Go, Eden…

How Gateway stokes a simmering fury among B.C. natives

Eden Robinson

Contributed to The Globe and Mail   http://wp.me/p2d9OT-uY

Last updated Monday, Jun. 23 2014, 10:17 AM EDT

Author Eden Robinson. (Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)

Eden Robinson is the award-winning author of the novel Monkey Beach.

Where I come from, people will spit at you if they think you support Enbridge. That’s because we not only get the pipeline risk, but also the tanker risk, and the inevitable splashes that come with loading diluted bitumen into the tankers, which would mean constant micro-spills. Despite being bombarded with a lot of pretty ads reassuring us that our fears about tanker accidents are unjustified, the world-class tanker-safety system in the Douglas Channel, so far, amounts to one orange plastic triangle nailed to a tree.

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My mother is Heiltsuk and my father is Haisla, both small coastal First Nations on the west coast of British Columbia. I live in Kitamaat Village, the main Haisla reserve 11 km from the city of Kitimat, which is the proposed terminus of the pipeline. Kitimat is widely regarded as a blue-collar, pro-industry town. When a recent plebiscite was held to decide whether or not the municipality should support the Enbridge bid, many pundits expected Kitimat would deliver a ‘yes,’ but instead came back with a resounding ‘meh.’ Initial excitement over the announcement that Enbridge was building a pipeline to Kitimat dampened considerably when people discovered that the number of permanent jobs for locals, in the end, would amount to some dock workers. Add to that the persistent coffee-house rumours that the Chinese partners were negotiating to bring in their own ‘experts’ under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to help build the pipeline, and the plebiscite’s rejection of Gateway is less mysterious.

My reserve was not allowed to vote in the plebiscite because we’re not residents of the city of Kitimat. We’re also one of the First Nations bringing Enbridge to court. Our position is complicated by the fact that we’re partners in the current liquefied natural gas (LNG) rush. We’ve leased our reserve on Bish Creek, or Beese, as our traditionals call it, for LNG site development. We’re one of the native groups that would stand to gain the most by supporting Enbridge, and there is low-key support here for the project by food-on-the-table conservatives. But their backing is muted because the opposition to it is overwhelming and vitriolic.

Proponents have argued that you already have tankers plying the Douglas Channel delivering petro product and nothing has happened. But these are baby tankers compared to the monsters that are coming. And if the current tankers have an accident, our first responders will most likely be local volunteer Coast Guards who had to fundraise to get a new speedboat.

My mother’s home, the island community of Bella Bella, the main reserve of the Heiltsuk Nation, is 400 km south of us. The Heiltsuk have absolutely nothing to gain from this project, and everything that they hold near and dear to their hearts to lose. Opponents can mock our love of our home as sentimental, but it won’t change what we feel. The land and the ocean are living, breathing entities that supported us, clothed us, fed us, and nurtured our culture from time immemorial. Our ancestors walked here. We want our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren to walk here.

The Haisla are pragmatists. The Heiltsuk have only engaged in peaceful protests. We are quiet moderates in comparison to other First Nations that oppose the pipeline.

If Enbridge has poked the hornet’s nest of aboriginal unrest, then the federal Conservatives, Stephen Harper’s government, has spent the last few years whacking it like a pinata. Their Omnibus budget bills gutted everything from our education to our sovereignty and (yes, you are reading this correctly) our right to clean drinking water. Their casual disregard of the staggering levels of violence against Native women in Canada continues to be infuriating. As is their expectation that, if lectured sternly and thoroughly at every opportunity about the economic benefits of the Northern Gateway pipeline, the First Nations of British Columbia would obediently lie back and think of Canada.

We’ve had a bulls-eye on our backs since the Harper Conservatives got their majority and the mood in our base is simmering fury. Every Native politician knows if they co-operate with the Conservatives, they risk being branded as Stephen Harper’s Uncle Tom. Supporting Gateway would be political suicide.

The Harper Conservatives (and to a lesser extent, the B.C. Liberals) have punted their responsibility to address unextinguished aboriginal title and concerns to the First Nations residing along the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline route and the coast of British Columbia. The government has done so by distancing itself from the political backlash following the June 17 conditional approval of the project and the resulting flurry of court cases.

If the Northern Gateway Pipeline fails to be built, history will say it was partly because Enbridge failed to lobby the First Nations of British Columbia early or intensely enough. But the Harper government’s role in this debacle will not be forgotten, and, whatever the outcome, its legacy will be an entrenched native antipathy to any Conservative agenda.


Three Political Paths to Stop Northern Gateway

Federal approval handed huge power to British Columbians. Our job is to get organized.

By Kai Nagata, Today, TheTyee.ca



Several friends told me this week the Northern Gateway pipeline “finally feels real.” Even people who were cavalier about the inevitability of federal approval described feeling unexpectedly emotional. A few I didn’t even realize had the issue on their radar are suddenly speaking eloquently and passionately — not so much about the details of the proposal, but about the way Ottawa’s decision was carried out.

Enbridge CEO Al Monaco says it will be at least “12 to 15 months” before they’ll be ready to build. With that window in mind, the common question for those who want to stop it is: “How?”

Some are well-positioned to challenge this decision in the courts — First Nations governments best of all. The Crown committed a costly legal error when it left Enbridge to its own devices for so many years, attempting “consultation” deep in unceded territories. Those court cases could last for years and many of us who are not First Nations or trained lawyers will certainly donate to see them succeed.

Some pipeline opponents also promise to physically interfere with construction, should it ever proceed. More blockades like the Unist’ot’en camp may well spring up in the north. Environmental groups are already fundraising to hold workshops on civil disobedience.

Other critics are thinking big-picture about the demand for oil and how to undermine the business case for raw bitumen exports. Whether clean-tech entrepreneurs or climate policy advocates, these groups aim to shift the market conditions that make projects like Northern Gateway profitable in the first place.

Put it this way: there are many ways to stop the pipeline. Some combination of the above would probably stifle Northern Gateway eventually. But British Columbians can’t afford to spend another five years fighting a single project that never should have been proposed in the first place. There’s so much else we need to work on.

I believe the swiftest, most decisive way to stop Enbridge is political — and the most powerful tool most of us have is our vote. That’s why I chose to join Dogwood Initiative. We’re political organizers without partisan baggage. We believe decisions should be made by the people who have to live with them. And we know if First Nations and B.C. voters had a democratic say over this project, Enbridge would be packed up and gone tomorrow.

Three political paths

Tyee columnist Bill Tieleman is right when he writes that a Conservative election loss in 2015 would likely end Enbridge’s pipe dream for good. Opposition leaders Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May have each promised to cancel the project should their party form government. Supporting their candidates federally is certainly one political path to stopping Northern Gateway. What do we do until then?

Bear in mind our provincial government also has jurisdiction and retains the right to say no. That was made clear in the federal announcement on Tuesday: “The proponent will need to seek various regulatory approvals from the federal government and the governments of British Columbia and Alberta … The Province of British Columbia would be responsible for issuing approximately 60 permits and authorizations.”

Recognize that number? “British Columbia has the power to grant or withhold 60 permits,” Premier Christy Clark told a university audience in Calgary back in 2012. Later that day she told reporters: “If British Columbia doesn’t give its consent to this, there is no way the federal government or anyone else in the country is going to be able to force it through. It just won’t happen.”

Clark is still saying no, for now. Meanwhile, Enbridge’s Al Monaco says “we’re not looking at these conditions as something we’re opposing. These conditions will help us make a better project. It’s up to B.C. to decide whether the conditions are met and it’s up to us to try and close the gap.” Pushing the Clark government toward a final rejection of those permits is the second political path to stopping Enbridge.

