Full list: Agriculture in the News

VT Digger: State looks to grow hemp at medical marijuana dispensaries

Sarah Olsen
Aug. 27 2015, 7:07 pm
Full Article

State officials are asking lawmakers to allow marijuana dispensaries to grow hemp plants and produce and sell therapeutic hemp oil.

The dispensaries want to sell the oil as a treatment for children who suffer from seizures and other neurological symptoms, according to Lindsay Wells, marijuana program administrator at the Department of Public Safety.

Wells and Jeffrey Wallin, director of the Vermont Crime Information Center, are asking lawmakers to change existing state statutes to allow dispensaries to grow hemp.

At a hearing Thursday, members of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules learned the difference between hemp, marijuana and cannabis. Cannabis refers to the three different varieties of plants that produce marijuana and hemp. Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol at dry weight, while marijuana has more than 0.3 percent THC, Wells said. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces its euphoric effect. Hemp contains more of the compound cannabidiol (CBD), which helps with certain medical treatments. Medical marijuana grown by the dispensaries to treat pain, nausea and other conditions contains a higher level of THC than hemp.

Hemp for this purpose must be grown outside, unlike medical marijuana, Wallin said, and farm production of the plant for hemp oil requires a lot of acreage, he said.

Despite the lower THC levels in hemp, it is still listed as an illegal drug under the controlled substance act of 1970. Jonathan Page, a University of British Columbia botanist, said in a statement Wednesday that knowledge about hemp is lacking because of its status as a controlled substance.

A person cannot get high from smoking hemp because the THC levels are too low to produce an altered state of consciousness, according to a 1998 report for the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

The proposed rule was submitted to LCAR on May 10 and a hearing was held June 19. The public comment period for the proposed rule ended July 26.

The LCAR board members voted to postpone their decision on the rule until their next meeting, Sept. 10.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Consumer interest: Congress should not ban states’ GMO food labels

By the Editorial Board
Full Article

Should food companies be required to label products that include GMOs — genetically modified organisms? At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be credible evidence that GMOs can harm human health. But in the absence of long-term studies, many consumers are skeptical and want to know more about what goes into their food.

Grass-roots movements in some states seek to require labeling of genetically modified ingredients. Vermont passed a law that will require GMO labeling beginning next year.

But Republicans in Congress, for all their talk about states’ rights, want to make that impossible. The GOP-controlled House approved a bill in July that would prevent states from requiring GMO labeling. Instead, the measure would create a voluntary national program that would let companies apply for GMO-free labels through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bill’s sponsors point out that the scientific community agrees that GMOs, which are present in most supermarket foods, are safe for consumption. But supporters of labeling say genetically modified ingredients have been widespread in foods for less than 40 years — not enough time to study long-term effects.

The European Union, Japan, Australia and other advanced countries require GMO labeling. The American College of Physicians argues that the lack of transparency around bioengineered food prevents doctors from diagnosing allergies or other adverse reactions to GMOs.

Opponents of labeling say it would mislead consumers about the safety of bioengineered foods, but no proposed state labeling system would make inaccurate claims about GMO safety. Like ingredient lists, the labels would simply inform consumers how their food was made.

This is a debate about access to information. Congress shouldn’t prohibit states from offering food labels that will enhance consumers’ knowledge.

The New England Journal of Medicine: GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health

Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.
Full Article

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not high on most physicians’ worry lists. If we think at all about biotechnology, most of us probably focus on direct threats to human health, such as prospects for converting pathogens to biologic weapons or the implications of new technologies for editing the human germline. But while those debates simmer, the application of biotechnology to agriculture has been rapid and aggressive. The vast majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are now genetically engineered. Foods produced from GM crops have become ubiquitous. And unlike regulatory bodies in 64 other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of GM foods.

