The butterfly blame game

Noel Kingsbury recently posted a thought-provoking article about disappearing Monarch butterflies and the rush to blame Monsanta, GMOs, and (overly) intensive agriculture. I loved what he had to say:

I have driven around Iowa a bit… it is the quintessential Midwest farming state, and one where monarch butterfly populations and milkweed have notably fallen. And do I remember roadside to roadside crops? Every patch of ground covered in soya or corn? Er no actually. I seem to recall that like much of the rest of the USA there is an awful lot of mown grass. Vast areas of the stuff in fact. Alongside roads, around houses, offices, churches, shops there seems to be endless acres of this utterly useless vegetation. You can’t eat it, cows can’t eat it, wildlife can’t live on it, and it needs mowing all the time.

2014-monarchwatchNoel may point the finger at North Americans for our love affair with lawns, but I’m going to point it right back at England and a certain influential garden designer in my next post. En garde.

Read Noel’s blog post: Monarchs and Monsanto – a plea to think (and grow more milkweed and eat more insects).

Soy confused… A fatal bean?

I’ve been rather proud of myself lately for taking better care of my nutritional intake (well, aside from a sudden and unfortunate taste for home-baked Pilsbury croissants, hot, with raspberry jam…yum). I’ve stopped, for the most part, eating meat — not a small accomplishment considering that I’m living in meat and sausage-loving Bavaria. Every Thursday I treat myself to a roast chicken from the Munchner Freiheit farmer’s market, and on the occasional visit to a beer garden I’ve been known to devour a juicy side of pork ribs, but other than that, I’m pretty much a veggie. Most mornings, I whip up a “smoothie” — yogurt, fruit, soy protein powder, and milk. I recently eliminated milk from the concoction and replaced it with soymilk. You know the story… milk is full of the antibiotics and drugs that are pumped into cows to increase milk production… milk is bad. Soy, on the other hand, is good. High in protein, low in calories in fat, full of important amino acids, a good source of thiamine, niacin, folic acid and a fair source of riboflavin. Even the venerable Dr. Weil recommends one to two servings per day.

Or so I thought. This morning, scanning the news with righteous soymilk-fruit-smoothie in hand, I tumbled over the dark side of soy.

It started with this article from the BBC:

Soya Boom Threat to South America

The spiralling foreign demand for soya beans could mean the loss of millions of hectares of forest and savannah in South America, conservationists warn.

…soya plantations (have) contributed to the near disappearance of the Atlantic Forest in southern Brazil and eastern Paraguay.

…millions of hectares of Argentine’s Chaco and Brazil’s Cerrado – the world’s most diverse savannah, home to animals found only in South America, like the anteater, jaguar and maned wolf – have also been converted into soya plantations.

The article goes on to say that habitat loss could be reduced “if soya producers leased pasture land from cattle ranchers and integrated their crops with cattle ranching in rotation.”

“Gosh, I hope they do it”, I thought. The article says that demand for soybeans is expected to increase by 60% in the next 20 years. Very disturbing, habitat loss.

Curious, I googled “soya crops”. What I found made me put my smoothie down.

<a href="http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=2203&quot; target=resource window“The Catastrophe of GM Soy” (CropChoice News)

Argentina, once boasting a diverse agricultural sector, is being transformed into a land of soya-bean monoculture. In the last 10 years, the amount of soya grown has nearly tripled, according to World Bank’s figures, and it is almost 100% genetically modified (GM).

The countryside is being left empty as the farm workers’ role in nurturing the land and crops is displaced by aeroplanes and agribusiness infrastructure. Migration to the cities has risen at an alarming rate: 300,000 farmers have deserted the countryside and more than 500 villages have been abandoned, or are on the road to disappearance. Agribusiness GM soya farming requires agriculture without culture or people. As a consequence, the villas miseria on the outskirts of the cities are mushrooming with the arriving unemployed agricultural workers.

Dusty ashes are left as the earth is intoxicated with agrochemicals to harvest Monsanto’™s patented seeds, which are genetically modified to be resistant to the company’s herbicide, Round Up. Previously unknown illnesses are appearing as people are exposed to highly toxic herbicides, which include Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the US military to devastate Vietnam during the 1960s and ’70s, and others that contain paraquat, which can corrode metal, and glyphosate.

Floods without precedence are taking place as forests are cut down to make way for soya crops. In the high-mountain provinces of Salta and Juyuy, on the border of Bolivia, the subtropical Yungas region is being deforested to make space for soya plantations. Greenpeace has warned that in five years, the ancient cloud forest will be extinct.

It gets worse… if possible:

The GM soya grown in Argentina has never been independently scientifically tested for its safety. Monsanto’s GM beans have been highly exposed to agrochemicals containing glyphosate. Glyphosate is soluble in water and in order to make it penetrate the plant, a surfactant is added. Glyphosate is therefore present in the very core of the soya bean. Washing the bean is not sufficient to prevent the consumption of glyphosate. Glyphosate can be harmful to the eyes, causes skin inflammations and is linked to a variety of lymphoma cancer.

In Argentina, soya products are not labelled as GM. It is promoted as a healthy alternative to meat, so even the middle classes, worried about cholesterol levels, are turning to the fatal bean.

Another article from Canada (“Soy Concerns Mounting” – InFact Canada) raises the alarm about the use of soy in infant formulas.

Anxiety about the safety of soy as infant formulas and as ingredients in complementary foods continues to be expressed in the scientific literature. Recent theoretical evidence by the Kyoto University of Medicine indicates increased potential for childhood leukemia, adding new fuel to the mounting concerns.

And so it goes. And as if all that’s not bad enough, here is the icing on the cake:

Clash of the titans – Biotech’s giants go to war over engineered crops

COMPANIES spearheading agriculture’s gene technology revolution are not only up against consumer opposition to engineered crops. They have also started fighting amongst themselves.

Monsanto, the American biotechnology giant that has invested millions of dollars in soya crops genetically engineered to resist the herbicide glyphosate, which it sells as Roundup, could find its profits slashed now that British rival Zeneca has found that the plants are also resistant to its own herbicide, Touchdown. The two companies are locked in a bitter legal battle in the US.

Pass the (organic) milk, please.

Faster blooming through genetic engineering?

Orchid producers have perked up at the news that a researcher in Singapore may have found a way to induce faster blooming through genetic engineering: NUS gene finding could help S’pore orchid trade bloom – JAN 13, 2004.

However, those in the know remain skeptical that it can be done. Tom Hillson writes on the Orchid Digest list:

“The big problem with this, is that you can not just take genetic techniques learned in one family of plants and transfer them to another family of plants. It is not that easy, I know, I worked twenty years in plant molecular biology doing lots of work on tissue culturing various plants. I could do lots of things with different plants that I could never repeat in Orchids. I could get protoplasts out of trees and get them to regenerate into whole plants. I never could get any growth or regenerations from orchid protoplast cultures. The largest problem is the same one lots of people see with orchid culture phenolic production. It would kill the cells every time.

I will give Prof Yu credit, he is a genus if he can do it. but I am very skeptical about his chances of success.”

Monster food madness

GM crop jumps fence, flowers (Australia):

“The documents show the canola, created by BayerCropscience to be resistant to a new type of herbicide, had spread from its small trial plot into a neighbouring wheat field.

Despite efforts to poison and then slash the plants they survived to the stage that they flowered, putting them in breach of their growing licence conditions.

“…the Wagga trial showed how difficult it would be stop contamination of traditional crops by GM crops.”