Archive for the 'Ecology' Category

Senator Boxer Continues to Fight for the Right to Know

United States Senate

Dear Jan:

Thank you for expressing your concerns about the labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Ensuring that Americans are provided critical information about the foods they eat is important, and I appreciate hearing your views.

I have proudly introduced S.809, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.  This bipartisan legislation would direct the Food and Drug Administration to clearly label genetically engineered (GE) foods, including fish and seafood, as well as food containing GE ingredients so that consumers can make informed choices about what they eat.

My bill has strong support from a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen, and parents who all agree that consumers deserve more – not less – information about the food they feed their families.

In my continued efforts to establish labeling requirements for GE food, I also offered two amendments to the Senate version of the Farm Bill.  One amendment would have produced a report on GE food labeling, and the other would have expressed a sense of the Senate in support of labeling.  I also supported an amendment that would have reaffirmed a state’s right to require labeling of GE food.  Unfortunately, these proposals were not included in the final Senate Farm Bill.

The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act has been referred to the Senate Health Committee.  Be assured that I will keep working to see my bill passed by Congress and signed into law.

Again, thank you for writing to me.  Please know that I will continue to fight for a safe and environmentally responsible food supply system that also protects consumers’ right to information.


Barbara Boxer
United States Senator
February 18, 2014




Label GMOs to Avoid Eating Roundup

Roundup will soon make its annual appearance as a mountainous stack of jugs by Home Depot cash registers across the nation, maybe not quite as much in California this spring since without rain there should not be as many weeds. However, spraying with Roundup is a way of life in American cities and farms. It is hard to maintain a sense of alarm about something so familiar.

We are jarred back to awareness about the effects of Roundup on human health and wildlife when we listen to interviews and talks of Don Huber, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University. We were speakers at the ACRES USA 2013 Conference in Springfield, Illinois, last December, where Dr. Huber also spoke. A CD of his main talk Failed Promises, Flawed Science — the Interaction of GMOs & Glyphosate on Soil, Plant, Animal, Human Health  is available. At no charge you can read a 2011 interview of Don Huber by ACRES USA posted by Organic Consumers Association. Other helpful information about health risks of Roundup are found in the reviews by Antoniou, Robinson and Fagan, 2012, and Ho, 2013.

Consumption of Roundup is on the rise because it is a major component of many genetically engineered foods and also in drinking water

The GMO seed/pesticide industry claims that GE crops use less pesticide. This is pretty far-fetched when over 85% of GE crops are engineered to tolerate herbicide (a type of pesticide) in increasing amounts every year to total around 150 million pounds on 100 million acres annually in the US.  We are talking pretty much all of the corn and soy, the sugarbeets and canola, and a lot of the alfalfa hay that is not certified organically grown plus most of your neighbors’ yards, local parks, roadsides and other landscapes. Hence, Roundup in our food and water. Bohn et al (2014) found that the Roundup and AMPA (the toxic breakdown product of Roundup) composition of GMO soybeans in Iowa was mean 3.3 and 5.7 mg/kg, respectively compared to none in the conventional and organic soybeans. California allows 1,000 ppb of glyphosate in drinking water which 1,000 times higher than the amount shown to cause a 500% to 1300% increase in cancer cell growth. The only way to know how much is in your water is to contact your supplier. Apparently it is usually well under the allowed levels, but it does not breakdown like the manufacturers say it does. It remains toxic as it moves into groundwater. The Health Ranger has reported on water and is now doing independent testing of toxic substances in foods that are not being reported by government agencies.

Farmers spray crops with herbicides that the seed is genetically engineered to tolerate so they can save on labor costs of weeding by other means. The weeds develop resistance, so the farmers spray more often at higher rates.  US EPA then increases the amount allowed in food. Last, but not least, the industry is engineering corn and soy to be resistant to not just Roundup, but more dangerous herbicides like 2,4-D. There is one such product under consideration right now. The comment period about what opponents are calling “agent orange corn” has been extended to April 27. Learn more here and weigh in.

Safe as Table Salt

At pest management conferences since the 1980’s there have been Monsanto presenters, including well-polished young professional women, saying how safe the active ingredient glyphosate is to humans and all living things. Daniel, et al, 2009, then showed that the surfactants in the Roundup formulation increase cellular uptake of glyphosate at normal body pH, so biologically based pest management experts like us began challenging Monsanto speakers about true toxicity of the commercial product. It took many years for experts to find out that that the Roundup is 10 to 100 times more toxic than the glyphosate.

Glyphosate binds up trace minerals

One of Don Huber’s research interests was to look at changes in soil microflora caused by glyphosate, especially the micronutrients, such as manganese, iron and zinc. These levels can be 80-90 percent reduced in genetically engineered Roundup Ready plants. The scientific literature builds on Huber’s research that includes tools he helped developed for this type of research leading to evidence of glyphosate’s residual effects on wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans, potatoes, citrus and more. Huber explains, “Glyphosate is the reason we are seeing a reemergence of diseases we thought we had controlled.” Learn more about new diseases in crops sprayed with Roundup on from Don Huber speaking about Managing Nutrition to Control Plant Disease on another CD available from ACRES USA.

