Tag Archives: seeds

Monsanto corn finds competition in rootworms

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Brought to you by Foodfacts.com:

Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in a few Iowa fields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop.

The discovery raises concerns that the way some farmers are using biotech crops could spawn superbugs.

Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann’s discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto’s corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields.

“These are isolated cases, and it isn’t clear how widespread the problem will become,” said Dr. Gassmann in an interview. “But it is an early warning that management practices need to change.”

The finding adds fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto and Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.

Monsanto said its rootworm-resistant corn seed lines are working as it expected “on more than 99% of the acres planted with this technology” and that it is too early to know what the Iowa State University study means for farmers.

The discovery comes amid a debate about whether the genetically modified crops that now saturate the Farm Belt are changing how some farmers operate in undesirable ways.

These insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops make farming so much easier that many growers rely heavily on the technology, violating a basic tenet of pest management, which warns that using one method year after year gives more opportunity for pests to adapt.

Monsanto is already at the center of this issue because of its success since the 1990s marketing seeds that grow into crops that can survive exposure to its Roundup herbicide, a glyphosate-based chemical known for its ability to kill almost anything green.

These seeds made it so convenient for farmers to spray Roundup that many farmers stopped using other weedkillers. As a result, say many scientists, superweeds immune to Roundup have spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the South and Midwest.

Monsanto became the first company to sell rootworm-resistant biotech corn to farmers in 2003. The seed contains a gene from a common soil microorganism called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, from which crop biotechnology has been used to mine several genes for making insecticidal proteins.

One of the genes Monsanto developed makes a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1. It rips apart the gut of the rootworm but is harmless to mammals, birds and most beneficial insects. Competitors, which use other Bt genes to attack the rootworm, estimate that roughly one-third of the corn grown in the U.S. carries Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 gene.

Monsanto said it generated world-wide sales of $4.26 billion from corn seed and biotechnology traits, about 40% of its overall sales, in its last full year.

Until insecticide-producing corn plants arrived, Midwest farmers typically tried to keep pests like the corn borer and the rootworm in check by changing what they grew in a field each year, often rotating between corn and soybeans. That way, the offspring of corn-loving insects would starve the next year.

Some farmers began to plant corn in the same field year after year. The financial incentive to grow corn has increased in recent years in part because the ethanol-fuel industry’s exploding appetite for corn has helped to lift prices to very profitable levels for growers.

According to Dr. Gassmann, the Iowa fields in which he found rootworms resistant to the Cry3Bb1 toxin had been producing Monsanto’s Bt-expressing corn continuously for at least three years. Dr. Gassmann collected rootworm beetles from four Iowa cornfields with plant damage in 2009. Their larvae were then fed corn containing Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 toxin. They had a survival rate three times that of control larvae that ate the same corn.

Dr. Gassmann found that Monsanto’s Bt toxin still had some lethal impact on the larvae from the problem Iowa fields, and that the bugs were still highly susceptible to a rootworm-resistant corn plant from a competitor that uses a different Bt toxin, called Cry34/35Ab1.

Scientists in other Farm Belt states are also looking for signs that Monsanto’s Bt corn might be losing its effectiveness. Mike Gray, a University of Illinois entomologist, said he is studying rootworm beetles he collected in northwest Illinois earlier this month from fields where Monsanto’s Bt-expressing corn had suffered extensive rootworm damage.

The government requires that farmers who plant the genetically modified corn take certain steps aimed at preventing insects from developing resistance. Farmers are told to create a refuge for the bugs by planting non-modified corn in part of their fields. The refuge, which can be as much as 20% of a farmer’s field, is supposed to reduce the chances that two toxin-resistant bugs mate and pass along that trait to their offspring.

Dr. Gray said the confirmation of toxin-resistant rootworms in Iowa could force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revisit its policy of allowing the size of these insect refuges to shrink to as little as 5% of a cornfield as crop biotechnology companies begin to sell seed for corn plants that can make two different rootworm-killing toxins.