That brings us to the third and perhaps least understood course of action. Under a law unique to British Columbia, the people themselves have the right to draft a bill on a matter of provincial jurisdiction. With support from 10 per cent of fellow voters around the province, that bill can be handed over to MLAs to pass into law. For example, a law denying provincial permits to a pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen over hundreds of streams and rivers.

The first major challenge lies in the difficulty of the petition process. Not only must you gather signatures on paper, you have to round up support from 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding in the province. At the bare minimum that’s 320,000 people across all 85 electoral districts — within a three-month deadline.

Assuming canvassing teams pass this Herculean challenge, further pitfalls await. Mr. Tieleman was the strategist behind the Fight HST campaign and probably knows the legislation better than anyone in the province. As he points out, “The government can indeed chose to hold an initiative referendum, but the results are not binding. Or it can simply introduce the bill proposed by the petition into the B.C. legislature, but not even debate it, let alone pass it.”

Tieleman calls the law toothless, fundamentally flawed and designed to fail. Yet he marshalled thousands of volunteers to try it anyway. It begs the question: why bother?

Process versus political reality

The truth is that the initiative to end the harmonized sales tax wasn’t just about the merits of HST versus PST.

As campaign spokesman Bill Vander Zalm wrote in March 2010, “The campaign to defeat the HST has ballooned into something much bigger and even more significant than protesting an unjust, illegal and unethical tax. As profound as those arguments are, there is something deeper and even more powerful afoot. People are rising up to take back their democracy.”

Gordon Campbell didn’t just impose an unpopular tax; he misled the people of British Columbia. He broke a major election promise. Worse, it was later discovered his party planned it that way all along. At that point it doesn’t matter how many loopholes are built into the Recall and Initiative Act, none are big enough to jump through when hundreds of thousands of voters want your hide.

Mr. Tieleman says “Our victory depended on Campbell’s multiple miscalculations, including his decision to hold a binding referendum in 2011.” Tieleman is being modest. Fight HST was designed from the start to put Campbell in checkmate. It ended the premier’s elected career.

The underlying purpose of launching a citizens’ initiative, whether on sales tax or oil tankers, is not only to change legislation. The mechanism itself forces you to build massive, organized political power — the kind no elected official can afford to ignore.

It’s a high mountain to climb. The question is what lies at the top. What motivates people to commit to the journey?

Put it this way: what is the legacy of the HST victory? We switched back to paying PST last year. His Excellency Gordon Campbell is now Canada’s high commissioner in London. And four years after the election that started the whole scandal, Campbell’s successor Christy Clark stormed back to win a stronger majority government.

Where are the boxes and boxes of petition signatures? Presumably safe in a vault at Elections BC. Those people can never be emailed or called, invited to a workshop or asked to donate to a new campaign. Even if they could speak to each other, the threat of the HST has passed. Their affiliation was momentous, but short-lived.

Building beforehand

Here’s where Dogwood’s strategy differs. As of today we have not approached Elections BC to launch a citizens’ initiative. Instead we’re building ahead. We call it a democratic insurance policy in case Premier Clark pulls her own version of the HST flip-flop and gives a green light to Enbridge. The longer that day is delayed, the closer to ready our organizers will be.

So far Clark is standing up to Ottawa, which puts her in line with First Nations and a democratic majority of B.C. voters. That’s good, but we imagine she’s going to come under a lot of pressure to keep the door open for Enbridge. As the company pulls out its chequebook and starts knocking off the NEB’s conditions, we’ll be watching closely to see if Clark’s position shifts. As her own government told the joint review panel at the Enbridge hearings, “‘trust us’ isn’t good enough”.

Here’s where we’re at. In the 48 hours following the federal announcement on Northern Gateway, 48,000 new supporters signed our pledge at LetBCvote.ca. Total signatures now surpass 200,000 — collected in person, online and through cell phones.

We have the benefit of technology that campaigners could only dream of back when the Recall and Initiative Act was introduced in 1995. The other night we signed up our first community hall full of supporters via text message (try it out if you like: text “vote” to 604-265-4967). We’re investing in mapping software to make our teams on the ground more efficient. And social media has extended our reach like never before.

But those bells-and-whistles should not obscure the off-line, social core of the project.

The simple fact is every door we knock on prompts a face-to-face conversation between two neighbours. That in itself is positive. From there, every new signature represents another voter who shares our values — or someone we can help get registered to vote. Every canvassing shift teaches you more about your community. And every few blocks you meet someone who loves the idea so much they want a clipboard too.

The most exciting number to me so far is 7,000. That’s the number of British Columbians who’ve taken the brave step of offering to leave their house so they can talk about democracy with strangers. New volunteers get a phone call from their closest team leader and an invitation to the next local training workshop. (Apologies if it takes us a few days to get to you right now — we’re thrilled by the response but our systems are a little stretched.)

Before the federal announcement, we had teams in 33 ridings. Now powerful allies are stepping forward to say they want to work together to defeat Northern Gateway democratically. We’re in discussions with Unifor, Coastal First Nations and a raft of smaller groups — many of which are already established in their home communities.

Whether they take a formal hand in the initiative preparations or work on parallel projects in complementary ridings, our goal is to form a network of allied organizers across all 85 B.C. ridings.

The citizens’ initiative should be thought of as a last-ditch scenario. A final democratic line of defence if our provincial politicians let us down. But if they hold fast to their rejection of the Enbridge proposal, our training and preparation will not be in vain. As Bill Tieleman points out, there’s a federal election next year. Only one party supports Northern Gateway.  [Tyee]

Kai Nagata is the energy and democracy director of the Dogwood Initiative.

Time to Remake your Soil

Current soil tests are designed by fertilizer sales groups who want you to buy more potash. We need real tests that demonstrate how good (or not) your soil is. Especially if we’re going to add sewer sludge to farms.

Microbes Will Feed the World, or Why Real Farmers Grow Soil, Not Crops

By Brian Barth on April 22, 2014

Out on the horizon of agriculture’s future, an army 40,000 strong is marching towards a shimmering goal. They see the potential for a global food system where pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are but relics of a faded age.

They are not farmers, but they are working in the name of farmers everywhere. Under their white lab coats their hearts beat with a mission to unlock the secrets of the soil — making the work of farmers a little lighter, increasing the productivity of every field and reducing the costly inputs that stretch farmers’ profits as thin as a wire.

The American Society of Microbiologists (ASM) recently released a treasure trove of their latest research and is eager to get it into the hands of farmers. Acknowledging that farmers will need to produce 70 to 100 percent more food to feed the projected 9 billion humans that will inhabit the earth by 2050, they remain refreshingly optimistic in their work. The introduction to their latest report states:

“Producing more food with fewer resources may seem too good to be true, but the world’s farmers have trillions of potential partners that can help achieve that ambitious goal. Those partners are microbes.”

Mingling with Microbes

Linda Kinkel of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Pathology was one of the delegates at ASM’s colloquium in December 2012, where innovators from science, agribusiness and the USDA spent two days sharing their research and discussing solutions to the most pressing problems in agriculture.

“We understand only a fraction of what microbes do to aid in plant growth,” she says. “But the technical capacity to categorize the vast unknown community [of microorganisms] has improved rapidly in the last couple of years.”

Microbiologists have thoroughly documented instances where bacteriafungi, nematodes — even viruses — have formed mutually beneficial associations with food plants, improving their ability to absorb nutrients and resist drought, disease and pests. Microbes can enable plants to better tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations, saline soils and other challenges of a changing climate. There is even evidence that microbes contribute to the finely-tuned flavors of top-quality produce, a phenomenon observed in strawberries in particular.