Two recent developments are dramatically changing the GMO landscape. First, there have been sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases — the largest in a generation — are scheduled to occur in the next few years. Second, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a “probable human carcinogen”1 and classified a second herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), as a “possible human carcinogen.”2

The application of genetic engineering to agriculture builds on the ancient practice of selective breeding. But unlike traditional selective breeding, genetic engineering vastly expands the range of traits that can be moved into plants and enables breeders to import DNA from virtually anywhere in the biosphere. Depending on the traits selected, genetically engineered crops can increase yields, thrive when irrigated with salty water, or produce fruits and vegetables resistant to mold and rot.

The National Academy of Sciences has twice reviewed the safety of GM crops — in 2000 and 2004.3 Those reviews, which focused almost entirely on the genetic aspects of biotechnology, concluded that GM crops pose no unique hazards to human health. They noted that genetic transformation has the potential to produce unanticipated allergens or toxins and might alter the nutritional quality of food. Both reports recommended development of new risk-assessment tools and postmarketing surveillance. Those recommendations have largely gone unheeded.

Herbicide resistance is the main characteristic that the biotechnology industry has chosen to introduce into plants. Corn and soybeans with genetically engineered tolerance to glyphosate (Roundup) were first introduced in the mid-1990s. These “Roundup-Ready” crops now account for more than 90% of the corn and soybeans planted in the United States.4 Their advantage, especially in the first years after introduction, is that they greatly simplify weed management.

But widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant crops has led to overreliance on herbicides and, in particular, on glyphosate.5 In the United States, glyphosate use has increased by a factor of more than 250 — from 0.4 million kg in 1974 to 113 million kg in 2014. Global use has increased by a factor of more than 10. Not surprisingly, glyphosate-resistant weeds have emerged and are found today on nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. Fields must be now be treated with multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

The first of the two developments that raise fresh concerns about the safety of GM crops is a 2014 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve Enlist Duo, a new combination herbicide comprising glyphosate plus 2,4-D. Enlist Duo was formulated to combat herbicide resistance. It will be marketed in tandem with newly approved seeds genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, 2,4-D, and multiple other herbicides. The EPA anticipates that a 3-to-7-fold increase in 2,4-D use will result.

In our view, the science and the risk assessment supporting the Enlist Duo decision are flawed. The science consisted solely of toxicologic studies commissioned by the herbicide manufacturers in the 1980s and 1990s and never published, not an uncommon practice in U.S. pesticide regulation. These studies predated current knowledge of low-dose, endocrine-mediated, and epigenetic effects and were not designed to detect them. The risk assessment gave little consideration to potential health effects in infants and children, thus contravening federal pesticide law. It failed to consider ecologic impact, such as effects on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. It considered only pure glyphosate, despite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.

The second new development is the determination by the IARC in 2015 that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen”1 and 2,4-D a “possible human carcinogen.”2 These classifications were based on comprehensive assessments of the toxicologic and epidemiologic literature that linked both herbicides to dose-related increases in malignant tumors at multiple anatomical sites in animals and linked glyphosate to an increased incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans.

These developments suggest that GM foods and the herbicides applied to them may pose hazards to human health that were not examined in previous assessments. We believe that the time has therefore come to thoroughly reconsider all aspects of the safety of plant biotechnology. The National Academy of Sciences has convened a new committee to reassess the social, economic, environmental, and human health effects of GM crops. This development is welcome, but the committee’s report is not expected until at least 2016.

In the meantime, we offer two recommendations. First, we believe the EPA should delay implementation of its decision to permit use of Enlist Duo. This decision was made in haste. It was based on poorly designed and outdated studies and on an incomplete assessment of human exposure and environmental effects. It would have benefited from deeper consideration of independently funded studies published in the peer-reviewed literature. And it preceded the recent IARC determinations on glyphosate and 2,4-D. Second, the National Toxicology Program should urgently assess the toxicology of pure glyphosate, formulated glyphosate, and mixtures of glyphosate and other herbicides.

Finally, we believe the time has come to revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods. Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. And the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer. We hope, in light of this new information, that the FDA will reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term postmarketing surveillance.

