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August 29, 2014

Total Failure: The Fraudulent Promises of the Two Types of GMOs

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Farmers originally embraced the Roundup Ready system, not because they expected it to directly increase crop yields or reduce costs (it doesn’t and never did), but because by greatly simplifying weed management through the one-time application of one herbicide, it freed up time and conceptual space so the farmer could farm more acres.
 
Under conditions of commodity agriculture, farmers are under constant pressure to maximize their acreage and in this way their production. So while herbicide tolerant GMOs never increased yield acre-for-acre, and often have decreased it, they enable the farmer to cover more acres and in this way “make it up on volume”. It’s a version of Taylorism, a speed-up device, and also saves labor costs. Monsanto and the USDA touted these virtues for the farmer, and to this day still claim that the product benefits farmers in this way.
 
All this describes the attraction of the Roundup Ready system for farmers, during the few years that it worked as advertised. But with the rise of glyphosate-resistant superweeds, all these benefits have been lost. All the touted simplicity has been replaced by a regression to an even more costly complexity than farmers faced prior to the advent of herbicide tolerant GMOs.
 
Farmers were promised by Monsanto and the US government that they could schedule their plantings without having to coordinate them with herbicide applications. They could later apply glyphosate whenever they wanted, needing just one application (or in the case of cotton two). But with the evolution-predicted rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds, farmers now find themselves having to revert to the old complex choreography. Increasingly, they need a non-glyphosate pre-emergence application, followed by a post-emergence glyphosate application at exactly the right time to catch Palmer amaranth when it’s small enough to be affected. That’s assuming the P. amaranth isn’t a Roundup Ready superweed, as they increasingly are. If it’s resistant to the herbicide, then it has to be hand-weeding or the hoe, when the weeds are still small enough. Then more applications of glyphosate and other herbicides.
 
Farmers were similarly promised they could forever plant corn-on-corn or corn-on-soy (again, something implicitly demanded by the economics of commodity monocropping), since the Roundup Ready system would make weed management such a snap that you could forever plant Roundup Ready-on-Roundup Ready and never have a problem. In spite of the previous history of weeds developing resistance to triazine and ALS-inhibitor herbicides, as a matter of evolutionary clockwork, Monsanto explicitly promised that glyphosate-resistant weeds would not develop no matter how massively and long they were doused with Roundup. Their technical hacks published “studies” to that effect.
 
Today such rotations accomplish nothing against the superweeds, and weed scientists can only recommend rotations which include wheat or lesser crops like oats and barley. Some recommend that farmers ration their use of glyphosate. This of course is tantamount to rejecting the Roundup Ready GMO system as such, since the only thing which could possibly in theory justify the massively higher cost of RR seeds is the efficacy and simplicity of idiot-proof drenching with Roundup.
 
Meanwhile, not only have GMO farmer/contractors made their own weed management increasingly complex and economically unviable, but they’re inflicting worse weed infestations on their non-GM conventional neighbors.
 
To sum up, the corporate system promised farmers and the public that the Roundup Ready system would simplify weed management and render it less toxic, as glyphosate was allegedly less toxic to human and environmental health than older herbicides. Today “The Party’s Over” as weed scientist Aaron Hager says, and “the ‘simplicity’ of glyphosate as a stand-alone weed management tool will be relegated to the annals of history”. Or as former Dupont cadre Alberto Bianchi puts it, “today we have to fight pests worse than 15 or 20 years ago, but with fewer weapons than we had before”. Desperate weed consultants advise better crop rotations, using greater amounts of more different kinds of herbicides more often, and returning to the antiquated practice of deep tillage. Capping this reactionary program is the ultimate dark age regression, the deployment of GMOs engineered to be resistant to the exact same, far more toxic retrograde herbicides which the corporations and government originally promised us would be rendered permanently obsolete.
 
This proves the malign intent of corporations and governments, that they’re actually trying to repeat this same “mistake”, albeit at a vastly more destructive level. The failure of 2,4-D and dicamba resistant systems is already a proven fact. History proves it. No one who supports it can escape criminal culpability, and must and shall be held criminally responsible for every harm that follows.
 