Part of what has attracted some farmers to Monsanto’s new SmartStax corn line is that it allows them to plant a smaller refuge. But one of the two anti-rootworm toxins in that variety is the Cry3Bb1 protein at the center of Dr. Gassmann’s study.

The EPA said it is too early to comment on any implications arising from Dr. Gassmann’s paper.

(Wall Street Journal)

Monsanto’s 5 Evil Contributions

Foodfacts.com recently discovered an article on Takepart.com that basically summarizes the products that Monsanto is credited for. Take a look at the list below, and wonder if Monsanto really has human health as one of their top priorities.

By Oliver Lee.

Oh, Monsanto, you sly dog.

You keep trying to make us believe you are “committed to sustainable agriculture” with your canny advertisements on American Public Media, even as you force-feed farmers your lab-grown Frankenseeds that expire every year (which are, let’s be honest, opposite of sustainable).

But we shouldn’t be surprised by the mixed message, should we? After all, you’ve been doing this for decades. With long-running corporate sponsorships like Disney’s Tomorrowland building reserves of goodwill as you spray us with DDT, it’s clear you’re entitled to send out products into the world with nary an environmental or health concern—just as long as you spend a bit of that hard-earned cash convincing us otherwise.

On that note, let’s take a quick look at some of the biotech giant’s most dubious contributions to society over their past century in business.
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1. Saccharin

Monsanto burst onto the scene in 1901 with the artificial sweetener saccharin, which it sold to Coca-Cola and canned food companies as a sugar replacement.
Sweet, low, and according to the FDA, no longer carcinogenic. (Photo: costco.com)

But as early as 1907, the health effects of the sweetener were being questioned by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists.

“Everyone who ate that sweet [canned] corn was deceived,” said Harvey Wiley, the first commissioner of the FDA. “He thought he was eating sugar, when in point of fact he was eating a coal tar product totally devoid of food value and extremely injurious to health.”

After enjoying decades of unfettered consumption, the sweetener was slapped with a warning label in the ’70s when it was found to cause cancer in lab rats.

A subsequent three-decade effort by Monsanto to reverse the decision finally won out in 2001. After all, how could a product derived from coal tar not be safe for consumption?
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2) Polystyrene

By the ’40s, Monsanto had moved on to oil-based plastics, including polystyrene foam (also known as styrofoam).
This cup will be still be here in a thousand years. (Photo: nationalaquarium.wordpress.com)

As most of us are aware by now, polystyrene foam is an environmental disaster. Not only is there nothing out there that biodegrades it, it breaks off into tiny pieces that choke animals, harm marine life, and release cancer-causing benzene into the environment for a thousand years or more.

“Polystyrene foam products rely on nonrenewable sources for production, are nearly indestructible and leave a legacy of pollution on our urban and natural environments,” said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin in 2007. “If McDonald’s could see the light and phase out polystyrene foam more than a decade ago, it’s about time San Francisco got with the program.”

Despite the ovewhelming evidence against it, the noxious containers are still pervasive elsewhere around the country. Amazingly, they were even voted to be reintroduced into House cafeterias by Republicans earlier this year.
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3) Agent Orange

First developed as an herbicide and defoliant, Agent Orange was used infamously as a military weapon by the U.S. Army during Vietnam to remove the dense foliage of the jungle canopy.
This is what Agent Orange exposure looks like.

In the process, they dumped over 12 million gallons of the potent chemical cocktail—described by Yale biologist Arthur Galston as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man”—over towns, farms, and water supplies during a nine-year period.

“When [military scientists] initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. . .,” said Dr. James R. Clary, a former government scientist with the Chemical Weapons Branch. “However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy,’ none of us were overly concerned.”

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that lack of concern led to 4.8 million exposures to the herbicide, along with 400,000 deaths and disfigurements and 500,000 babies born with birth defects.
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4) Bovine Growth Hormone

Did you know the United States is the only developed nation that permits the sale of milk from cows given artificial growth hormones?
Nothing like the taste of hormones in the morning. (Photo: bigteaparty.com)

With the lone exception of Brazil, the rest of the developed world—including all 27 countries of the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia—has banned growth hormone use in milk destined for human consumption.

