Category Archives: Agriculture

Suit: ‘Ghosts’ wrote Monsanto Roundup™ research


Explosive allegations rising from a California lawsuit charge that Big Agra corporate giant Monsanto used ghost writers to created research the company used to win federal approval of  glyphosate, the weed-killer in Monsanto’s market-leading Roundup™ herbicide.

With the EPA poised for massive cuts under the new administration, the litigation reveals problems calling for stronger, rather than weaker, enforcement powers for the agency created by Republican Richard M. Nixon.

The disclosure comes just as a federal court upheld a law mandating their product carry a cancer warning.

From teleSUR English:

Agrochemical giant Monsanto used ghostwriters on scientific reports to cover up the risk of cancer from its flagship weedkiller, plaintiffs in a case in a U.S. Federal Court in San Francisco have claimed in a lawsuit.

Lawyers suing Monsanto on behalf of farmers and others in the mass litigation presented documents to the court claiming that the company had failed to warn the public that exposure to its most popular weedkiller, Roundup, was known to cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. Roundup is the most-used weed killer in history.

Employes at the company were accused of writing reports that were used to determine if one of the key ingredients in Roundup, glyphosate, was not carcinogenic. The company’s toxicology manager is accused of ghostwriting sections of a scientific report in 2013 under the names of other scientists and another manager was seen to ghostwrite sections of another report from 2000.

On the back of the false reports, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deemed that Roundup posed no cancer risk. The company has denied that it carried out such activities and says that the claims the allegations are based on “cherry-pick” from one email.

In the email in question, an executive from the company said that ghostwriters could help cut down on costs and researchers “would just edit & sign their names so to speak.”

While court filings said that the EPA “may be unaware of Monsanto’s deceptive authorship practice,” former deputy director of the EPA, Jess Rowland, was accused of colluding with Monsanto to bury the real scientific research on glyphosate and its links to cancer.

Citing an email from a Monsanto employee, Roland reportedly said, “If I can kill this (the study) I should get a medal.”  Rowland has been the central figure in more than 20 lawsuits in the U.S.

In a separate lawsuit, a district court ruled that California could classify glyphosate as a cancer risk. The World Health Organization had previously upgraded glyphosate as a carcinogen.

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California: Roundup™ must carry a cancer warning


A new California law will force Monsanto to slap a cancer warning on its Roundup weedkiller.

Score one for the good guys.

The story, from RT America:

California to force Monsanto to label its herbicide as possibly carcinogenic


Program Notes:

Agrochemical giant, Monsanto has lost its court battle in California after a Fresno county judge ruled that the active ingredient in the company’s notorious weed killer ‘Roundup,’ glyphosate, can be added to the state’s list of cancer-causing agents. Once the chemical is added to the list, the company will have one year to label that it’s a possible carcinogen on their products. RT America’s Brigida Santos reports, speaking to Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, and Alexis Baden-Meyer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Charts of the day: Latin American land inequality


Two significant graphics from Unearthed: land, power and inequality in Latin America, a major study of land distribution in Latin America, reveal the gross inequalities of land distribution in the Americas.

First, a look at agricultural land tenure rates, featuring the percentage of farms in each country owned by the top one percent of landowners:

More from the report:

Latin America is the world’s most unequal region in terms of land distribution. The Gini coefficient for land—an indicator of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents the maximum inequality—is 0.79 for the region as a whole, 0.85 in South America and 0.75 in Central America. These figures indicate much higher levels of land concentration than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to this indicator, Paraguay (with a Gini coefficient of 0.93) is the country where land is most unequally distributed, followed by Chile (0.91) and Venezuela (0.88). At the other end of
the spectrum is Costa Rica (0.67), which has the most equitable land distribution in the region. Most Latin American countries have extremely high levels of concentration with Gini coeffi-
cients above 0.80, while the ratio is over 0.90 in Chile and Paraguay.

Compared with the distribution of income—for which Latin America is also the most unequal region in the world—land distribution is even more inequitable. The regional Gini coefficient for income is 0.48 compared with 0.79 for land, and is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.43), North America (0.37) or the East Asia-Pacific region (0.37).