Huber explains the activity of glyphosate which is the active ingredient in Roundup and related herbicides. It is a systemic, broad-spectrum herbicide. His description of how it functions is outlined in Sirinathsinghji and Ho, 2013, as follows:

  • Accumulates in plant tissues (shoot and root tips, reproductive structures, and legume nodules)
  • Some glyphosate moves into roots and is released into soil (fast sorption; slow degradation)
  • Released by phosphorus
  • Makes the plant susceptible to diseases

Glyphosate is toxic to microorganisms, plants, animals and humans

Studies show effects on beneficial organisms, such as N-fixing organisms needed for organic soil building and valuable mycorrhizae fungi, biocontrol organisms, earthworms, and other plant growth promoting organisms. This increases the damage done by disease organisms in the soil and explains the appearance of diseases that never appeared until broadscale application of Roundup.  It is also a potent antibiotic against human gut bacteria that are now understood to be vital for human health. It is thought to operate in animals and humans as it does in plants, as a mineral chelator, making mineral nutrients unavailable. There is an increase in over 30 diseases alongside the increased consumption of Roundup and GE proteins in food.

Don Huber also warned about the risks of genetically engineered food crops after discovering a new organism in GE animal feed that has since been linked to infertility and miscarriage in cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and poultry. The new microbe is linked to “Sudden Death Syndrome” (SDS) in animals.

Many diseases including birth defects that are parallel in amphibians and human cells

The review of health risks from glyphosate  by Antoniou, et al (2011) focuses on the evidence of birth defects. A report by Sirinathsinghji and Ho, 2012, explains the unnatural expression of developmental genes from glyphosate. Between 2000 and 2009 when Roundup Ready GMO soybeans were introduced in Argentina, there was a four-fold increase in cancer and birth defects. The head and face of human fetuses become deformed in the same way as in tadpoles. Chick embryos with glyphosate-based herbicides showed similar defects–loss of head features including the future eyes.

Glyphosate could play some role in bee colony collapse disorder

In an article about GMO foods, there is a hypothesis posed by Dr. Huber about a role of glyphosate in the crisis of dying pollinators. He observes that there are three established characteristics of colony collapse disorder that suggests glyphosate could be (at least in part) responsible:

  • The bees are mineral-deficient, especially in micronutrients
  • There’s plenty of food present but they’re not able to utilize it or to digest it
  • Dead bees are devoid of the Lactobacillus and the Bifidobacterium, which are components of their digestive system

The bees also become disoriented, suggesting endocrine hormone disruption, which is an effect of neonicotinoid insecticides that have been implicated in honeybee die-off.  Dr. Huber cites a study on glyphosate in drinking water at levels that are commonly found in US water systems, showing a 30 percent mortality in bees exposed to it. And that’s just from common levels of glyphosate in drinking water, not the amount of Roundup in the water available to bees on farms.

Watch your consumption of Roundup

In 2013 under pressure from farmers who cannot control weeds due to overuse of Roundup and the resistance of the weeds (becoming “superweeds”), the FDA raised the limits. Fruits can have concentrations from 200 ppb to 500 ppb glyphosate. Animal feed, such as hay, is allowed up to 100,000 ppb glyphosate; oilseed crops can contain up to 40,000 ppb; potatoes can contain 6,000 ppb glyphosate. It is not known how much Roundup is in the animal products that eat so much Roundup in their feed, but the animals have abnormal mineral composition and are often sick with disgestive and reproductive problems. Some scientists conclude that the levels of intake of glyphosate now common in the typical American diet are carcinogenic.

There is also Roundup in water.  EPA standards for maximum amount of glyphosate in water is 0.7ppm (700 ppb) even though there has been evidence of organ damage in animals and lung congestion in humans at 0.1ppb. FDA admits that long-term exposure at such high levels (700 times greater than the maximum limit) can cause kidney and fertility damage. The glyphosate in the food given to animals is extremely high because 85% of those crops are genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup sprays. As described at the start, the poison is taken up by the plant with the help of added surfactant ingredients in the commercial product.

EPA will review Roundup risk in 2015—meanwhile GE food needs to be labeled and young adults need more education about how to avoid eating GMOs

These findings of DNA damage and links to cancers, miscarriages, liver, endocrine disruption, and mortality to amphibians have been reported to the US EPA and the European Food Safety Authority. Roundup is coming up for its next 15 year review by the EPA in 2015 when lower-level scientists say they expect it to be banned. It should have been banned when the first questions were raised, and certainly now since it is present in greater and greater amounts in food.

Most of the GMO food is Roundup Ready and the biotechnology industry is lobbying for approval of food that will tolerate both Roundup and 2,4-D, a relative of Agent Orange defoliant. It is more urgent than ever that GMO food be labeled so people have a better chance of reducing the amount of Roundup in their diets. Long-term toxic exposure to Roundup is a major health risk and people in their twenties have been exposed their whole lives and it will keep getting worse, especially for people who eat large amounts of processed corn and tortillas where the amount of Roundup is certainly toxic through long-term exposure.

