Monday, March 23, 2015

GMO Science Deniers: Monsanto and the USDA


Perhaps no group of science deniers has been more ridiculed than those who deny the science of evolution. What you may not know is that Monsanto and our United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are among them. That's right: for decades, Monsanto and its enablers inside the USDA have denied the central tenets of evolutionary biology, namely natural selection and adaptation. And this denial of basic science by the company and our government threatens the future viability of American agriculture.

Third Grade Science

Let's start with interrelated concepts of natural selection and adaptation. This is elementary school science. In fact, in Washington D.C. it is part of the basic third grade science curriculum.

As we all remember from biology class, when an environment changes, trait variation in a species could allow some in that species to adapt to that new environment and survive. Others will die out. The survivors are then able to reproduce and even thrive under the new environmental conditions. For example, if a drought were to occur, some plants might have traits that allow them to survive while other plants in the same species would perish. The drought-resistant plants then become the "evolved" species, and they are able to reproduce in the drought environment.

Obvious, you are thinking. But let's explore how Monsanto's top scientists and government regulators would have failed a third grade science class in D.C. and the dire consequences that it is bringing to us all.

Biotech's Dirty Little Secret

First a little background. Since the early 1980s, Monsanto has endlessly hyped genetically engineered (GE) crops they claim could reduce hunger, reduce pesticide use, and survive droughts. In reality, no such "miracle" crops exist. No significantly greater yielding crops, no more effective drought resistance crops. And as for the claim of less pesticide use, behind this myth lies the "dirty little secret" of agricultural biotechnology. Namely, that GE crops actually add hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides to our fields and crops, and create greater agrochemical residues on our food. Why? Because around 85 percent of all genetically engineered crops in the United States and around the world have been engineered to withstand massive doses of herbicides, mostly Monsanto's Roundup. Usually, if toxic weed-killing chemicals such as Roundup come into contact with a crop they will destroy it as well as the weeds around it. But Monsanto scientists genetically engineered a cassette of bacterial and viral DNA into plants that allowed them to tolerate these herbicides. So the weeds are killed, but the crops remain.

In the United States, more than 50 percent of all our cropland is devoted to GE corn, soy and cotton. They are commodity crops that feed cars, animals in industrial meat production and are used for additives like high fructose corn syrup. Almost none directly feeds people. So rather than feeding the hungry, this technology is about chemical companies selling more chemicals, a lot more chemicals. So as noted, each year 115 million more pounds of Roundup are spread on our farmlands because of these altered crops.

Profits versus Science: Science loses

If half of our nation's cropland is doused year after year with a particular herbicide, that is a significant change in the environment. The accompanying problem of adaptation and selection has probably already occurred to you. Wouldn't that massive increase in Roundup use over that huge a portion of our cropland cause some weed populations to develop resistance? Wouldn't weeds with natural resistance thrive in this new environment? Wouldn't these new "superweeds" eventually become a major problem for U.S. farmers, overrunning their crops?

As government regulators were considering whether to approve these plants in the mid-1990s, they asked Monsanto just that question. No doubt considering the billions they were going to make selling more Roundup, this is a moment when Monsanto's scientists seemed to find it convenient to their bottom line to deny basic evolutionary science. They stated, "Evolution of weed resistance to glyphosate (Roundup's active ingredient) appears to be an unlikely event." They also suggested that massive use of Roundup would lead to "no resistant weeds." Independent scientists were aghast. They mocked Monsanto's view that Roundup was somehow "invincible" from the laws of natural selection, and pointed out that the company's scientists purposely ignored numerous studies that showed there would be weed resistance. But incredibly, despite the strong contrary evidence, the USDA regulators just nodded in science denying agreement with Monsanto.

Of course, adaptation and natural selection did take place. As a result, in less than 20 years, more than half of all U.S. farms have some Roundup resistant "superweeds," weeds that now infest 70 million acres of U.S farmland, an area the size of Wyoming. Each year we see major expansion of this "superweed" acreage. Texas has gone so far as to declare a state of emergency for cotton farmers. Superweeds are already causing major economic problems for farmers with a current estimate of $1 billion lost in damages to crops so far.

Last year in a panel discussion with Robert Fraley, Chief Technology Officer for Monsanto and a founder of these herbicide tolerant crops, I confronted him. How could he and the other Monsanto scientists have claimed that natural selection would not take place? How could they ignore basic evolutionary science and clear contrary evidence? He just shook his head and said "You're right, weeds have evolved resistance." But apparently, Monsanto and their government regulators still haven't learned this third grade science lesson. They're denying science once again, and the stakes are even higher.

"Agent Orange Crops" and More Science Denial

Now Monsanto and Dow Chemical have received government approval to market new genetically engineered corn, soy and cotton, that are "stacked" with engineered DNA that make them resistant to Roundup as well as 2,4-D (one of the chief elements of "Agent Orange"). Monsanto has also gained approval from the USDA for the same three crops that can tolerate Dicamba. 2,4-D and Dicamba are older, more toxic herbicides than Roundup, and these companies are reverting to them because they have brought us to the point of peak herbicides. They simply don't have any new ones, similar to the current crisis in antibiotics.