And, next, a look at what crops are planted on those vast latifundias:

Note particularly the vast acreage devoted to soybeans.

The great majority of those acres are planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans, according to this September report from Reuters:

South American farmers are expected to sow 57 percent more area with Monsanto Co’s second-generation, genetically modified soybean seed Intacta RR2 Pro in the new planting season, a company executive said.

Intacta, which tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and resists caterpillars, was planted on 14 million hectares in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2015/2016.

Farmers are expected to plant 18 million to 22 million hectares this season, Maria Luiza Nachreiner, head of South American soy operations, said in an interview before Monsanto announced it would accept a $66 billion takeover bid from rival Bayer.

“We have a positive outlook this crop,” Nachreiner said.

Intacta will account for 31 percent to 38 percent of the planted area in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, up from 24 percent this season, she noted.

Monsanto does not release specific numbers about the area planted with its seeds in Brazil, the world’s largest soybean exporter. For years, its Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area, according to data from local consultant Celeres.

To maintain those crops, farmers are also basically forced to use Monsanto weed-killers, most notably glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in the company’s Roundup,.

Roundup has been linked with a growing number of human health problems, but weeds have been growing tolerant, forcing the company to create new blends featuring even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D, one of two chemicals used in the toxic Agent Orange blend sprayed over much of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, resulting in a growing number of severe infant deformities.

U.N experts slam pesticides as a global health threat


And they’re calling for an end to their use and a shift to sustainable agriculture worldwide.

It’s a message we heartily endorse, but it won’t sit well a Trump administration and national legislature dominated by corporate interests.

From the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

Two United Nations experts are calling for a comprehensive new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides in farming, and move towards sustainable agricultural practices. They say: “excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital  to ensuring food security.”

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and the Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that widely divergent standards of production, use and protection from hazardous pesticides in different countries are creating double standards, which are having a serious impact on human rights.

The Special Rapporteurs pointed to research showing that pesticides were responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. The overwhelming number of fatalities, some 99%, occurred in developing countries where health, safety and environmental regulations were weaker.

Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. Farmers and agricultural workers, communities living near plantations, indigenous communities and pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure and require special protections.

The experts particularly emphasized the obligation of States to protect the rights of children from hazardous pesticides. They noted the high number of children killed or injured by food contaminated with pesticides, particularly through accidental poisonings, the prevalence of diseases and disabilities linked to chronic exposure at a young age, and reports on the exposure to hazardous pesticides of children working in global food supply chains, which is one of the worst forms of child labour.

The experts warn that certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends. The excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity, destroying the natural enemies of pests, and reducing the nutritional value of food. The impact of such overuse also imposes staggering costs on national economies around the world.

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The tragedy of Trump/Big Oil’s war on the EPA


We spent a good many years covering environmental issues, including the role played by corporations and the nation’s largest university system in building on polluted land.

We were first stirred to concern for our impact on the environment in 1962 when we read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the book that inspired the rise of the modern environmental movement in the last half of the 20th Century.

The movement became so significant that a Reoubkican President [and a loathed one at that] created the Environmental Protection Agency,

And while Donald Trump may share a leak paranoia with Agent Orange, he’s anything but Richard Nixon when it comes to the environment.

An agency dismembered

While Trump and many of his appointees called for outright elimination of the EPA, realism set in.

That and the beginning of the death by a thousand cuts, starting with a story from Newsweek written as the initial proposed budget cuts were revealed:

The proposal, sent to the EPA [last week], would cut into grants that support American Indian tribes and energy efficiency initiatives, according to the source, who read the document to Reuters.

State grants for lead cleanup, for example, would be cut 30 percent to $9.8 million. Grants to help native tribes combat pollution would be cut 30 percent to $45.8 million. An EPA climate protection program on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming would be cut 70 percent to $29 million.

The proposal would cut funding for the brownfields industrial site cleanup program by 42 percent to $14.7 million. It would also reduce funding for enforcing pollution laws by 11 percent to $153 million.

The budget did not cut state revolving funds for programs, that Congress tapped last year to provide aid to Flint, Michigan, for its lead pollution crisis.