Don Huber observes that if you count up the number of fertility clinics in a community now compared to 15 years ago, you know that something is affecting fertility.  TIME Magazine reported that general fertility rate in the U.S. in 2011 was the lowest ever recorded; the birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 19 declined; birth rates for women ages 20 to 24 hit a record low; and rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic black women dipped. Only women ages 35 to 39 and 40 to 44 are more likely to have babies now than in the past.  Those women have not been exposed to genetically engineered food for such a large part of their lives and during their formative years. Infertility and birth defects in lab animals and livestock fed GMOs and Roundup are likely to manifest similarly in humans.  Mothers and their pediatricians who take their children off of GMOs are sharing their testimonials to the health benefits.

The evidence is clear that genetically engineering of food adds health risks regardless of the trait inserted into the genome, but with the prevalence of the Roundup Ready gene and Roundup in the food supply, it makes sense to call your elected officials to ask for mandatory, reliable labeling of genetically engineered food just in order to be better able to avoid consuming so much Roundup in the GMO soy and corn.

By Jan Dietrick, MPH – Feb 2014



Wake Up Before It Is Too Late – Jan’s Synopsis

In September 2013 the United Nations Convention on Trade and Environment published one of its periodic reviews and called it: Wake Up Before It Is Too Late—Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. 

Wake Up Before It Is Too Late UNCTAD 2013.

UNCTAD Review 2013

As I began to read this 341 page global review of the status of trade and the environment , the California State Grange convention was coming up, and some members were preparing legislative policy resolutions related to sustainable agriculture.  As I read about the global view on policy related to food security, it became more clear that this is not just for our communities, but for all communities.

Each of the five chapters has ideas for policy recommendations to mitigate projected mass famine, especially in the developing world. With the increasing climate-related disasters in the US and depleted stores of food, the focus and urgency of this report seems worthy of  continued study and dialog. My vision is a review of  California Grange legislative policy so that it “seeks a viable agricultural program that safeguards the family farm as the most economical way to furnish all families with wholesome, affordable food and fiber”.

Whether we are producing or consuming, we want local, state and federal policies that do not contribute to food insecurity in the developing world. And, our policies should be consistent with what we know about sequestering rather than releasing carbon. That is what Wake Up Before It Is Too Late is about. 

My synopsis is made up mostly of phrases verbatim [except in places where I added a comment or update in brackets]. I did not try to footnote or reference to the source pages in the review. It is all in the book available for download. One of the larger themes of Wake Up Before It Is Too Late is that GHG emissions from agriculture in developing countries are significant and increasing instead of decreasing. 

The introductory chapter calls for a fundamental transformation of agriculture followed by four more chapters looking at livestock production, research/technology/extension, land use, and international trade. It seems very comprehensive.

Each chapter opens with evidence of problems followed major recommendations. These introductions are followed by commentaries written singly or in groups by around 50 agricultural scientists from around the world giving detailed data and insights from their specialties. Among them are friends and leaders we greatly admire, including  Marcia Ishii-Eitmann with Pesticide Action Network, Miguel Altieri at UC Berkeley (an expert on sustainable agriculture in Cuba), molecular geneticist Mae-Wan Ho with Institute of Science in Society, the venerable entomologist and ecologist David Pimentel at Cornell University, and researchers at Institute of Organic Agriculture.

The theme I take away is that energy scarcity and climate disruption require more resilient systems and the window is closing to prevent the worst case scenarios from drought and famine.

Chapter 1: Key Development Challenges of a Fundamental Transformation of Agriculture The introduction and first chapter open with a summary of the policy recommendations in the Review, mainly explaining the guiding principle that sustainable agriculture is biologically and ecologically based with a focus on increasing carbon in the root zones of cultivated plants. The required transformation of agriculture in developing countries will (1) reduce the impact from conventional agriculture, and (2) broaden the scope and further develop the following agro-ecological production objectives:

  • Increase soil carbon content.
  • Close nutrient cycles in an integrated approach to production.
  • Reduce GHG emissions from livestock production (ways to do that are covered in Chapter 2).
  • Manage the forests, peatland and grassland sustainably to reduce land-use induced emissions.
  • Optimize organic and inorganic fertilizer use for greatest efficiency in closed nutrient cycles.
  • Reduce waste throughout food chains.
  • Change dietary patterns towards climate-friendly food consumption.
  • Reform trade policies for food and ag products.

[Jan note: With regard to this last issue about trade, there is an urgent need to protect the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries against policies that result in dumping by large US industrial producers. This is the opposite of the policies of the past 20 years that are the heart and soul of NAFTA, CAFTA,  and the push to enact TAFTA and the TPP, which are promoted by the California Farm Bureau. Chapter 5 expands on this topic with vital information about how our tax dollars promote injustice to farmers in other lands.]