Farmers have went through the same history with GMO corn engineered to resist rootworm (CRW) predation. Monsanto introduced CRW-resistant corn in 2003 with promises that it would forever relegate soil insecticides, previously the main pesticide used vs. CRW, to the scrap heap. Here the target pest counterattacked more quickly than even the weeds did. The Bt toxin itself was weak vs. rootworms from the start, serving to accelerate the development of resistance. Farmers saw very little insecticide dividend, and had to go back to soil insecticide application so quickly that by 2008 the University of Illinois felt the need to assure farmers that supplementing anti-CRW GMOs with soil insecticide doesn’t “always make sense”. That’s how ubiquitous the field reports of Bt-resistant rootworms already were.
 
Lab confirmation quickly followed. Using specimens collected from ravaged Iowa fields in 2009, a team at Iowa State documented resistance in a 2011 study. Subsequent studies in 2013 and 2014 reinforced the documentation. This latest study, published in the National Academy of Sciences, documented that rootworms which developed resistance to Monsanto’s original Cry3Bb1 trait were also cross-resistant to Syngenta’s Cry3A set of anti-rootworm traits.
 
According to this study, Dow’s Cry34/35Ab1 toxin still worked well vs. rootworms. But that was only for the moment. In 2014 Iowa farmers have reported rootworm damage in fields planted to Bt varieties containing the Cry34/35Ab1 trait. So what was the last trait standing is now staggering.
 
Thus farmers have had to go back to the bad old days of applying soil insecticides, and it’s commonplace among system entomologists to recommend this as part of the remedy farmers need to deploy as the Bt GMO system increasingly fails to live up to its promises.
 
Here too a return to crop rotation is a common recommendation. But if the idea is the pseudo-rotation of corn-on-soy, previously effective vs. rootworm, it’s becoming too late for this as well. As early as 1999 rootworms were discovered which could lay their eggs amid a corn-planting and then endure through a soybean season, awaiting the next corn planting. These “rotation-resistant” rootworms have since then been documented in Illinois and Iowa. They’re a product of the industrial corn/soy monoculture; corn-on-soy is really is no kind of legitimate rotation at all. And there’s many possible ways in which their rotation resistance may have been fostered by elements of the Roundup Ready GMO system itself.
 
Here again, GMO contract growers are not only destroying their own ability to exist, but are making production more difficult for non-GM farmers who must contend with more common and virulent rootworm infestations than occurred prior to Roundup Ready’s corn-on-corn campaign and the advent of the anti-rootworm Bt campaign.
 
The inexorable march of the superweeds and the rising insurrection of the rootworms exemplify the proven complete failure of the two basic genres of GMOs, herbicide tolerance and insecticide expression. Farmers increasingly wish to get off the GMO treadmill and resume conventional agriculture, or even to switch to direct retail and/or organic agriculture. This is definitely the rational choice, as confirmed by every portent.
 
But if farmers want to get off the treadmill, they may find many obstacles. The superiority of non-GM conventional production is well documented. With every new year of greater seed costs, poison costs, and ever expanding and intensifying superweed and superbug development, more and more industrial farmers are interested in getting off the GMO treadmill and resuming conventional production. But for corn and soy, non-GM varieties are often difficult to find. Thanks to the dereliction of the public breeding sector and the widespread enclosure of new varieties which are released to the public only in GMO (i.e. Roundup Ready and/or Bt expressing) form, the varieties which are available are often of lower quality. (This also reveals the fraud involved in cartel studies which allege higher yields for some Bt varieties over conventional. These “studies” never compare a GMO variety with its isogenic non-GM equivalent, but rather what’s likely to be a superior conventionally-bred variety which was then subjected to Bt transgene insertion and made publicly available only in this GMO form, vs. an inferior conventional variety.)
 
The cartel and the US government are responding to the proven complete failure of the very concepts of herbicide tolerant and insecticide-expressing GMOs by striving to double down on them and render vastly worse the failure and the collateral health, environmental, and economic destruction which shall go along with them. This is smoking gun proof that all the blathering in favor of GMOs is nothing but lies, and that for GMO proponents, the consciously, intentionally held one and only goal is to maximize corporate profit and power.

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August 21, 2014

GMOs, Always A Backward Technology, Get More Regressive All the Time

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For all practical purposes, there’s just two kinds of GMOs. There’s those which are resistant to one or more herbicides, and there’s those which produce one or more of their own endemic Bt insecticides. Increasingly, GMO varieties do both of these, for multiple poisons in each case.
 