All staff at a research program, called Global Change Research, as well as 37 other programs would be cut under the plan.

As Bloomberg notes:

More than 40 percent of EPA’s budget – about $3.5 billion – is dedicated to state and tribal grants used to pay for staff and support an array of programs, including initiatives that protect drinking water. State clean air and water programs also benefit.

That means the disproportionate burden will fall on states, most of which have Republican-controlled legislatures and chief executives.

So it’s unlikely most states will replace the lost funds, and layoffs will ensue.

Also impacted will be city government, losing both federal funds and monies from the states.

Given that the burdens of pollution fall disproportionately on the poor, life expectancies may decline.

Hey, but he’s makin’ Ahmurka great agin, ain’t he?

Ain’t he?

The latest development: Still more cuts

Needless to say, climate research is involved.

Scientific American puts it i context:

The administration is seeking a nearly 20 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget, including to its satellite division, The Washington Post reported. That includes significant cuts to the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which has produced research that disproved the notion of a global warming pause. NOAA’s satellites provide invaluable data on climate change that are used by researchers throughout the world. The NOAA cuts target the Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research, which conducts the bulk of the agency’s climate research.

That’s on top of proposed reductions to climate research at U.S. EPA, including a 40 percent cut to the Office of Research and Development, which runs much of EPA’s major research. The cuts specify work on climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. The Trump administration also has proposed 20 percent staffing reduction at EPA.

More than a dozen federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Interior Department and the Department of Energy, conduct climate research. Further cuts are expected, particularly at NASA, which develops and launches the satellites that provide invaluable information on climate change used throughout the world. President Trump has called global warming a “hoax,” and some congressional Republicans pushing for climate science cuts have falsely claimed that federal scientists are engaged in a massive conspiracy to defraud the American public into thinking that human activity is causing the planet to warm.

About a third of the American economy relies on weather, climate and natural hazard data, said Chris McEntee, president of the American Geophysical Union, the nation’s largest scientific organization. She said much of the federal scientific research and data comes from multiple agencies working together, so cutting one will have a ripple effect.

“It’s not just one agency, it’s a holistic view here, and cutting one piece also has an impact on the whole enterprise of what we get out of science from the federal government that enables us to have the kinds of tools and information we need to protect the infrastructure, to protect lives, to protect public safety, and to give us knowledge and information to make a more effective economy and country,” she said.

After the jump, more cuts, the threats to a massive database and efforts to preserve them, and a case of class war. . . Continue reading

Why are we fat? Republicans, Democrats disagree


If the recent elections have taught us anything, it’s that Democrats and Republicans are so deeply divided that one might reasonably argue that the system has broken down, with folks of great wealth fueling the divisions for their own ends.

So how deeply divided are the two parties?

Well, they can’t even agree on what makes folks fat.

It’s that old nature/nurture divide that lurks beneath so much of political divisiveness, with the Republicans arguing that Calvinism, with its doctrine of predestination, rules at the bathroom scales, while Democrats argue that it’s something fueled by the environment.

From the University of Kansas:

People’s political leanings and their own weight shape opinions on obesity-related public policies, according to a new study by two University of Kansas researchers.

Actually, Republicans — no matter how much they weigh —  believe eating and lifestyle habits cause obesity, the research found.

But among Democrats there is more of a dividing line, said Mark Joslyn, professor of political science. Those who identify themselves as overweight are more likely to believe genetic factors cause obesity.

“Self-reported overweight people were significantly more likely to believe obesity is caused by genetics than normal weight people,” Joslyn said. “The belief that obesity is due to genetics tends to remove blame. Obesity is not a choice, some would argue, but rather people are simply genetically wired to be obese. In this way, overweight people are motivated to believe in the genetics-obesity link. We found normal weight people were not so motivated.”

Joslyn and Don Haider-Markel, chair and professor of the Department of Political Science, published their findings [$36 to read] recently in the journal American Politics Research.

The research could have important implications for policymakers, especially at the local and state levels that tend to focus on public health interventions, either through appealing to healthy lifestyles by constructing biking and walking paths to encourage exercise or by passing stricter regulations on food and drinks, such as demanding publication of calorie counts and levying taxes on soft drinks.

