Jan 15 2018

Special Report: How Monsanto’s GM cotton sowed trouble in Africa

BOBO-DIOULASSO, Burkina Faso (Reuters) – In 2000, farmers in Burkina Faso, Africa’s top cotton grower, were desperate. Their cotton fetched top prices because its high-quality fiber lent a luxurious sheen to clothing and bedsheets. But pests – bollworms – were threatening the crop.

Even when you dropped the bollworm larvae into a bucket of poison, farmers said, they kept swimming.

U.S. seeds and pesticide company Monsanto proposed an answer: a genetically modified strain of cotton called Bollgard II, which it had already introduced in America and was marketing worldwide. GM was established in large-scale farming in South Africa, but not among the smallholders who produce most African cotton. The Burkina farmers agreed to a trial and the country introduced seeds with the gene in 2008.

The resulting cotton was pest-free, and the harvest more abundant. By 2015, three-quarters of all Burkina Faso’s production was GM, and it became a showcase for the technology among smallholders in Africa. From 2007 to 2015, delegations from at least 17 different African nations visited Burkina to see it.

But there was a problem. While the bug-resistant genes produced more volume, the quality fell. Last season, the cotton farmers of Burkina Faso abandoned the GM varieties.

Source: Special Report: How Monsanto’s GM cotton sowed trouble in Africa

Jan 14 2018

Farm Babe: The truth about GMOs and herbicides

You know how if you swallow an entire bottle of aspirin you could die? You know how if you have a headache and take two of them it’s totally safe, helpful and beneficial?

Now let’s take that idea and apply it to agriculture. Below is a picture of a sprayer. This is a common piece of equipment used to spray crops to control weeds. Similar to a garden, everyone knows you must control weeds or they’ll take over and you’ll lose your crop. The only difference is, the farm I’m involved with has 2,000 acres. Would you like to come over and weed 2,000 acres by hand? I didn’t think so.

Enter glyphosate. Also known as Roundup, it is a very popular herbicide used in millions of gardens around the world to control weeds. On a farm, this is done on a large scale, but the minimal amount actually used may shock you. For example, our sprayer holds 750 gallons. Of that only 7.5 gallons is glyphosate and the rest is water. Really! Water! It equates to 0.2 gallons per acre. That’s one-fifth of a gallon over the area of an entire football field!

Let me repeat that.

Source: Farm Babe: The truth about GMOs and herbicides

Jan 13 2018

VIDEO: Out of Uganda, an Aggressive Crop Killer Threatens Global Food

The video below is the first part in a six-part series examining the scourge of Ug99, a type of fungus that causes disease in wheat crops — one that scientists worry could threaten global food supplies. Visit our series archive for all published episodes.

THERE WAS A time when one of the most dangerous crop diseases a wheat farmer could encounter in the field was stem rust. It is caused by a fungus, and its spores look like flecks of rust on metal — first red, later black in color. The fungus spreads along stems and leaves of cereal plants, consuming nutrients and causing the grains to shrivel.

Crops affected by stem rust are often entirely destroyed, and until the 1950s, the fungus was able to wreak havoc on agriculture across the globe — including in the United States. Researchers eventually managed to identify strong resistance genes against the fungus, and successfully bred those genes into new plant varieties beginning in the 1960s, leaving the fungus all but forgotten.

A generation later, however a new strain of wheat stem rust appeared — this time in Uganda in 1998. This new strain, which scientists called Ug99 (Ug for the country where it was first discovered, 99 for the year when it was officially named), was immune to most of the known resistance genes — and it remains a threat today. It is more aggressive than most known stem rusts, and it evolves far more quickly. Indeed, where there was only one strain in 1999, there are now at least 13 new pathotypes of Ug99, and they are spreading fast.

“Why Ug99 is important, first of all is, because it has virulence for many resistance genes,” says Julio Huerta, a wheat breeder and plant pathologist with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. “Second, it’s very aggressive. Extremely aggressive.”

Source: VIDEO: Out of Uganda, an Aggressive Crop Killer Threatens Global Food

Jan 12 2018

Once And For All, Here’s What Science Says About GMOs

You’ve probably heard the same conversation, in one way or another, for years: Some say genetically modified organisms (GMO) are harmful, while others say they’ll help us feed the growing billions of humans that populate our planet. People’s positions on the subject seem cemented, bound by the hard stays of emotion, and nearly impossible to change. It’s even more resonant at this intractable moment in the United States, where the division between the two sides on issues from the economy, to gun control, to healthcare — really, just politics in general — seems insurmountable. The further we move from facts and the truth, the harder it is to come to rational conclusions on these subjects. 

But to Academy Award-nominated documentary director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, there’s a way to dislodge even the most dogged opponent in these conversations: with science.

Kennedy’s latest film, Food Evolution, revisits the GMO conversation, imbuing it with science and revealing the truth through a haze of propaganda and misinformation. He recently sat down with Futurism to talk about the film, what it tells us about other controversial subjects in American society today, and what the food of the future will be like.

Source: Once And For All, Here’s What Science Says About GMOs

Jan 08 2018

Chickens feel the heat too, so here’s how to keep your chook chilled in a heatwave – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

As a responsible chicken owner, it is up to you to look after your chickens when the weather is extreme says Vanessa Joyce-Briggs — after all, your backyard hens are more than just pets, they are part of the family.

Ms Joyce-Briggs loves chickens and knows them so well that she recently shared her wisdom at a workshop run by Shoalhaven City Council Waste Services.

She tells people who are interested in getting chickens at home that if the summer heat is bothering you, it is definitely bothering your feathered friends.