Some paradigm shift has begun to accommodate the above objectives. However, the following agenda items  require a big paradigm shift and a much greater sense of urgency to make drastic changes:

  • Reduce fuel-intensive, external input-dependent production methods towards agroecological practices, recognizing that agriculture is multi-functional—it’s not just about quantity of food produced.
  • Discourage industrial livestock production and associated massive use of concentrate feed. [ Jan note: 85% of animal feed crops are GMO herbicide tolerant and do not sequester carbon like organic methods do. What is the impact of drenching soils with herbicides and  trans-species effects of GE in the foodweb?]
  • Discourage expansion of biofuel production:  discontinue blending quotas, reduce subsidies, revise trade restrictions.
  • Reduce financial speculation in food markets.
  • Limit irresponsible land investments.
  • Reform global agriculture trade rules, giving greater policy space for assuring national food sovereignty, climate-change adaptation/resilience, rethink the old paradigm with the focus on integrating smallholders into global supply chains.
  • Reduce food price volatility, without betting exclusively on hedging options.

Prevailing views must shift as follows:

  • The goal is not to just produce more with less, but that integrated agricultural systems meet the various functions that it contributes as the cornerstone of local economies.
  • The goal is not to just pollute a little less, but to adopt more sustainable, affordable methods.
  • Hunger is not about a lack of food, but a lack of access to affordable food in rural areas, a lack of means of production, and a lack of access to resources for smallholders.
  • Climate change is no joke; it is going to affect agriculture in catastrophic ways very soon.

Chapter 2.  Livestock Production: A Climate Change and Food Security Hot Spot Besides the recommendations in Chapter 1 related to livestock production, this chapter has commentary about  animal-friendly farming by such approaches as consumer and youth education to encourage a reduction in the consumption of “cheap meat” in favor of animal-friendly and environmentally friendly animal products.

Chapter 3.  The Role of Research and Technology and Extension Services The fundamental basis of every community is agriculture or tillage of the soil. The services of farmers exceed all other members of the community in importance. Farmers must make enough income to meet all of their reasonable expenses.  These are pivotal principles that the UNCTAD 2013 review drives home. The report advocates the following to researchers, farm advisors and regulatory agencies:

  • Articulate farmers’ needs based on problem diagnosis and foresight exercises related to climate change, promote the creation of networks and linkages for all of the stakeholders to work together to achieve mutual understanding and appropriate adaptive innovation on the farm level and at regional, national and sectoral levels.
  • Research and extend a combination of indigenous or traditional knowledge systems with modern knowledge and technology systems through knowledge sharing among scientists and pastoralists to interpret the probabilistic climate information and generate ‘best-bet’ on-farm practices from season to season.
  • Design aid programs and domestic rural development programs to rehabilitate degraded farmland through biological nitrogen fixation with legumes and complex perennial vegetation that yields innovative marketable products while assuring more resilient food production capacity in the future.
  • Cease the export of genetically engineered seed from developed to undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.

Chapter 4. The Role of Changes in Land Use The major recommendations to promote food security through land use policy are as follows:

  • Governments should guarantee land tenure with the support of the international community to improve market access, develop gender equity, raise farm size and productivity for moderate mechanization even in small-scale farming, reverse land degradation, remove subsidies in developed countries and transition economies to remove price distortions.
  • Governments must internalize transaction costs through global taxation on fossil fuels. [Jan note: I am working with Citizens Climate Lobby to persuade Congress to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax with dividend to make America a global leader in putting a fair price on carbon].
  • Governments must regulate the ballooning scourge of land grabbing that risks the permanent loss of resources to future generations.

Chapter 5 – The Importance of International Trade and Trade Rules for Transforming Global Agriculture Recommendations are grouped under these six headings:  fair trade, market structure, food security, local and just economies, a level playing field for organic, and food sovereignty.

1. Demand Fair Trade Rules that Protect Smallholder Farmers The report advocates to the US federal government that in its Trade Agreements and in its input to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks, as well as to the World Trade Organization and in the negotiation of Free Trade Agreements [including TPP, TAFTA, and other bilateral FTAs entered into by the US], that a  high priority be put on protecting farmers’ livelihood and food security in developing countries, by these policies:

  • Stop making loan conditions that force developing countries to liberalize their trade beyond their coping capacity in ways that damage livelihoods and incomes of rural producers or hold back development.
  • Allow and defend the right of developing countries to make full use of applied import tariffs to shield their producers from competition from industrialized countries.
  • Assure implementation of the two new proposed instruments – Special Products (SP) and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) —  that enable developing countries to protect their smallholder farmers from import surges.
  • Invest tariff revenues in rural development and infrastructure to benefit farmers and other net trade losers, that help the transition from conventional to sustainable agriculture.
  • Eliminate export subsidies in developing countries.
  • Require that developed countries make effective deep reductions in domestic support for agricultural exports, including in actual overall trade distorting support (OTDS),  and by minimizing loopholes and “box shifting” to take advantage of “Green Box Subsidies” that in actuality distort prices.
  • Allow developing countries to apply domestic subsidies to support farmers’ livelihoods and food security, including low-cost credit, assistance with inputs, storage facilities, road and transport infrastructure, extension services, marketing support, and support for value-added processing of agricultural products.