Former New York City Mayor — and billionaire — Michael Bloomberg has donated millions of dollars to fund pro-soda tax initiatives in major cities. Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia are among those that have passed them in recent years. Obesity rates have risen recently in the United States, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2015 that 71 percent of adults were overweight and more than 17 percent of youths were obese.

Still, most Americans oppose bans on large-size drinks and higher soda taxes, Joslyn said, which is likely a disparity between the perception of the problem and support for government intervention. Those who have argued against soda taxes, for example, often refer to a “nanny state,” blaming government intervention when they perceive personal choice is causing the problem.

For policymakers, as obesity rates continue to climb and the debate surrounding how to make people healthier continues, the genetic attribution as a cause may continue to rise as well, which could influence people’s opposition to certain practices.

“To the extent that genetic attributions increase in popularity, stronger opposition to discriminatory hiring practices by weight can be expected,” Joslyn said.

Also, it’s likely the issue remains politicized because most Republicans are inclined to support individual blame for obesity and not supportive of government regulations.

Finally, while the soda taxes have gained much attention, most government action recently does seem to be directed toward changing people’s individual behavior, such as developing public spaces to encourage fitness and ways to discourage unhealthy eating habits, like publication of calorie counts.

“If obesity persists in the face of such initiatives, blame and discrimination of obese people is likely to continue,” Joslyn said. “On the other hand, if governments treat obesity similar to diseases that afflict the population, as circumstances beyond the control of individuals, then individual blame and discrimination may diminish.”

Program notes

The genome dynamically interacts with the environment as chemical switches that regulate gene expression receive cues from stress, diet, behavior, toxins and other factors. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them.

So what’s it all about?

From Scientific American:

In a study published in late 2011 in Nature, Stanford University geneticist Anne Brunet and colleagues described a series of experiments that caused nematodes raised under the same environmental conditions to experience dramatically different lifespans. Some individuals were exceptionally long-lived, and their descendants, through three generations, also enjoyed long lives. Clearly, the longevity advantage was inherited. And yet, the worms, both short- and long-lived, were genetically identical.

This type of finding—an inherited difference that cannot be explained by variations in genes themselves—has become increasingly common, in part because scientists now know that genes are not the only authors of inheritance. There are ghostwriters, too. At first glance, these scribes seem quite ordinary—methyl, acetyl, and phosphoryl groups, clinging to proteins associated with DNA, or sometimes even to DNA itself, looking like freeloaders at best. Their form is far from the elegant tendrils of DNA that make up genes, and they are fleeting, in a sense, erasable, very unlike genes, which have been passed down through generations for millions of years. But they do lurk, and silently, they exert their power, modifying DNA and controlling genes, influencing the chaos of nucleic and amino acids. And it is for this reason that many scientists consider the discovery of these entities in the late 20th century as a turning point in our understanding of heredity, as possibly one of the greatest revolutions in modern biology—the rise of epigenetics.

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Border wall moves ahead; Mexican resistance stirs


Yep, the border wall is moving ahead.

From the Chicago Tribune:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect “a great wall” along the 2,000-mile border.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to FedBizOpps.gov, a website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

The agency’s notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

Announcement comes a day after cross-border meeting

The wall wasn’t even mentioned when two cabinet members traveled south of the border the day before the announcement.

From NBC News:

There were promises of cooperation, of closer economic ties, and frequent odes to the enduring partnership between the U.S. and its southern neighbor. But there were no public mentions of that massive border wall or President Donald Trump’s plan to deport non-Mexicans to Mexico as top U.S. officials visited the Mexican capital.

Instead, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played it safe, acknowledging generally that the U.S. and Mexico are in a period of disagreement without putting any specific dispute under the microscope. It fell to their hosts, and especially Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, to thrust those issues into the spotlight.

“It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad,” Videgaray said Thursday after meeting with Kelly and Tillerson.

The Americans focused instead on putting to rest some of the fears reverberating across Latin America – such as the notion that the U.S. military might be enlisted to deport immigrants in the U.S. illegally en masse. Not so, said Kelly. He said there would be “no mass deportations” and no U.S. military role.

