Posts Tagged 'pesticides'

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.

We Don’t Need GMO Cotton

This is a story about why we do not need genetically engineered cotton. GMO cotton has bacterial genes inserted into the cotton plant genome with the “on-switch” gene permanently turned on so every cell of the cotton plant continuously produces pesticide. Bt cotton produces 10,000 times the amount of Bt toxin that would be sprayed on the crop.

I know something about pest control in cotton. My entomologist/applied insect ecologist Dad, Everett (Deke) Dietrick, had me learn to drive in cotton fields. I dropped him on one end of a field and picked him up at the other end so he could monitor the insect ecology through the field. He did research at the University of California on biological pest control. He quit the University because the pesticide companies pressured the University to make sure nothing relevant was done or published about biocontrol. He set up an insectary business — growing a tiny wasp that kills cotton bollworm eggs. He was successful. Cotton growers in Coachella and Imperial Valley’s stopped spraying pesticides and sales of pesticides went down.

Scientists from the Soviet Union heard about his success. He had an open door policy and they came to visit. The Soviets learned and improved on Deke’s biological control program and applied it in a string of 80 insectaries throughout the cotton producing region covering six Central Asian countries. A couple decades later I was invited by the World Bank and by Mercy Corps to go to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to help the people who took over those insectaries to privatize them. I took this photo in a biofactory in Turkmenistan where they were growing Habrabracon hebetor as a second line of defense for cotton bollworm to back up the Trichogramma releases.

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I saw that they knew what they were doing and the system worked great, just like it did in Coachella and Imperial Valleys 30years earlier before the pesticide companies helped the pink bollworm move into the area (pesticide sales went back up). Bayer pesticide company sales reps in Turkmenistan were pushing pyrethroid pesticides. The pest control experts knew that would cause terrible secondary pest outbreaks and get them on the pesticide treadmill. They knew pesticides would mess things up. Their focus was on sales numbers verses helping the farmers.

The Soviets proved in a huge area of central Asia, what my father had proved earlier–that it is possible to manage all pests of cotton, including cotton bollworm and tobacco budworm, in those two regions without pesticides. Meanwhile we watched as genetically engineered cotton was introduced with the Bt toxin engineered into the DNA of the plant. We knew that it is absolutely not necessary. Bt cotton was not created to solve an agricultural problem or bring a better technology. The best technology, natural biological control, was known and systematically destroyed. Bt cotton was created solely to increase profits for Monsanto.

Farmers have been and are being denied access to knowledge about cost-effective methods because pesticide companies literally burned the books on biocontrol. Monsanto and friends (that bought up all the seed so they can engineer the genomes and patent them) profit from pushing Bt seed on farmers that don’t return benefits. They control the universities and much of the farm press. Natural methods aren’t patentable, and do not provide a profit margin that allows us to do competitive marketing. Farmers need a strong desire to transition off pesticides when they don’t really have strong support from the universities. Farmers who are in a learning mode can do it.

Farmers and consumers: stop falling for the biotech lie that society needs the GMO seeds they are manipulating and patenting. Since government regulators are in biotech’s pocket, all we can do is reduce our use of what they have to sell. Stop buying GMO cotton – buy organic cotton, hemp, linen, silk, and wool or other fibers coming on the market. There is the thrift shop and creative ways to recycle fibers, like Patagonia’s Synchilla from soda bottles. With GMOs labeled, eating less GMO food is also going to have an impact. We need to boycott GMOs so we are not supporting the pesticide/GMO seed monopoly and for the sake of our health and the health of our environment.

Jan Dietrick – October 29, 2012

Neem vs. Fleas

Everyone at Rincon-Vitova loves Duchess, the official Bug Farm dog, especially the fleas. Treating fleas on a bug farm is a little bit complicated, though. The standard treatment is insect growth regulators like Advantage, but using a long lasting insect growth regulator on a dog who wanders around the farm freely, getting pet by everyone, could spell trouble for the bug breeding operations going on.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Duchess when she noses her head between your knees, begging for some help scratching, so when I saw neem mentioned as a flea remedy I decided it was time for a product test.