But won't the weeds simply become resistant to these herbicides as well? Not according to the science deniers at Monsanto and Dow Chemical. Despite predictions that their new crops will add hundreds of millions more pounds of these herbicides each year, they say not to worry. They claim -- as they did 20 years ago -- that natural selection will not happen; that it is extremely unlikely for weeds to survive simultaneous attacks from two or more different herbicides with different methods.

Weed scientists have shredded this argument, noting that weeds in the past, through adaption, have done this and will almost certainly do it again. So in a few years we will be overrun with "superweeds" that are virtually indestructible by any known chemical. But by then Monsanto and Dow will have made billions selling their chemicals and can leave the "superweed" agronomic nightmare for others to solve. Nor will they have to deal with the other nightmares that could possibly occur: increased rates of cancer and diseases like Parkinson's associated with exposure to these herbicides.

A Better Way

A science-based, and safer, way forward is to abandon this doomed-to-fail chemical arms race against weeds and use ecologically based weed control. There are proven organic and agroecological approaches that emphasize weed management rather than weed eradication, soil building rather than soil supplementing. Crop rotation and cover crops can return productive yields without ridding the land of genetic biodiversity, and could reduce herbicide use by 90 percent.

So it's long past due that our government required real and rigorous science when regulating GE crops. It's time for them to say "no" to these herbicide-promoting crops, and prevent the looming agronomic disaster they will inevitably bring with them.

In the meantime, the next time you read hear about "GMO science deniers" -- think of 70 million acres of superweeds; think cancer, Parkinsons and other diseases caused by this growing use of herbicides; think Monsanto and its enablers at the USDA.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Agent Orange: It's Affecting Veterans and Their Kids

The number of Vietnam veterans affected by the chemical Agent Orange is astonishing.

Roughly 300-thousand veterans have died from Agent Orange exposure -- that's almost five times as many as the 58-thousand who died in combat.

“Did it save lives? No doubt. Over there it did, but nobody knew it was going to be taking them later,” said Dan Stenvold, President of the North Dakota branch of the VVA.

The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) define Agent Orange as a highly toxic herbicide used by the U.S. military to kill vegetation during the Vietnam War.

"You know we killed the jungle with back packs, sprayed so we had a good perimeter," said Stenvold.

According to Stenvold, one tablespoon of Agent Orange in the drinking water of Los Angeles would kill the entire city.

That toxicity is coming back to haunt veterans and it's also affecting their children...

“Well my dad was a Vietnam veteran, my brother has brain cancer believed to be caused by Agent Orange passed through my father,” said Ashely Busby, daughter of a Vietnam Vet.

…And their children's children.

“Our daughters that can't have children, there's a lot of them. I was telling Ashley I know of at least 70 in North Dakota alone where the daughters can't have kids,” said Stenvold.

11 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in Vietnam over 20 million acres, putting three million Vietnam veterans and their families at risk.

"It’s an everyday question kind of, you know, what's passed on, what's not passed on," said Busby.

Stenvold did three tours in Vietnam and in 2002 he was diagnosed with diabetes linked to Agent Orange.

Since then he says he's made a vow to raise awareness.

Two years ago, the VVA received 50 thousand dollars from the state to do just that.

"It’s amazing how many Vietnam veterans don't know about it and you know it's really opened the eyes, I gotta thank the North Dakota legislature because two years ago they had enough faith in us to go out and do what we're doing and it's working," said Stenvold.

There are about 50 diseases connected agent orange exposure and nearly 20 birth defects recognized in the children of Vietnam veterans.

"I had a close friend who died a five years ago from lymphoma and he's laying in Minot, he's from Minot, dying and he says, "you know we all took a bullet over there, some of us just didn't know it. We're all going to die from it, eventually, or a lot of us will," said Stenvold.

Mcneilus steel in Fargo made history as the first corporation in North Dakota to donate money to the VVA.

The employees and the company gave a total of $1,500 dollars to this cause.

http://www.valleynewslive.com/home/headlines/Agent-Orange-It--296824751.html

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dom's March Numbers- 68 Months COMPLETE REMISSION!

We had a wonderful St. Patrick's Day and celebrated accordingly.  Dom's Light Chains continue to drop.  We're absolutely tickled.  Thank you for the prayers and positive thoughts, gang!

WBC:   5.4

HTC:   40.6

PLATELETS:   192

ANC:   62

LIGHT CHAINS:

Kappa-  16.16

Lambda-  16.26

Ratio-  0.99

ZERO M-SPIKE!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Celebration

We had a lovely time on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, we failed to take many pictures.

When Chris arrived, he and Dom headed to Bogalusa for my Baking Powder, and swung by Dennis' house to shoot turtles.  

Joe arrived a few hours later and hung out with me as I was cooking.

I baked my traditional Soda Bread, Oat Farls, Corned Beef, Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots.  For dessert we drank Baileys and Jameson's Irish Whisky on the rocks.

All 6 of us had a great time.  Next year, MORE PICS!






Monday, March 16, 2015

A St. Patrick's Day Prayer


Blessed St. Patrick's Day! 
From 'St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer': 

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord. Amen.