Sure, Mexico can trust anything that comes out of an administration headed by a man who can’t even keep his own lies straight, then flies into a rage any time anyone dares point that out.

Trump may do the impossible for Peña

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been polling at all-time lows, earning an abysmal 12 percent approval rate in one recent survey., making Trump’s current 42 percent approval rating look like a rave review.

But Trump may prove a boost for the beleaguered Mexican President is Agent Orange continues with his self-serving racist rants, especially now that Peña’s administration is showing a little resistance.

From teleSUR English:

The U.S. wants to pressure Mexico into keeping migrants and refugees as they await trial, forcing Mexico to deport them instead. Mexico isn’t falling for it.

Mexico will reject the remaining funds of the Merida Plan if they’re used by the U.S. to coerce the country on immigration policy, said Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Friday.

The US$2.6 billion security assistance package on the drug war has been almost been entirely distributed since 2008, mostly on military equipment like helicopters and training for its security forces.

The plan has been widely criticized for worsening, rather than improving, violence and disappearances in the country and being partly responsible for the disappearance of the 43 student-teachers in Ayotzinapa. It already contains a proviso to withhold funds if Mexico doesn’t improve its rule of law or human rights abuses, though the U.S. has never enacted this demand.

Besides now taking into account U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall, the aid may be dependent on Mexico hosting undocumented immigrants from third countries as they are awaiting processing of their deportation trials in the U.S.

“They can’t leave them here on the border because we have to reject them. There is no chance they would be received by Mexico,” said Osorio Chong on Friday, speaking with Radio Formula after a cool reception of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who visited on Thursday.

Mexico already deports hundreds of thousands of Central Americans apprehended at its southern border, but cities like Mexico City are among the largest receptors of refugees deported from the U.S.

Mexico hints at a trade war

A not-so-veiled threat was issued Thursday at the same time Trump administration officials were meeting with their Mexican counterparts.

From Reuters:

Mexico’s economy minister said on Thursday that applying tariffs on U.S. goods is “plan B” for Mexico in trade talks with the United States if negotiations aimed at achieving a new mutually beneficial agreement fail.

Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told local broadcaster Televisa that he expected North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with both the United States and Canada to begin this summer and conclude by the end of this year.

And promptly takes the first step

Guajardo’s warming was accompanied by action as well,

From teleSUR English:

Amid trade tensions with the United States, Mexico plans to send a delegation next month to visit Brazilian corn, beef, chicken and soy producers as an alterative to U.S. suppliers, its representative in Brazil said on Friday.

Mexican chargé d’affaires Eleazar Velasco said Brazil is uniquely positioned to expand agricultural commodity sales to Mexico if trade with the United States is disrupted because it is closer than other potential suppliers like Australia.

“The United States unilaterally wants to change the established rules of the game,” Velasco told Reuters. “This will evidently lead us to rebalance our trade relations.”

Mexican Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada was due to visit Brazil last week but had to postpone his trip until March due to scheduling issues, Velasco said.

Calzada will bring Mexican food industry executives to do deals with Brazilian exporters, the diplomat said. The trip is part of a drive to lessen dependence on U.S. exports as President Donald Trump threatens to upend long-standing free trade between the two countries.

And Mexico acts on the financial front as well

The country has been engaged in a massive buttressing of its currency.

From CNNMoney:

Mexico’s currency, the peso, is one of the best performers in the world in February, up over 5%.

Before the U.S. election, the country’s central bank started implementing what its governor, Agustin Carstens, called a “contingency plan.” Carstens says Trump’s potential policies would hit Mexico’s economy like a “hurricane.”

For ordinary Mexicans, the peso’s momentum doesn’t mean much. Gas prices rose as much as 20% in January while economic growth and wages continue to be sluggish. Life is getting more expensive.

Still, it’s a swift turnaround for a country and currency facing an uncertain future with the U.S.

Since November, Mexico’s central bank has raised interest rates three times and sold U.S. dollars to international investors. Among other efforts, it’s all meant to buoy the peso that’s been weighed down by Trump’s threats.

Things are starting to get interesting. . .