Neem oil comes from the seed of Azadirachta indica, an Indian tree that has been used for pest control and medicine for around 3000 years. One chemical constituent of neem is azadiractin, a natural insect growth regulator. Unlike synthetic insect growth regulators, azadirachtin is completely biodegradable and breaks down in water after about a day. This meant that we could bathe Duchess with neem oil and not worry about someone petting her and contaminating one of our fly parasite or Lindorus production rooms.

I got instructions on making a neem shampoo from Discover Neem. I mixed up some neem oil with shampoo, then Jan and I took Duchess to the employee shower along with Bryce, our multitalented photographer extrordinaire. Duchess didn’t quite like the bath, but she was patient as we tried to saturate her fur with neem shampoo, then rinsed and rubbed her down with some straight neem oil for good measure. We had read that neem oil is also supposed to help flea irritated skin. Finally, we toweled her off and set her free. When she was dry, Duchess’ coat felt much softer and she was scratching a lot less.

One important detail to remember is that neem’s main action is insect growth regulation, which means it can stop immature fleas from maturing and mature fleas from reproducing. It can potentially suffocate insects, however, it doesn’t always kill adult fleas. In warm weather, the flea life cycle from egg to adult can be as short as a week. The best way to stop fleas from bugging your pet is to attack the fleas once every week or two, breaking the flea life cycle. A flea bath once a month is generally not enough to eradicate a flea infestation. In the weeks after Duchess’ bath we got side tracked by other projects and didn’t get to bathe her enough times to completely de-flea her, but the bath she got did cut down her flea population and gave her a break from itching.

I brought some neem oil home and tried it out on my indoor cat, Samus. Since she likes to hang out on my lap and give me her fleas, I had extra incentive to bathe her more regularly. She got 3 neem shampoo treatments, one every two weeks, and her fleas were under control – at least, until she escaped one day and got reinfested. Vaccumming throughly once a week and powdering my carpet with boric acid helped a lot, too.

In any honest discussion of neem I have to mention the smell. Neem oil is powerfully pungent, smelling vaguely but not quite like really strong Thai food. Besides inhibiting insect growth, neem is also repellent to many insects, and it’s not hard to see why. Duchess didn’t seem to mind the smell, but Samus is so offended by it that she ignores me for days when I neem her.

-Alia Tsang, Bug Farm intern

Vanishing bees

Oops the canaries have stopped singing!

Today we have honeybees dying in large numbers – colony collapse disorder (CCD). Could something as popular as the pesticide imidicloprid be hard on them? What does the die-off mean?

Old-time miners used to carry a caged canary down into the coal mine to check if the air was fit to breathe. The canary would breathe faster than the miners and would feel the effect of low oxygen or poisonous gas much sooner than the miner. It was a sensitive indicator of the environmental condition. When the canary fell to the bottom of the cage, it was time to drop everything and skedaddle out of the mine.

Some believe that the honeybee die-off is synonymous to the canary in the coal mine and an indictment of the way we do agriculture: too much pesticide sprayed on more and more land, destruction of natural habitats, genetically mutated plants that may carry environmental time bombs, and massive fields of one variety of plant – all leading to an unhealthy environment.

Others are suspicious of Bayer’s favorite chemical, imidacloprid, found in Admire, Merit, Provado, Bayer Advanced, etc… It is not an idle guess. This supposedly low-risk pesticide disorients bees at the level of 20 parts per BILLION according to Bayer’s published study. This pesticide is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in sales for Bayer, some of which reaches the pockets of Washington D.C. officials as a thank you for ensuring that the EPA does not release the test data on bees required for registration of the same pesticide. Finally there is talk that the newer generation Bayer pesticide clothianidin, Pancho, may be contributing to bee deaths as well. This new generation pesticide kills and disorients bees at even lower concentrations than imidicloprid.

It’s a shame how far commercial beekeeping has strayed from the roots of gently caring for bees’ needs. Modern beekeeping has to employ toxic chemicals to control diseases and pests in the hive, truck bees all the way across the continent to pollinate almonds in California, all the while exposing bees to toxic pesticides in commercial orchards, and feeding them plain sugar and soy flour after removing all their honey and pollen. Some claim that organic and biodynamic beekeepers don’t have CCD because their bees aren’t exposed to all of these stresses.

Well, there is not enough data to come to a conclusion, so our opinions are as good as the next guy’s. While I work on my next post about the natural remedies I know about, let me know what you think. Let’s discuss some of the organic options for caring for bees.

Ron



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