Raconteur: For and against GM

July 29, 2015
Supporters and opponents of genetically modified food are passionate in their beliefs, but who is more persuasive?
By Stephen Tindale, former Greenpeace UK executive director
Full Article

Genetic modification can be used for good or bad purposes, environmentally and ethically. So biotechnology should be assessed case by case – what does this aim to achieve, will it work, what are the possible side effects and do the potential benefits outweigh the risks? Opposition to all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the basis that they are not “natural” makes no sense. Most things in the modern world are not natural, including the crops produced by centuries of plant breeding.

Oxfam states that it “does not support GMOs as the solution to hunger, poverty and development”. This is understandable. GMOs are not the solution, but they could be part of the solution. Hunger and poverty could be eradicated through redistribution of global wealth. But that is not going to happen any time soon. So why not use some GMOs – golden rice, BT aubergine – to help tackle problems of hunger and ill health?

Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International, wrote in 2010 that “Oxfam understands technology does matter and that modern biotechnology might play a role in helping to achieve global food security, but only so long as farmers are central to the process and their rights are strengthened, not harmed”. So, Oxfam takes a selective, rational approach to biotechnology – it does not support or oppose the technology per se, but considers how it is used.

Hang on, GM opponents will say, biotech has not been proven to be safe. They would be right in one sense as science does not definitively prove anything. New discoveries are always possible. But the overwhelming majority of scientific research over the last 20 years finds GM to be safe. Similarly, it has not been proven that pollution causes climate change, but almost all peer-reviewed scientific publications find that it does. Green campaigners often point this out, but don’t mention that a similar majority of scientists find GMOs to be safe.

With biotechnology, the science says the risks of action are small, while the risks of inaction are enormous. So, cautiously and case by case, GMOs should be supported.


By Dame Dr Jane Goodall, campaigning environmentalist

We’re repeatedly assured modern genetic engineering is merely a minor extension of natural breeding, that there’s an overwhelming scientific consensus the modified foods it creates are as safe as naturally produced ones, that this consensus rests on a mass of solid evidence and these foods are necessary for meeting the world’s future nutritional needs.

But I believe none of these claims are true. This is well established by extensive evidence that’s skillfully presented in the excellent free resource, GMO Myths and Truths, and also within the pages of an important new book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government and Systematically Deceived the Public, for which I wrote the foreword.

This book explains in detail how the GM food venture has been “chronically and crucially dependent on disinformation” and could not have survived without it. The disinformation is still being dispensed today – if the truth had been widely shared from the beginning, GM foods would probably never have come to market and we would not be having this debate.

Furthermore, the sheer extent of the irrefutably documented deception is itself proof of how strongly the evidence weighs against the safety of GM foods, because (as the book points out) if it were truly supportive, there would be no need to distort it.

In reality, genetic engineering is a radical break with natural processes and there has never been a consensus among scientists that its foods are safe, with cautions issued by institutions such as the Royal Society of Canada and the Public Health Association of Australia. A significant number of well-conducted studies published in peer-reviewed journals have detected serious harm to the animals that consumed them.

Finally, extensive research has demonstrated they are not the solution for world hunger and that in fact the GM food venture is actually harmful to efforts to increase food production. Numerous studies in a variety of African nations have consistently shown agroecology and permaculture are not only safe and sustainable methods of farming, but can also outperform industrialised approaches even when GMOs are employed. Unfortunately, however, the GM venture is capturing a large portion of the money and attention that should be directed towards establishing these patently superior forms of farming.

Clearly, GM foods are unacceptably risky, deceptively promoted and obstructing genuine progress. The world will be much better off without them.

VT Digger: Consumers don’t see GMO labeling as a deterrent to buying foods, study shows

Sam Heller
Jul. 29 2015
Full Article

A new study on GMO labeling shows that most people would not view a GMO label as a warning to avoid eating products containing genetically modified ingredients, according to a news release issued by the University of Vermont on July 27.

