Thursday, March 3, 2011

The case against Roundup advances


Over the past five years a series of studies have begun to show that Roundup, the farmer's favourite herbicide, is not the free ride it has been made out to be. First there was some damning research on the effects of the surfactanct in Roundup being toxic to some forms of aquatic life, frogs in particular.

A few years after that, researchers found that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, inhibits the uptake of nutrients in plants. They linked glyphosate to reduced nutrient efficiency and said animals that eat GM soy and corn have exhibited mineral deficiencies, which can lead to problems with everything from the immune system to reproduction.

Following that work, there were more claims that the herbicide is linked with a number of plant diseases. (Here us a link to a paper that argues "Glyphosate tolerant (GT) crops and glyphosate herbicide (commercial formulation, Roundup) poison nitrogen fixing and other beneficial soil bacteria, increase fungal pathogens, undermine plant immunity to diseases, decrease plant micronutrients available in the soil, and more."

Then, in 2010, researchers published data claiming glyphosate contributed to problems with chicken and frog embryos. Their research was inspired by clinical data on birth defects in the children of agricultural workers in Argentina that use Roundup.

All of which sounds bad enough to at least stimulate a re-examination of Roundup by federal agencies in Canada and the U.S. but no one is surprised that has not happened.

Well, as of a few days ago, the ante was raised by a soil scientist who says he suspects that Roundup and its associated Genetically Modified (GM) crops may be responsible for the kind of agricultural armageddon people have often feared from biotech.

Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus at Purdue University, has sounded the alarm, referring to a pathogen “new to science” discovered by “a team of senior plant and animal scientists”. Huber, said to be one of America's most respected soil scientists, claims that Roundup and the GM Roundup Ready crops may be linked to the appearance of this new pathogen, which is causing plant diseases and reproductive failure in livestock. A couple of weeks ago Huber wrote an open letter to the head of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)saying this should be treated as an “emergency’’, because it could result in “a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies.”

A copy of the open letter can be seen here where it appeared on the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance site.

The letter was intended to persuade Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, to halt plans to authorize unrestricted commercial planting of GM alfalfa on 1 February, in the hope of convincing the Secretary of Agriculture to impose a moratorium instead on deregulation of Roundup Ready (RR) crops.

As this TriplePundit blog posting from a few days ago explains, however, the USDA ignored Huber's warnings and went ahead with the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa. Why? Well, here is what the blog posting says about that:

Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma), the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, who led the effort to deregulate Monsanto’s controversial alfalfa, has received some $1.25 million from agribusiness during his political career to date.

Roundup Ready wheat, canola, soy and corn are bad enough, but alfalfa is a mainstay of hay crops that often host birds and of course a variety of insects. If Roundup is as dangerous as Huber and others maintain, spraying it heavily on hay crops will damage already degraded habitat for prairie creatures that are being pushed from the last vestages of their preferred habitat, native grass, and onto tame hay.

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