Posts Tagged ‘genetically modified food’

Thankful for our food

As we prepare our Thanksgiving day feast it may be a good time to reflect on what it takes to get that food to your table. There are many people in many industries that work hard to bring us the abundance of food we have come to take for granted when we go to our local grocery store. As a plant doctor, I will use this post to summarize what my part of the “food chain” contributes to your Thanksgiving feast.

What is on your table?

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As you can see, without the benefits of crop protection products, organic or conventional, yields would suffer and the abundance of food we rely on would decrease making our Thanksgiving feast much more expensive.

Do you like pie?

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Plant bugs of all types are very hard to control. Even organic farmers have problems with these pests. Organic pesticides only deter these bugs for a short time making multiple applications necessary to protect the crop. Nasty little buggers!

Modern technology is doing more to increase yields and decrease the amount of pesticides needed to bring food to your table. Not so long ago many of our crop protection chemicals were broad spectrum and applied in pounds per acre. Now they are more targeted to the pest, safer for beneficial insects, safer for workers and applied in oz per acre. Better application techniques make spraying these low rates effective with less impact on the surrounding environment.

Agriculture has many challenges ahead of it to be able to bring more food to a growing population with less land and other resources.

There are still many challenges ahead. Environmental issues to solve. Promises of new technology such and Genetically Modified crops and other new technologies like CRISPer are just a few things science is looking into to make sure everyone on this planet has enough to eat. GMO technology has already  reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68% (from an articled penned by Klumper and Qaim in 2014; a meta study that summarizes his findings of 147 original studies on the impact of GMOs). 
With the help of modern agriculture techniques, hunger is disappearing but we still have a long way to go before the problems of food insecurity disappears as well.
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As our technology continues to improve, better solutions arise and agriculture continues to tackle the challenges of producing more food with less resources and keeping our environment, workers and families safe and healthy. The more we know the better we do. It is a challenge we take on with pride.

The Evils of Roundup?

The last couple of months have been pretty busy for this Plant Doctor. As I begin to get the almonds ready for harvest by cleaning up the weeds on the orchard floors, I look back at all the herbicide recommendations I’ve made over the years and wonder about all the questions that come up about “the evil Roundup”. Yes, I recommend a lot of it. Out of the 8000 acres I take care of probably over half get at least one application, and only 140 of those acres is GMO Roundup Ready. What is it that everyone is so up in arms about?

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Roundup (glyphosate) is “toxic” and causes cancer: I have read many studies and many discussions about studies that claim to show that glyphosate causes cancer. I have yet to find a study that hasn’t been disproved by a number of researchers and scientists. The one study many people seem to point to regarding Roundup and cancer is the one done on rats by Seralini. You can find plenty of information on how bad that study was. None of that information can be taken seriously. A long discussion on the topic of Roundup and cancer can be viewed on Reddit as well. There are plenty of other “studies” that people seem to find but I’ve yet to see one that hasn’t been picked apart through scientific reviews. Studies showing links to glyphosate causing autism and being found in breast milk have also been busted. Following the science is a bit tedious and time consuming and I can’t say I’ve looking into everything but the studies I have looked at touting adverse health effects of glyphosate don’t seem to lead to anything credible.

Now it is true that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, issued a report that classified glyphosate as a “probable” cause of cancer. Micheal Specter’s article on Roundup and Risk Assessment in the New York Times points out that “ ‘Probable’ means that there was enough evidence to say it is more than possible, but not enough evidence to say it is a carcinogen..” The dictionary definition of probable is “supported by evidence strong enough to establish presumption but not proof”. Proof is something that is lacking in the link between glyphosate and cancer. Many studies have been done and no connection has been found. There are many things on the IRAC list of probable carcinogens. Glyphosate has many benefits and without any real proof of harm there is no credible reason not to use it.

GMO FARMING

Roundup is overused in GMO crops and is producing “super weeds”: Weeds that are resistant to herbicide are not unique to glyphosate. Resistance management drives many decisions on pesticide use. I advise the farmers I work with to only have one herbicide resistant crop and do not plant that back to back in the same field. Roundup is not the only herbicide I use and most of the time when I use it, it is in combination with another product since combinations slow down the development of herbicide resistance. I certainly won’t refute that there are weeds resistant to glyphosate. But there are weeds resistant to other herbicides as well so it isn’t “Roundup” but it is the way people use it that causes the problems.