Jane Kolodinsky, a professor who authored the study and chair of the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont, drew from five years of data from statewide surveys about consumer opinions on GMO labeling. The surveys focused on the relationship between whether the respondent opposed the commercial use of GMOs, and whether or not they believed products containing GMOs should be labeled.

The study found that 93 percent of respondents were in favor of GMO labeling laws, and 60 percent of respondents were opposed to the use of genetically modified ingredients in commercial products. There was no evidence to suggest that those who were in favor of a GMO labeling law were no more likely to oppose the commercial use of GMOs than those who did not, however.

“When you look at consumer opposition to the use of GM technologies in food and account for the label, we found that overall the label has no direct impact on opposition. And it increased support for GM in some demographic groups,” Kolodinsky said.

The study comes at a time when GMO labeling is a hot-button issue in Vermont. At a concert in Essex Junction, Canadian rock star Neil Young announced that he would make a $100,000 donation to the Vermont Food Fight Fund, established to defend Act 120 – Vermont’s GMO labeling law – from opponents who wish to see it overturned in court.

Meanwhile, Vermont senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has spearheaded legislation in the Senate which would allow Vermont to require manufacturers to list genetically modified ingredients on food labels.

Vermont’s GMO labeling law, Act 120 has been challenged in court by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food industry trade groups, who say the bill is unconstitutional and a violation of free speech.

“The First Amendment dictates that when speech is involved, Vermont policymakers cannot merely act as a pass-through for the fads and controversies of the day. It must point to a truly ‘governmental’ interest, not just a political one,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association says on its website.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is considering the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling bill which, if passed, will nullify Vermont’s Act 120.

“Proponents of the U.S. Senate-bound bill, which if enacted would nullify Vermont’s GMO labeling law that has yet to take effect, argue that mandating labels on foods containing GMOs is misleading, because it suggests to consumers that GMOs are somehow risky to eat,” reads the UVM news release.

But Kolodinsky’s findings indicate that most people who support GMO labeling laws do so out of a desire to make an informed decision about what they’re eating, rather than out of concern that GMOs are dangerous.

“This study adds to the GM labeling evidence by showing that, in the only U.S. state that has passed a mandatory positive GM labeling law, the label will not act as a ‘warning label.’ When only the label is considered, it has no impact on consumer opposition. And there is some evidence that the label will increase consumer confidence in GM technology among certain groups,” she said.

Burlington Free Press Op-ed: My Turn: Fear for your food future

August 6, 2015
Full Op-Ed

If you listen closely, you can still hear the echoes of the nuclear power industry when their over-paid scientists, lawyers, publicists and lobbyists sanctimoniously and superciliously asserted that nuclear power would be clean, safe, reliable and too cheap to meter. If only, people would stop being so afraid of the unintended consequences of nuclear power and listen to the “facts” they were smugly spewing, they could get on with their agenda. Unfortunately, for them the nuclear trifecta —– the melt down at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania and the continuing disasters in Fukushima, Japan and Chernobyl, Russia — seems to have driven those old arguments underground. But you can still hear the echoes.

The remarkable similarities of the justifications now advanced by big “Agribiz” (Monsanto et al.) in support of GMOs to the arguments once offered in support of nuclear power leave one with the chilling thought that maybe —just maybe — the new crop of overpaid scientists, lawyers, publicists, and lobbyists being rewarded by “Agribiz,” are reading from the old playbill. Feed the world with clean, safe, reliable and cheap GMOs. Once again, they claim, that advanced technology will rescue us from ourselves.

Well, maybe that’s possible but I, once again, fear the potential, unintended consequences of these new experimental food products. I fear a future that puts my food supply in the hands of a few multinational corporations driven primarily by “the bottom line” of a few wealthy investors. (The Pope might call that greed.) I also fear the impact on our farmers, and I fear the impact on the existing crop supply. And I want to choose whether I consume GMOs in the food I eat.

