GMO giant Monsanto loses another day in court
France’s highest court has ruled that Monsanto lied about the safety of its weed killing herbicide Roundup. The decision came in late October 2009 and confirms an earlier court judgment in France finding that Monsanto had falsely advertised Roundup as being “biodegradable” and that it “left the soil clean.”

The original case was brought to court in 2001 by several French environmental groups alleging that Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, has a classification as “dangerous to the environment” by the European Union. That case dragged on for years and finally ended in a ruling against Monsanto in 2007.
The GMO giant quickly appealed and that appeal was heard in 2008 in the Lyon court. Monsanto lost that case as well. They appealed again. This time it went to France’s Supreme Court; it lost that hearing and now faces fines and nowhere else to go for further appeals.

The court levied a 13,800 Euro fine against the company (about $22,400 USD). Monsanto is also looking at continued losses with fourth quarter losses of $233 million (US), mostly due to plummeting sales of the Roundup brand. So far, Monsanto has made no public statement about the court’s ruling, but it is also possible that the ruling could mean civil cases from farmers and communities harmed by the false advertising. That could mean millions of dollars more in losses.

Roundup is the world’s best-selling herbicide and is marketed as a weed-killer to both commercial farmers and homeowners. Monsanto is also the world’s largest purveyor of genetically modified seeds (GMO seeds). Often, the seeds are sold in conjunction with Roundup, the seeds being modified to be “herbicide tolerant” (HT-ready).

Some have argued that these GM crops and seeds are worse for the environment and could be a real problem. Crop failures of GMO seeds in Africa have highlighted the lack of a crop diversity issue while other studies have found that GM versus non-GM seeds have little or no bearing on higher yields, as seed companies like Monsanto have claimed. Read the full article here: -Organic Consumers Association,

U.S. hunger numbers surge in 2008
Almost 50 million Americans, including nearly one in four children nationwide, struggled to get sufficient food last year, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on November 16, 2009. The levels were the highest since the government began tracking the problem in 1995.

The Department’s annual report on Food Security in the United States for 2008 found that an additional 12.9 million people were added to the ranks of the “food insecure” since 2007. As of the end of last year, USDA’s Economic Research Service found that a total of 49.1 million people in the country had insufficient resources for food, with some 14.6 percent of all households in the U.S. affected.

Overall, about one-third of all struggling families—some 6.7 million households encompassing 17.3 million people—experienced “very low food security,” or what the government used to call “hunger.” USDA states that for persons in very low food security households “normal eating patterns…were disrupted and food intake was reduced.”

Children bore the brunt of the increases in 2008. The number of children in food-insecure households jumped to 17 million last year from just over 12 million in 2007. A total of 22.6 percent of all children in the nation faced uncertainty in getting enough to eat. People of color were also disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Among Blacks, more than a quarter (25.7 percent) of households were food insecure. In the Hispanic community, the rate was 26.9 percent. Both groups were more than twice as likely as white families to be food-insecure.

President Barack Obama found the news unsettling and noted that job losses and economic instability “make it difficult for parents to put a square meal on the table each day.” Tom Vilsack, Obama’s Agriculture Secretary, added, “It’s no secret. Poverty, unemployment, these are all factors.” The sobering statistics may also stir up some action. “These numbers are a wake-up call…for us to get very serious about food security and hunger, about nutrition and food safety in this country,” stated Vilsack.
Meanwhile, the government, food banks, and emergency food providers try, with the resources at hand, to get food to the tsunami of hungry families showing up at their door. “The [food security] survey suggested that things could be much worse but for the fact that we have extensive food assistance programs,” USDA Secretary Vilsack told the media. “This is a great opportunity to put a spotlight on this problem.”

Anti-hunger activists were saddened more than surprised by the government’s statistics. “What should really shock us is that one in four children in this country lives on the brink of hunger,” noted David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World in Washington, D.C. For his part, Secretary Vilsack concluded that hunger is “a problem that the American sense of fairness should not tolerate and American ingenuity can overcome.”

