Friday, June 21, 2013

Owen Paterson's cheerleading for GM crops to tackle hunger rings hollow

The UK environment secretary, Owen Paterson, says it would be immoral for rich countries like Britain tonot help developing countries adopt GM technology. In a powerful speech to research scientists, he claimed GM crops would prevent death, blindness, hunger, loss of wilderness and the overuse of herbicides, and would make farmers richer and the environment better.

Owen Paterson MP

Even the big GM companies never make all these claims, so who was Paterson speaking for and what is the British agenda? Is the UK government truly concerned about hungry people in Africa and south-east Asia, or is Paterson just doing the work of the few agribusiness giants that want a slice of the vast and growing developing world market?

Similar questions came up nearly 15 years ago when, after the Guardian ran several sceptical articles about the emerging technology, five Monsanto directors asked for a meeting. They came into the offices, met science, environment and business specialists, and within minutes were saying they wanted to feed the world with GM and that anyone who opposed them did not understand the potential of the technology. The impression they gave was that the company, which had just launched what it called a global food revolution, really believed that hunger was caused by a simple lack of food rather than poverty and/or exclusion.

Today, the silver techno-bullet they promised has still not emerged. The industry has failed to make much progress in Europe, but it has overwhelmed the US market, and the GM companies are now close to controlling the key seed supplies of many countries. Their patented GM seeds comprise more than 80% of the US seed market for major crops like soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. By last year, the global area of their crops had reached 170.3m hectares (420m acres) – a supposed 100-fold increase since commercialisation began in 1996.

But behind the rosy statistics another, bumpier, picture emerges of GM's progress. Billions of dollars of public and private money has been spent on research and development, lobbying and the acquisition of seed companies, yet only 17.3m out of a total 513m (3.4%) farmers have ever actually planted GM crops, and most of these have been growing cotton rather than food. Only 28 countries grow the crops, and in the US, where the technology is far and away the most adopted, GM has clearly failed to eradicate hunger and poverty.

Moreover, legitimate concerns over GM safety, the contamination of nearby crops, patents, the amount of pesticides used and the yields these seeds actually produce will not go away.

Paterson said the British public needs to be reassured about the crop's safety, but there is far more at stake in poor countries where agriculture makes up a much greater proportion of farmers. The real fear in many countries is that GM is being used to adopt a certain kind of farming, which inevitably means people being moved off the land, and the power and influence of the world's food and seed industries growing.

Just five companies – Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer and Dow – now control nearly all GM research, and nearly 60% of all the crops are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, a product patented by Monsanto. In what may be a sign of what is to come elsewhere, the price of seeds has spiralled in the past five years as the market concentration of the companies has grown.

One big question is whether GM is now yesterday's technology and whether poor countries can leapfrog it to adopt better, more sophisticated, genetic techniques that do not carry the same risks and uncertainties.

In the 15 years since Monsanto commercialised the crops, conventional plant breeding has massively advanced and, thanks to developments in genetic sequencing and "marker assisted breeding", scientists can now combine genetics with conventional breeding, and avoid all the regulatory and political baggage of genetic engineering. In addition, there is much greater understanding that GM is not going to increase yields that much, and that the problem of hunger will not be solved by a few giant companies imposing a discredited technology on vulnerable populations. More


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dietary Fructose Causes Liver Damage in Animal Model

June 19, 2013 — The role of dietary fructose in the development of obesity and fatty liver diseases remains controversial, with previous studies indicating that the problems resulted from fructose and a diet too high in calories.

Fructose is the most commonly added sugar in the American diet

However, a new study conducted in an animal model at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center showed that fructose rapidly caused liver damage even without weight gain. The researchers found that over the six-week study period liver damage more than doubled in the animals fed a high-fructose diet as compared to those in the control group.

The study is published in the June 19 online edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Is a calorie a calorie? Are they all created equal? Based on this study, we would say not,” said Kylie Kavanagh, D.V.M., assistant professor of pathology-comparative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study.