“But we’re only at the tip of the iceberg,” says Kinkel.

In the Field

Statements such as, “There are 10 to the 6th fungal organisms in a gram of soil!” and, “This bacterial biofilm has tremendous communication properties!” are breakroom banter among microbiologists, but what does it all mean for farmers? The answers reach back into the millennial past of agriculture, back to the dawn of life on earth.

Whenever a seed germinates in the wild or a crop is planted by a farmer, the microbial community that helps that species to grow and thrive is mobilized. Chemical signals enter the soil via the exudates of the plant and a symphony of underground activity commences. Genetic information is exchanged; the various microbial players assume their positions on the tissues of the plant; often, one microbe colonizes another, providing a service that helps the first microbe to assist the plant whose roots it is embedded in.

Though this elaborate dance takes place without any input from humans, we have been tinkering with it for a long time.

For example, the process of nitrogen fixation in plants of the legume family (which includes beans, peas, peanuts and many other crop plants) is one of the little bacterial miracles that makes our planet habitable. Anyone who has ever observed the roots of a legume knows that they are covered in strange white or pinkish growths, about the size of ants, which appear to be an infection of some sort. Undoubtedly, ancient farmers had an intuitive understanding that these warty protuberances had something to do with the noticeable ability of legumes to improve the soil, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the mystery began to unfold.

While Louis Pasteur was discovering how to preserve milk and becoming famous as the father of microbiology, a relatively unknown colleague of his with a penchant for plants was making another discovery, of perhaps even greater historical importance. In 1888, Martinus Beijerinck, discovered that tiny bacteria called Rhizobia infect the roots of legumes, causing the swollen nodules. Rather than an infection that weakens the plant, the nodules are the fertilizer factories of the plant kingdom, disassembling atmospheric nitrogen — which plants are unable to use — and refashioning it in a soluble, plant-friendly form.

Rhizobia are key ingredients of the earth’s verdancy and harnessing the bacteria to improve soil fertility has long been one of the cornerstones of sustainable agriculture. Yet, modern day microbiologists are now aware of scores of other equally profound plant-microbe interactions, discoveries they believe will have a big impact as human populations continue to soar on a planet of finite resources.

Making the Translation

In her lab at the university, Kinkel experiments with antibiotic bacteria that suppress plant pathogens and tests various soil management strategies to see their effects on microbial communities. In Colombia, microbiologists have learned to propagate a fungus that colonizes cassava plants and increases yields up to 20 percent. Its hyphae — the tiny tentacles of fungi — extend far beyond the roots of the cassava to unlock phosphorus, nitrogen and sulfur in the soil and siphon it back to their host, like an IV of liquid fertilizer.

Though microbiologists can coerce soil to produce extraordinary plant growth in their labs and test plots, transferring the results to everyday agricultural practices is not a straightforward process.

“Connections to farmers are a weak link,” Kinkel laments, alluding to a “snake oil effect” where farmers have become leery of salesmen hawking microbial growth enhancers that don’t pan out in the field. “The challenge of [these] inoculants,” she says, “is they may not translate in all environments.”

Though researchers continue to develop promising new microbial cocktails, there is an increased focus on guiding farmers to better steward the populations that already exist in their soil. Kinkel is working on an approach she believes will help farmers sustain optimal microbial communities by ensuring they have the food they need — carbon — at all times. She calls it ‘slow release carbon’, but it’s not something farmers will see in supply catalogs anytime soon. Kinkel says she has access to resources for her academic research, but lacks a “deliberate pipeline for product development.”

It Takes a Global Village

The 26 experts from around the world convened at the ASM colloquium concluded their discussions with a bold goal for the future of agriculture: They’ve challenged themselves to bring about a 20 percent increase in global food production and a 20 percent decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use over the next 20 years.

With an indomitable belief that science will do its part to make this dream a reality, the scientists are looking to their corporate and regulatory counterparts to build a pipeline of information to farmers. They’re hoping that top-down investments in research and technology will meet directly with grassroots changes in the culture of farming — without all the snake oil-vending agribusiness interests in the middle. Ultimately, they envision a future where farmers again trust in the unseen forces of the soil — instead of the fertilizer shed — for answers to their challenges.

RelatedPlants and AnimalsmicrobesSoil



The major role for GMO’s is to sell poisons to famers

Don’t believe the crap that Monsanto really wants to feed more people. It wants to get rich by selling poisons. And it’s working. As plants develop resistance. farmers need to buy more product to get the same effects they used to. Add after they’ve done this for a few years, or decades, they forget how they used to get more crops than they now do–but without poisoning the earth. As Philpott says below:

But there’s another sense in which stakes are high indeed. The industry’s core traits, herbicide and pesticide resistance, have proven vulnerable. Nearly half — and growing — of all U.S. farms are plagued by weeds resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, and farmers have responded by jacking up their Roundup doses and adding to them older, more toxic herbicides. Meanwhile, a pest called the western corn rootworm has evolved resistance to Bt corn.

  This is a great response to someone who said we pay too much attention to GMO’s.

Crop flops: GMOs lead agriculture down the wrong path


Harvester rejected GMO corn crop
Martchan / Shutterstock

Editor’s note: After we ran What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters, Nathanael Johnson’s essay concluding his “Panic-Free GMOs” series, we heard from a lot of people who think that GMOs really do matter. We’re publishing three responses: one from Denise Caruso, author of Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet; one from Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet; and — to kick things off today — one from Tom Philpott, whose work long graced these pages and who is now at Mother Jones.

Before I respond to Nathanael Johnson’s assertion that the “stakes are so low” in the debate over GMOs, I want to address a smaller point. “The debate isn’t about actual genetically modified organisms — if it was we’d be debating the individual plants, not GMOs as a whole,” Johnson writes.

That’s a good place to start: actually existing GMOs. What traits are on the market today, in use by farmers? First, I’ll note that there’s no shortage of land devoted to GMOs. Since the novel seeds hit the market in 1996, global GM crop acreage has expanded dramatically, reaching 420 million acres by 2012, reports the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. That’s a combined landmass more than four times larger than California. The pro-GMO ISAAA hails this expansion as “fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture.”

Yet, for all of that land devoted to GMOs, there are just two traits in wide use: herbicide resistance and pest resistance (Bt). Note, in the below ISAAA chart, the “<1″ at the bottom. That represents the percentage of all global GMO acres planted in crops that aren’t either herbicide- or pesticide-tolerant: that is to say, less than 1 percent.

clive james biotech acres

Now, one might ask: But isn’t the industry on the brink of rolling out wonder crops — new varieties that are more nutritious, or use water more efficiently, or need less fertilizer? One way to tell is to peek into the U.S. Department of Agriculture pipeline of new GMO products being considered for deregulation. Here we can expect to find the stuff the industry has tested and found rugged and ready for field conditions. What’s in there? Thirteen products — nine of which involve herbicide tolerance or insect resistance.  Of those nine, five are engineered to resist two herbicides — a dispiriting trend I’ll explore more below. The others are an apple variety engineered not to brown, a eucalyptus designed to resist freezing, a potato charged with bruising less easily, and an alfalfa type meant to contain less lignin.

Something tells me that none of these novelty items are destined to crack ISAAA’s <1 percent box.

