Beekeepers try to keep bees — and livelihoods — from going extinct

The Washington Post reports: On a recent summer morning in a bright green meadow off a winding country road, Devon and Landon Prescott were prying open beehives. They moved quickly among the 1,400 wooden boxes, eyeing each brood and locating its queen.

Landon, 19, spoke up after finding four hives with missing queens.

“That’s pretty bad,” said Devon, 21, peering over his brother’s shoulder to search the bee-
covered screen. A hive without a queen is likely doomed. “That’s really high.”

There was a crate of replacement queens in the truck, each housed in its own tiny wooden box. Each queen, specially ordered and shipped from warm-weather climates, costs at least $20. Too many queenless hives could put young beekeepers like the Prescotts out of business.

Over the past decade, billions of bees have been lost to colony collapse disorder, an umbrella term for factors thought to be killing honeybees in droves and threatening the nation’s food supply. Amid the die-off, beekeepers have been going to extraordinary lengths to save both their bees and their livelihoods. [Continue reading…]

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Monsanto bets $45 billion on a pesticide-soaked future

Mother Jones reports: Once an industrial-chemical titan, GMO seed giant Monsanto has rebranded itself as a “sustainable agriculture company.” Forget such classic post-war corporate atrocities as PCB and dioxin — the modern Monsanto “uses plant breeding and biotechnology to create seeds that grow into stronger, more resilient crops that require fewer resources,” as the company’s website has it.

That rhetoric may have to change, though, if Monsanto succeeds in buying its Swiss rival, pesticide giant Syngenta. On Friday, Syngenta’s board rejected a $45 billion takeover bid. But that’s hardly the end of the story. Tuesday afternoon, Syngenta’s share price was holding steady at a level about 20 percent higher than it was before Monsanto’s bid — an indication that investors consider an eventual deal quite possible. As The Wall Street Journal’s Helen Thomas put it, the Syngenta board’s initial rejection of Monsanto’s overture may just be a way of saying, “This deal makes sense, but Syngenta can hold out for more.”

The logic for the deal is simple: Syngenta is Monsanto’s perfect complement. Monsanto ranks as the globe’s largest purveyor of seeds (genetically modified and otherwise), alongside a relatively small chemical division (mainly devoted to the herbicide Roundup), which makes up just a third of its $15.8 billion in total sales. [Continue reading…]

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Monsanto’s herbicide linked to fatal kidney disease epidemic

Jeff Ritterman, M.D. writes: For years, scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery of a chronic kidney disease epidemic that has hit Central America, India and Sri Lanka. The disease occurs in poor peasant farmers who do hard physical work in hot climes. In each instance, the farmers have been exposed to herbicides and to heavy metals. The disease is known as CKDu, for Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology. The “u” differentiates this illness from other chronic kidney diseases where the cause is known. Very few Western medical practitioners are even aware of CKDu, despite the terrible toll it has taken on poor farmers from El Salvador to South Asia.

Dr. Catharina Wesseling, the regional director for the Program on Work and Health (SALTRA) in Central America, which pioneered the initial studies of the region’s unsolved outbreak, put it this way, “Nephrologists and public health professionals from wealthy countries are mostly either unfamiliar with the problem or skeptical whether it even exists.”

Dr. Wesseling was being diplomatic. At a 2011 health summit in Mexico City, the United States beat back a proposal by Central American nations that would have listed CKDu as a top priority for the Americas.

David McQueen, a US delegate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has since retired from the agency, explained the US position.

“The idea was to keep the focus on the key big risk factors that we could control and the major causes of death: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And we felt, the position we were taking, that CKD was included.”

The United States was wrong. The delegates from Central America were correct. CKDu is a new form of illness. This kidney ailment does not stem from diabetes, hypertension or other diet-related risk factors. Unlike the kidney disease found in diabetes or hypertension, the kidney tubules are a major site of injury in CKDu, suggesting a toxic etiology. [Continue reading…]

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SEED: The Untold Story

Go to Kickstarter to support this film.

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23andMe’s goal is to hoard your DNA data

Charles Seife writes: If there’s a gene for hubris, the 23andMe crew has certainly got it. Last Friday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the genetic-testing company immediately to stop selling its flagship product, its $99 “Personal Genome Service” kit. In response, the company cooed that its “relationship with the FDA is extremely important to us” and continued hawking its wares as if nothing had happened. Although the agency is right to sound a warning about 23andMe, it’s doing so for the wrong reasons.

