Killer Plants?

Feed me Seymour!
I have written about bouncing eggs that can make men sterile (Thanks China!) and bouncing tomatoes that scare the heck out of me and so on. And I have noted that man’s track record when he plays in the fields of the Lord is abysmal. In fact, way back in February of 2011 the nice people at Farm Aid pointed out that genetically modified foods presented real, and traceable, dangers to humans. I should point out that Farm Aid is made up of farmers, those people we keep getting told love genetically modified foods because they make their lives, and our world, so much better. Monsantos’ slogan of “preserving more, conserving more, improving lives” (punctuation theirs) nicely sums up the basic take on this in the media. This kind of promotion becomes difficult to refute when French scientists use lies and distortions to try and scare the hell out of everyone. They claimed that rats fed Monsanto’s corn developed massive tumors. They neglected to point out that they exclusively fed the corn to rats who were designed to get tumors in the first place (for another type of cancer study). They also kind of, sort of, forgot to point out that in human terms you would need to eat about 50 pounds of genetically modified corn per day to come close to replicating the results, and then only if you were prone to tumors. There is a great, if lengthy, article at WebMD that takes a failry balanced look at genetically modifed foods and carefully points out its pros and cons.

More cons than pros, but that’s not shocking.

I should note that science has long known that Einstein was right; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This applies to everything. Farm Aid has a great example.

Take alfalfa, which is pollinated by bees. Bees can generally cover a five-mile range as they buzz from plant to plant, collecting and spreading pollen. Since bees don’t tend to observe property lines or fences, GE alfalfa pollen could, for example, be spread to and pollinate a non-GE alfalfa plant, in turn contaminating a neighboring field with GE genes.

This cross-fertilization would be especially disastrous for organic farmers. If organic fields are contaminated, an organic farmer’s certification is at risk, since the use of GE crops is prohibited under the organic label. Losing organic certification would mean his or her goods can no longer be sold for the premium price that helps cover the higher costs of growing organically. Organic livestock farmers would face similar consequences if their cattle consumed contaminated alfalfa, and the organic industry as a whole could suffer from severe supply problems if organic alfalfa can’t be maintained with integrity. Canada’s organic canola industry suffered this fate, and is virtually extinct due to contamination from GE canola

And, gosh kids, isn’t it fun to remember that I just wrote about the death of civilization due to the extinction of bees? Not that there’s anything important to see there or anything like that.

But now NBC news is reporting that genetically modified foods are spawning genetically modified weeds which refuse to die. Which means farmers are, legally or not, using modified pesticides to try and kill these freaks of Franken-nature.

U.S. farmers are using more hazardous pesticides to fight weeds and insects due largely to heavy adoption of genetically modified crop technologies that are sparking a rise of “superweeds” and hard-to-kill insects, according to a newly released study.

Genetically engineered crops have led to a 404 million pounds increase in overall pesticide use by from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011, according to the report by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.

Of that total, herbicide use increased over the 16-year period by 527 million pounds while insecticide use decreased by 123 million pounds.

Benbrook’s paper — published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe over the weekend and announced on Monday — undermines the value of both herbicide-tolerant crops and insect-protected crops, which were aimed at making it easier for farmers to kill weeds in their fields and protect crops from harmful pests, said Benbrook.

‘Major problem’

Herbicide-tolerant crops were the first genetically modified crops introduced to world, rolled out by Monsanto Co. in 1996, first in “Roundup Ready” soybeans and then in corn, cotton and other crops. Roundup Ready crops are engineered through transgenic modification to tolerate dousings of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

The crops were a hit with farmers who found they could easily kill weed populations without damaging their crops. But in recent years, more than two dozen weed species have become resistant to Roundup’s chief ingredient glyphosate, causing farmers to use increasing amounts both of glyphosate and other weed-killing chemicals to try to control the so-called “superweeds.”

“Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent,” Benbrook said.

Could genetically modified seeds be a drought solution?

Monsanto officials had no immediate comment.

“We’re looking at this. Our experts haven’t been able to access the supporting data as yet,” said Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher.

Benbrook said the annual increase in the herbicides required to deal with tougher-to-control weeds on cropland planted to genetically modified crops has grown from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011.

Similarly, the introduction of genetically modified “Bt” corn and cotton crops engineered to be toxic to certain insects is triggering the rise of insects resistant to the crop toxin, according to Benbrook.

‘Best year ever’ for some farmers outside drought region

Insecticide use did drop substantially – 28 percent from 1996 to 2011 – but is now on the rise, he said.

“The relatively recent emergence and spread of insect populations resistant to the Bt toxins expressed in Bt corn and cotton has started to increase insecticide use, and will continue to do so,” he said.

Herbicide-tolerant and Bt-transgenic crops now dominate U.S. agriculture, accounting for about one in every two acres of harvested cropland, and around 95 percent of soybean and cotton acres, and over 85 percent of corn acres.

“Things are getting worse, fast,” said Benbrook in an interview. “In order to deal with rapidly spreading resistant weeds, farmers are being forced to expand use of older, higher-risk herbicides. To stop corn and cotton insects from developing resistance to Bt, farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace.”

Okay, follow along; the genetically modified plants did not all end up in food. Some end up as fertilizer for the ground where they grew up. Storm damage or a million other reasons cause them to get plowed back into the ground where their genetically modified cells mix with old fashioned regular cells to create some sort of third kind of cell that no one knows what to do with. And those third kind of cells create weeds and plants that can’t be killed and insects that appear to be super bugs.

Oh, and yes, Monsanto knew that would happen. They just considered it a justifiable risk. Like sky diving without a parachute. 99% of the trip is fine, it’s only that 1% stop with the ground that causes problems. Therefor skydiving without a parachute is safe 99% of the time.

Yes, that’s how they think.

And, yes, you should remember that. It will help you make sense of the crap you read.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG (FOX! Sports) every Friday around 9:10 AM.

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