On May 21, the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, announced that it would stop its annual publication on the kinds and amounts of pesticides applied to crops in the U.S.
This annual Agricultural Chemical Usage report, begun in 1990, will no longer serve thousands of farmers, agricultural inspectors, environmental agencies, state and local representatives, chemical researchers and even chemical manufacturing companies, as a free resource to track U.S. pesticide usage. The alternatives for getting the information, priced as high as $500, are both out of the financial reach of many farmers and consumers, and provide less reliable information.
Now it will simply be a matter of guesswork or networking that establishes whether Minnesota corn or California plums have been sprayed with chemicals a consumer might want to avoid. The impact on farmers is inestimable, according to the American Farm Bureau, which fears lack of reporting will put the nearly two million farmers in the U.S. in the untenable position of having to defend their practices vis a vis pesticides and fertilizers – an uncomfortable stance that pits them against both consumers and the government, and may drive more small family farms out of business.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, also uses the data from these reports to determine which chemicals need to be regulated. Without this information, the successive or duplicate spraying of food crops with various chemicals could lead to lethal consequences in human, animal and aquatic populations. In fact, failure to monitor could result in currently illegal chemicals like Captan, Dursban and Endosulfan returning to the U.S. food supply and drinking water.
More important, researchers who track pesticide use on genetically modified (GM) crops like soybeans, corn and cotton will no longer be able to confirm that these GM crops actually require more pesticides than their native cousins, as a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently proved.
Despite opposition from scientists, leading farming organizations and environmental groups, the USDA stands firm. A May 20th letter from multiple organizations is reportedly unlikely to sway the agency, even though the signers represent such a broad swath of concerned Americana that ignoring them seems like agency suicide - or would, under any other administration. Under the Bush regime, which has historically sided with big business over the environment, it’s just another slap in the face to consumers and activists alike.
Given this future inability to track pesticide use in GM crops, Monsanto is now free to restate its claim that GM crops require fewer pesticides. It is also free to extend its already phenomenal reach (50 percent of corn and 90 percent of soybeans into America’s farming communities.
The suspension of reporting is not a result of USDA overwork and understaffing, or even recent agency budget constraints, but the consequence of a recent government policy by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, or FCIC (serving under the aegis of the USDA), which in 2007 began offering various incentives to farmers who planted Monsanto’s GM corn.
This Biotech Yield Endorsement (BYE) pilot program essentially offers both discounted pricing for Monsanto’s third generation of GM corn containing triple-stack genetics, and lower rates on crop insurance, which protects farmers from the vagaries of severe weather like floods and tornadoes. All farmers have to do to get both incentives is plant about three-quarters of their arable land with Monsanto seed.
Clearly, it would be bad PR to inveigle farmers to plant Monsanto’s GM corn while still publishing statistics that show GM crops require more herbicides. Particularly since the one herbicide sold to treat GM corn is Roundup, a product of Monsanto.
Roundup, touted as more environmentally friendly than other brands, and recommended for GM corn because the seed is genetically altered to tolerate it, is in fact proving less and less effective at killing weeds, requiring both more and heavier doses. This is another plus for Monsanto, a definite negative for farmers, who have to spend more to raise Monsanto’s GM corn – and clearly a negative for aquatic environments, which are seriously impacted by its use.
The Monsanto-USDA connection is just the latest in a long list of Bush administration practices which benefit big business and threaten consumers - and the environment - with irreparable harm. Depriving the public, and reporting agencies, of this invaluable tool to monitor pesticide use, will likely lead to what Pesticide Action Network managing director Steve Scholl-Buckwald describes as a situation where pesticides end up being tracked via accident reports like the current salmonella warning on tomatoes.
"And that's a lousy way to protect public health," Scholl-Buckwald told the Associate Press.
One of the clearly identified health risks of pesticides is an increased incidence of diabetes, according to researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The increased risk, which ranges from 20 to 200 percent, was conducted over a five-year period among 31,787 individuals who regularly applied pesticides. At the end, 1,171 reported a diagnosis of diabetes. Roundup, a glyphosate compound, is – besides being toxic in aquatic environments – a known endocrine disrupter – a chemical construct which is targeted as causing everything from obesity to prostate cancer.
Hopefully the accident reports mentioned above will stay at a minimum until a newly-seated president can rectify the damage done by Bush administration policies which allow the USDA and others charged with public health and safety to thumb their noses at the very entities they are sworn to protect. In the meantime, wash all food carefully before eating, and buy organic whenever possible. It may save your life.
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- Open Letter to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “GM crops will not feed the world”
- The Link Between Toxic Chemicals and Global Warming
- Open Letter to Hillary Clinton from a Wellesley College Alumna
- GM Crops, Pesticides and the Poor
- Chemical Based Farming Systems Robbing Us of Nutrients