It’s true that rice engineered to deliver beta-carotene is due out in 2016 in the Philippines, and that citrus trees engineered to resist a ruinous pathogen have shown promise. Then there are those virus-resistant GM papayas in Hawaii — though it should be noted that the state’s entire papaya production covers about 2,000 acres, the size of a moderately sized corn farm in Iowa. But until the “golden rice” and the novel oranges prove effective, durable, and acceptable to a large swath of growers, we live in a world in which upwards of 99 percent of GMOs are engineered for the two traits mentioned above.

And that means that actually-existing GMOs remain essentially an appendage of the pesticide industry, which has dominated the technology from the start. But a fixation on pesticides doesn’t fully answer the question of why the industry’s vaunted innovation has stagnated into variations on two themes, with a few promising products at the margin. Monsanto, for one, has signaled its intention to diversify away from pesticides by entering what might be called the climate-change-services business; and back in 2008, the company pledged to create seeds that would “reduce by one-third the amount of key resources required to grow crops by the year 2030,” while also doubling yields.

More than five years later, where’s the progress? For that, I think, we have to look to the fact that genes and traits (the cool things we want plants to do in the field) don’t always track on a one-two-one basis. There are single genes that confer resistance to particular herbicides or express the toxic-to-insects trait of Bacillus thuringiensis, the basis of Bt corn and cotton. But there’s no one gene that regulates the way a plant uses water — which probably explains why Monsanto’s “drought-tolerant” corn, deregulated by the USDA in 2012, has fallen with such a thud. In its Final Environmental Assessment of the crop, the USDA delivered quite a caveat. “It is prudent to acknowledge,” the agency declared, that the Monsanto product’s ability to fend off drought “does not exceed the natural variation observed in regionally-adapted varieties of conventional corn (representing different genetic backgrounds).” Translation: In areas of the U.S. corn belt where drought is typically a factor, conventional breeders had already developed varieties that do just as well under drought conditions as Monsanto’s genetically altered product.

Churning out crops designed to require less nitrogen — which involves another complex process beyond the scope of a single gene — has so far proven to be an equally vexed project.

So what we have here, in essence, is a bit of a carnival-game scheme: an industry that lives by trumpeting elusive promises while quietly profiting from old tricks. In that sense, I agree with Johnson: stakes are low in the GMO debate, in that it’s an industry that’s wildly overhyped — by champions and foes alike.

But there’s another sense in which stakes are high indeed. The industry’s core traits, herbicide and pesticide resistance, have proven vulnerable. Nearly half — and growing — of all U.S. farms are plagued by weeds resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, and farmers have responded by jacking up their Roundup doses and adding to them older, more toxic herbicides. Meanwhile, a pest called the western corn rootworm has evolved resistance to Bt corn. Here’s NPR’s Dan Charles, writing last summer:

It appears that farmers have gotten part of the message: Biotechnology alone will not solve their rootworm problems. But instead of shifting away from those corn hybrids, or from corn altogether, many are doubling down on insect-fighting technology, deploying more chemical pesticides than before. Companies like Syngenta or AMVAC Chemical that sell soil insecticides for use in corn fields are reporting huge increases in sales: 50 or even 100 percent over the past two years.

The failure of these products — a profitable failure, if you make both GMOs and pesticides — has brought industrial-scale agriculture to a crossroads. Farmers could respond by making tweaks that have been proven to maintain productivity while slashing herbicide, insecticide, and fertilizer use — simple changes like adding another crop to the rotation and planting fall cover crops, as demonstrated by a landmark 2012 study by Iowa State University researchers.

Such a relatively minor change in farming practices would bring enormous benefits to society — to name a few, more carbon stored in soil, less fouling of drinking water with agrichemical runoff, and greater resilience to drought in the heart of the U.S. grain belt. U.S. farm policy could and should underwrite a shift to a more diversified and low-input agriculture — an unlikely prospect, given that the industry deftly invests a chunk of its profits to lobbying Congress, and that its “feed the world” rhetoric has won over a broad swath of progressive thought leaders.

Or farmers could head down the path paved for them by Monsanto and its very few peers in the agrichemical/GMO game, including Dow and DuPont. This way involves responding to the plague of resistant weeds by adding yet another herbicide to the mix, through those double-herbicide-resistant products now marching through the USDA’s deregulation process.

In a 2012 paper, Penn State researchers pondered what would likely happen if they make their way onto farm fields. Chances are “actually quite high” that the products will give rise to a new generation of superweeds that resist both Roundup and the older, more toxic herbicides that will come into use. And farmers will likely respond just as they responded to the advent of Roundup resistance — by applying ever higher doses. Here’s what the Penn State team envisions:

The authors predict that glyphosate (Roundup) use will hold steady at high levels—and use of other herbicides, like 2,4-D, will soar.
From Mortensen, at al, “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management,” BioScience, Jan. 2012
The authors predict that glyphosate (Roundup) use will hold steady at high levels — and use of other herbicides, like 2,4-D, will soar.

So it seems to me that the stakes in this fight are indeed quite high. Yet, given what’s going on within the halls of the USDA and on our farm fields — corn and soy covers more than half of U.S. cropland, and nearly 90 percent of it is GMO — I wonder if the agrichmemical industry hasn’t already won.

BP. Russell McLendon

BP’s oiled animals: Where are they now?
Three years after the worst oil spill in American history, the Gulf of Mexico is shifting from acute aftermath to the uncharted waters of long-term rehab.
Tue, Apr 16 2013 at 3:36 PM

A column of smoke rises from the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig shortly after Earth Day in 2010. (Photo: National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling)