To learn more, see the USDA report on Food Security in the United States at: -Foodlinks America

Cleaning supplies can contaminate classroom air
Ordinary school cleaning supplies can expose children to multiple chemicals linked to asthma, cancer, and other documented health problems and to hundreds of other air contaminants that have never been tested for safety, a study by the Environmental Working Group shows. Laboratory tests done for EWG found that a typical assortment of cleaning products released 457 distinct chemicals into the air.

EWG’s findings come at a time when childhood asthma and many childhood cancers are on the rise.
Lax labeling requirements mean that schools often don’t know what they’re purchasing. Many would be alarmed to learn that when used as directed, Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser, a product commonly used in both schools and private homes, released more than 100 air contaminants, including chloroform, benzene, and formaldehyde.

In response to these concerns, many schools have turned to safer cleaning supplies that have been independently certified to meet protective health and safety standards. Eight states have passed legislation requiring or encouraging use of these green cleaning products in schools. Many other forward-thinking school districts have adopted green cleaning policies, replacing toxic products with safer, effective alternatives with no increase in costs.
Check out the EWG report on health risks tied to school cleaning supplies, and learn about safer cleaning at school and at home: -Environmental Working Group.

USDA announces $17 million in grants to train beginning farmers and ranchers
The USDA recently announced the award of more than $17 million in grants to 29 institutions to address the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers and enhance the sustainability and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.

“Beginning farmers and ranchers face unique challenges and need educational and training programs to enhance their profitability and long term sustainability,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. “The training and education provided through these grants will help ensure the success of the next generation of farmers and ranchers as they work to feed people in their local communities and throughout the world.”

Merrigan announced the funding in Elgin, MN, at the Hidden Stream Farm and was joined by representatives from the Land Stewardship Project, the local grant recipient that provides local and regional training, education, outreach and technical assistance initiatives that address the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers. Eric and Lisa Klein, the proprietors of Hidden Stream Farm, were some of the first graduates of the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings course. Since graduating from Farm Beginnings, the Kleins have developed a thriving pasture-based livestock operation that markets pork, chickens and beef in southeast Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

This funding announcement is part of USDA’s new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative which was launched in September 2009 to emphasize the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers. “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” includes such major agricultural topics as supporting local farmers and community food groups; strengthening rural communities; enhancing direct marketing and farmers’ promotion programs; promoting healthy eating; protecting natural resources; and helping schools connect with locally grown foods.

The grants were awarded through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA, formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). BFRDP is an education, training, technical assistance and outreach program designed to help U.S. farmers and ranchers, specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or fewer. Congress authorized the FY 2009 funding for this program in the 2008 Farm Bill, with another $19 million in mandatory funding for FY 2010. Under the program, USDA will make grants to organizations that will implement programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers.
Beginning farmers and ranchers interested in participating in any of the education, outreach, mentoring and/or internship activities are asked to contact the grantee institutions listed below.

Fiscal year 2009 recipients include:

  • Developing Innovations in Navajo Education, Inc., Flagstaff, AZ, $674,507
  • Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation, Brinkley, AR, $313,278
  • Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, Salinas, CA, $515,862
  • California FarmLink, Sebastopol, CA, $525,000
  • Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, FL, $225,079
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, $596,219
  • University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, $508,618
  • Angelic Organics Learning Center, Inc., Caledonia, IL, $750,000
  • University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, $749,883
  • Cultivating Community, Portland, ME, $600,000
  • USDA National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD, $1,498,137
  • Land Stewardship Project, Minneapolis, MN, $413,820
  • Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc., St. Paul, MN, $506,170
  • Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, Columbia, MO, $730,722
  • University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, $692,198
  • University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, $541,239
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, $644,408
  • Holistic Management International, Albuquerque, NM, $639,301
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, $750,000
  • Fort Berthold Community College, New Town, ND, $614,356
  • Langston University, Langston, OK, $525,000
  • Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, $572,178
  • Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, $733,821
  • South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD, $701,608
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, $74,000
  • University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, TX, $665,038
  • Washington State University, Pullman, WA, $748,651
  • Washington State University, Pullman, WA, $524,896
  • Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Spring Valley, WI, $151,515

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit -National Institute of Food and Agriculture/USDA

Pesticide levels decline in corn belt rivers
Concentrations of several major pesticides mostly declined or stayed the same in “Corn Belt” rivers and streams from 1996 to 2006, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

The declines in pesticide concentrations closely followed declines in their annual applications, indicating that reducing pesticide use is an effective and reliable strategy for reducing pesticide contamination in streams.

