How Seed and Pesticide Companies Push Farmers to Use Bee-Killing Insecticides

If you’ve been following what’s happening with bees in this country, you’ve probably heard about neonicotinoid insecticides (or “neonics”). The most commonly used insecticides in the world, neonics are extremely toxic to insects, including beneficial ones like bees. Not only have they been linked to a decline in honeybee numbers, but a new research article published in Nature found that seeds coated in the insecticide have a negative effect on wild bees on farms. Wild bees, such as bumblebees, contribute billions of dollars of value in pollination services to crops. Read more

Will Monsanto Save the Monarch Butterfly?

Monarch butterflies are in trouble. These popular insects, which have captured the public imagination with their several-thousand mile migrations, have been steadily disappearing for the past 20 years. Now, Monsanto says it wants to help turn the tide. Can the seed and pesticide giant seen by many as responsible for the monarchs’ decline make a difference for these pollinators? Or will its next batch of genetically engineered (GE) crops make matters worse? Read more

The Next Phase of Genetic Engineering: A Flood of New Crops Evading Environmental Regulation

You may have heard of the new genetically engineered Simplot potato. It was made with a new GE technology called RNAi (RNA interference), a technology for which many important gaps remain in our understanding.

In fact, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently asked a panel of independent scientists for advice about this technology, which alters the function of genes in the plant, the scientists wrote a detailed report [PDF] that warned the agency of risks that could sometimes result in harm.* And, they noted that current regulations were not well designed to address these risks.

But those concerns didn’t keep the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the agency with the greatest responsibility to prevent environmental impacts of GE plants—from approving the Simplot potato. Read more

Organic Nearly as Productive as Industrial Farming, New Study Says

Industrial agriculture has huge, unsustainable impacts on our environment. And while organic and other ecologically based farming systems (agroecology) have huge benefits, some have suggested that it will never produce enough food. Production is only one of the challenges for food security. But, according to new research, even by this measure, critics seem to have substantially underestimated the productivity of organic farming. Read more

What Toledo’s Water Crisis Reveals About Industrial Farming

As you may have heard, about half a million people in the Toledo, Ohio area lost their municipal drinking water supply on Saturday because of possible microbial toxin contamination from Lake Erie. A combination of heavier spring rains, exacerbated by climate change, and runoff of phosphorus from fertilizer applied to crops is the likely cause. The good news is that farmers can adopt better practices to eliminate this problem. The bad news is that the agriculture industry, and the public policies that it lobbies for, work against these solutions. Read more

Are Genetically Engineered Herbicide-Resistant Crops Undermining Sustainable Weed Control?

new article in the respected journal BioScience raises important concerns about the harmful influence of genetically engineered herbicide resistant crops on sustainable weed control. As many others have also noted, the excessive reliance on glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, has resulted in the emergence and spread of many harmful weeds that can no longer be controlled by glyphosate. These weeds now infest millions of acres of farmland the U.S., resulting in greater herbicide use.

But the new article goes well beyond most previous work by providing insight into the state of weed control for major crops in the U.S., and how the current use of engineered herbicide resistant crops is driving agriculture toward reduced sustainability. Read more