Since late 2007, 23andMe has been known for offering cut-rate genetic testing. Spit in a vial, send it in, and the company will look at thousands of regions in your DNA that are known to vary from human to human—and which are responsible for some of our traits. For example a site in your genome named rs4481887 can come in three varieties. If you happen to have what is known as the GG variant, there is a good probability that you are unable to smell asparagus in your urine; those blessed with the GA or AG varieties are much more likely to be repulsed by their own pee after having a few spears at Spargelfest.

At first, 23andMe seemed to angle its kit as a fun way to learn a little genetics using yourself as a test subject. (“Our goal is to connect you to the 23 paired volumes of your own genetic blueprint… bringing you personal insight into ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits,” read the company’s website.) The FDA had little problem with the company telling you why you had dry ear wax (rs17822931) or whether you’re likely to sneeze when you look at a bright light (rs10427255).

That phase didn’t last for long, because there is much more interesting stuff in your genome than novelty items. Certain regions signal an increased risk of breast cancer, the impending onset of metabolic diseases, and sensitivity to medications. 23andMe—as well as a number of other companies—edged closer and closer to marketing their services as a way of predicting and even preventing health problems. And any kit intended to cure, mitigate, treat, prevent, or diagnose a disease is, according to federal law, a “medical device” that needs to be deemed safe and effective by the FDA. Since mid-2009, 23andMe has been negotiating with the agency, and in July 2012, the company finally began the process of getting clearance from the FDA to sell the kit that it had already been selling for five years.

Everything seemed rosy until, in what a veteran Forbes reporter calls “the single dumbest regulatory strategy [he had] seen in 13 years of covering the Food and Drug Administration,” 23andMe changed its strategy. It apparently blew through its FDA deadlines, effectively annulling the clearance process, and abruptly cut off contact with the agency in May. Adding insult to injury the company started an aggressive advertising campaign (“Know more about your health!”), leaving little doubt about the underlying medical purpose of 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service. This left the agency with little alternative but to take action. “As part of our interactions with you, including more than 14 face-to-face and teleconference meetings, hundreds of email exchanges, and dozens of written communications,” the agency complained, “we provided you with… statistical advice, and discussed potential risk mitigation strategies.” It is the tone of a spurned spouse, exasperated and angry that 23andMe is putting no effort into salvaging their relationship.

But as the FDA frets about the accuracy of 23andMe’s tests, it is missing their true function, and consequently the agency has no clue about the real dangers they pose. The Personal Genome Service isn’t primarily intended to be a medical device. It is a mechanism meant to be a front end for a massive information-gathering operation against an unwitting public. [Continue reading…]

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Learning from nature

Human beings have great skill and ingenuity in building machines, yet to the extent that we see ourselves as machine-builders and tool-users, we easily lose touch with the reality that we are organisms that can only exist because we coexist in an incredibly complex set of relations with constellations of other organisms.

Through a fixation on our capacities as agents of change, we see ourselves as distinct, individual, and set apart, yet in fact each of our bodies is really a society in which the cells we claim as our own are vastly outnumbered by bacteria that are not only essential for the assimilation of nutrients but also regulate our immune systems and even affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Our sense of autonomy is pure fiction.

When scientists re-engineer bacteria (see “Redesigning nature”), they are not simply making alterations to the DNA. They are also imposing the machine-builder’s mentality on the natural world. They are assuming that if nature can be shaped in accordance with human designs, it can be improved.

Patrick Blanc is a French botanist and creator of vertical gardens.

I just stumbled across Blanc’s work, so I actually have no idea what he thinks, yet his vertical gardens seem to be an expression of the opposite of the bioengineers’ orientation.

Turning the stark face of a building into a vibrant garden seems like a good way of showing that nature offers vastly more to the human world than we can produce by “enhancing” nature.

Instead of figuring out how we can redesign nature — as though we are its masters — we need to be informed by nature, that we might become better students.

L'Oasis d'Aboukir

L'Oasis d'Aboukir, Paris

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Redesigning nature

One does not need to believe in a deity animating the natural world, in order to disturbed by the idea of manufactured organisms.

