Roundup impairs soil fungi

December 2017

Modern farmers are proud to grow crop plants in isolated splendour; they make sure nothing much ever gets a chance to live alongside them in the fields. Their yields are impressive, and the drain on soil health even more so.

Soil is a living material. It generates the nutrients plants need, and its resilience comes from a vast living, interacting biodiversity of bacteria, fungi, single-cell organisms, plants and animals. Agrichemicals designed to kill change all that.

Scientific methods are, of course, used to check out the effects of agrichemicals on select representative soil life-forms. For example, tests of key features of the well-characterised soil fungus, Aspergillus nidulans, include growth rate, spore germination and germination delay, pigmentation and organisation of the fungal strands. If no effects are detected at some measured level of exposure to a pesticide, the chemical is pronounced safe for the soil at any lower concentrations.

However, science has moved on a long way from looking at gross changes under a microscope such as the above. And, none of the chemicals tested in isolation in the laboratory is ever present in isolation in the field.

A recently published study based on state-of-the-art 'proteomic' analyses revealed subtle biochemical disturbances in A. nidulans exposed to glyphosate. This raises a number of concerns.

Glyphosate in European soils

December 2017

A snapshot survey of European agricultural soils in 2015 has revealed a worryingly extensive presence of glyphosate herbicide and its break-down product, 'AMPA'*.
*aminomethylphosphoric acid

Glyphosate is widely used on GM herbicide-tolerant crops in the Americas, but in Europe, it's typically applied only once a year to cereal and oilseed crops, or three times a year in orchards and vineyards. This doesn't sound like very much.

Scotching the GM myth

December 2017

'Food security' is a complex problem for which simple solutions have long been tried, and as long have failed. In fact, 'food security' isn't even easy to define.

Prior to the 1980s, the problem seemed straightforward: just add together all the food produced in the area of interest, add net food imported, and divide the total by the number of people living there. If there were enough calories available per person, the area was 'food secure'.

American agricultural suicide

November 2017

A retired Senior Executive of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently described how American agriculture is on a "treadmill to oblivion", blinding itself to the reality of what's happening on the farm and of where that pesticide treadmill isn't going. Add to this, an "unparallelled ability ... to forget what we once know" about how to keep the soil healthy the pests at bay, and the crop yields high without fertilisers and pesticides.

Corporate Communism?

November 2017

Denying local communities the freedom to choose their own agricultural system, not only what they grow but how they grow it, has suddenly become a priority in the USA.

By August this year, 28 States had passed "seed pre-emption laws" never deemed necessary nor desirable before.

The new laws are primarily designed to block counties and cities from banning GMOs, but the language used in some bills could enable them to extend to such things as manures, fertilisers and irrigation (these could be used to promote, for example, agri-chemical corporate interests, agri-chemical dependent GM crops, and futuristic drought-tolerant GM crops).

The testing barrier

November 2017

The chemical industries have long used a demand for ever more proof of harm to keep their unsafe products on the market.

Such 'proof' of harm realistically means testing on animal models. This takes time, while in-depth testing takes a long time, and the life-long studies to gain full evidence on the potential for chronic disease take a very long time. This can be used to keep the sales and the profits rolling indefinitely.

Gene driven mutations

November 2017

Gene drive technology could soon become the much needed "self-sustaining, species-specific and affordable" means of eradicating horrific diseases, such as malaria, by wiping out the insect vector upon which the spread of the pathogen depends [1].

Current research is focusing on wiping out mosquitoes by giving them a gene drive with a 'nuclease' enzyme which will disrupt the function of a key mosquito gene needed for fertility in the females: by creating successive generations plagued by sterile females, the mosquito population and the disease will be decimated.

With a generation time counted in days and little tendency to fly very far during their short lives, the gene drive is predicted to be very rapidly effective in the area where the GM mosquitoes are released.

This sounds like a win-win situation (for humans), but is it that straightforward?