For most Americans, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill ended a few months after it began. Oil giant BP finally capped the mile-deep Macondo oil well on July 15, 2010, and the U.S. government declared its summer-long scourge “effectively dead” by mid-September.
But across the northern Gulf of Mexico — which absorbed 200 million gallons of crude oil in 2010 — the disaster still isn’t over. This Earth Day marks its third anniversary, highlighting a gradual shift from in-your-face emergency to subtle, behind-the-scenes villain.
“You can think of an oil spill as an evolving event,” says Samantha Joye, who runs the University of Georgia’s Joye Research Group and has become a leading expert on the spill. “There are acute impacts — things like oiled birds and marine mammals, ecosystems that were altered. Then there are chronic consequences — long-term impacts where we might not see an immediate effect. The acute effects are fairly straightforward to assess, but the chronic effects are tricky because they require monitoring over a long period of time.”
Joye should know; her research group has been involved with 19 data-gathering cruises in the Gulf since the spill began, and she’s been onboard most of them. The cruises are part of a project called Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf, or ECOGIG, that brings together 14 research institutions “to chart the long-term effects and mechanisms of ecosystem recovery from the Macondo blowout.” The project is currently funded through 2015, but Joye is hoping to stretch it out a little longer.
“We’re looking at a variety of sites around the wellhead and away from the wellhead, and the idea is to monitor these sites over nine years,” Joye tells MNN. “Right now we’re funded through the next three years, but we hope to extend it. Then we’d have nine years of data, which would put us in a pretty good position to say, ‘This is what happened, and this is what’s happening to the ecosystem.'”
An array of scientists are still studying the spill’s various victims, from microbes and deep-sea coral to fish, shrimp and dolphins. The Deepwater Horizon disaster is already one of the most intensely studied oil spills in history, but its size and complexity — not to mention the X factor of chemical dispersants — will likely warrant at least a decade of scrutiny. “We still don’t know what the long-term consequences of the spill are,” Joye says, “with respect to microbiology, fisheries, human health, essentially everything.”
For more on what we do know about the worst oil spill in American history, here’s a three-year checkup on some of the plants, animals and ecosystems it affected:
coastal wetland
The sun sets over a bayou near Larose, La., in July 2010. (Photo: Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)
Coastal wetlands
More than 1,100 miles of shoreline were oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earlier this year, the Congressional Research Service estimated about 340 miles of those beaches and bayous remain “subject to evaluation and/or cleanup operations.”
In a new report for the spill’s third anniversary, the National Wildlife Federation argues that “cleaning up oiled wetlands is virtually impossible,” since both oil and efforts to remove it can kill coastal plants. As vegetation dies, the loss of roots speeds up erosion and converts land to open water — already a big problem in the Mississippi River Delta. The region has lost about 1,900 square miles of land in the past 80 years, largely due to manmade changes like flood-control levees, reshaped rivers for shipping, and dredged wetlands for oil and gas development. Extracting fossil fuels can also worsen the natural process of land subsidence, as can invasive species like nutria that eat native plants.
Without major swamp rehab — possibly funded by BP’s federal fines, the NWF points out — Louisiana is projected to lose another 1,750 square miles by 2060. That’s bad for wildlife, but about half of Louisiana’s human population also lives in coastal areas less than 3 feet above sea level. And since the Gulf’s wetlands are a natural buffer against hurricanes, their demise is especially ill-timed: On top of BP’s spill and the threat of others, the Gulf Coast must also deal with rising seas and stronger storms thanks to climate change.
oiled pelican
An oiled pelican tries to fly at Barataria Bay, La., in June 2010. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Pelicans, gulls and other seabirds were some of the most visible victims in the spill’s early days. Covered with crude that impeded their ability to swim or fly, they showed up helplessly on beaches and shorelines for months. Volunteers scrubbed their feathers with soap in a race to save them, but federal scientists nonetheless counted 6,147 birds killed by oil in the first year alone, compared with 1,252 that were cleaned and released.
The hardest-hit species was the laughing gull, with 2,981 collected from the spill area between April 2010 and May 2011. Nearly 1,200 of those were visibly oiled, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and more than 2,700 were already dead or died later.
Brown pelicans were No. 2, which was troubling given their history in the region. The birds had just come off the U.S. endangerd species list in 2009, thanks to 40 years of work to reverse their collapse from overhunting and DDT exposure. And while they’re no longer on the brink, with thousands now nesting in Louisiana alone, brown pelicans still took a hit from the BP spill. More than 800 were found stranded between April 2010 and May 2011, 40 percent visibly oiled and 70 percent dead or dying. And as the FWS notes, “the number of birds shown may represent only a portion of the total birds affected by the spill.”
Still, birds fall into the “acute” class of oil-spill casualties, Joye says. They’re mainly affected by thick crude on their feathers or in their stomachs, so the breakdown of oil plumes usually correlates with a drop in deaths. Of course, if oil is still killing wildlife further down the food web, the coast may not be clear for seabirds, either.
An oiled Kemp’s ridley sea turtle navigates the Gulf in June 2010. (Photo: Kate Sampson/NMFS)
Sea turtles
The Gulf of Mexico has five types of sea turtles, all of which are on the U.S. endangered species list. But one is particularly vulnerable, having invested almost exclusively in the Gulf as a nesting site while its four neighbors enjoy globe-circling ranges. And in a cruel twist of fate, the BP spill killed more of that species than all other turtles combined.
The Kemp’s ridley turtle lives along eastern North America from Mexico to Nova Scotia, and aside from occasional stops in the Carolinas or Florida, it only nests in the Gulf. Less than a year after the spill began, 809 of all known turtle strandings in the region were Kemp’s ridleys, according to NOAA, as were 481 of all known turtle deaths. By comparison, the agency reported 201 green sea turtles (29 dead), 16 hawksbills (none dead), 88 loggerheads (67 dead) and 32 undetermined species (all dead).
About 240 sea turtles are stranded along the U.S. Gulf Coast in a typical year, but more than 1,100 turned up during the BP spill’s first 12 months — including 450 visibly oiled and 600 dead or dying. And while the death rate is lower now, it has remained high enough to push the estimated three-year death toll past 1,700. Plus, as with birds, the NWF notes that “only a very small portion of dead sea turtles are ever found.”
A pod of striped dolphins swims past a Gulf oil slick on April 29, 2010. (Photo: Ron Wooten/NMFS)
Marine mammals
Whales and dolphins in the northern Gulf have been dying in droves for the past three years, leading NOAA to formally declare an Unusual Mortality Event (UME). As of April 2013, the UME involves 930 cetacean strandings, 95 percent of which were found dead. The die-off actually started in February 2010, two months before the BP spill, but its length and severity have raised concerns that oil made things worse.
Since NOAA began tracking Gulf UMEs in 1991, it has recorded 12 such events in cetaceans. The top two causes were morbillivirus and marine biotoxins, but NOAA’s tests “do not point to these as primary causes of deaths” this time. Thirteen bottlenose dolphins from the current UME have tested positive for Brucella, a bacterium that resembles flu in humans, and scientists are intrigued since it’s never been linked to a U.S. dolphin die-off before. Still, those 13 dolphins represent less than a quarter of all dolphins tested, and just 1 percent of the entire UME, so NOAA suspects this is bigger than Brucella.
cetacean UME
In Louisiana’s heavily oiled Barataria Bay, NOAA reports many dolphins’ symptoms are “consistent with those seen in other mammals exposed to oil,” but adds that it’s still investigating the cause. “The Barataria Bay dolphins have severe health problems that are not showing up in dolphins from the un-oiled area, and have not been seen in previous studies of dolphins from other sites,” NOAA says, noting the animals “are underweight, have low hormone levels, low blood sugar, and some show signs of liver damage.”
The Gulf boasts nine dolphin species and a variety of toothed whales, but this UME has hit bottlenose dolphins the hardest. Some 650 have been stranded so far, including at least 130 infant or stillborn calves. That may be partly due to their wide range of Gulf habitats, but these dolphins have also faced a barrage of environmental hardships lately. As one study pointed out last year, the spill was compounded by a severe winter, food shortages, bacterial infections and an influx of cold Mississippi River freshwater. “Unfortunately, it was a ‘perfect storm’ that led to the dolphin deaths,” the researchers concluded.