In a previous trial which is referenced in the current journal article, Kavanagh’s team studied monkeys who were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of low-fat food with added fructose for seven years, as compared to a control group fed a low-fructose, low-fat diet for the same time period. Not surprisingly, the animals allowed to eat as much as they wanted of the high-fructose diet gained 50 percent more weight than the control group. They developed diabetes at three times the rate of the control group and also developed hepatic steatosis, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The big question for the researchers was what caused the liver damage. Was it because the animals got fat from eating too much, or was it something else?

To answer that question, this study was designed to prevent weight gain. Ten middle-aged, normal weight monkeys who had never eaten fructose were divided into two groups based on comparable body shapes and waist circumference. Over six weeks, one group was fed a calorie-controlled diet consisting of 24 percent fructose, while the control group was fed a calorie-controlled diet with only a negligible amount of fructose, approximately 0.5 percent.

Both diets had the same amount of fat, carbohydrate and protein, but the sources were different, Kavanagh said. The high-fructose group’s diet was made from flour, butter, pork fat, eggs and fructose (the main ingredient in corn syrup), similar to what many people eat, while the control group’s diet was made from healthy complex carbohydrates and soy protein.

Every week the research team weighed both groups and measured their waist circumference, then adjusted the amount of food provided to prevent weight gain. At the end of the study, the researchers measured biomarkers of liver damage through blood samples and examined what type of bacteria was in the intestine through fecal samples and intestinal biopsies.

“What surprised us the most was how quickly the liver was affected and how extensive the damage was, especially without weight gain as a factor,” Kavanagh said. “Six weeks in monkeys is roughly equivalent to three months in humans.”

In the high-fructose group, the researchers found that the type of intestinal bacteria hadn’t changed, but that they were migrating to the liver more rapidly and causing damage there. It appears that something about the high fructose levels was causing the intestines to be less protective than normal, and consequently allowing the bacteria to leak out at a 30 percent higher rate, Kavanagh said.

One of the limitations of the study was that it only tested for fructose and not dextrose. Fructose and dextrose are simple sugars found naturally in plants.

“We studied fructose because it is the most commonly added sugar in the American diet, but based on our study findings, we can’t say conclusively that fructose caused the liver damage,” Kavanagh said. “What we can say is that high added sugars caused bacteria to exit the intestines, go into the blood stream and damage the liver. More

If you want to a kill a honeybee hive’s buzz, take all its honey away and feed the bees a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup. Believe it or not, apiarists have been doing just that since the 1970s — feeding HFCS to their colonies as a replacement source of nourishment for the honey that gets taken away from them to be sold. And believe it or not, HFCS, which is bad for humans, is also bad for honeybees. It’s especially bad for those that are exposed to pesticides, which these days is a high proportion of them. Grist


Are they Mad?

GM crops are safer than conventional crops, says Environment Secretary Owen Paterson

Genetically modified crops are "categorically" safer than conventional crops because they are subjected to much greater scrutiny than traditional varieties, the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said today.

Stepping up his campaign to grow GM crops in the UK, Mr Paterson used a speech in Hertfordshire to promote genetic engineering of plants and called on the government, industry and scientists to join forces to convert the public in the face of widespread fear and scepticism.

Mr Paterson said GM crops were safer than conventional ones because they use "more precise technology and [come under] greater regulatory scrutiny".

"These products go through the most rigorous system. It's extraordinarily closely regulated, at a national level and at a European level…We have not come up with any evidence of human health being threatened by these products."

Questioned after his speech on whether the safety case for GM crops over conventional one was clear cut, Mr Paterson said: "This isn't speculation. We have had a categoric statement from the [European Commission's] chief scientific officer and you have the biggest field trial in human history when you think of the colossal volume of GM material that has been eaten in all those countries growing GM food."

Kicking off his campaign, Mr Paterson used a speech in Hertfordshire to call on the government, industry and scientists to join forces to convert the public in the face of widespread fear and scepticism.