2. Balance the Global Market Structure for Agricultural Products This section advocates for national and international rules regulating activities of commodity buyers, processors and retailers in the global food supply chain. The aim is to loosen the hold of large agribusinesses over markets and assure access to markets for smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, in the following ways:

  • Enact and/or enforce competition law with systems that are sensitive to excessive and abusive buyer power/domination positions in supply chains.
  • Ensure that affected suppliers can lodge complaints without fear of reprisal by dominant buyers.
  • Promote and support the establishment of international antitrust measures to break up monopolies and global price-fixing cartels with an international mechanism to investigate and monitor concentration in the agrifood sector.
  • Support investigations into the behavior of international corporations engaged in agricultural trading and food retailing, especially their impacts on farmers, farm workers, consumer and vulnerable populations.
  • Expand the choices of smallholders to sell their products on local or global markets at a decent price by strengthening local and national markets.
  • Support diversified channels of trading and distribution.
  • Support farmers’ cooperatives and other producer organizations.
  • Establish or defend flexible and efficient producer marketing boards under government authority but with strong participation of producers in their governance.
  • Use the public procurement system to support small farmers.
  • Promote and scale up fair trade systems, including through access to productive resources, infrastructure and technical assistance.
  • Promote more understanding and advocacy to achieve equal access to markets by women.
  • Assure that priorities of research and assistance serve the values, needs, knowledge and concerns of farmers and other citizens and not support powerful commercial interests, such as multinational seed companies and food retailing companies.

3. Incorporate Food Security into Global Trade Policies This section suggests trade policies that favor sustainable ecological agriculture practices on all available land in all regions around the world. Land  in diverse production patterns that respect the environment and contribute to local food security with preeminently local food complemented by traded goods. To do this:

  • Make trade agreements include mechanisms to internalize especially transport costs, such as a carbon tax and the inclusion of air traffic in emissions trading schemes, and favor local food over traded goods.
  • Prioritize local foods complemented (not replaced) by traded goods, respecting “buy local”.
  • Focus exports on specialties (where the value added is higher) and on surplus produce.
  • Establish sustainable agriculture process and production standards, including standard monitoring and verification schemes supported by low-interest loans that can be offered by communities, national governments or international donors. [Jan note:  The Leonardo Academy is accepting comments on its draft Sustainable Agriculture Standard LEO4000 through March 6, 2014. It could be useful here.]
  • Establish farmers’ training and field schools to catalyze and vertically and horizontally integrate learning about sustainable farming practices into the community and generate local ownership of the process.
  • Eliminate perverse subsidies and incentives that promote and encourage the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, water and fuel or encourage land degradation and their replacement with regulation of inputs to protect the environment and human health.
  • Redirect agricultural subsidies to encourage the transition to diversified crop production for long-term soil health and to improve environmental impacts.
  • Assure access for smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, to productive resources towards investment in and adoption of ecological agricultural approaches.
  • Support communications that provide better information to the public to promote a shift in eating habits towards more sustainable and locally produced foods.

4. Promote Organic Trade Policies are needed that increase organic markets, boost trade in organic products and reduce transaction costs for organic by the following measures:

  • Reduce technical barriers to trade in organic agricultural products through harmonization and equivalency of organic standards and conformity assessment systems to assure the standard is being followed.
  • Facilitate trade in organic foods originating from developing countries by increasing farmer awareness of benefits of organic food production and trading opportunities, through research, development and training, by identifying marketing strategies and partnerships, by providing financial support, and by promoting farmers’ associations and NGOs.
  • Facilitate imports of organic foods from developing countries to developed countries through training farmers about organic standards, regulations and market opportunities and by simplifying requirements and procedures for importing products.
  • Change the underlying incentive structures so that negative externalities are duly reflected in the prices of all agricultural products in order to level the playing field with organic and fair trade products.

5. Foster Local, Just Food Economies Make policies that empower smallholders and respect the sovereign rights of communities to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies while preventing excessive agribusiness power concentration and domination by these measures:

  • Implement a moratorium on mergers and acquisitions to curb trade practices that breed oligopolies and inhibit competition.
  • Reform national farm policy to eliminate dumping, encourage environmental sustainability, and prevent oligopolistic control of market prices and practices.
  • Eliminate subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Tax toxic inputs to accelerate the transiton towards biological farming practices that cultivate on-farm nutrient cycles.
  • Eliminate promotion of GE seed and chemical inputs as conditions for crop insurance and production loans.
  • Keep financial investors out of commodity markets where they virtually or physically hoard commodity stocks for mere speculation and profiteering.
  • Eliminate speculation in commodity markets with commodity-specific position limits and increased transparency in over-the-counter trading.
  • Support the establishment of food reserves as a tool to mitigate price and supply volatility and strengthen food security when domestic production fails.
  • Invest in agro-ecological farming practices to strengthen food security and resilience to climate disruption, focused on supporting small-scale farmers and particularly women.

6. Local, Regional and National Food Sovereignty A food sovereignty paradigm that balances with a liberal market will:

  • Recognize and ensure the right of every person to adequate food.
  • Recognize and ensure the right of farmers to agricultural genetic resources as an essential component of promoting the right to food.
  • Educate the public about the right to food sovereignty and implied land reforms, market protection, biodiversity, autonomy from outside pressures, and cooperation.
  • The beginning outreach will help communities take center stage and spread from the local level to effective regional and national food sovereignty.


