She’s baaack, and it’s not good news for science literacy, farmers and food-minded Hawaiians.
I’m referring to Vandana Shiva, the Indian anti-GMO crusader who kicked off a five-day blitz through Hawaii with a talk-and-music fest at the Capitol Building on Wednesday.
It’s a grand tour, marked by private fund-raising pitches to wealthy locals and wannabees from the mainland who view the limited role of biotechnological research in modern agriculture as an anathema–Hawaii is a world center because of its favorable climate.
Campaigns like this tour aimed at shutting down nursery centers, most based in Maui, could send the seed giants fleeing to Puerto Rico or the Philippines, costing Hawaii hundreds of millions of dollars and hurting the cause for sustainability in the process.
Shiva’s tour caps off with a Sunday afternoon rally at the Seabury Theatre on Maui with headlined demands for what the prime organizer–Washington, DC-based Center for Food Safety (CFS)–calls “home rule.” While polls show a majority of Maui farmers and residents oppose the effort to shut down the seed nurseries and research labs, anyone but diehard opponents of modern agriculture will be personae non grata at this rally.
Shiva is reprising her 2013 tour, also led by CFS, which oversees scheduling of her $40,000-a-pop promotional speeches. A Brahmin who professes to stand with women and the poor, Shiva maintains her goal is “giving voice to those who want their agriculture free of poison and GMOs.”
On her arrival two years ago, Shiva was an exotic unknown–an “eco warrior goddess” and a “rock star in the global battle over genetically modified seeds,” in the words of journalist Bill Moyers. Here in Hawaii, she was treated as a foreign dignitary. No one dared criticize her.
Now, two years later, as more details of her philosophy and background have emerged, a darker picture has emerged. She leverages her claim as an expert at every stop. “I am scientist… a Quantum Physicist,” she claimed, until recently on her website and in many books, a claim repeated by journalists, even prominent. But she’s not. Her degree was in humanities–she’s a philosopher of science, but has no professional hard science background or writings.
To her followers? Details, Details.
A federal judge struck down a new law regulating the use of pesticides and growth of genetically modified organisms by large-scale commercial agricultural companies on Kauai.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren decided Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491) is invalid and preempted by state law.
The law was scheduled to go into effect Aug. 16 but the court extended it to October. However, the judge’s ruling stops the county from enforcing the ordinance.
The law required seed companies to disclose the types of pesticides they use and establish buffer zones near dwellings, medical facilities, schools, parks, public roadways, shorelines and waterways.
Much attention has been turned in recent months to the fact that the agro-chemical/GMO industry — corporate giants Dow, Pioneer DuPont, Syngenta, Monsanto, BASF — have been using Hawaii since the 1990s as one of their main testing grounds for experiments engineering new pesticide-crop combos. On the “Garden Island” of Kauai, the industry controls over 15,000 acres of prime agricultural land, which they drench with over 17 tons of restricted-use pesticides each year, and likely at least five times that amount in non-restricted pesticides that may be equally as harmful (such as glyphosate).
Because genetically engineered seeds are most typically designed to be used in conjunction with specific pesticides, the development of new GE crops (or at least the types the industry is choosing to develop) requires repeated applications of these chemicals and their mixing into new toxic cocktails with unknown consequences. From a lawsuit, we know that Pioneer DuPont alone has used 90 pesticide formulations with 63 active ingredients in the past 6 years. They apply these pesticides around 250 (sometimes 300) days each year, with 10-16 applications per day on average. The amount of pesticides used on the island by these operations makes the corn fields in Kansas look organic.
Pesticides are sprayed next to schools, hospitals, neighborhoods and major waterways, with zero buffer zone and zero public knowledge of what is being sprayed and when it will happen. Preliminary evidence suggests that living in the shadow of these companies may be causing alarming rates of rare birth defects and cancers.
WASHINGTON >> The Food and Drug Administration may consider new standards for the levels of arsenic in rice as consumer groups are calling for federal guidance on how much of the carcinogen can be present in food.
