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Some interesting things we’ve read this month

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 February Issue Newsletter

By Amie Lindenboim

Operations inside a potato chip production facility.
Photograph by Meg Roussos — Bloomberg via Getty Images

We’ve compiled this list of stories to help keep you up to date on issues impacting food and farming.

GENETIC ENGINEERING

Genetically Modified Potatoes Are Making Their Way to the Produce Section

The FDA has just given its approval for a potato genetically modified to resist late blight, expected to get EPA approval later this year and be on the market in 2017.   The potato, created using RNAi “gene silencing” technology, also resists bruising and browning at cold temperatures.

Critics fear “silencing“ may end up turning down – or off – genes other than those that are targeted, because many genes contain similar, or even identical, stretches of DNA.

McDonald’s and Frito-Lay have issued statements saying they won’t use this potato (maybe because they won’t be able to tell by looking at them that they’ve been stored too cold, and their starch turned to sugar?).

GE Tree Company ArborGen Found Guilty, Fined $53.5M

ArborGen, a leader in the research and development of genetically engineered trees, has been fined $53.5 million in compensation and punitive damages after a court ruled that it used “trickery and deceit” to get employees to accept incentive plan changes that depleted most of their wealth.

Gene Drives Offer New Hope Against Diseases and Crop Pests

Biologists are developing a revolutionary genetic technique that promises to provide an unprecedented degree of control over insect-borne diseases and crop pests.  However, a single escaped organism carrying a gene drive system could alter a substantial fraction of the wild population with unpredictable ecological consequences.

The article contains a well-written explanation of how the technology works; if you can wade through that, there is more discussion of possible risks towards the end.

VIDEO: Documents Reveal Canadian Teenager Target of GMO Lobby

Documents reveal a Canadian teenager and her activism on the issue of GMO labeling were the subject of emails strategizing how her message could be countered.

How GMO Lobbyists Taught Me We're Winning

The author looks at what the pro-GMO lobby says—and doesn’t say.

 

GRASS-FED MEAT LABELING

USDA Revokes Grass-fed Meat Labeling Standard

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rescinded the labeling standard for grass fed meat, giving farmers and meat companies who had been using the USDA grass-fed label 30 days (until 2/11) to either convert the label claim into an existing private grass-fed standard, or develop a new grass-fed standard of their own.

 

MONSANTO

Monsanto Increases Job Cuts as Corn, Chemical Sales Slump

Monsanto's total net sales fell 22.7 percent to $2.22 billion.

 

NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT

Urine for Some Fertilizer

It's called the 'Swamp', a stadium that packs more than 90,000 fans when the University of Florida Gators host a home game. If Environmental Engineering Professor Treavor Boyer has his way, this field and all of the people attending the football games will be part of a massive science experiment in sustainability.

Organic Farming Can Cut Nitrate Leaching in Half

Recent research published in the journal “Sustainable Agriculture Research” demonstrated that a typical organic crop rotation reduced nitrate leaching from crop fields by nearly 50 percent, compared to the conventional corn and soybean rotation common in Iowa.

 

PESTICIDES

Atrazine: The Latest Pesticide on Trial

With California working to list atrazine as toxic to the reproductive system, three of the United States' most-widely used pesticides are under fire for adverse health effects.

Professor Marion Nestle in JAMA: Viewpoint: Food-industry Funding of Food and Nutrition Research

Between March and October 2015, Nestle identified 76 industry-funded studies. Of these, 70 reported results favorable to the sponsor’s interest. Despite ongoing requests to readers of her blog to help her identify funded studies reporting results contrary to a funder’s interest, she found only 6.

 

POLLINATORS

The EPA Finally Admitted That the World’s Most Popular Pesticide Kills Bees—20 Years Too Late

The EPA looked at independent and industry studies on the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid and concluded that whether bees where harmed depended upon the crop where they foraged.  This conclusion satisfied neither Bayer nor those concerned about the pesticide’s effect on bees.

 

While the EPA says imidacloprid-treated corn likely doesn't harm bees, corn is treated with little or no imidacloprid (though it gets huge amounts of another neonic).  The biggest imidacloprid-treated crop of all its soybeans, “an information black hole.”

 

Beekeeper, Farmers, and Public Interest Groups Sue EPA over Failed Oversight of Neonicotinoid-coated Seeds

A coalition of beekeepers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court pointing out that the EPA has never properly assessed neonics in their most widely used form: as seed coatings, which are then taken up by crops.

 

Wild Bees on the Decline in Key US Agricultural Ecosystems – Study

The study estimated that wild bee numbers diminished in 23% of the continental United States between 2008 and 2013 in a trend driven by conversion of their natural habitat into farmland including corn for biofuel production.

Pesticides and diseases were cited as other factors behind the declines among the roughly 4,000 US species of wild bees.

 

STATE NEWS

Advocates Press Baker for Healthy Foods Initiative Funding

The trust would fund loans, grants, and technical assistance to new or growing food businesses that show potential to improve access to healthy food. There’s just one catch: the state has yet to release some $2 million authorized by the Legislature in 2014 to get the food trust up and running.

 

WEEDS

'Super' Weeds: War Hits Home for Farmers in Kansas as Herbicide Resistance Grows

Farmers who relied on glyphosate to control weeds in no-till systems are losing ground as the USDA reports 14 weeds are now resistant to the herbicide.

Pigweed Emerging as Farmers’ Super Pest

Pigweed, with its ability to quickly adapt genetically, has developed glyphosate herbicide resistance nearly as quickly as the crops altered by scientists to do so. 

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