Roundup is killing the soil: There was an article in the NY Times about soil degradation and glyphosate use. Looking at the article and the actual study (if you can call it that) there are so many variables that were not taken into account that you can hardly attribute the effects just to the glyphosate use. The fact that glyphosate is widely used and that these effects are not widely reported makes me think the claim is not justified. But I am open to the possibility that further research may uncover some issues in the future. If that happens, adjustments will be made to incorporate the new information into our decisions. New information is always welcome. The farmers I work with have not seen any adverse affects of glyphosate use. Most of the production problems we deal with can be clearly identified as to causes (that doesn’t mean fixing them is all that easy).

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Roundup is killing the bees: The study that is commonly cited uses a methodology that really doesn’t fit real world conditions.  In this study bees were fed a sugar solution laced with levels of glyphosate expected to be found after a typical field application. Hardly real world conditions. The EPA has done many studies and have found no toxic effects on bees. In a post at ScientficBeeKeeping.com there is a quote with references that states “there is no strong evidence that the spraying of Roundup or generic glyphosate herbicide is directly causing significant bee mortality.  However, Drs. Jim and Maryann Frazier have legitimate concerns about the effect of some adjuvants—especially the organosilicones [27], [28]. ” Glyphosate is rarely sprayed on flowering crops and the majority of the time you are spraying it on small weeds before they bloom so it isn’t likely bees would be picking up much glyphosate in pollen, even at field applied levels. Probably the biggest problem with glyphosate and bees is more of an issue of it working so well that now there are no weeds for them to supplement their nutrition. The Scientific Bee Keeping post touches on that as well. But European honeybee colonies used to pollinate crops are actually starting to increase which suggests that the increased use of glyphosate is not damaging their populations. Those that would like to find some kind of link to glyphosate and bee decline have now pointed to wild bumblebee decline and the lack of weeds these species have to forage on. But new research suggests that climate change may be the issue of declining bumblebee populations.

I’m sure there will still be many people who don’t like “Roundup”, Monsanto or GMOs. The sure volume of false information and poor science that is out there for those that want to ingest it pretty much ensures a steady diet for those who have their minds made up. As for me, I have crops to care for and farmers that need to produce those crops to earn a living and feed a growing population. Glyphosate is an inexpensive, effective tool so lacking any good scientific reason not to continue using it, I’ll continue to recommend it where it is needed, when it is needed and in line with good Pest Management practices.

Do you have a question about crop protection practices or a topic you would like me to explore? Leave me a comment or, if you are on Facebook, you can post a question on the public group Pesticide Myth Busters and let the community there help you find a answer.

What dangers are threatening our food supply?

There are many things one can say about farming but “easy” sure isn’t one of them. Many things can threaten a farmer’s crop, insects, weeds, poor soil, lack of water, diseases, lack of labor, well this list could go on and on but most people are aware that there are lots of things a farmer has to deal with, just like all of us in whatever work we do.

For this post I am going to focus on a singular happening in our corner of the world that most of us have not seen in quite some time. This year we had a very dry winter and spring. This caused the plants in the foothills surrounding our valley to dry up quickly, much sooner than usual. Up in those foothills lives an insect called the Beet leafhopper.beet leafhopper

This particular little beastie is vector of a disease that is deadly to certain crops and because it can be so devasting, there was a program that the government used to carry out to spray the foothills when the beet leafhopper populations were high so that they did not desend into the valley and raise havoc to the crops below. Well, for a varity of reason, enviornmental and monetary, that program was cut way back and now they only spray ditches, roadsides and abandonned fields. So this year as the hills dried up and the large number of leafhoppers desended into the valley looking for food what did they find? Tomatoes!

Processing tomatoes has become a big part of the valley crops cycle. Many farmers have spent a lot of money putting field into drip irrigation to help conserve water and they are planting tomatoes because they yield very well with drip irrigation. But not long after planting they starting seeing plants stop growing and turn a sickly color and die. curly top All over the valley, thousands of acres of tomatoes are affected, some just a few plants here and there and some as many as 50-80% of the plants were infected.