dead fish
A dead fish lies near Pass Christian, Miss., in May 2010. (Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
Several fish kills struck the Gulf Coast in the spill’s wake, and reports of fish with open sores, strange black streaks and other deformities have continued years later. Yet linking this to oil has been difficult, and authorities say Gulf seafood is now safe. Fishing bans were lifted in the spill’s first year, and many Gulf fisheries are returning to normal.
One fish that isn’t back to normal, though, is the western Atlantic bluefin tuna. It was in trouble before the spill due to overfishing, which had cut its population by 82 percent since the 1970s, according to NOAA, but lately its outlook has been even bleaker. It only spawns in two areas of the northern Gulf, and the BP spill began during its April-May breeding season, oiling about 10 percent of its spawning habitat. Eggs and larvae are more sensitive to oil than adults, and the spill may have reduced the 2010 crop of bluefin babies by 20 percent, according to the NWF, with a potential 4 percent drop in future populations.
But there is hope for bluefin tuna in the Gulf, thanks in part to new fishing rules. NOAAlowered bluefin quotas after the oil spill, and also required anglers to use special “weak hooks” that are less likely to snag bluefin. Still, Joye advises cautious optimism for Gulf fish, citing delayed effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. “After the Valdez spill, it didn’t become apparent that the herring fishery had collapsed for five years,” she says, adding a scientist’s caveat that “they’re very different ecosystems.”
A crab carcass lies near an oiled Mississippi marsh in April 2011. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The black tide washing into Gulf Coast marshes hurt countless shrimp, crabs, copepods and other crustaceans, with juveniles often faring worst. Shrimp losses were especially hard on the region’s famous seafood industry, which is rooted in a shrimping culture that dates back more than 200 years. Brown, white and pink shrimp seasons were closed for much of 2010, leading to Louisiana’s lowest annual shrimp harvest in decades.
But according to the NWF, shrimp are now one of the few bright spots in the Gulf’s recovery. The group rates their status as “good,” noting that Louisiana’s dismal 2010 shrimping season was followed by a 2011 harvest “commensurate with annual shrimp landings of the past two decades.” Despite some lingering reports of eyeless or otherwise deformed shrimp, the animals now seem relatively stable — good news for wild predators as well as humans, since one year’s shrimp harvest can bring more than $100 million to Louisiana alone. Shrimp are still only as healthy as their habitat, however, and the NWF cites the decline of coastal wetlands as a “long-term threat to shrimp.”
oil-eating microbes
Oil-eating microbes like these played a key role in the BP oil spill. (Photo: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab)
The smallest actors in the Deepwater Horizon drama may also be among the most important. Joye and other researchers have focused closely on the Gulf’s oil-eating bacteria, which played a key role in the spill by devouring up to 200,000 tons of loose oil. The microbes normally use this ability to get energy from natural oil and gas seeps, which are relatively small, but they swept into action when their habitat was flooded with crude. Joye has been tracking evidence of this, discovering new layers of seafloor sediment created by “marine snow,” or organic debris that sank from the microbes’ oily feasts.
In fact, Joye says the broad use of chemical dispersants in 2010 — often credited with preventing larger, thicker blobs of oil from reaching shore — may have been unnecessary, and possibly unwise. The Gulf already has a natural mechanism for breaking down oil, but BP and U.S. officials embraced dispersants like Corexit without controlled experiments to prove their benefit. And according to a study published in December, mixing Corexit with oil can make the oil 52 times more toxic to plankton.
At the same time, Joye also cautions against overestimating the bacteria. “I think they’ve played a very big role in consuming and altering the oil, but they certainly didn’t eat it all,” she says. “There’s still a lot of oil out there in certain places. There tends to be this incorrect assumption that the microbes ate all the oil.” While they do get energy from oil, she explains, they can’t get nutrients from it. “It’s important to keep in mind that if you keep pumping hydrocarbons into the system, you’ll eventually overwhelm it.”
A brittle starfish clings to dead coral on the Gulf floor in March 2012. (Photo: Charles Fisher/PSU/NSF)
Deep-sea coral colonies grow painfully slowly — a human fingernail grows up to 2,000 times faster — but they can persist for millennia, forming intricate networks along the seabed. This unfortunately put them on the front lines of the BP spill, though, and some of the Gulf’s ancient deep-sea reefs were damaged or killed. Surveys conducted shortly after the spill showed a range of responses, with relatively healthy colonies 12 or more miles away from the wellhead but more signs of distress closer to the source.
Coral research also supports Joye’s skepticism about using dispersants to fight oil spills. One recent study, for example, exposed two species of coral larvae to a series of mixtures that fell into three categories: oil from the Macondo well, Corexit dispersants and oil mixed with Corexit. Although the responses varied based on species and solution, all three led to lower settlement and survival rates — including Corexit by itself. In fact, exposure to Corexit 9500 resulted in “settlement failure and complete larval mortality” at doses of 50 to 100 parts per million. “I don’t think we know nearly enough about the impacts of Corexit,” Joye says. “I’m very nervous about using dispersants as a first line of defense in an oil spill, but I worry that’s the mentality we’re headed toward.”
The extent of damage to Gulf coral remains unclear, she adds, arguing it’s too soon to know despite “some evidence of recovery.” Yet given their growth rates, the NWF warns “recovery of dead and damaged corals to pre-spill conditions could take centuries.”
Vacationer Pete Duchock and his daughter, Maddie, survey oil residue from the Deepwater Horizon disaster at Orange Beach, Ala., in June 2010. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Despite all the damage to wild plants and animals throughout the Gulf, no species was closer to the Deepwater Horizon disaster than humans. Eleven people died in the initial explosion that destroyed the rig, making it a human tragedy first and foremost.
Thousands upon thousands of people have also been affected in the three years since, and in a wide range of ways. Some were physically sickened by oil or its fumes during the cleanup, while others lost fortunes or entire businesses to prolonged slumps in fishing, shrimping and tourism. BP set up a $20 billion fund to compensate the spill’s myriad victims, of which about $8.2 billion has been distributed so far. The oil giant must also make amends with Gulf Coast residents in other ways: Last fall, it pleaded guilty to 12 felony charges as part of a $4.5 billion settlement with the U.S. government, the largest such fine in American history. It also reached a $7.8 billion settlement last spring with private-sector plaintiffs, and a civil trial is currently under way in New Orleans.
Humans’ relationship with the spill is complicated, however, by the fact it wouldn’t have occurred without us. While it was an accident by all accounts, there is ample evidence it could have been prevented. That was the first conclusion listed by the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which reported not only that spill was avoidable, but that its causes “can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry.”
A BP engineer was arrested last year for allegedly trying to destroy evidence about the spill, three employees have been charged with manslaughter in connection with the explosion, and an executive has been charged with lying to investigators about how much oil was leaking. The U.S. Justice Department has accused BP of gross negligenceand a “culture of corporate recklessness,” but the oil spill commission casts broader blame: “Deepwater energy exploration and production, particularly at the frontiers of experience, involve risks for which neither industry nor government has been adequately prepared.”
There’s not much anyone can do now to help wildlife overcome the spill, Joye says, aside from keeping a close ecological eye on the northern Gulf. But even if it is too soon to judge the region’s recovery, there may still be important lessons to learn in the meantime.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve learned is the variability in response time,” she says. “Some parts of the system seem to be responding pretty quickly and approaching pre-spill conditions, and others are still not functioning correctly.” Beyond appreciating the complexity of the Gulf’s comeback, Joye also suggests reflecting on our own roles in the disaster. “This entire incident is a call to arms. People need to be aware of the consequences of deepwater drilling and aware of how they use energy,” she says. “We all play a critical role in the sustenance of the planet, and we need to be good stewards.”
Related oil spill stories on MNN:

Roundup Ready: Destroying your Body without Noticing It.

Research Reveals Previously Unknown Pathway by which Glyphosate Wrecks Health

May 14, 2013 |

By Dr. Mercola

The more we learn about genetically engineered (GE) foods, the clearer the dangers become. I’ve warned you of the potential dangers of GE foods for many years now, as I was convinced that the artificial combining of plants with genes from wildly different kingdoms is bound to cause problems.

As the years roll on, such suspicions are becoming increasingly validated. In recent weeks, we’ve not only learned that GE corn is in no way comparable to natural corn in terms of nutrition, we’re also discovering the ramifications of dousing our crops with large amounts of glyphosate — the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup.

GE crops are far more contaminated with glyphosate than conventional crops, courtesy of the fact that they’re engineered to withstand extremely high levels of Roundup without perishing along with the weed.

A new peer-reviewed report authored by Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant, and a long time contributor to the Mercola.com Vital Votes Forum and Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has fortunately received quite a bit of mainstream media attention.

Their findings, along with the development of another breed of “gene silencing” crops, makes the need for labeling all the more urgent, and the advice to buy certified organic all the more valid.

How Glyphosate Worsens Modern Diseases

While Monsanto insists that Roundup is safe and “minimally toxic” to humans, Samsel and Seneff’s research tells a different story altogether. Their report, published in the journal Entropy,1 argues that glyphosate residues, found in most commonly consumed foods in the Western diet courtesy of GE sugar, corn, soy and wheat, “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.” According to the authors:

“Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”

The main finding of the report is that glyphosate inhibits cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, a large and diverse group of enzymes that catalyze the oxidation of organic substances. This, the authors state, is “an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals.”

One of the functions of CYP enzymes is to detoxify xenobiotics—chemical compounds found in a living organism that are not normally produced or consumed by the organism in question. By limiting the ability of these enzymes to detoxify foreign chemical compounds, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of those chemicals and environmental toxins you may be exposed to.

Dr. Stephanie Seneff has been conducting research at MIT for over three decades. She also has an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT and a minor in food and nutrition, and I have previously interviewed her about her groundbreaking insights into the critical importance of sulfur in human health. Not surprisingly, this latest research also touches on sulfur, and how it is affected by glyphosate from food.

“Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport,” the authors write.

“Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is the ‘textbook example’ of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins.”

The Link Between Your Gut and the Toxicity of Glyphosate

The impact of gut bacteria on your health is becoming increasingly more well-understood and widely known. And here, we see how your gut bacteria once again play a crucial role in explaining why and how glyphosate causes health problems in both animals and humans. The authors explain:

“Glyphosate’s claimed mechanism of action in plants is the disruption of the shikimate pathway, which is involved with the synthesis of the essential aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. The currently accepted dogma is that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or to any mammals because the shikimate pathway is absent in all animals.

However, this pathway is present in gut bacteria, which play an important and heretofore largely overlooked role in human physiology through an integrated biosemiotic relationship with the human host. In addition to aiding digestion, the gut microbiota synthesize vitamins, detoxify xenobiotics, and participitate in immune system homeostasis and gastrointestinal tract permeability. Furthermore, dietary factors modulate the microbial composition of the gut.”

As noted in the report, incidences of inflammatory bowel diseases and food allergies have substantially increased over the past decade. According to a recent CDC survey, one in 20 children now suffer from food allergies2 — a 50 percent increase from the late 1990’s. Incidence of eczema and other skin allergies have risen by 69 percent and now affect one in eight kids. Samsel and Seneff argue it is reasonable to suspect that glyphosate’s impact on gut bacteria may be contributing to these diseases and conditions. They point out that:

“…Our systematic search of the literature has led us to the realization that many of the health problems that appear to be associated with a Western diet could be explained by biological disruptions that have already been attributed to glyphosate.

These include digestive issues, obesity, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, Parkinson’s disease, liver diseases, and cancer, among others. While many other environmental toxins obviously also contribute to these diseases and conditions, we believe that glyphosate may be the most significant environmental toxin, mainly because it is pervasive and it is often handled carelessly due to its perceived nontoxicity.

[T]he recent alarming increase in all of these health issues can be traced back to a combination of gut dysbiosis, impaired sulfate transport, and suppression of the activity of the various members of the cytochrome P450 (CYP) family of enzymes.”

Former Navy Scientist Exposes Health Hazards of Glyphosate

Former US Navy staff scientist Dr. Nancy Swanson has a Ph.D. in physics, holds five US patents and has authored more than 30 scientific papers and two books on women in science. Ten years ago, she became seriously ill, and in her journey to regain her health she turned to organic foods. Not surprisingly (for those in the know) her symptoms dramatically improved. This prompted her to start investigating genetically engineered foods.

She has meticulously collected statistics on glyphosate usage and various diseases and conditions, including autism. A more perfect match-up between the rise in glyphosate usage and incidence of autism is hard to imagine… To access her published articles and reports, please visit Sustainable Pulse,3 a European website dedicated to exposing the hazards of genetically engineered foods.

According to Dr. Swanson:4

“Prevalence and incidence data show correlations between diseases of the organs and the increase in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the food supply, along with the increase in glyphosate-based herbicide applications. More and more studies have revealed carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting effects of Roundup at lower doses than those authorized for residues found in Genetically Modified Organisms.”

“The endocrine disrupting properties of glyphosate can lead to reproductive problems: infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, and sexual development. Fetuses, infants and children are especially susceptible because they are continually experiencing growth and hormonal changes. For optimal growth and development, it is crucial that their hormonal system is functioning properly.

The endocrine disrupting properties also lead to neurological disorders (learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). Those most susceptible are children and the elderly.”

Warning! EPA Raises Limits for Allowable Glyphosate Residues

Amazingly, just as more independent reports are emerging confirming the health hazards of glyphosate and GMOs, the Environmental Protection Agency5 (EPA) is proposing to RAISE the allowed residue limits of glyphosate in food and feed crops! As reported by GM Watch 6:

“The allowed level in teff animal feed will be 100 parts per million (ppm); and in oilseed crops, 40 ppm. Allowed levels in some fruits and vegetables eaten by humans will also rise.”

Root and tuber vegetables, with the exception of sugar, will get one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm. The new level for sweet potatoes will be 3 ppm.

“As a comparison, malformations in frog and chicken embryos were documented7 by Prof Andres Carrasco’s team at 2.03 ppm glyphosate, when injected into the embryos,” GM Watch writes.

Yet despite all the evidence, the EPA rule states:

 “EPA concludes that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to the general population or to infants and children from aggregate exposure to glyphosate residues.”

Monsanto has in fact petitioned and received approvals for increases in residue levels for several crops. Why? Because the weeds are getting increasingly resistant, requiring farmers to increase the amount of Roundup they have to spray just to keep up with the superweeds created by the excessive use of the chemical in the first place…

The Rise of Superweeds

A recent article in Nature Magazine8 addressed some of the environmental and societal concerns associated with genetically engineered crops. One of them is the rise in crop-destroying superweeds, as weeds develop resistance to glyphosate. This was yet another possibility that was initially pooh-pooh’d by Monsanto. However, truth has a way of eventually becoming self evident, and now glyphosate resistance is becoming so obvious the facts are hardly disguisable. According to the article:

“As late as 2004, the company was publicizing a multi-year study suggesting that rotating crops and chemicals does not help to avert resistance. When applied at Monsanto’s recommended doses, glyphosate killed weeds effectively, and ‘we know that dead weeds will not become resistant,’ said Rick Cole, now Monsanto’s technical lead of weed management, in a trade-journal advertisement at the time.

The study,9 published in 2007, was criticized by scientists for using plots so small that the chances of resistance developing were very low, no matter what the practice.

Glyphosate-resistant weeds have now been found in 18 countries worldwide, with significant impacts in Brazil, Australia, Argentina and Paraguay… And Monsanto has changed its stance on glyphosate use, now recommending that farmers use a mix of chemical products and ploughing. But the company stops short of acknowledging a role in creating the problem…

Source: Ian Heap, International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weedswww.weedscience.org/graphs/soagraph.aspx (2013)


To offer farmers new weed-control strategies, Monsanto and other biotechnology companies, such as Dow AgroSciences, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, are developing new herbicide-resistant crops that work with different chemicals, which they expect to commercialize within a few years.”

What the author fails to mention is that some of these new herbicide-resistant crops are being designed to withstand chemicals that could be even more destructive, both environmentally and with regards to human health—especially in light of Samsel and Seneff’s new research.

For example, Dow AgroSciences has developed a new generation of genetically modified (GM) crops — soybeans, corn and cotton — designed to resist a major ingredient in Agent Orange, the herbicide called 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).