Weed resistance to herbicides and insect resistance to insecticides went back decades prior to the deployment of GMOs. It was widely predicted by everyone but corporate and government flacks that the incestuous focus on one herbicide, glyphosate, and a handful of Bt toxins, to the overthrow of any rational crop rotation and weed/pest management strategy, would quickly lead to weed and pest resistance which would render GMOs impotent. Within a few years of GMO commercialization these predictions started coming true. By ten years in, weed and pest resistance were accelerating toward disaster. Today the Roundup Ready regime is in ruins, and over much of the world most of the original Bt varieties are worthless against pests. For anyone who’s not an evolution denier, the failure of these two product genres is proven and complete.
 
Monsanto’s Roundup Ready product line, engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, has been the foundation of the GMO regime. US acreage planted to RR varieties in 2011 comprised 94% of soybeans, 72% of maize, and 96% of cotton (Benbrook 2012 p.2). Glyphosate use surged from 15 million pounds of active ingredient in 1996 to 159 million in 2009 (FWW 2013 p.2). According to Charles Benbrook’s 2012 analysis, RR crops caused overall herbicide use to increase over what would have been sprayed on exclusively non-GM conventional crops by a total of 527 million pounds from 1996 to 2011, the great bulk of this being extra glyphosate, with RR soybeans accounting for 70% of the total increase.
 
Glyphosate-based herbicide first went on sale in 1976, but because it wasn’t heavily used there weren’t reports of weeds resistant to it until the latter 90s, as the Roundup Ready system started becoming widely deployed. The first confirmed glyphosate-resistant superweed in the US was rigid ryegrass in California in 1998. Resistant horseweed, destined to become the most common Roundup Ready superweed, was first confirmed in Delaware in 2000. It quickly began a triumphal march across the southern US, while several other glyphosate-resistant weeds emerged, most notably Palmer amaranth and waterhemp. By 2012 Roundup-resistant horseweed was confirmed in 21 states, Palmer amaranth in 17, and waterhemp in 12 (FWW p.3). Today these superweeds are embarked upon a veritable march of conquest, while Roundup Ready crops are being driven back in what’s turning into a total rout. The Stratus Glyphosate Tracking Survey has documented the accelerating phenomenon. In 2013 over 70 million US acres were reported to be afflicted with glyphosate resistant weeds, up from 61.2 million in 2012, 40.7 in 2011, 32.6 in 2010. In 2012 50% of corn, soy, and cotton farmers reported such superweeds in their fields, up from 34% in 2011. 27% reported multiple superweed species, up from 15% in 2011. The numbers have been much higher in the worst-hit states of the South and Midwest.
 
All this has driven the great surge in glyphosate use and increases in the use of other herbicides including 2,4-D (up 3.9 million pounds per year from 2000 to 2009, a 90% increase) to supplement the faltering Roundup (FWW p.7). In 1996 RR cotton growers applied glyphosate an average of once a year at a rate of .63 pounds per acre (Benbrook 2009 p.30). By 2007 they were up to 2.4 applications for an average 1.89 pounds/acre, so the amount applied each time is also increasing. For RR soybean growers the 1996 numbers were 1.1 applications totaling .69 pounds per acre, while by 2006 the were up to 1.7 applications for a total of 1.36 pounds/acre.
 
As I’ll detail in a subsequent post, the failure of herbicide tolerance technology is already costing farmers severely.
 
There’s no longer a debate among honest, rational people. We have complete consensus that herbicide tolerance is a failed product genre which must be discontinued immediately and replaced by integrated weed management programs including rational crop rotation and cover cropping. (That’s still within the framework of industrial agriculture, which has one last chance to give itself some extra time. Of course the real agroecological solution goes far beyond this.)
 
But the corporatist system has no honesty or rationality to work with. The system’s only answer to the collapse of Roundup is the reactionary, luddite answer: To double down on proven failure by regressing to GMOs tolerant of older, even more destructive herbicides. This is the context in which the evolution-denialist system is promulgating the backward, luddite “solution” of corn and soybeans engineered to tolerate the retrograde herbicide 2,4-D, one of the two primary components of the chemical weapon Agent Orange. This is one of the dark age poisons which Monsanto and the US government originally promised would be permanently relegated to the scrap heap by the Roundup Ready system. Dicamba is another such regressive chemical being poised by Monsanto for a comeback.
 
