalists as the USDA plowed ahead with a highly controversial decision to deregulate new seed varieties of “Agent Orange” corn and soybeans, so-called for its ability to withstand the weed killer 2,4-D, a major component in the infamous dioxin-laden defoliant used in Vietnam.  The USDA environmental impact study predicted that approval of the crops would lead to a 200 to 600 percent increase in the use of 2,4-D nationally by 2020, but deferred to the EPA for analysis of the effects of the increase.

The seeds will be sold as part of Dow Agrosciences’ branded EnlistTM Weed Control System.  Though trailing far behind Monsanto in market share, Dow Agrosciences is one of the Big Six multinational companies dominating the biotech seed and agrochemical industry.  With annual global sales of $7.1 billion in 2013, Dow Agrosciences, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company.  2,4-D is a weed killer presently manufactured by The Dow Chemical Company.  Dow is still awaiting approval from the EPA for the Enlist DuoTM herbicide in order to launch sales of the complete seed plus herbicide package for the 2015 planting season.


Russia Rejects GMOs, Will Grow Organic Food Instead

Russia will not import GMO products, the country’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, adding that the nation has enough space and resources to produce organic food.

Moscow has no reason to encourage the production of genetically modified products or import them into the country, Medvedev told a congress of deputies from rural settlements on Saturday.

“If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food,” he said.

The prime minister said he ordered widespread monitoring of the agricultural sector. He added that despite rather strict restrictions, a certain amount of GMO products and seeds have made it to the Russian market.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks at a meeting of United Russia deputies from Russian rural villages in Volgograd on April 5, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Ekaterina Shtukina)

Earlier, agriculture minister Nikolay Fyodorov also stated that Russia should remain free of genetically modified products.

At the end of February, the Russian parliament asked the government to impose a temporary ban on all genetically altered products in Russia.

The State Duma’s Agriculture Committee supported a ban on the registration and trade of genetically modified organisms. It was suggested that until specialists develop a working system of control over the effects of GMOs on humans and the natural environment, the government should impose a moratorium on the breeding and growth of genetically modified plants, animals, and microorganisms.

Earlier this month, MPs of the parliamentary majority United Russia party, together with the ‘For Sovereignty’ parliamentary group, suggested an amendment of the existing law On Safety and Quality of Alimentary Products, with a norm set for the maximum allowed content of transgenic and genetically modified components.

There is currently no limitation on the trade or production of GMO-containing food in Russia. However, when the percentage of GMO exceeds 0.9 percent, the producer must label such goods and warn consumers. Last autumn, the government passed a resolution allowing the listing of genetically modified plants in the Unified State Register. The resolution will come into force in July.

Article Source | Image source: RIA Novosti / Maksim Bogodvid



by Shicana Allen

On March 13, 2014, the nonprofit Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit against the USDA, demanding the release of nearly 1200 federal documents from its Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The official pages would detail the agency’s decision-making process in a very puzzling change of heart on genetically engineered alfalfa. For several years, the Center has sought to uncover the true reasons for the USDA’s abrupt, unexplained abandonment of its negative position regarding this fourth most widely grown crop in the United States, third in terms of value, and key feedstock for the dairy industry. Alfalfa is also widely used in nutritional and herbal supplements and medicines for humans.

Back in January 2011, APHIS suddenly granted biotech giant Monsanto a full unrestricted approval to sell Roundup Ready seeds. Although CFS originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request that same month for release of said documents, the government agency has for years now ignored and illegally withheld the printed pages from public view, without explanation. The recent filing acts as yet another attempt to compel APHIS to fulfill its court-ordered obligation.

Although the USDA originally granted permission for Monsanto’s alfalfa in 2005, a vocal coalition of public interest groups and farmers challenged the agency’s approval in court, and won. The crop’s planting, sale and use was halted, and APHIS was ordered to prepare a robust analysis of its impact on farmers and the environment. The report acknowledged that transgenic alfalfa posed significant economic, agricultural, and ecological dangers, including genetic drift, and recommended the placement of severe restrictions to minimize this potential contamination. Just one month after this initial determination of extreme risk, the USDA turned on its heels and unexpectedly went in the complete opposite direction. Even members of the media questioned the puzzling reversal. The looming suspicion is that undue political or corporate pressure influenced the government agency’s decision to approve the crop.

In the past, more than 90% of alfalfa planted by U.S. farmers has been grown successfully without any herbicide application. Unfortunately, the cultivation of massive amounts of GM alfalfa has not only genetically contaminated both organic and conventional crops, but is responsible for 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides used each year, according to USDA data.

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Shicana Allen has been a health, environmental, and food safety advocate, writer, and public speaker for over 20 years.