For the first time, scientists have created an organism with a new genetic code. We are told that recoded bacterium will be converted into:

… a living foundry, capable of biomanufacturing new classes of “exotic” proteins and polymers. These new molecules could lay the foundation for a new generation of materials, nanostructures, therapeutics, and drug delivery vehicles…

Treating DNA as a construction material involves a kind of hubris that glosses over what would seem to be inevitable: that there will be unintended consequences. By definition, we do not know what these will be.

SciTechDaily reports: Scientists from Yale and Harvard have recoded the entire genome of an organism and improved a bacterium’s ability to resist viruses, a dramatic demonstration of the potential of rewriting an organism’s genetic code.

“This is the first time the genetic code has been fundamentally changed,” said Farren Isaacs, assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale and co-senior author of the research published October 18 in the journal Science. “Creating an organism with a new genetic code has allowed us to expand the scope of biological function in a number of powerful ways.”

The creation of a genomically recoded organism raises the possibility that researchers might be able to retool nature and create potent new forms of proteins to accomplish a myriad purposes — from combating disease to generating new classes of materials.

The research — headed by Isaacs and co-author George Church of Harvard Medical School — is a product of years of studies in the emerging field of synthetic biology, which seeks to re-design natural biological systems for useful purposes.

In this case, the researchers changed fundamental rules of biology. [Continue reading…]

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No scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs

Sustainable Pulse reports: There is no scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods and crops, according to a statement released today by an international group of more than 90 scientists, academics and physicians.

The statement comes in response to recent claims from the GM industry and some scientists, journalists, and commentators that there is a “scientific consensus” that GM foods and crops were generally found safe for human and animal health and the environment. The statement calls these claims “misleading”, adding, “This claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.”

“Such claims may place human and environmental health at undue risk and create an atmosphere of complacency,” states Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, chairperson of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and one of the signatories. “The statement draws attention to the diversity of opinion over GMOs in the scientific community and the often contradictory or inconclusive findings of studies on GMO safety. These include toxic effects on laboratory animals fed GM foods, increased pesticide use from GM crop cultivation, and the unexpected impacts of Bt insecticidal crops on beneficial and non-target organisms,” Dr Hilbeck continues.

In spite of this nuanced and complex picture, a group of like-minded people makes sweeping claims that GM crops and foods are safe. In reality, many unanswered questions remain and in some cases there is serious cause for concern.

Prof C. Vyvyan Howard, a medically qualified toxicopathologist based at the University of Ulster and a signatory to the statement, said: “A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic. It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects. But as the US has no GMO labeling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis.” [Continue reading…]

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In the battle for our crops, superweeds are winning

Grist reports: Biotech crops, which represent almost all the corn, soy, and cotton grown in the U.S., have finally met their match. And it’s not (only) the millions of consumers demanding labels on food that contains genetically modified crops, or GMOs. As NPR reports, biotech’s super-nemesis is legions of weeds and bugs that have grown immune to the herbicides and pesticides that many of these crops require.

Generally speaking, GMO crops fall into two categories: Some are designed to be resistant to pesticides like Roundup, Monsanto’s all-purpose weed killer. This allows farmers to douse fields with Roundup, killing everything but the corn, soy, or cotton (most commonly) that they’re trying to grow. Other GMO crops actually exude chemicals such as Bt, a “natural” pesticide that kills many of the most damaging bugs.

The technology may or may not be deserving of the World Food Prize but it’s certainly been a huge business success. At least it has been — until the weeds and bugs that these crops are engineered to withstand find ways to kill the crops anyway.

We at Grist have been tracking the scourge of superweeds and superbugs for years now. And whatever the merits of a debate over pros and cons of biotech, the facts on the ground suggest the underdogspests are winning.

It’s fair to say that the story is no longer about the rise of superweeds and superbugs. It’s now about their dominance. [Continue reading…]

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Research shows that Monsanto’s big claims for GMO food are probably wrong

AlterNet: Oops. The World Food Prize committee’s got a bit of egg on its face — genetically engineered egg. They just awarded the World Food Prize to three scientists, including one from Syngenta and one from Monsanto, who invented genetic engineering because, they say, the technology increases crop yields and decreases pesticide use. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Monsanto and Syngenta are major sponsors of the World Food Prize, along with a third biotech giant, Dupont Pioneer.)