The evolution-denier character of this policy is revealed by the fact that there are already many weeds documented to be resistant to 2,4-D, including the waterhemp which is among the big three rampaging with impunity across the Roundup Ready fields.
 
Agent Orange corn and soy will therefore be greeted by 2,4-D resistant weeds already prepared for them, and as the slathering of 2,4-D escalates, resistance to it will accelerate and spread. It’ll happen like clockwork, because it’s the standard mechanism of evolution, understood by everyone but the corporate liars and scientistic evolution deniers.
 
2,4-D and dicamba-tolerant GMOs, and any other herbicide tolerant GMO product such as Bayer’s isoxaflutole-tolerant soybean approved by the USDA in 2013, will also speed the development of weeds which possess metabolism-based general resistance across many or all herbicide classes.
 
Along the way, the promiscuous deployment of these hitherto restricted-use growth regulator herbicides will vastly escalate the damage they cause to other crops like tomatoes and grapes when they drift. 2,4-D is already notorious for this, causing by far the greatest number of agricultural collateral damage incidents even given its limited use hitherto. That’s why the Save Our Crops Coalition, which for a time lobbied the USDA to refuse approval of Agent Orange GMOs, included several major processors and canners. In 2012 Steve Smith, Agriculture Director of Red Gold, testified before Congress that “the widespread use of dicamba possesses the single most serious threat to the future of the specialty crop industry in the Midwest.”
 
This group dropped its opposition in 2012, claiming to have been reassured by Dow that its “Enlist” 2,4-D formulation won’t be drift-prone. I don’t know if they were really stupid enough to believe this or if they were bought off or intimidated, but regardless it’s an extremely foolish thing to believe. Even if by some miracle Dow were now capping its fifty year history of lies about 2,4-D and related poisons with a true statement for once, that wouldn’t affect the many other 2,4-D formulations on the market. The commercialization of Agent Orange crops will cause as much as a 30-fold increase in 2,4-D application (Benbrook 2012 p.5). According to one study, 2,4-D and dicamba are respectively 400 times and 70 times as likely as glyphosate to drift and damage or destroy other crops. We see again how only the most diehard, hunker-in-the-bunker luddite would want to respond to the proven failure of Roundup Ready, and therefore of herbicide tolerance as such, by doubling down with such a destructive escalation of the failure.
 
Then there’s the public health consequences of such a massive increase of this extreme poison. 2,4-D is an endocrine disruptor and causes birth defects and cancer. It’s been linked to Parkinson’s disease. The manufacture of 2,4-D chronically produces dioxins as a byproduct. How much dioxin produced is a function of the production process. Dow of course claims its own process is clean, but the historical record gives good reason to doubt this. Ad hoc measurements of dioxins in 2,4-D have found levels below WHO and FAO maximums. This begs the question of how valid those maximums are; as a rule regulator allowable maximums have zero to do with science or public health, but are mechanically raised to whatever level the poison companies require. At any rate testing has been sporadic and rare. We really have no idea how much dioxin laces the 2,4-D being used in agriculture, and so we have no idea to what extent GMO agriculture is permanently toxifying the soil with deadly dioxin.
 
Environmentally, the EPA deems 2,4-D “very highly toxic to slightly toxic to freshwater and marine invertebrates”, while the National Marine Fisheries Service considers it a dire threat to endangered and threatened salmon species (FWW p.11).
 
And all this is for the sake of no practical or rational goal, nothing which could ever benefit human beings even the slightest bit, but merely to escalate the poison sector’s campaign of planned obsolescence and disaster capitalism. All for the sake of nothing but corporate profit and power.
 
This is indisputable, since the collapse of glyphosate renders it indisputable that herbicide tolerant GMOs comprise a failed technology. Today it’s impossible to support this technology “by mistake”. It’s only possible to be consciously, willfully, criminally committed to forcing humanity to remain on this ever-accelerating poison treadmill, with ever-increasing agricultural, economic, environmental, and health detriments, all for the sake of nothing but corporate domination. Humanity must fight this regressive luddite campaign which seeks to drag us back to the agricultural dark ages. We must overthrow the corporations which seeks to prevent by force our emergence into the light of the most vanguard agroecological technologies and science.

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