The use of 2,4-D is not new; it’s actually one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. What is new is that farmers will now “carpet bomb” staple food crops like soy and corn with this chemical at a previously unprecedented scale—just the way glyphosate has been indiscriminately applied as a result of Roundup Ready crops. In fact, if 2,4-D resistant crops receive approval and eventually come to replace Monsanto’s failing Roundup-resistant crops as Dow intends, it is likely that billions of pounds will be needed, on top of the already insane levels of Roundup being used (1.6 billion lbs were used in 2007 in the US alone).

Gene Transfer Hazards, and the Latest ‘Gene Silencing’ Crops

Nature Magazine also discusses the spread of transgenes to wild crops. Mexico in particular has reported the spread of GE corn despite the fact that GE crops are not approved for commercial planting in Mexico. It is believed that the transgenes originated in corn imported from the US, and that local farmers may have planted some of the corn originally purchased for consumption, not realizing they were genetically engineered.

Cross-breeding between native and GE varieties may have allowed for the continued spread of transgenic DNA. Sadly, once present, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of these transgenes, which means that native species may eventually be eliminated entirely—a fate that cuts deep into the heart of the Mexican people, where corn is considered sacred.

Latest Breed of GE Crops Can Silence Your Genes… What Then?

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has developed a type of genetically engineered (GE) wheat that may silence human genes, which could have truly disastrous health consequences.

Last year, University of Canterbury Professor Jack Heinemann released results from genetic research he conducted on the wheat, which unequivocally showed that molecules created in the wheat, intended to silence wheat genes to change its carbohydrate content, can match human genes and potentially silence them. Heinemann’s research revealed over 770 pages of potential matches between two genes in the GE wheat and the human genome. Over a dozen matches were “extensive and identical and sufficient to cause silencing in experimental systems,” he said.

Experts warned that eating this GE wheat could lead to significant changes in the way glucose and carbohydrates are stored in the human body, which could be potentially deadly for children and lead to serious illness in adults. Yet despite the seriousness of these findings, regulators are ignoring and dismissing such warnings. According to the Institute of Science in Society,10 the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has approved at least five such GE food products already.

Rather than using in vitro DNA modification (which is how Roundup Ready and Bt crops are created), this new breed of genetically engineered crops use a wholly different approach. In vitro DNA modification results in the creation of a new protein, but this new breed is designed to change their RNA content, thereby regulating gene expression within the plant. RNA is one of three major macromolecules, like DNA. Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) is responsible for regulating more than one-third of human genes. By engineering the plant to produce dsRNA, the plant can be “instructed” to silence specific genes—within itself, and potentially within your body…

A Global Experiment Based on Faulty Assumptions is Bound to Take its Toll…

It is assumed that both DNA and RNA are broken down in your gut when you consume them in GE food, which is why they both have GRAS status (Generally Regarded as Safe). However, experiments dating back to the early 1990’s have contradicted this assumption.11 According to Dr. Mae Wan-Ho12 (for references, see the original article):

“There have been many publications documenting the ability of DNA to survive digestion in the gut and to pass into the bloodstream whenever investigations were carried out with sufficiently sensitive detection methods. DsRNA in particular, is much more stable than single stranded RNA. DsRNA produced in genetically modified plants survive intact after passing through the gut of insects and worms feeding on the plants.

Also, oral exposure of insect pests to dsRNA was effective in inducing RNA interference. Worms can even absorb dsRNA suspended in liquid through their skin, and when taken in, the dsRNA can circulate throughout the body and alter gene expression in the animal. In some cases the dsRNA taken up is further multiplied or induces a secondary reaction resulting in more and different secondary dsRNA with unpredictable targets. Thus, not only are dsRNA mechanisms universal to all plants and animals, there is already experimental evidence that they can act across kingdoms.”

Dr. Mae Wan-Ho also points out research from China, which has demonstrated that dsRNAs can survive digestion and be taken up via the gastrointestinal tract, and that microRNA (miRNA) from food can circulate in the human blood stream and have the potential to turn off human genes.

“The data also indicated that some dsRNAs from plants are found more frequently than predicted from their level of expression in plants; in other words, there may be a selective retention or uptake of some miRNA molecules,” she writes.

Most Consumers Still Unaware of GMO Risks

The biotech industry, led by Monsanto, is increasing their propaganda efforts to reshape their public image, and sway your opinion against the need to label genetically engineered foods. As The Atlantic recently reported.13

“Given its opposition to the labeling of GM foods… it seems clear that Monsanto wants you to close your eyes, open your mouth, and swallow.”

Indeed, many consumers are still in the dark about the very real risks that GE crops pose, both to the environment and human health. This is precisely what the biotech industry wants, even as increasing research demonstrates the many dangers associated with GE foods. For example, one recent study found that rats fed a type of genetically engineered corn that is prevalent in the US food supply for two years developed massive mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage, and other serious health problems. This was at dietary amounts of about 10 percent. Does 10 percent or more of your diet consist of genetically engineered ingredients? If processed foods form the basis of your diet, then you’re likely consuming FAR MORE genetically modified organisms (GMOs) than that…

Unfortunately, you can’t know for sure how many items in your fridge and pantry might contain GMO since the US does not require genetically engineered foods to be labeled. With the emergence of “gene silencing” crops and the latest findings from Samsel and Seneff, the need for labeling couldn’t possibly be greater.

What is enough: 80,000 chemicals? 83,000 chemicals?

Ravi Nadu is concerned about the more than 80,00 man-made chemicals that now circulate around the Earth. This is over and above the sanctioned  role of Monsanto contaminants as shown in battles such as the current attempt to introduce GMO alfalfa (http://oapf.saskorganic.com/) and the destructive introduction of GMO canola such that Canadian farmers cannot longer grow organic canola.

The complexity of the introduction of all these chemicals and combinations of chemicals into the world ecosystem is what concerns Nadu and should concern us. We do not understand what is going on nor do we have any kind of overview.

porkers in forest

CRC Care is funded through the Australian Government. 

  • Originally funded for a seven-year term, in 2010 CRC CARE applied for and received an additional nine years of funding through the CRC Program. CRC CARE’s second term commenced on 1 July 2011, having been granted $29 million federal funding in addition to partner contributions. This second term will take CRC CARE through to 2020.
  • CRC CARE’s approach brings together Australian universities with state and Commonwealth agencies and regulatory authorities, mining, petroleum and agricultural industries, venture capitalists, environment consultants and suppliers to work collaboratively on vital contamination issues and sites in Australia and the region. The strength of CRC CARE is in this collaborative approach with industry and government.

The development of an increasingly integrated global economy, one that has seen the increase of free trade, free flow of capital, and which has tapped cheaper foreign labor markets has offered huge potential profits for businesses and even nations. But it could come at a significant cost. With the rise of a global economy, or globalization, comes the rise of the risk of global contamination.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has long noted contaminated water remains a problem, with around 1.1 billion people globally who do not have access to improved water supply sources, while some 2.4 billion people have no access to any type of improved sanitation facility.

Yet water is just one part of the reported problem.

According to the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) noted some 83,000 man-made chemicals now circulate around the Earth. These are in the water, soil, air, wildlife, food and even in manufactured goods. The chemicals are even in people.

All this poses a potential hazard to human and environmental health, according to Professor Ravi Naidu at the University of South Australia (UNISA). Naidu, who has been a research scientist in the fields of environmental contaminants, toxicology, bioavailability and remediation for over 20 years, recently returned from the United States where he was admitted as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications [which] are scientifically or socially distinguished.”

He was also awarded the Soil Science Society of America’s prestigious 2012 International Soil Science Award last December.

On Monday CRC CARE announced Australia is prepared to take a world lead in actually investigating this earth system contamination, with an emphasis on soil contagions.

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