Mr Paterson, who ultimately wants the European Union to relax very tight restrictions on growing GM plants, wants to make Britain a centre for GM research and development, which has the potential to become a multi-billion pound industry. He began by arguing what he claims is the moral case for "engineering" crops.Mr Paterson said in his speech: "I believe there are significant economic, environmental and international development benefits to GM but I am conscious of the views of those who have concerns and who need reassurance on this matter."

"I recognise that we - government, industry, the scientific community and others - owe a duty to the British public to reassure them that GM is a safe, proven and beneficial innovation," he will add, delivered this morning at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, where a controversial trial of GM wheat is being carried out.

"Used properly GM promises effective ways to protect or increase crop yields. It can also combat the damaging effects of unpredictable weather and disease on crops. It has the potential to reduce fertiliser and chemical use, improve the efficiency of agricultural production and reduce post-harvest losses," he will say.

The Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) welcomed Mr Paterson's endorsement of GM, while pointing out that it is not provide a solution to the growing food crisis by itself.

"GM is one tool in a range of options that can help us tackle complex problems, such as the need to produce enough food for a growing population," said Douglas Kell, chief executive of the council, which funds research and training projects.

GM crops are created by taking genes with beneficial qualities from other organisms and injecting them into the plant. They can be engineered to grow faster, increase their resistance to weeds, pests and pesticides, produce extra nutrients or survive harsher weather conditions.

However, while many scientists strongly believe in the benefits of GM crops, opposition remains widespread, both among scientists and the general public. More

How any sane human being can say that natural crops, produced by nature, are inferior to genetically modified crops is beyond belief. Mr. Paterson could perhaps argue that from a food security viewpoint that drought resistant crops may have some benefit, but given the resistance to GMO's by practically everyone except Monsanto and other corporations producing similar genetically altered organisms it would seem that Mr. Paterson is catering to a powerful corporate lobby. Editor


Monday, June 17, 2013

Let's Quit This Most Dangerous Game with Drought

On a recent visit to Niger, I met a woman in Batodi village with some very bold claims. Fifteen years ago, she and her fellow women would travel a day's journey to fetch water.

Today, they fetch it from a local well, having turned the situation around by rehabilitating their badly degraded land using traditional practices. In that period, the water level has “jumped up” by 14 meters. Moreover, the village had withstood the severe food and water challenges others in many parts of Niger suffered during recent droughts.

The researcher who had invited me backed the claims that the water table had risen from a depth of below 18 meters to about 4 meters below the ground. That was precisely why he had invited me to the field; to witness – contrary to claims otherwise – that it is possible to restore the health of even badly degraded land.

On 17 June, we unveil the winners of the 2013 Land for Life Award from 137 submissions worldwide. At the national level, Eritrea, Hungary, Kenya, Portugal and Thailand unveil their first Drylands Champions to recognize the local heroes making laudable steps in the fight against desertification and drought.

These kinds of stories, from the ground, inspire me to advocate unceasingly for policies in favor of investments to strengthen both sustainable land use practices and drought resilience. Grabbing more fragile lands to meet growing food demand is neither the answer nor is improving relief delivery the ultimate solution.

Rather, we must boldly move to a land-degradation neutral world where clearing new land is not an option, and, where it is inevitable, our collective target becomes offsetting such action by rehabilitating degraded land at the same pace and in the same ecosystem.

Political contestations over whether a land-degradation neutral world is possible should not prevail for lack of generalizable scientific claims to demonstrate it. Until massive investments in small pilot projects such as these by communities fail, their viability is not in question; the status quo is.

The achievements in Batodi, the submissions to the Land for Life Award and the work of the Drylands Champions affirm the claims of the recent report, A Dangerous Delay – The cost of late response to early warning in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, that “the response to drought was too little too late, representing a systemic failure of the international system.”

Indeed, the international community has been here before; in the mid-1970s, with the Sahel drought disaster, in the mid-1980s with the drought and famine disaster in Ethiopia and, most recently, in 2011, with the tragedy in the Horn of Africa.

But the best evidence that we, as an international community, are playing the world's most dangerous game with drought lies in the fact that only one country in the world – Australia – has a comprehensive national drought policy.

There are more reasons for concern.