We Don’t Need GMO Corn

When tiny corn earworm caterpillars start hatching and munching and the farmer sprays with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the little worms ingest some of the Bt bacterial spores. Bt reacts in their guts to make a toxin that eats holes in the gut walls, so they get sick and die, but the risk to animals and people is low. Bt in this form is a natural biological pesticide spray approved for organic crops. It washes off and degrades rapidly. Rincon-Vitova sells dry granular Bt for a backup control against caterpillar pests that get past the predators and parasites.

Corn Pests Can Be Managed Cost Effectively Using Biological Methods

Corn earworm and European cornborer are key pests of corn in different regions. Before big corporate agribusiness and bad farm policies put so many small to medium sized farmers out of business, they used crop rotations and early planting as part of integrated pest management. Much more can be done than has been with using adult suppression and habitat enhancement for predators to set the stage for good biological control. Coleomegila maculata and other predatory beetles and bugs can eat many egg masses before they even hatch. Likewise, green lacewing larvae and other predators contribute to biocontrol of caterpillars.

Patenting Seeds Creates Profit Motive Favoring Unnatural Methods

Big corporations are unlikely to ever own these farming tools. US patent law has not yet been perverted to allow the likes of Monsanto to mess with the genes of beneficial insects and mites, engineering little M’s on their dorsal thoraces. (Some entomologists have undoubtedly dabbled with the genes of predators and parasites, but it’s been easier to persuade farmers to pay the big bucks for GMO seed than GMO beneficials.) Monsanto that owns the seed and the Roundup herbicide figured it was losing potential Roundup profits, so it is now stacking the “Roundup gene” with the “Bt gene” onto the corn genome.

Now, whether they grow corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, or alfalfa hay, farmers can sign a technology use agreement (a contract) to buy a lot more Roundup from their seed company and make their weeds into superweeds (resistant to glyphosate) a lot faster. These are the trends leading to big monocultures of GM crops and superweeds replacing natural cultural and biocontrol strategies, with a loss of the knowledge and skills for biological farming.

Rincon-Vitova Promoting Biocontrol in Corn for Fifty Years

Trichogramma, a micro-wasp that lives on moth eggs, is the foundation of biological systems for growing corn and cotton. It is relatively inexpensive to produce in adequate numbers to prevent most of the moth eggs from becoming caterpillars. My father Everett J. “Deke” Dietrick began mass rearing this egg parasitoid in 1960. “Trichos” can give 70-95% control when used in a biological farming system. That means no repeated blanketing of the farm with Roundup that reduces soil ecology and fertility, and harms the diversity of biocontrol hosts and sources of pollen and nectar for resident natural enemies. Habrobracon hebetor is produced as a second line of defense against caterpillars in Central Asian cotton and the same could be done in corn here. See page 23 of Sacha Greenberg’s resume where he describes leading such a project.

The best way for farmers to have Trichogramma when they need it is to cooperate to support a regional insectary to grow Trichogramma, as well as something like the Bracon wasp or another larval parasitoid to be ready in case Trichogramma and naturally occuring predators don’t clean up the moth eggs and small worms fast enough. The insectary will grow enough so all supporting farms in the region to get the recommended amount, but it is released in the hotspots wherever the moths are laying eggs and the larval parasites where larvae are not coming under biological control. A third line of defense is Bt and other virus based insecticides can be developed or sourced as a last resort on problem areas, like Gemstar or isolates of polyhedrosis virus

Such natural methods have been proven safe and effective for decades. Our customers grow sweet corn with few or no worms and rarely or never even resort to Bt sprays. Bottom line: pests can be cost-effectively managed in corn without genetically engineering the corn plant to be a pesticide and tolerate repeated applications of Roundup to the whole field.

Benefits to Farmers from GE Crops Unsupported

Charles Benbrook’s recent analysis shows more use of herbicide in GM crops. So why are farmers opting for Bt/Roundup Ready corn instead of using safe and effective biological pest control? Why aren’t farmers organizing to have predators and parasitoids and biological materials? Why do many farmers only know about the Bt option promoted with billions of annual profits of Big Biotech? The Union of Concerned Scientists corrected a wrong impression about GM crops offering better yields. The potential for an increase in yield is only 5%.  There are reports of GM crops needing more water and being less drought resistant. This report requires a subscription to ISIS to see comparative photos. There is no yield advantage if that season’s corn borer pressure is so low that the farmer would not have treated for it anyway. Biotech funded research touts higher yields, but common sense says they may be more clever at manipulating study designs than genomes!

You will see negative reports and comments about the papers in the above paragraph. The biotech industry is threatened by this data that shows that biotech crops fail in providing any value to farmers. The biotech cheerleaders are all heaping derision on the studies and ad hominum attacks against the researchers. But these  independent research studies are peer-reviewed and the way science works, these data stand until another peer reviewed study is published that challenges the data questioning the economic viability of GMOs for farmers. All of the people dissing these studies are not peers and their comments in no way negate the facts – GMO crops have failed, are failing, and offer no improvement/benefits for the future. GMO Myths and Truths:  An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops done by top world experts explains the findings of all relevant peer reviewed studies in 123 pages.