And that’s what the Vermont legislature intended when it passed the GMO labeling bill. In spite of the threats from big Agribiz, Vermont was and is prepared to go it alone. All we Vermonters want is an opportunity to know what’s in the food we eat and make informed choices on issues of global significance. Isn’t full disclosure and transparency essential to the twin concepts of consumer capitalism and caveat emptor? How else can we opt out of the world dominated by Monsanto et al. Our only leverage is to vote with our pocketbooks.

And, so Agribiz has dispatched a coven of ankle-biting lawyers to smother our new law in legal briefs. But it’s not enough for Monsanto to challenge our law in the courts. They are now challenging our law in the well-plowed fields of Washington, D.C. Money goes further in Congress and so they are succeeding. The U.S. House voted by a frighteningly high margin to block us from requiring labeling of genetically modified foods. (Where are the “states rights” boys when you really need them?)

We can hope that the unintended consequences of GMOs will not be as dramatic as those of the nuclear power industry. But that’s what makes it so insidious. The consequences of GMOs may occur long before we know about them. Let’s hope the grid lock in Washington can kill Agribiz’ latest maneuver.

Westword: Feds Should Amend Marijuana and Hemp Laws, Legislatures Group Says

By Michael Roberts
August 10, 2015
Full Article

The National Conference of State Legislatures is an organization that champions the rights of politicians at the state level.

And at the just-concluded NCSL Summit in Seattle, the group took a stand against federal interference when it comes to marijuana and hemp.

In a resolution on view below, the NCSL asks that federal laws “be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies.”

Here’s how the organization describes itself on its website:

Since 1975, NCSL has been the champion of state legislatures. We’ve helped states remain strong and independent by giving them the tools, information and resources to craft the best solutions to difficult problems. We’ve fought against unwarranted actions in Congress and saved states more than $1 billion. We’ve conducted workshops to sharpen the skills of lawmakers and legislative staff in every state. And we do it every day.

In recent years, marijuana and hemp have been very much on the NCSL’s radar, for reasons described on an overview page devoted to the subjects. The following passage about 2015 cannabis proposals references legislation put forward in a slew of states:

Adult-use legalization bills currently are pending in Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont. In addition, bills in Georgia and Missouri propose constitutional amendments on marijuana legalization; and a Louisiana bill also would provide for a proposition election to allow for legal adult use of marijuana. Legalization bills have failed in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Mexico and West Virginia; and an initiative petition in Nevada and constitutional amendment proposal in New Mexico also have failed. The pending Texas proposal would repeal criminal provisions but does not include taxation and regulation.A bill in Maine addressing consistent drug-free workplace policies would require study of legal marijuana and the workplace. Study bills failed in Illinois, New Hampshire and Wyoming. A Maine measure failed that would have prohibited localities from referendums to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

In addition, nineteen states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, the NCSL points out; they are ” Alaska (also now with legal provisions) California, Colorado (also now with legal provisions), Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington (also now with legal provisions), and the District of Columbia (also now with legal provisions).”

The new resolution also highlights the fact that “nearly half of the states and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of marijuana,” despite the substance remaining illegal at the federal level. With that in mind, the authors of the document believe changes need to be made at the federal level. The final portion of the resolution reads:

BE IT RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference and urges the administration not to undermine state marijuana and hemp policies.BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety,, health, and economic development of their communities.

Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority sees this move as a positive step. Corresponding with Westword via e-mail, he writes that “while the Obama administration has made some helpful accommodations for states to move forward with their own marijuana policies, overarching federal prohibition laws still stand in the way of full and effective implementation. These state lawmakers are demanding that the federal government stop impeding their ability to set and carry out marijuana laws that work best for their own communities, and Congress should listen.


