Monthly Archives: October 2009

Atrazine under intensifying scrutiny

Atrazine

Several years ago I was involved with a farming systems comparison project in Central Illinois. The project looked at tile drainage from three different farming systems — conventional, sustainable (reduced tillage and chemical rates) and organic. The water samples drawn from the tiles draining the organic field showed something interesting — trace amounts of Atrazine. Why was that interesting? The field had been organic, and therefor had not received any applications of Atrizine, for 10 years! So after all that time there was still Atrazine in the system, working its way through the soil profile and seeping into water being drained from the field.

Now we find there’s evidence that Atrazine, a product whose safety has been touted for years, may have adverse effects on fish and amphibians. See the article HERE.

With the new administration in place EPA is being released to look at Atrazine more closely. They will be looking at potential impacts on human health.

I don’t want to try to predict what the EPA might find, but haven’t we seen this pattern before:

1. Company releases new product with self-conducted/funded research proving safety;

2. Federal agencies confirm safety;

3. Third parties start reporting side effects/concerns;

4. Concerns deferred and sidelined by stalling and legal manuvuering;

5. Evidence builds and political winds shift;

6. New research reveals product to actually be dangerous in some way;

7. Regulation or removal from market ensues.

Here we go again.

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Herbicide maker blames farmers for resistent weeds

superweed of the new millennium

superweed of the new millennium

Two nights ago on ABC World News with Charlie Gibson, the evening’s broadcast ended with a feature on a “super-weed” threatening agriculture. The problem is pigweed down in Arkansas cotton fields. There were amazing images of giant pigweeds growing thick and tall in the midst of a struggling cotton field. The worried farmers describe how they’ve noticed the herbicide becoming less and less effective over the last few years, and now it’s a REAL problem.

The story that ABC doesn’t tell, begins with Round Up ready (RR) cotton, a suite of cotton varieties genetically engineered to tolerate the Glyphosate herbicide commonly known as Round Up. Round Up kills all other plants (weeds) except for the Frankencrop, RR cotton (and RR soybeans and RR others). Why do I call it a “Frankencrop?” Because the genetic engineering of these varieties happened in a lab with gene guns and chemicals, instead of by natural, albiet directed selection. The technology is popular with farmers, because it’s so easy — plant, spray, harvest. No cultivation. No walking the fields with a hoe. No back-breaking physical labor. The pigweeds seem to like it too now.

After several years of Round Up dependent weed control, “old school” natural selection has come back to bite RR farmers on the ass. At first it was a plant or two in a single field. Through random shuffling of its genetic code, these mutants hit upon the same resistance to Round Up as the Frankencrop. The problem is that one or two isolated plants each produce a gazillion seeds, all with the same resistant trait, insuring survival of the species for years to come. That’s what nature does, and those of us who raised the possibility of this and other unintended consequences as GMOs were taking hold, were told not to worry. Scientists had it all figured out.

That’s why this feature made my blood boil. At one point (00:27) the statement is made that “the scientists who developed the herbicide,” say it’s the farmer’s fault for using the herbicide too much and that it was only a matter of time before nature found a way around. That’s rich. The scientists who developed the herbicide and the company responsible for selling as much of it as they could is Monsanto. Monsanto is never mentioned in the feature, except for a 2-second clip (oo:15) of a Monsanto employee saying it’s going to be around 2016 before a solution (another Monsanto product, one must suppose) is available.

Now Monsanto’s beautiful silver bullet has failed and it’s the farmer’s fault. But that’s OK. Hang in there farmers! Monsanto has another silver bullet coming down the barrell. They’ll be happy to let you have it — right between the eyes.

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More good stuff happening in illinois

image from TSF website

image from TSF website

Great NYT feature on an interesting Illinois farm…

The Spence Farm near Fairbury. Just one more example of the new face of agriculture — one that feeds people, not international corporate food processing conglomerates.

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Filed under agriculture, food, local food, small farms