Meanwhile On the Farm

Still farmers are gambling on a mixed hand dealt by Casino Monsanto. “Next year might be a bad worm year. I figure even though Bt seed costs a lot more, it might pay off. What if I’m the only field with nonGMO and the moths know it! Besides, the guy said he’d give me some discount on Roundup if I sign up. Hey, they have a stacked version so I don’t have to weed the field. I’ll spend less on the Roundup than I MIGHT have to spend if there turns out to be cornborer pressure this year.”

Everyone else the farmer talks with favors playing the GMO corn card: Farm Advisors, the banker, the insurance broker, the incentives and subsidies from the USDA, and, most of all, the folks at the coffee shop. Channels carrying independent information for wise long-range economic decisions are drowned out by a culture driven by a lot of money and peer pressure and sometimes by threats from the seed monopoly to go along or face the possibility of not being able to source nonGMO seed. It takes courage for a farmer to buck such forces. Critical thinking is required to weigh the longer term costs and benefits related to resistance and social and economic benefits for the farmer, the environment and consumers.

Eating GMO Corn

AND meanwhile American families have been kept in the dark for the past decade eating increasing amounts of Bt corn—sugar flakes and KIX, pancake syrup, snack bars, chips, tortillas and tamales, cornbread, soft drinks, ice cream and starting this year, fresh, frozen and canned corn. Bio Ag Biotech and the FDA say Bt gene in the corn we eat is destroyed during digestion and it’s never made anybody sick, but no safety tests have been done. Steven Druker’s Altered Genes, Twisted TruthHow the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public documents the suppression of GMO food safety concerns of scientists within the FDA.

So, how DID Bt toxin end up in the the blood of over 90% of pregnant women and over 80% of fetal cord blood in that study in Canada? What IF the Bt gene that makes the toxin that eats holes in caterpillar guts transfers to human gut bacteria, engineered moreover into the corn genome so the “on switch” to make the toxin is always turned on? What HAPPENS if Bt toxin is being continuously produced in our guts by our own bacteria? There is no barrier between the mother’s blood and the fetal brain. Bt toxin could be eating holes in the developing brain matter of the unborn.

We Aren’t Keeling Over in Large Numbers, But…

The Biotech industry says the food is safe because there has not been one person drop dead yet from eating it.  One question that comes to my mind however is the reported steady rise in gut problems in the US.  Dr. Robyn Bernhoft, M.D. recently spoke at an educational forum at Ventura College. He said, “The reason people get autoimmunity, or allergies, or asthma, frequently, is gut problems. The animals fed GMO corn and soy all have problems with their gut. They have breakdown in gut integrity, they have food leaking into their bloodstream, they have thickening of the lining of their gut that looks to some pathologists like precancerous lesions. When humans get breakdown of the gut integrity they start absorbing partially digested food into their bloodstream. The immune system has to deal with that… This is where the tremendous rise in allergies comes from.”

One expert in bowel problems observed a direct relationship between escalating digestive symptoms and increasing test loads of fructose. It was not in the report, but the fructose was probably made from GMO corn. I wonder how closely the consumption of high fructose corn syrup relates to digestive problems on the rise, like Celiac disease, acid reflux, GERD, colitis and Crohn’s? Soy allergies are also increasing associated with digestive issues (not to speak here of the other varied reproductive problems, infertility, and implications for SIDS). Over 90% of the soy in food is engineered to be Roundup Ready and contains unsafe levels of Roundup that has recently been linked to mammary tumors, kidney and liver problems, and premature death in the first ever long-term peer reviewed study. Autistic spectrum disorder parallels the rise in GMOs in the US diet. The gastrointestinal lining of children with autism has abnormal appearing villi similar to those in rats fed genetically engineered feed.  See what Jeffrey Smith has compiled about the connections between autism and GM foods.

The cost of Bt corn to public health needs to be examined. A recent study suggests that Bt toxin probably has the ability to eat holes in animal and human intestinal lining as it does in the insect gut. It was shown that Bt toxin in a dish with human cells pokes holes in them, causing leakage of cell contents, the same mode of action that kills the caterpillars. See Dr. Galland’s post about types and causes of leaky gut where undigested food particles go into the blood and lymph systems?

Doctors are saying patients get better when they stop eating GMOs. Leaky gut syndrome is associated with allergies, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and autism. When the Bt gene is engineered into every cell of every kernel of corn and then it is eaten by animals and humans throughout every day, Monsanto has taken Bt to a very scary level. There have been no safety studies, BUT doctors are just starting to talk about GMOs, and especially corn products. While Americans are blindly eating Bt and Roundup Ready corn and having more digestive problems that underlie related diseases that are on the rise, the producers of GMO corn-based food products are spending over $44 million to try to defeat a California ballot initiative to require labeling of the food. In the European Union where GMOs have been labeled for years, seven countries – Austria, Hungary, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Germany and Bulgaria have banned Bt corn.

DNA and mRNA in the Food Chain Affects the Consuming Organism

There was no economic or practical reason for agriculture to go down this dangerous path. The pests that evolved with natural corn can be managed with the natural enemy complex that evolved with those pests. Organisms that eat corn, from caterpillar to human, have evolved in physiological systems involving thousands of metabolites in a corn plant and in what eats the corn plant. As it turns out, new research about micro RNA suggests that the human body is affected by the genes of the plants we eat. We want to apply the precautionary principle to halt genetic manipulation of food and animal feed until the implications are known. It is well within the farmer’s means to grow corn that respects the elaborate relationships in the biochemical and physiological makeup of the corn and organisms that eat corn.

