Monthly Archives: July 2011

“It [glyphosate] kills everything”

“It [glyphosate] kills everything,” said Lincoln P. Brower, an entomologist at Sweet Briar College who is also an author of the paper documenting the decline of monarch winter populations in Mexico. “It’s like absolute Armageddon for biodiversity over a huge area.”

AND WE ARE FEEDING IT TO OUR CHILDREN

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As recently as a decade ago, farms in the Midwest were commonly marred — at least as a farmer would view it — by unruly patches of milkweed amid the neat rows of emerging corn or soybeans.

Not anymore. Fields are now planted with genetically modified corn and soybeans resistant to the herbicide Roundup, (glyphosate) allowing farmers to spray the chemical to eradicate weeds, including milkweed.

And while that sounds like good news for the farmers, a growing number of scientists fear it is imperiling the monarch butterfly, whose spectacular migrations make it one of the most beloved of insects — “the Bambi of the insect world,” as an entomologist once put it.

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, and their larvae eat it. While the evidence is still preliminary and disputed, experts like Chip Taylor say the growing use of genetically modified crops is threatening the orange-and-black butterfly by depriving it of habitat.

“This milkweed has disappeared from at least 100 million acres of these row crops,” said Dr. Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas and director of the research and conservation program Monarch Watch. “Your milkweed is virtually gone.”

The primary evidence that monarch populations are in decline comes from a new study showing a drop over the last 17 years of the area occupied by monarchs in central Mexico, where many of them spend the winter. The amount of land occupied by the monarchs is thought to be a proxy for their population size.

“This is the first time we have the data that we can analyze statistically that shows there’s a downward trend,” said Ernest H. Williams, a professor of biology at Hamilton College and an author of the study along with Dr. Taylor and others.

The paper, published online by the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, attributes the decrease partly to the loss of milkweed from use of “Roundup Ready” crops. Other causes, it says, are the loss of milkweed to land development, illegal logging at the wintering sites in Mexico, and severe weather.

“GMOs may be just like atomic energy”

BASF Said to Consider Genetically Modified Crop Exit in Germany

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BASF SE (BAS), the world’s biggest chemical maker, may withdraw genetically modified crop research from Germany in response to growing political opposition, three people familiar with discussions said.

The maker of the Amflora scientific potato is considering the future of its research facility in rural Limburgerhof in southwestern Germany, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. A move to the U.S. is possible for the plant biotechnology operations, which employ 700, said one of the people.

Germany plans to close all 17 of its nuclear reactors by 2022, exiting atomic power after a meltdown in Japan stoked safety concerns. The move has strengthened the Green Party, which rejects nuclear energy and is now a junior coalition partner in BASF’s home state. The risks of genetically modified organisms are difficult to calculate, the Greens say.

“GMOs may be just like atomic energy,” said Ulrike Hoefken, the Green Party’s regional environment minister. “The risks are masked and big benefits are claimed. But it’s the general public who is left with the costs for any damage.”

The flight of research means Germany may lose out on the $12 billion market for genetically modified plants, which is set to grow 5 percent annually over the next five years, according to advisory firm Phillips McDougall. BASF founded the agricultural center in Limburgerhof in 1914 and now has 11,000 square meters of greenhouses and some 40 hectares of fields.

Weighing Politics

BASF, in an e-mailed response to questions, said it’s too early to comment on the future of plant biotechnology research, though the company will take regional politics into account. The company has already halted projects focusing solely on the European market, it said. The Green Party tripled its vote in Rhineland-Palatinate, home to BASF’s Ludwigshafen headquarters, on March 27.

“We are committed to green biotechnology [GM crops],” Peter Eckes, head of BASF’s plant science unit, said in an e-mail. “We value the open and constructive dialogue we have had with Rhineland- Palatinate’s government in the past and want to continue this dialogue with the members of the new government. This also includes the clarification of the new government’s attitude toward green biotechnology.”

The potential setback comes a year after BASF won permission to plant its Amflora potato for use as a thickening agent for paper, overcoming 13 years of opposition from environmental groups in Germany and Sweden who cited possible damage to health and ecology.

Missing Out

Developing countries will overtake industrialized nations in planting genetically modified crops before 2015, said Clive James, founder of nonprofit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, or ISAA