GM Watch: New revelation about glyphosate-cancer link

Glyphosate narrowly missed being classed as a known rather than a probable carcinogen in the World Health Organisation evaluation.
Claire Robinson reports
Full Article

An excellent article by Andrew Cockburn in Harpers explains that anti-invasive species hysteria is prevalent across the US, from university biology departments to wildlife bureaucracies to garden clubs. Glyphosate is the weapon of choice for battling invaders that are seen as threatening native species. Over 90 percent of California’s land managers use the compound, which is particularly recommended as a slayer of eucalyptus trees. Last year, the federal government spent more than $2 billion to fight the alien invasion, up to half of which was budgeted for glyphosate and other poisons.

This resulting high exposure to glyphosate of the American public is an especially serious issue since the decision of the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency IARC that the herbicide is a “probable” carcinogen. Monsanto has tried to bamboozle the public about the significance of the IARC decision by confusing the 2A (probable human carcinogen) category that IARC put glyphosate into with the 2B category – “possible human carcinogen”, a group occupied by common substances like coffee and pickled vegetables. The message is: many of us drink coffee and eat pickled vegetables without worrying, so we shouldn’t worry about glyphosate either.

Cockburn’s article reveals that the discussion at IARC was NOT about whether glyphosate should be in category 2A (probable carcinogen) or category 2B (possible carcinogen). Instead the discussion was about whether glyphosate should be classed in category 1 (known human carcinogen).

The IARC group was headed by Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist who spent thirty years at the National Cancer Institute. Cockburn paraphrases Blair as follows:

“According to Blair, there were good grounds to declare that glyphosate definitely causes cancer” – in other words, it should be classed in category 1 as a known human carcinogen. But “This did not happen, [Blair] said, because ‘the epidemiologic data was a little noisy’. In other words, while several studies suggested a link, another study, of farmers in Iowa and North Carolina, did not. Blair pointed out that there had been a similar inconsistency in human studies of benzene, now universally acknowledged as a carcinogen. In any case, this solitary glitch in the data caused the group to list glyphosate as a probable (instead of a definite) cause of cancer.”

Iowa and North Carolina study not reassuring

Blair of the IARC mentions the Agricultural Health Study in Iowa and North Carolina as a study which, in Cockburn’s paraphrasis, did not find a link between glyphosate and cancer. In reality, though, the study is not reassuring and doesn’t contradict other studies that did find a link, for two reasons.

1. The study did find “a suggested association” between glyphosate exposure and multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. A rebuttal study commissioned by Monsanto and published in 2015 ahead of the re-evaluations of glyphosate by the US and the EU used a different dataset and concluded “no convincing evidence” of a link. Whether the Monsanto re-analysis is more reliable than the findings of the publicly funded Agricultural Health Study is debatable.

2. In a separate study also conducted in Iowa, detectable levels of glyphosate were found in urine samples from farm families and non-farm families. The researchers put this down to the fact that glyphosate herbicides are used in home gardens as well as in agriculture. Thus in the Agricultural Health Study the control population is as likely to be exposed to glyphosate as the “exposed” population, so the differences between the groups may be small or non-existent. The implication of the urine study is that the real link between glyphosate and cancer could be far stronger than was found in the Agricultural Health Study.

Glyphosate-resistant weeds: the ultimate invasive species

The massive irony emphasised by Cockburn’s article is that America’s reliance on the probable carcinogen glyphosate has backfired. Glyphosate over-use on both invasive species and GM glyphosate-tolerant crops has led to the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. The agricultural consultant Dr Charles Benbrook is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s a disaster… As resistant weeds spread and become more of an economic issue for more farmers, the only way they know how to react — the only way that they feel they can react — is by spraying more.”

It has become common for farmers to spray three times a season instead of once, and Benbrook estimates that the extra doses of herbicide will add up to 75,000 tons in 2015. Farmers now have to contend with glyphosate-tolerant marestail that grows up to eight feet tall, with stems thick enough, according to one farmer, to “stop a combine in its tracks”. It is, according to Cockburn, the ultimate “alien invasive, made right here in America”.