Declines in concentrations of the agricultural herbicides cyanazine, alachlor and metolachlor show the effectiveness of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory actions as well as the influence of new pesticide products. In addition, declines from 2000 to 2006 in concentrations of the insecticide diazinon correspond to the EPA’s national phase-out of nonagricultural uses. The USGS works closely with the EPA, which uses USGS findings on pesticide trends to track the effectiveness of changes in pesticide regulations and use.

Scientists studied 11 herbicides and insecticides frequently detected in the Corn Belt region, which generally includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio, as well as parts of adjoining states. This area has among the highest pesticide use in the nation—mostly herbicides used for weed control in corn and soybeans. As a result, these pesticides are widespread in the region’s streams and rivers, largely resulting from runoff from cropland and urban areas.

Elevated concentrations can affect aquatic organisms in streams as well as the quality of drinking water in some high-use areas where surface water is used for municipal supply. Four of the 11 pesticides evaluated for trends were among those most often found in previous USGS studies to occur at levels of potential concern for healthy aquatic life. Atrazine, the most frequently detected, is also regulated in drinking water.

“Pesticide use is constantly changing in response to such factors as regulations, market forces, and advances in science,” said Dan Sullivan, lead scientist for the study. “For example, acetochlor was registered by the EPA in 1994 with a goal of reducing use of alachlor and other major corn herbicides—acetochlor use rapidly increased to a constant level by about 1996, and alachlor use declined. Cyanazine use also decreased rapidly from 1992 to 2000, as it was phased out because of environmental concerns. Metolachlor use did not markedly decrease until about 1998, when S-metolachlor, a more effective version that requires lower application rates, was introduced. Each of these declines in use was accompanied by similar declines in concentrations.”

Although trends in concentration and use almost always closely corresponded, concentrations of atrazine and metolachlor each declined in one stream more rapidly than their estimated use. According to Skip Vecchia, senior author of the report on this analysis, “The steeper decline in these instances may be caused by agricultural management practices that have reduced pesticide transport, but data on management practices are not adequate to definitively answer the question. Overall, use is the most dominant factor driving changes in concentrations.”

Only one pesticide—simazine, which is used for both agricultural and urban weed control—increased from 1996 to 2006. Concentrations of simazine in some streams increased more sharply than its trend in agricultural use, suggesting that non-agricultural uses of this herbicide, such as for controlling weeds in residential areas and along roadsides, increased during the study period.

The USGS study is based on analysis of 11 pesticides for 31 stream sites in the Corn Belt for two partially overlapping time periods: 1996 to 2002 and 2000 to 2006. Pesticides included in the trend analyses were the herbicides atrazine, acetochlor, metolachlor, alachlor, cyanazine, EPTC, simazine, metribuzin and prometon, and the insecticides chlorpyrifos and diazinon. Additional detailed analyses of relations between concentrations and use focused on four herbicides mainly used for weed control in corn (atrazine, acetochlor, metolachlor and alachlor) at a subset of 11 sites on the main rivers and selected large tributaries in the Ohio, Upper Mississippi and Missouri River basins.

Concentrations of many other pesticides that were less prevalent than the 11 included in the study were below analytical detection limits in most samples and thus could not be analyzed for trends. Glyphosate, an herbicide that has had rapidly increasing use on new genetically modified varieties of soybeans and corn, and which now is the most heavily used herbicide in the nation, was not measured until late in the study and thus had insufficient data for analysis of trends. -U.S. Geological Survey, Cornucopia Institute