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Daily News Blog

29
Jun

Herbicide Use and Chemical Inputs Doubled on VT Dairy Farms with GE Crops

(Beyond Pesticides, June 29, 2016) A new report published by Regeneration Vermont finds that herbicide and chemical fertilizer use on Vermont dairy farms nearly doubled from 2002 to 2012, increasing from 1.54 to 3.01 pounds of herbicide per acre, respectively. The report, Vermont’s GMO Legacy: Pesticides, Polluted Water & Climate Destruction, by Will Allen, Ph.D. of Regeneration Vermont and Cedar Circle Farm, focuses on the failed promises of genetically engineered (GE, or GMO) crops to reduce chemical inputs required for crop production. While Vermont leads the nation on the GE labeling front, with its  law set to go into effect on July 1, the report, which highlights the flawed exemption on dairy and meat products, is a sobering reminder that this is only a part of the solution to the effects of GE crops and chemical-intensive agriculture.

“While the law will force mainstream food corporations to label GMOs in products like Cheetos and Spaghetti-os before coming into the state, it turns a blind eye to the GMO-derived dairy that is the primary ingredient in, for VT Ag Pesticidesexample, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Cabot’s cheddar cheese,” says Dr. Allen. “This is about more than the consumer’s right to know. It’s also about the impact GMO-centered agriculture is having on Vermont’s environment and wildlife, its role in the continued monopolization of the food supply, and the roadblocks it creates in the path toward a truly regenerative, eco-sensitive, and socially-just form of agriculture in the state.”

At issue is the fact that the law specifically exempts dairy and meat products, though the state’s number one crop is feed corn, with over 92,000 acres of GE feed corn grown in Vermont. In fact, it finds that in a span of 13 years, there was a 12-fold increase in the adoption of GE corn in Vermont, from 8% of corn acreage planted with GE seed in 2002 to 90% in 2012.   The report finds that from 2002 to 2007, when GE production was at 47%, herbicide use averaged 160,201 pounds per year. From 2008-2012, when GE production was planted on 67-90% of corn acreage, herbicide use nearly doubled, with an average of 262,096 pounds per year.

Further, the report finds that eight highly toxic herbicides dominated pesticide use on Vermont corn crops, including atrazine, metholachlor, simazine, pendimethalin, glyphosate, acetochlor, dicamba,and alachlor. In light of findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that  glyphosate is a human carcinogen  based on laboratory animal test data, consumers have even more cause for concern about the health risks that these products pose. Beyond Pesticides has long ascertained that consumers have a right to know whether the foods they buy contain GE ingredients, not only because of concerns over the safety of eating GE food, but also because of the direct and indirect effects of GE agriculture on the environment, wildlife, and human health. Furthermore, there are many environmental consequences of reliance on chemical-intensive, genetically engineered agriculture. Repeated spraying of these herbicides destroys refuge areas  for beneficial insects, such as the monarch butterfly, and  leads to resistance  in the very weed species that GE technology is intended to control. Yet, despite rampant glyphosate resistance and the presence of organic management practices that are  more protective of human health and the environment, the agrichemical industry continues to resort to increasingly toxic combinations of chemicals.

On the positive side, the report offers encouragement in the fact that more than 20% of Vermont’s dairies are organic, which is the highest percentage in the U.S. About 200 of the 970 Vermont dairy farms have adopted sophisticated organic rotational grazing systems, according to the report, which enhance the quality of the forage, and sequester large amounts of carbon that can help reverse climate change. Good organic practices work to build the soil and maintain an ecological balance that makes chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides unnecessary.

“Vermont is blessed with abundant water, lush pastures, and an environment where pastured cows can thrive,” concludes Will. “All of Vermont’s dairies could adopt a more sustainable form of dairy management, and the government and private businesses could help farmers make the transition and curb the pollution. We have the technical knowledge to make these management changes, but we urgently need to accelerate the transition to cleaner, safer, and more environmentally friendly dairy farming systems.”

Will Allen, Ph.D., is a longtime educator, activist and farmer dedicated to organic agricultural techniques that benefit the environment, farm workers and consumers. He was the founder of the Sustainable Cotton Project, a group that promoted organic growing practices and organic clothing, and the author of the seminal work on the history of toxic pesticides, The War on Bugs. Dr. Allen is currently the co-founder and co-manager, along with his wife, Kate Duesterberg, of Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, Vermont, a pioneering organic farm and education center. Will and his wife both spoke at the 34th National Pesticide Forum, Cultivating Community and Environmental Health, in Portland, Maine. You can hear about his personal experience on GE contamination and many of the issues brought forth in the report in the video of their talk, Regenerative Agriculture: Farming as if the Earth Matters.

The only way to truly avoid food produced with genetically engineered crops or processed with genetically engineered ingredients  in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. Beyond Pesticides supports organic agriculture and is working to strengthen organic farming systems by encouraging biodiversity and holistic management practices, and upholding the spirit and values  on which the organic law was founded. Underpinning the success of organic in the U.S. are small-scale producers who focus on fostering biodiversity, limiting external inputs, improving soil health, sequestering carbon, and using integrated holistic approaches to managing pests, weeds, and disease. To learn more about organic agriculture, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture, and Eating With a Conscious pages. For more information on GE foods and labeling issues, see Beyond Pesticides’  Genetic Engineering  website.

Sources: VT Digger, Regeneration Vermont

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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