A recent article in The Progressive Farmer sounded an alarm about the re-emergence of the corn rootworm, a beetle was once called the “billion dollar pest” due to the big impact it has had on valuable corn crops and the costs farmers have racked up trying to control it. Read more
Monarch butterflies are in serious trouble. Perhaps the most iconic insect in the United States, this butterfly has existed for countless millennia and, every year, it accomplishes the longest known migration of any insect in the world.
Monarch butterflies have been decimated over the past 20 years due to the loss of milkweed in the Midwest. This once common plant is the only food the butterflies’ larvae eat, and as milkweed goes, so go the monarchs. What’s worse, is the fact that these butterflies’ main summer mating grounds are smack in the middle of the U.S. Corn Belt, where milkweed has been almost eliminated due to the large-scale use of glyphosate (or Roundup) herbicide on genetically engineered corn and soybeans. Read more
One year ago, an agency of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) declared that glyphosate (or Roundup), the world’s most widely used herbicide, probably causes cancer. Then, in the fall, the European Food Safety Agency’s (EFSA) responded with an assessment that disagreed with the WHO’s findings. Read more
Seed company mergers have been all over the news lately. First, there was Monsanto’s rebuffed attempts to buy Syngenta, followed by a proposed merger between DuPont and Dow. Then, a Chinese company expressed interest in buying Syngenta, which lead to Syngenta’s renewed interest by Monsanto. As this chart by Michigan State University’s Phillip Howard shows, all this recent merger activity is the culmination of about two decades of the world’s largest seed companies swallowing up smaller companies by the score.
And while most of these developments have been reported as business stories, they also have huge implications for agriculture and our food supply. Read more
Earlier this year, Bill Nye, renowned as the “science guy,” made news for changing his mind about genetic engineering (or GMOs) after a visit to Monsanto, the pesticide and seed giant at the forefront of the biotechnology industry.
Nye is an emblematic science educator, who has done a lot to kindle the interest of young people in science, to defend the validity of evolutionary science, and raise awareness about climate change. Until recently, he spoke and wrote about GMOs as environmentally risky technology. Read more
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
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
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
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
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds are often sold to farmers and the public on the grounds that they are the wave of the future, taking over where conventional plant breeding left off by improving productivity and sustainability. But that might be changing. Read more