Drought affects more lives than any other disaster, yet unlike most disasters, it has a slow onset. And not only has every region in the world experienced more severe droughts in recent times, but droughts are set to increase in intensity, in spread and in frequency due to climate change.

About a billion people, among them people living in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world, have access to little or no renewable water resources. With the climate change scenarios, that estimate shoots to about half the world's population living in areas of high water stress by 2030.

Neither desertification nor droughts are fated, but the path to change is through a radical transformation in our view of the land and attitude towards drought.

Land is a strategic natural asset for our future sustainability. So let us give life to the aspiration of a land-degradation neutral world by setting a target date for its achievement as part of the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed by 2015. We should follow in the steps of Africa. At its Summit last month it declared this part of its future agenda and called on the global community to do the same.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How do you feed 9 billion people?

An international team of scientists has developed crop models to better forecast food production to feed a growing population – projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century – in the face of climate change.

In a paper appearing in Nature Climate Change, members of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project unveiled an all-encompassing modeling system that integrates multiple crop simulations with improved climate change models. AgMIP’s effort has produced new knowledge that better predicts global wheat yields while reducing political and socio-economic influences that can skew data and planning efforts, said Bruno Basso, Michigan State University ecosystem scientist and AgMIP member.

“Quantifying uncertainties is an important step to build confidence in future yield forecasts produced by crop models,” said Basso, with MSU’s geological sciences department and Kellogg Biological Station. “By using an ensemble of crop and climate models, we can understand how increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, along with temperature increases and precipitation changes, will affect wheat yield globally.”

The improved crop models can help guide the world’s developed and developing countries as they adapt to changing climate and create policies to improve food security and feed more people, he added.

Basso, part of MSU’s Global Water Initiative, and his team of researchers developed the System Approach for Land-Use Sustainability model. SALUS is a new generation crop tool to forecast crop, soil, water, nutrient conditions in current and future climates. It also can evaluate crop rotations, planting dates, irrigation and fertilizer use and project crop yields and their impact on the land.

SALUS was initially designed by Joe Ritchie, MSU emeritus distinguished professor. Basso continued Ritchie’s work and added new features to better predict the impact of agronomic management on crop yield over space and time.

“We can change the scenarios, run them simultaneously and compare their outcomes,” Basso said. “It offers us a great framework to easily compare different land-management approaches and select the most efficient strategies to increase crop yield and reduce environmental impact such as nitrate leaching and greenhouse gas emission.”

For the study, the team looked at simulated yield from 27 different wheat crop models. Through SALUS, Basso forecastedthe impact of changes in temperature, precipitation and CO2 emissions on wheat yield from contrasting environment across the planet.

SALUS has been employed in several other projects monitoring grain yield and water use in water-sensitive areas, such as the Ogallala aquifer (spanning from South Dakota to Texas), Siberia, India and Africa. More


Saturday, June 8, 2013

5 Million Farmers Sue Monsanto for $7.7 Billion

Launching a lawsuit against the very company that is responsible for a farmer suicide every 30 minutes, 5 million farmers are now suing Monsanto for as much as 6.2 billion euros (around 7.7 billion US dollars).

The reason? As with many other cases, such as the ones that led certain farming regions to be known as the ‘suicide belt’, Monsanto has been reportedly taxing the farmers to financial shambles with ridiculous royalty charges.

The farmers state that Monsanto has been unfairly gathering exorbitant profits each year on a global scale from “renewal” seed harvests, which are crops planted using seed from the previous year’s harvest.

The practice of using renewal seeds dates back to ancient times, but Monsanto seeks to collect massive royalties and put an end to the practice. Why? Because Monsanto owns the very patent to the genetically modified seed, and is charging the farmers not only for the original crops, but the later harvests as well. Eventually, the royalties compound and many farmers begin to struggle with even keeping their farm afloat. It is for this reason that India slammed Monsanto with groundbreaking ‘biopiracy’ charges in an effort to stop Monsanto from ‘patenting life’.

Jane Berwanger, a lawyer for the farmers who went on record regarding the case, told the Associted Press:

“Monsanto gets paid when it sell the seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay (again). Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production.”