Seven Days: Timber Harvesting With Horsepower

By Ken Picard
Full Article

Carl Russell wraps one end of a steel chain around a felled tree, then backs his 3,200-pound “power unit” — aka Ted and Petey, his team of harnessed draft horses — into position in front of the log. With nothing more than subtle nudges on the reins and terse voice commands of “Gee!” (right) or “Haw!” (left), he maneuvers the animals backward inch by inch, as deftly as if he were parking a golf cart.

“The really intriguing part of working with horses is getting to the point where you can communicate with them to this degree of responsiveness,” Russell explains, hitching the other end of the chain to the horse cart. “Because, really, what good is a power unit if you can’t control it?”

As Russell skids the log across a pasture and up a narrow dirt road, it’s readily apparent how horse logging differs from mechanized timber harvesting: no roar of diesel engines, belches of black smoke, deep muddy ruts or compacted vegetation created by skidders and bulldozers. Apart from the occasional whine of a chain saw, the clop of hooves and the jangle of chains, it’s as quiet as a walk in the woods.

In a very material sense, horse logging — or any work done with draft animals — is the original solar power. Locally grown hay, grasses and grain fuel Russell’s “engines.” So perhaps it’s no surprise that interest in the use of draft animals for logging and other agricultural activities has burgeoned along with Vermont’s explosion of solar-energy projects.

Russell and his wife, Lisa McCrory, own Earthwise Farm & Forest, a 158-acre organic farm on a wooded hillside in Bethel. The farm, including the 18th-century log cabin where they live with their three kids, has been in Russell’s family since his grandfather bought it in 1938. There, the family makes a living selling raw milk, eggs, vegetables, meat birds, pork and beef at its roadside farmstand. Three draft horses power nearly all the heavy lifting, tilling and logging on the land.

Russell, a University of Vermont-trained forester, has been horse logging for 29 years, both on his own property and on private woodlots, and then selling logs to local sawmills. He got his start in 1986, when he was just 26 and working as a log buyer for a large regional sawmill.

As Russell prepared to leave that job and go out on his own as a conventional forester, he traveled to Stockbridge to say goodbye to a client. Russell had been buying timber from the man for years and knew he consistently delivered exceptional saw logs, but he had never had occasion to visit his logging operation.

He remembers walking into the woods that day and being mesmerized when he saw how easily the old-timer logged using a single horse.

“It was like watching a dance,” Russell recalls. “Just fantastic surgical maneuvers, with this enormous horse moving pretty big timber.”

Russell knew immediately that, rather than invest in heavy machinery as he’d originally intended, he wanted to buy a draft horse. Six weeks later, the Stockbridge lumberjack sold Russell his first horse.

“He parked his horse trailer at the bottom of the hill, and I unloaded the horse and started walking up the hill,” Russell recalls. “I could hear his horse trailer banging down the road and just thought, What the hell am I doing?

Horse labor has a long history as the bedrock of farming and logging in Vermont, but by the time Russell got into it in the mid-’80s, that history was well in the past. The old farmers in the area eyed him skeptically, he recalls.

“They thought I was an idiot!” Russell admits with a laugh. “In some ways, it was almost insulting to them that I would be so serious and committed to this absurd, archaic way of working.”

Russell had to seek out the few elderly lumberjacks who still knew how to move timber by horse; more often, he found himself learning by trial and error. Though his first horse, Rob, had been described to him as “an old dud,” Russell soon realized that “he was just an amazing horse. He was my rock.”

Russell also discovered he had a knack for communicating with horses. Within a year, he bought his second, Peg, a 6- to 9-year-old mare. Russell worked her for 21 years before she had to be euthanized. Within a year of buying Peg, he stopped using his tractor. He eventually sold it and hasn’t used one for logging since.

Though some people have romantic notions about horse logging, Russell emphasizes that it’s arduous and dangerous work: “As nice as it is to work with horses when they work well, it’s hell when they don’t.” When the flies are too distracting or the temperature mounts too high, Russell has to move on to other work.

