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Researchers question GMO label to Pennsylvania House
By DOROTHY NOBLE
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Professor of Entomology John Tooker, Penn State, continued the presentation on genetically modified organisms before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in October.
Tooker said that some corn varieties genetically modified to be resistant to insect pests have reduced pest populations and decreased insecticide usage.
The use of Bt corn nationwide since 1996, Tooker explained, has resulted in avoidance of 35 million pounds of the active insecticide ingredient.
The widespread adoption of Bt corn seems to be driving down European Corn Borer populations. In measures of the number of tunnels of the ECB per stalk of non-Bt corn in Landisville, Pa. in the year 2012, 0.12 were counted compared to 2.02 tunnels per stalk in 2000. The Williamsport, Pa. location showed a similar pattern.
The number in 2011 was 0.04, while the year 2000 was 1.48 ECB tunnels per stalk.
Tooker noted that prior to Bt corn usage, ECB damage cost growers in the Northeast about $35 million.
However, Tooker pointed out that other genetically modified insect resistant corn varieties appear to be facilitating increased insecticide use while simultaneously succumbing to pests that have evolved resistance to the transgenic technology.
He said that the Western corn rootworm has developed resistance in at least 11 states.
Tooker added that current evidence appears to show that resistant populations have developed in Pennsylvania.
He said that industry and growers, by relying too much on Bt hybrids have not been using integrated pest management.
“Crop rotation is the key to managing corn rootworms in Pennsylvania,” Tooker said.
Tooker concluded, “If we do not steward GM crops and associated technology properly, the benefits are short lived.”
Dave Mortensen, Professor of Weed and Applied Plant Ecology, Penn State, followed.
Mortensen pointed out that too much agricultural weed management involves herbicide resistant crops. He added that 94 percent of soybeans and 76 percent of corn is driven by the herbicide resistance traits.
He stressed that greater emphasis on integrated practices that are sustainable over the long term is needed.
The current palmer amaranth situation is illustrative.
Mortensen said the over-reliance on glyphosate herbicide in genetically modified glyphosate-resistant weeds is a huge problem.
Mortensen has testified about this occurrence in the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
He continued that during the last five years companies have been pushing the use of the next generation of GM crops to solve the glyphosate-resistant problem.
Mortensen said the older herbicides, 2,4-D and dicamba would be included, and would be used over even more acreage and create yet more expansive challenges.
Stressing that 2,4-D and dicamba have “bad track records,” Mortensen said they represent the most frequent drift to vegetable fields.
Mortensen also pointed to the declines in pollinator species attributed to pesticides.
“Where does it stop?” he asked. Rather than turning to genetically modifying the older pesticides, Mortensen suggested, “Look to agriculture that relies on sustainability and doesn’t have increased pesticide usage.”
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has recently focused her research toward biology. She now concentrates on the relationship between nutrition and health.
Seneff correlates environmental toxins with the modern diseases such as Alzheimer, autism and cardiovascular diseases.
She contended that contrary to the industry position that glyphosate is harmless to humans because the cells don’t have the shikimate pathway that it inhibits—she emphasized that our gut bacteria does have that pathway.
In addition, Seneff said the other ingredients in the pesticide — adjuvants — intensify the toxic effects.
Since these adjuvants are declared as inerts, they are not tested in long-term regulatory experiments. She added that they amplify up to 1000 times the toxicity of the active principles in the pesticide.
Seneff disputed claims that Roundup (glyphosate) is among the safest pesticide. She said it is by far the most toxic. She named sleep disorders, inflammatory bowel disease in children, acute kidney disease, celiac disease among the ailments associated with glyphosate.
Studies are typically too short to determine effects, Seneff pointed out. Also, more pesticides such as 2,4-D in the “stacked” technologies, she said, adds to a frightening trend.
Dr. Chuck Benbrook, who leads Washington State University’s Measure to Manage program on farm and food diagnostics for sustainability and health, said he was not aware of a single study carried out by the government or technology developers that tests whether there might be new and unique risks associated with stacked-trait GE cultivars.
However, since each trait is assessed individually and is deemed as substantially equivalent by the technology developer, and the Food and Drug Administration knows of no reason to conclude otherwise, then the trait is presumed to be safe, Benbrook reported in his written comments.
Any stacked-trait cultivar composed of traits that have been approved individually is considered acceptable, and also presumptively safe (innocent until proven guilty).
Benbrook said that judgment relies on a mammoth leap of faith that there will be no consequences from multiple regulatory sequences, several marker genes and terminator sequences and other genetic constructs.
Benbrook continued to challenge GMO by stating that enough evidence has emerged to warrant a closer look by top-notch, independent government scientists, but that the work is not likely to be carried out anytime soon.
The absence of labeling, Benbrook said, is jeopardizing U.S. exports. Citing the Artic apple, which is genetically engineered to not brown after cutting, Benbrook said that the Pacific Northwest industry, which exports 60 percent of its apples, has not supported it.
Also, Benbrook pointed to the news that China had rejected a grain and distillers dried grain shipment because it had not approved a Bt corn trait.
“The impact on the affected grain export companies, and shipping liners, and U.S.-Ag Inc., already exceeds $1 billion, with the tab rising fast,’ he said.
On October 15, 2014 the Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision to register Enlist Duo, a genetically engineered herbicide to tolerate 2,4-D and glyphosate.
The registration is in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. EPA was accepting comments until November 14, 2014 on whether to register Enlist Duo in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota. More information is available in the docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0195 at www.regulations.gov.