The findings echo what thousands of farmers have experienced in particularly poor nations, where many of the farmers are unable to stand up to Monsanto. Back in 2008, the Daily Mail covered what is known as the ‘GM Genocide’, which is responsible for taking the lives of over 17,683 Indian farmers in 2009 alone. After finding that their harvests were failing and they started to enter economic turmoil, the farmers began ending their own lives — oftentimes drinking the very same insecticide that Monsanto provided them with.

As the information continues to surface on Monsanto’s crimes, further lawsuits will begin to take effect. After it was ousted in January that Monsanto was running illegal ‘slave-like’ working rings, more individuals became aware of just how seriously Monsanto seems to disregard their workers — so why would they care for the health of their consumers? In April 2012, another group of farmers sued Monsanto for ‘knowingly poisoning’ workers and causing ‘devastating birth defects’. More






Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Quail Springs Permaculture Design Course

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Message by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director on World Environment Day 2013 Wed, Jun 5, 2013

Every year on June 5th, people across the planet celebrate the United Nations World Environment Day. It is a day for action where hundreds of thousands of activities take place in virtually every country in the world to improve the environment now and for the future.

This year's theme focuses on food waste and food loss. Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint is the new campaign that UNEP and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, in conjunction with a rapidly growing list of partners from the public and private sector, launched earlier this year. It draws attention both to the issue and the absurdity that high volumes of perfectly edible produce are never making it from the farm to the fork.

Indeed, at least a third of everything we grow on this planet is lost between the field and the consumer. It is an ethical, economic and environmental issue given the enormous waste of energy, water, fertilizers and other inputs as a result of food that is produced but never eaten.

Each one of us can do something about this and that's why, through the Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint campaign, we invite people across the world to join us in an effort to both raise awareness and to take practical actions whether in your home, whether on your farm, whether in the supermarket, in a canteen, in a hotel or anywhere else where food is prepared and consumed.

This year's global host for WED 2013 is Mongolia, one of the fastest growing economies in the world and one that is aiming for a transition to a green economy and a green civilization. It is not a big waster or loser of food, but the traditional and nomadic life of many of its people does have some ancient answers to the modern-day challenge of food waste.

The Mongol general Chinggis Khan and his troops utilized a traditional food called borts to gallop across Asia without depending on elaborate supply chains. Borts is basically concentrated beef equal to the protein of an entire cow but condensed and ground down to the size of a human fist. This remarkable method of food preservation, without refrigeration, meant a meal equivalent to several steaks when the protein was shaved into hot water to make soup.

And the Mongolians have other secrets to share that may contribute to preserving and thus not wasting food ? the aaruul, for instance, is a form of dried curds that can last as a perfectly healthy dish or snack for years, again without refrigeration.

UNEP has, in advance of WED 2013, been compiling similar examples of traditional and indigenous knowledge from familiar techniques such as pickling or salting fish to the smoking of meat, the drying of fruit and other techniques employed by the Inuits to preserve seabirds which are served later at feasts and weddings.

Mongolia is also aiming to green not only its mining sector but its energy and agricultural systems while developing its landscapes and national parks ? home to such rare and iconic species as the przewalskiihorse ? for eco-tourism. More

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

As Sea Waters Rise, Costal Communities in Pakistan Suffer

As global warming causes ocean water to creep farther up the Indus Delta, communities in Pakistan's coastal areas are suffering. A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund Pakistan highlights these challenges.

One farmer told WWF Pakistan he had to start fishing:

“Over the last few years, I sowed seeds in over 200 acres. But now my hands are empty. Only 15 acres is still fertile while the rest has become plagued by the problem of water-logging and salinity.” reports over half of the population's livelihoods are threaten by climate change:

The majority of the people in Pakistan (between 60 to 70 per cent) depend on the eco-system to survive. A shepherd in Balochistan, a farmer in Punjab or a fisherman from Sindh — all rely directly on the environment for their livelihood. Unfortunately, the livelihood of these people is at risk due to climate change. More

Report from WWF Pakistan