Vote for Labeling and Vote with Your Food Dollars (Ways to Avoid GMO Corn)

We have been fighting for over a year to achieve regulations that honor our right to know if the Bt gene was engineered into corn and corn-based foods. Until labeling happens, we encourage you to do your best to stop eating Bt corn. It’s easy to avoid high fructose corn syrup with many alternative sweeteners. There are other delicious and inexpensive grains and starches, like rice, oats, barley, millet, amaranth, tapioca, pumpkin, winter squash and root vegetables. As time passes that you don’t eat GMO foods and your gut lining starts to heal, it should be safe to eat more wheat again without the risk of undigested gluten protein passing into the bloodstream causing allergic responses.

We love corn, so we buy from local farmers who protect their corn from contamination by Bt gene. Since we don’t eat meat, we don’t think about the increasing amount of GMO fed to livestock, and we do invest in only organic dairy and eggs. We are OK with the limit for organic food being .9% GMO contamination. It’s easy to find reasonably priced organic corn chips, but organic or NonGMO Project Verified corn tortillas are hard to find.  La Guera Tamalera-White Girl Tamale Maker sells everything on-line out of LA to make organic non-GMO tamales!  Trader Joe’s has organic polenta that isn’t expensive. It is a bit of a challenge, but not really difficult to avoid GMOs and it does not have to raise your food budget. Moms for Safe Food is a resource. Just plan to prepare more whole foods, less processed foods, and make room for a few organic versions of corn and soy foods you really like by reducing meat, junk food, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages that aren’t that healthy anyway!

Buying organic and nonGMO corn products supports those farmers using the proven safe natural biological farming methods. Vote with your food dollar for nonGMO biological corn production.

Ant Control Weather

When the temperature starts dropping it’s time to go on the offensive against ants. Ants are one of the biggest overlooked factors that lead to biological control failures. Many common species “farm” honeydew producing pests, including aphids and mealybugs. They eat and fight off predators, transport pests to new areas, and will even shelter aphids and mealybugs inside their ant mound. Cooler temperatures slow ants down, making them more vulnerable to attack by the vigilant farmer.

Formica ants on AntPro

Formica ants visiting AntPro bait station

One of the most effective control measures is baiting ants with low toxicity ant baits. We recommend using bait dispensers filled with liquid boric acid baits for sugar feeding ants. Dry granular borate ant baits can also be used. Boric acid won’t kill the foraging ants immediately, letting them bring the poison back to the mound where it can kill the queen. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see results right away. Because of boric acid’s low toxicity, the same reason it is effective at killing whole mounds, it may take up to a month to see a reduction in ant numbers. Boric acid bait stations can also be used to prevent ant infestations. There are various strategies for bait station placement depending on the kind of ants and the amount and type of area needing protection. If the ants don’t accept the bait, try diluting it or adding more flavor. For example, ants in strawberry crops are more attracted to bait when strawberry juice is mixed in.

Physical disruption of ant nests provides more immediate results. Using a shovel or piece of rebar to break up the ground around the entrance to the colony forces ants that would be foraging to rebuild. If food supplies are low, the ants inside may eat their young. This allows beneficial insects to get to work without interference. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution and mounds will need to be repeatedly disturbed to distract the ants from tending to their honeydew source.

Other control measures you can use are nematodes, orange oil drenches, and sticky barriers. Read our Ant Bulletin and our founder Everett J. Dietrick’s paper Argentine Ants Must Be Suppressed for more information on ant control. This fall we’re also offering discounts on ant control supplies.

On an ant control side note, in a field study where they used only sticky barriers for ant control in an organic citrus grove, researchers found more aphids in the trees without ants! Their conclusion was that, as a side effect of excluding ants, they were also protecting the aphids from earwigs. After analyzing the populations of other aphid predators in their grove, they determined that earwigs are one of the main natural controls of aphids in the springtime. Populations of some of the other predators grew in response to growing aphid populations, but not fast enough to control them without the help from the earwigs.

Discussing the study at Rincon-Vitova, we thought of other predators we see a lot in orchards and gardens that would be blocked by sticky barriers – wolf spiders and ground beetles. Releasing aphid predators to back up the naturally occurring ones might have helped the aphid problem in the study grove. Or maybe another method of reducing ant interference without stopping crawling predators from finding the aphids, such as baiting, would have worked better in their case. Aphids can also be blasted off plants with a strong jet of water, which might be a good strategy if you are using sticky barriers. This study is a reminder of how complex these ecological systems are, and that we have to be alert to the unexpected effects our pest control efforts.

(The study mentioned, “Effects of the concurrent exclusion of ants and earwigs on aphid abundance in an organic citrus grove,” was written by Josep Piñol, Xavier Espadaler, Núria Cañellas and Nicolás Pérez and published in the August 2009 issue of BioControl (vol. 54, no. 4, pp. 515-527).)

-Alia Tsang, Bug Farm intern


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