Why all the lact-haters? Milk derived from hormone-injected cows shows higher levels of cancer-causing hormones and lower nutritional value, leading even the most stubborn U.S. courts to rule in favor of separate labels for hormone-free milk.

“The milk we drink today is quite unlike the milk our ancestors were drinking without apparent harm for 2,000 years,” said Harvard scientist Ganmaa Davaasambuu. “The milk we drink today may not be nature’s perfect food.”

According to the Center for Food Safety, thanks to increased consumer demand (and certain movies), approximately 60 percent of milk in the U.S. is rBST-free today.
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5) Genetically-Modified Seeds

Not content to do mere incidental damage to the environment, Monsanto decided to get to the root of the matter in the ’80s: seeds.
Just remember: We are what we eat. (Photo: deminvest.wordpress.com)

But with much fuss being made over the company’s aggressive scare tactics and rampant mass-patenting, the biotech giant has, true to form, fought back with a multimillion-dollar marketing and advertising campaign featuring smiling children and making outlandish claims that “biotech foods could help end world hunger.”

“Unless I’m missing something,” wrote Michael Pollan in The New York Times Magazine, “the aim of this audacious new advertising campaign is to impale people like me—well-off first-worlders dubious about genetically engineered food—on the horns of a moral dilemma…If we don’t get over our queasiness about eating genetically modified food, kids in the Third World will go blind.”

What’s clear is that no matter what its justification, Monsanto is a) never giving away all these seeds for free; and b) rendering them sterile so that farmers need to re-up every year, making it difficult to believe that the company could possibly have the planet’s best intentions at heart.

“By peddling suicide seeds, the biotechnology multinationals will lock the world’s poorest farmers into a new form of genetic serfdom,” says Emma Must of the World Development Movement. “Currently 80 percent of crops in developing countries are grown using farm-saved seed.”

“Being unable to save seeds from sterile crops could mean the difference between surviving and going under.”

(TakePart.com)

Hungary Destroys Monsanto GMO Corn Fields

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Foodfacts.com urges readers to look into recent news and research concerning crops derived from genetically modified seeds. A major player in the agribusiness game, Monsanto, recently experienced a slap in the face when Hungary banned ALL GM seeds in their country this past March. When Hungary discovered some seeds made it onto their farmlands, they stood up to the task and destroyed all affected farmlands. Check out the article below.

In an effort to rid the country of Monsanto’s GMO products, Hungary has stepped up the pace. This looks like its going to be another slap in the face for Monsanto. A new regulation was introduced this March which stipulates that seeds are supposed to be checked for GMO before they are introduced to the market. Unfortunately, some GMO seeds made it to the farmers without them knowing it.
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Almost 1000 acres of maize found to have been grown with genetically modified seeds have been destroyed throughout Hungary deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development Lajos Bognar said. The GMO maize has been ploughed under, said Lajos Bognar, but pollen has not spread from the maize, he added.

Unlike several EU members, GMO seeds are banned in Hungary. The checks will continue despite the fact that seed traders are obliged to make sure that their products are GMO free, Bognar said.

During their investigation, controllers have found Pioneer and Monsanto products among the seeds planted.
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The free movement of goods within the EU means that authorities will not investigate how the seeds arrived in Hungary but they will check where the goods can be found, Bognar said. Regional public radio reported that the two biggest international seed producing companies are affected in the matter and GMO seeds could have been sown on up to thousands of hectares in the country.

Most of the local farmers have complained since they just discovered they were using GMO seeds. With season already under way, it is too late to sow new seeds, so this years harvest has been lost.
And to make things even worse for the farmers, the company that distributed the seeds in Baranya county is under liquidation. Therefore, if any compensation is paid by the international seed producers, the money will be paid primarily to that company’s creditors, rather than the farmers.

(Shellee Tyler- Planetsave)