So far, FDA officials say they have found no evidence that suggests rice is unsafe to eat. The agency has studied the issue for decades but is in the middle of conducting a new study of 1,200 samples of grocery-store rice products — short and long-grain rice, adult and baby cereals, drinks and even rice cakes — to measure arsenic levels.
Rice is thought to have arsenic in higher levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed in the rice. There are no federal standards for how much arsenic is allowed in food.
Arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil in two forms, organic and inorganic. According to the FDA, organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless. Inorganic arsenic — the type found in some pesticides and insecticides — can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period.
How much organic and inorganic arsenic rice eaters are consuming, and whether those levels are dangerous, still remains to be seen.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says consumers shouldn’t stop eating rice, though she does encourage a diverse diet just in case.
“Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains — not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food,” she said.
How valuable are bees? In the UK, about £1.8bn a year, according to new research on the cost of hand-pollinating the many crops bees service for free. If that sounds a far-fetched scenario, consider two facts.
First, bees are in severe decline. Half the UK’s honey bees kept in managed hives have gone, wild honey bees are close to extinction and solitary bees are declining in more than half the place they have been studied.
Second, hand-pollination is already necessary in some places, such as pear orchards in China, and bees are routinely trucked around the US to compensate for the loss of their wild cousins.
The new figure comes from scientists at the Reading University and was released by Friends of the Earth to launch their new campaign, Bee Cause. Paul de Zylva, FoE nature campaigner, said: “Unless we halt the decline in British bees our farmers will have to rely on hand-pollination, sending food prices rocketing.”
So what’s the problem?
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of “superweeds”, according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.
The so-called miracle crops, which were first sold in the US about 20 years ago and which are now grown in 29 countries on about 1.5bn hectares (3.7bn acres) of land, have been billed as potential solutions to food crises, climate change and soil erosion, but the assessment finds that they have not lived up to their promises.
The report claims that hunger has reached “epic proportions” since the technology was developed. Besides this, only two GM “traits” have been developed on any significant scale, despite investments of tens of billions of dollars, and benefits such as drought resistance and salt tolerance have yet to materialise on any scale.
Most worrisome, say the authors of the Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, is the greatly increased use of synthetic chemicals, used to control pests despite biotech companies’ justification that GM-engineered crops would reduce insecticide use.
In China, where insect-resistant Bt cotton is widely planted, populations of pests that previously posed only minor problems have increased 12-fold since 1997. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any benefits of planting Bt cotton have been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat them.
Additionally, soya growers in Argentina and Brazil have been found to use twice as much herbicide on their GM as they do on conventional crops, and a survey by Navdanya International, in India, showed that pesticide use increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced.
The economic downturn means organic farmers are less likely to reap rewards of premium prices for their produce
Farmers across the UK have been deserting organic farming, or holding back on plans to convert their land to more environmentally friendly farming methods, as sales of organic products have fallen in the economic downturn.
Last year, only 51,000 hectares was in “conversion” – the process that farmers need to go through to have their land and practices certified as organic. That is less than half the amount of land that was in conversion in 2009, which itself was down markedly from the recent peak of 158,000Ha in 2007, according to statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday morning.
Far fewer farmers are interested in turning their land to organic production, despite the promise of premium prices for their produce, after a marked fall in sales of organic goods in the past two years as a result of the recession.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture is proposing to make it easier to import a fungus used to control a type of beetle that is a major threat to Kona’s coffee bean farms.
The Department of Agriculture said in a news release yesterday the proposal seeks to remove the fungus from the list of restricted microorganisms.
Agriculture officials in February approved using pesticides that contain the fungus only with a permit. The department is proposing to remove the permit requirement but the pesticide would still need to be registered with the state.
The fungus is contained in pesticides Kona coffee farms use to control an infestation of small beetles known as Coffee Berry Borers. The beetle has destroyed 60 to 70 percent of coffee crops at some farms.