Monsanto makes the same case on its website, saying, “Since the advent of biotechnology, there have been a number of claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically modified (GM) crops don’t increase yields. Some have claimed that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM crops… GM crops generally have higher yields due to both breeding and biotechnology.”

But that’s not actually the case. A new peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability examined those claims and found that conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering, is responsible for yield increases in major U.S. crops. Additionally, GM crops, also known as genetically engineered (GE) crops, can’t even take credit for reductions in pesticide use. The study’s lead author, Jack Heinemann, is not an anti-biotechnology activist, as Monsanto might want you to believe. “I’m a genetic engineer. But there is a different between being a genetic engineer and selling a product that is genetically engineered,” he states. [Continue reading…]

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The Supreme Court’s GM-friendly patent ruling

Wired: The U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that naturally occurring genes can’t be patented looks, on the surface, like terrible news for biotech companies. It would appear to strike down thousands of patents claiming intellectual property rights over isolated genetic sequences — the very DNA patents that anchor countless business plans.

Yet biotech stocks saw a small increase on the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index yesterday, and the effect of the ruling was even more dramatic for Myriad Genetics, the Utah company whose patents were in question. Myriad’s stock price closed up nearly 10 percent, at one point topping $38. That’s the highest since 2009, the year the lawsuit against its patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes associated with early-onset breast and ovarian cancer, was filed.

There’s a reason investors rejoiced over a decision that, superficially, seems to strip so many companies of their most valuable assets. John Wilbanks, who runs the Science Commons project at Creative Commons, says that competitive advantage comes not from the DNA data itself but from the ways companies figure out to use it.

“It’s clearly not as terrifying a ruling for the industry compared to what it could have been,” Wilbanks said. “It’s a decision that says that data is free, and that’s in line with what patent law has always said, which is that you can’t patent data. That’s what a gene sequence is.

“By making that data free, there is a lot of room for public good and public and private innovation.”

At the same time, the court did not strike down patents on “new applications of knowledge,” or on DNA whose sequence has been altered. In other words, biotechnologists still have plenty of room to develop proprietary innovations that use DNA data in new ways. Businesses can be build on genetic insights applied to new processes, methods or algorithms, which in most cases would still be patentable.

This distinction between the data and its uses echoes the sentiment among experts that real innovation comes after genes and gene mutations are identified. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Marching against Monsanto

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Rogue Monsanto GM wheat threatens U.S. food supply

Mother Jones: One of the four major US crops — corn, soybeans, hay (alfalfa), and wheat — is not like the other.

For one, wheat is mainly consumed directly by people, while the others are mostly used as animal feed. Its status as people food — the stuff of bread, the staff of life — probably explains why wheat is different from the other three in another way: It’s also the only one that genetically modified Monsanto hasn’t turned into a cash cow. The company has made massive profits churning out corn, soy, and (most recently) alfalfa seeds genetically altered to withstand doses of its own herbicide, Roundup. But the company has never commercialized a GM wheat variety — and stopped trying back in 2004, largely because of consumer pushback against directly consuming a GM crop. And thank goodness, too, because Roundup Ready technology is now failing, giving rise to a plague of herbicide resistant weeds and a gusher of toxic herbicides.

Wheat’s non-GMO status is why the Internet went berserk when the US Department of Agriculture revealed Wednesday that Roundup Ready wheat had sprouted up on a farm in Oregon. According to the USDA, a farmer discovered the plants growing in a place they shouldn’t have been and tried unsuccessfully to kill them with Roundup. Oops. USDA testing confirmed that the rogue wheat was the same experimental Roundup Ready variety that Monsanto had last been approved to test in Oregon in 2001.

The revelation had immediate trade implications. About half the overall US wheat crop gets exported — and Oregon’s wheat farmers export 90 percent of their output. Many countries accept US-grown GM corn and soy for animal feed. But as the USDA noted, no country on Earth has approved the sale of GM wheat. And if Roundup Ready wheat is growing on one farm, our trading partners might legitimately ask, what guarantee is there that it’s not growing on others? Already, Japan has responded by suspending imports of US wheat, Bloomberg reports. [Continue reading…]

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Five most horrifying things about Monsanto — why you should join the global movement and protest on Saturday

AlterNet: Fed up with the fact that she has to spend “a small fortune” in order to feed her family things she says “aren’t poisonous,” Tami Canal of Utah has organized a global movement against the giant chemical and seed corporation Monsanto. Monsanto is the conglomerate mastermind behind many of the pesticides and genetically engineered seeds that pervade farm fields around the world. Monsanto produces the world’s top-selling herbicide; 40 percent of US crops contain its genes; it spends millions lobbying the government each year; and several of its factories are now toxic Superfund sites.