The workshop focussed on how to keep chickens happy, why chickens are a good investment for maintaining a sustainable garden, and how to look after them — especially in the summer heat.

According to Mrs Joyce-Briggs, keeping chickens is “not rocket science” and is about getting the little things right like covering the coop with a tarp or umbrella to protect the birds from the sun and heat.

Source: Chickens feel the heat too, so here’s how to keep your chook chilled in a heatwave – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Jan 07 2018

Are seed patent protections abused by Monsanto and other agro-corporations? | Genetic Literacy Project

Patents, or at least some sort of protection from copying somebody else’s invention, go back to at least the Middle Ages. In the United States just after the Revolutionary War, intellectual property protection was written into the new constitution, and almost as soon as the ink had dried on that document, the 1790 Patent Act was passed. The law defined a U.S. patent as “any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used.” It granted the applicant the “sole and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using and vending to others to be used” of his invention.

Initially, patent protections were not adopted by agriculture, except in the use of new farming tools. The idea of patenting seeds was not even considered. Until the very early 20th century, farmers did not purchase seeds; there was almost nobody to purchase them from!

Typically, a farmer kept seeds from previous harvests and reused them, or shared seeds with neighbors. They did get some government help, too. As farmers moved west to settle the new United States, the Patent Office and later, the Department of Agriculture, distributed seeds to farmers for free. Between 1890 and 1897, some 10 million packages of seeds were given out. While this practice helped create more predictable production, it did not foster innovation.

Source: Are seed patent protections abused by Monsanto and other agro-corporations? | Genetic Literacy Project

Jan 04 2018

Canola oil causes Alzheimer’s disease? Dubious evidence

Food fads make me want to scream, cry, and hide in a cabin in the mountains. MSG is safe. And high fructose corn syrup is just an awful name for sugar. And only a small number of people have a real gluten sensitivity. And now a new paper has caused the internet to explode with the trope that canola oil causes Alzheimer’s disease.

This new internet meme is based on a peer-reviewed article published in a real journal. But as I have written time and again, just because an article seems like it has sterling credentials, it doesn’t mean the article is above criticism. We’ll get to this article below.

As expected, all of the usual suspects in the pseudoscience world have jumped on board with clickbait headlines like, “Scientists finally issue warning against canola oil: Study reveals it is detrimental to brain health, contributes to dementia, causes weight gain.” I always find it ironic when a pseudoscience pushing website believes in scientists when it supports their belief.

Read on: Canola oil causes Alzheimer’s disease? Dubious evidence

Jan 03 2018

I was raised next to a sugar cane farm. Here’s why I support GMO sugar beets.

Demand for sugar derived from sugar cane is on the rise due to customer rejection of sugar derived from sugar beets, which are often genetically engineered. In 2015, Hershey’s decided to start switching their sugar to non-GMO sources, primarily sugar cane. Despite the fact that sugar from cane or beet have identical molecular structures, food manufacturers are betting on rising demands for non-GMO sources. Sugar from sugarcane seems to be a selling point, which is proudly noted on the ingredient list and marketing material for many brands.

Customers often select non-GMO ingredients based on the notion that these are healthier or better for the environment, which are noble reasons to support. However, as outlined in a previous piece written with several other scientists, non-GMO is not synonymous with healthier or more sustainable ingredients. In fact, the opposite may be true:

Source: I was raised next to a sugar cane farm. Here’s why I support GMO sugar beets.

Dec 31 2017

27 year-old who hasn’t woken up before 9:30am in 8 years thinks he could run farm if society crumbles – The Beaverton

VANCOUVER – Despite never waking up with the sunrise in his entire life, local 27 year-old Jamie Pasternak believes that he could own and operate a farm if Canadian  ever collapsed into some sort of primitive anarchy.

“I’ve always had a green thumb. When we had to grow beansprouts in grade 4 mine was the biggest,” said Pasternak, who has never shown interest in learning crop rotation, making his own fertilizer, or pickling fruits and vegetables. “I haven’t really had to grow anything since then, but I’ve probably still got the knack.”

Pasternak says he’d also probably be able to tame and yoke beasts of burden, like horses and oxen, even though he knows nothing about breeding, birthing, or milking animals and has never once heard the word “geld” let alone performed the procedure.

Source: 27 year-old who hasn’t woken up before 9:30am in 8 years thinks he could run farm if society crumbles – The Beaverton

Dec 31 2017

Scientists refute the scaremongering about GMOs – The Washington Post

THE NATIONAL Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine already examined genetically engineered (GE) crops once, concluding six years ago that the facts do not justify the fears about “Frankenfoods.” Overblown worries nevertheless continue to proliferate, prompting a movement to stigmatize genetically engineered crops by requiring labels on food packaging. Meanwhile, the technology also has advanced: New tools will allow scientists to more precisely cut and paste genetic code. So the National Academies have again tried to sort things out, releasing another authoritative report Tuesday that refutes the counterproductive scaremongering from the anti-genetically-engineered side. It also points to a bright future in which these crops help solve a range of problems — if governments get the policy right.

The National Academies experts reviewed the relevant studies and solicited huge amounts of feedback. The upshot? “No differences have been found that implicate a higher risk to human health safety from these GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts,” they concluded. They based their findings partially on a comparison of European countries, where genetically engineered crops generally are not used, and the United States, where they are plentiful. They could find no significant differences attributable to genetically engineered crops, across a range of diseases and disorders.

Moreover, the experts concluded, “the committee found no conclusive evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between GE crops and environmental problems.” Among other things, the scientists found concerns that the crops are degrading plant and animal biodiversity to be insubstantial.

Read more: Scientists refute the scaremongering about GMOs – The Washington Post