Because horse logging is time- and labor-intensive by nature, it costs landowners more than conventional logging would. Horse loggers typically practice a method called restorative forestry: They don’t clear-cut the entire woodlot, and they often leave standing the trees that would command the highest prices at the mill.

This method doesn’t reap landowners the highest possible cash return from their woodlots — at least, not initially. But, as Russell explains, once landowners recognize residual damage to the woods as a cost to them, they begin to see non-damaging practices as an investment in the land. Research has shown that, over time, forests logged with horses grow at a more vigorous pace and are more productive than conventionally logged stands.

That’s because horse logging allows Russell to get into spots where skidders and bulldozers can’t go and surgically remove the trees he wants, without compacting the soil or cutting wide swaths for roads and landings.

“If you want to get in here through the puckerbrush without mowing it all over,” he says, pointing to a thicket of sumac and buckthorn, “you can put one horse in here.”

The human scale of horse logging has another set of economic advantages for the logger. Logging with heavy machinery requires an upfront investment of tens of thousands of dollars, which often sends loggers deep into debt.

“For $10,000 I can have everything I want, including horses,” Russell says. In mechanized logging, “$10,000 isn’t going to buy much of a bulldozer or skidder.”

Russell emphasizes that he’s not bad-mouthing conventional methods, but he says that many loggers get “stuck in that economic grind.” Carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, they can’t turn down jobs and must “feed that beast.”

For Russell, feeding his beasts costs about $5 per day. “I can work with my horses for weeks without having to generate any income,” he adds. And, unlike skidders and loaders, Russell points out, horses actually appreciate in value over time.

“The more you utilize them to the best of their ability, the better they get and the more you can get done,” he explains. Asked for an example, Russell points to his animals, who’ve been standing for 15 minutes without moving more than a few inches in any direction. “That right there,” he says, “is a really good attribute.”

Russell and McCrory are well known throughout the region by those who work with draft animals. In 2007, they founded the Northeast Animal-Power Field Days, a three-day event held annually at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds that includes workshops, demonstrations and trade exhibitions.

That event, which Russell and McCrory oversaw until 2010, generated so much interest that it soon gave rise to the Draft Animal Power Network, an organization with about 600 members and a worldwide following. The network now holds its field days every other year and rotates them throughout the Northeast; the next one is scheduled for September 24 to 27 in Cummington, Mass.

Russell eventually passed the reins of the field days to other organizers so he could do more of what he enjoys most: be in the woods with his horses. He still reserves the time to teach and mentor younger horse loggers, in part because, when he was in forestry school, “Horses were part of the history lesson,” he says. “They weren’t part of the conventional lesson.”

Now he can instruct others at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, one of a handful of schools around the country with programs in low-impact forestry and draft-horse management. According to Rick Thomas, the draft-horse educator, farrier and lumberjack who runs the program, interest has grown dramatically in the last decade; nearly all the program’s classes are filled and have robust waiting lists.

There’s no way to say how many horse loggers still operate in Vermont or on the national scale. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food & Markets, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation don’t track such figures.

Russell admits that horse logging isn’t for everyone, especially those who lack the patience to work with often-unpredictable animals. But for those who have it, he says, the rewards are great. To illustrate, he quotes a Wendell Berry poem that reads in part, “I learned to flesh my will in power great enough to kill me should I let it turn.”

“Horses can be an extension of your body, if you can communicate with them,” Russell says. “They’re just a great big muscle to me.”

The Undercurrent: why are we being fed by a poison expert?

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The Undercurrent delves into the world of mass agriculture to ask how one company has such control over food supply. The name Monsanto was once synonymous with Agent Orange, but today it’s the dominance of the widespread herbicide Roundup which helps keep the company on top. But is the World Health Organisation’s claim that Roundup ‘probably’ causes cancer, cause for concern? And what about the company’s stance on patenting which sees farmers in developing countries unable to hold on to seed? Guardian Australia has joined forces with The Undercurrent – an online news show billing itself as an antidote to the five-second soundbite – for a four-part series over June and July.