Canal, who has a 17-month-old baby and a six-year-old girl, cites concerns over public health, adverse affects on the environment, and political corruption as her motivation to organize against the biotech giant. And her concern has resonated. Protesters around the world have responded to Canal’s call to action, and will amplify their dissatisfaction with the corporation in a “March Against Monsanto” on May 25.

“Not only are they threatening our children and ourselves as well, but also the environment,” Canal says. “The declining bee population has been linked to the pesticides that they use, and that’s just the start. I’ve been reading studies recently that butterflies are starting to disappear, and birds. It’s only a matter of time, it’s pretty much a domino effect.”

What started as one mother’s call to action on a Facebook page has become a movement with more than 400 demonstrations scheduled in 50 countries and 250 cities around the globe. The events are organized online via an open Google Document, where people can find the protest nearest them. The March Against Monsanto Facebook page has received more than 105,000 “likes.” It has reached more than 10,000,000 people in the last week according to its website, which averages over 40,000 visitors per day. [Continue reading…]

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How Monsanto GMO crops may threaten your health

A new scientific study links the use of Roundup — the most popular herbicide used worldwide, manufactured by Monsanto and used in conjunction with Roundup-ready GMO crops whose derivatives can be found in most processed foods — with “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.”

Reuters: The peer-reviewed report, published last week in the scientific journal Entropy, said evidence indicates that residues of “glyphosate,” the chief ingredient in Roundup weed killer, which is sprayed over millions of acres of crops, has been found in food.

Those residues 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 report, authored by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant from Arthur D. Little, Inc. Samsel is a former private environmental government contractor as well as a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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

We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Seneff said.

Environmentalists, consumer groups and plant scientists from several countries have warned that heavy use of glyphosate is causing problems for plants, people and animals.

The EPA is conducting a standard registration review of glyphosate and has set a deadline of 2015 for determining if glyphosate use should be limited. The study is among many comments submitted to the agency.

Monsanto is the developer of both Roundup herbicide and a suite of crops that are genetically altered to withstand being sprayed with the Roundup weed killer.

These biotech crops, including corn, soybeans, canola and sugarbeets, are planted on millions of acres in the United States annually. Farmers like them because they can spray Roundup weed killer directly on the crops to kill weeds in the fields without harming the crops.

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GMOs don’t merit protection

Mark Bittman writes: Genetic engineering in agriculture has disappointed many people who once had hopes for it. Excluding, of course, those who’ve made money from it, appropriately represented in the public’s mind by Monsanto. That corporation, or at least its friends, recently managed to have an outrageous rider slipped into the 587-page funding bill Congress sent to President Obama.

The rider essentially prohibits the Department of Agriculture from stopping production of any genetically engineered crop once it’s in the ground, even if there is evidence that it is harmful.

That’s a pre-emptive Congressional override of the judicial system, since it is the courts that are most likely to ask the U.S.D.A. to halt planting or harvest of a particular crop. President Obama signed the bill last week (he kind of had to, to prevent a government shutdown) without mentioning the offensive rider (he might have), despite the gathering of more than 250,000 signatures protesting the rider by the organization Food Democracy Now!

The override is unnecessary as well as disgraceful, because the U.S.D.A. is already overly supportive of genetically engineered crops. When a court tried to stop the planting of genetically engineered beets a couple of years ago pending adequate study, the U.S.D.A. allowed it. And the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack – who, in fairness, does not seem happy about the rider but was powerless to stop it – was quoted in this (excellent) Politico piece as saying, “With the seed genetics today that we’re seeing, miracles are occurring every single growing season.”