Ok, so what is the point, other than many farmers are going to take it in the shorts because a pest damaged their crop. Isn’t that part of farming? What does this have to do with a threatend food supply. Well in all seriousness, no one will starve if we grow a few thousand tons less of tomatoes this year. But think about it. Remember the potato famine in Ireland? There is a disease that is devasting bananas right now too. We are on our 4th pesticide spray to try to keep our tomatoes from being infected and we all know that more pesticide sprays is really not a sustainable way to go. I thank the stars we are not trying to grow organic tomatoes this year. The best option would be of breed a variety of tomatoes that is resistant to this disease, but so far, through normal breeding techiques, that hasn’t happended.

What if they fould a way to genetically modify a tomato to be resistant to this? No more need to spray the hills or ditch banks or roadsides. No more multi pesticide sprays to try to ward of the leafhopper. Less pesticide sprays are what people want, right? Oh yea, I forgot, GMO food is that evil “Monsanto” thing. So what is it that people want anyway? How are we to protect our food supply and cut down on pesticide use if we can’t even use the best technology out there to fight off diesease, make plant more drought tolerant, yeild more, need less pesticides,etc. Maybe some are thinking that farmers shouldn’t have planted so many tomatoes and that our monculture type of farming is to blame. Well, seriously, a guy had to make a living and there are only so many things one can choose to grow. The choices of what to plant has a lot of componets to it. It isn’t like deciding what to put in your backyard garden.

Well, this post is long enough. Just one little scenario to think on the next time you eat something made from tomatoes and “like” another rant on the evils of “Monsanto”. There is a world to feed and a lot less land to do it on. Just think about that next time you are at the grocery store.

GMO Food labeling, a necessary thing?

Election season is upon us and here in California we have, as usual, a long list of poorly written, ill conceived, Propositions to wade through. I won’t bore you here about what I think of this system of direct governance but I am going to discus one of the propositions on the ballot, Prop 37, which is supposed to make it mandatory for food that is produced with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) be labeled as such. There is a lot about this I could discuss but I do not want to write a lengthy “term paper”.

As a Plant Doctor I have worked with GMO crops that are resistant to certain insects, with lower the use of other pesticides to control them, and those that are resistant to certain herbicides making weed control easier. Some people have said that since the introduction of “Roundup Ready” crops the use of Roundup has increased thus, they say, more herbicides are being used. They don’t understand that the use of Roundup is up but the use of other herbicides for those crops are down. One big benefit of these herbicide resistant crops is the elimination of having to send people in to hand hoe the weeds. Hand labor is expensive and hard to come by.

The biggest problem I have with this “food labeling” idea is that we use our labels on food to identify nutritional information and make sure people with food allergies and other medical issues are able to identify what is safe for them to eat. There are NO medical or allergic issues with any GMO products. None! There is only conjecture based on faulty and deceptive science. There are many examples of these so called scientific studies all over the internet and most that have come under close scrutiny by credible scientific sources have show how flawed these studies are. One news story’s headline is GM Corn-Tumor Link Based on Poor Science. Even the American Medical Association (AMA) says that there is no need to label GMO products. The AMA formal statement reads, in part: “Our AMA believes that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, …(see more).

Most people that want the labeling just want it because they don’t trust GMO food and they want to know if it is in their food. If they don’t want to trust the science that says it is safe that is their choice and they have the choice to buy organic food that is, by definition, GMO free. But to force that added cost onto everyone just because they have unfounded fear is beyond reason. If we started labeling, banning, and making policy choices based on the fact that some people have an unfounded fear of something, where would that end?

They say that we don’t know the long term effects of GMOs on our bodies. Well, that is true. But we don’t know the long term effects of most of the things we use. Do we not use them? Technological advances are needed to meet present day challenges. We need to grow more food on less land with less inputs and at the same or lower costs. How many people are going to go hungry while we wait to see if there are long term effect? Are we willing to set aside addressing current needs to find out? GMO technology will help us solve food production problems relating to plant and animal diseases, drought, and trying to squeeze more food out of less land. We can’t afford to stifle advances in this scientific tool by making people afraid of it by putting a label on the food as a warning.

(I apologize for not posting over the summer. Family matters along with the hectic summer growing season foiled my plans to blog more frequently)