True enough. But “seed genetics” refers not only to genetically engineered seeds but to seeds whose genetics have been altered by conventional means, like classical breeding. In fact, as I said up top, genetic engineering, or, more properly, transgenic engineering – in which a gene, usually from another species of plant, bacterium or animal, is inserted into a plant in the hope of positively changing its nature – has been disappointing.

In the nearly 20 years of applied use of G.E. in agriculture there have been two notable “successes,” along with a few less notable ones. These are crops resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide (Monsanto develops both the seeds and the herbicide to which they’re resistant) and crops that contain their own insecticide. The first have already failed, as so-called superweeds have developed resistance to Roundup, and the second are showing signs of failing, as insects are able to develop resistance to the inserted Bt toxin — originally a bacterial toxin — faster than new crop variations can be generated.

Nothing else in the world of agricultural genetic engineering even comes close to the “success” of these two not-entirely-successful creations. Furthermore, at least in these cases, their pattern of success (and high profits) followed by failure was inevitable.

Don’t take my word for it. Let me summarize extensive conversations I’ve recently had with Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist and plant pathologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists: Roundup Ready seeds allowed farmers to spend less time and energy controlling weeds. But the temporary nature of the gains was predictable: “There was no better way to create weeds tolerant to glyphosate (Roundup) than to spray all of them intensively for a few years,” Gurian-Sherman told me. “And that’s what was done.”

The result is that the biggest crisis in monocrop agriculture – something like 90 percent of all soybeans and 70 percent of corn is grown using Roundup Ready seed – lies in glyphosate’s inability to any longer provide total or even predictable control, because around a dozen weed species have developed resistance to it. “Any ecologist would have predicted this, and many did,” Gurian-Sherman said. [Continue reading…]

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Video: The Monsanto Protection Act

Watch part 2 of this discussion at http://youtu.be/ux9thITlBh8 — at the time of posting, this video is showing as “private.” Hopefully Democracy Now will change this shortly and make it publicly viewable.

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How Monsanto is killing off the monarch butterfly

Yale Environment 360: University of Kansas insect ecologist Orley R. “Chip” Taylor has been observing the fragile populations of monarch butterflies for decades, but he says he has never been more concerned about their future.

Monarchs are beloved for their spectacular migration across Canada and the United States to overwintering sites in central Mexico — and back again. But a new census taken at the monarchs’ wintering grounds found their population had declined 59 percent over the previous year and was at the lowest level ever measured.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Richard Conniff, Taylor — founder and director of Monarch Watch, a conservation and outreach program — talked about the factors that have led to the sharp drop in the monarch population. Among them, Taylor said, is the increased planting of genetically modified corn in the U.S. Midwest, which has led to greater use of herbicides, which in turn kills the milkweed that is a prime food source for the butterflies.

“What we’re seeing here in the United States,” he said, “is a very precipitous decline of monarchs that’s coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans.” [Continue reading…]

Meanwhile, thanks to its lackeys in the Senate, just a few days ago Monsanto (the manufacturer of Roundup and Roundup-ready GMO crops) got a legal waiver that effectively bypasses consideration of the safety of its products.

Take Part: When the Senate passed a budget resolution last Wednesday that appears to prevent some of the potential damage from sequestration, the Continuing Resolution included several food- and agriculture-related earmarks.

But one inclusion in particular is especially controversial. The “biotech rider” would require the USDA to approve the harvest and sale of crops from genetically modified seed even if a court has ruled the environmental studies on the crop were inadequate. This aspect of the bill infuriated many sustainable food and agriculture groups, who nicknamed the bill the “Monsanto Protection Act.”

If signed into law by President Obama, here’s what the Monsanto Protection Act would do: It will allow farmers to plant, harvest and sell genetically engineered plants even if the crops have been ruled upon unfavorably in court. A Center for Food Safety statement called the rider “an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review of agency actions” and “ a major violation of the separation of powers.”

But perhaps more frightening, other critics say, is that the Monsanto Protection Act threatens the health and wellbeing of the public by undermining the federal courts’ ability to protect farmers and the environment from potentially hazardous genetically engineered (GE) crops.

The Monsanto Protection Act was slipped into the bill while it sat in the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski. According to the Center for Food Safety, the committee held no hearings on this controversial biotech rider and many Democrats were unaware of its presence in the larger bill.

To understand why many people regard Monsanto as the corporate embodiment of pure evil, watch “The World According to Monsanto”:

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