Science in Society Archive

Science in Society #56 - Letters to the Editor

Science in Society 56

GM woes: no water, no birds, no butterflies, and we’re coughing at harvest time

Regarding GM Crops Destroyed by US Drought but non-GM Varieties Flourish (SiS 56), a farmer with land near us next to Silver Lake in southern Michigan (Branch County) dug a deep well two years ago about 600 feet from the lake shore. He did it in the dead of winter, going through snow and frozen ground after the summer crowd left for the season. When everyone returned in the spring, we and some of our neighbours found that our water pipes often sucked air. The farmer used immense irrigation systems the whole summer on his GM crops. Another GM farmer near a pond that our friend owns a few miles away in the same county also drilled a well to irrigate his fields and the pond went dry.

The first farmer started planting GM crops about 3 or 4 years ago. We knew he did it because he put out signs indicating that they were GM when he planted his corn that year. Then in the fall, when he began to harvest, he actually flew a skull-and-crossbones flag on his combine and harvester! My husband and I started coughing, and we coughed our way through his harvest, as we do every fall now, and getting worse every year.

The other thing that’s happened is that we have almost no birds here anymore. I have bird feeders out, for both songbirds and hummingbirds. For years I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of birds outside my window. But sadly, this year I never once had to replenish my bag of feed. The birds are gone. So are the butterflies. I saw zero butterflies this summer, and there were hardly any bees. The bees used to battle the hummingbirds for food, but the two lonely hummingbirds that visited our feeder this year had very little competition from the handful of bees that came around. I used to enjoy flocks of hummingbirds, but this year my hummingbird feeder actually went sour before I had to change it. The wild deer are gone too. In other parts of our country, people are blaming the drought for low bird populations. But we’re sitting on a lake. There's plenty of water here. And there are no birds. Again, the only thing that's changed is we’re surrounded by GM fields.
Cindy, Coldwater Michigan, USA

Cancers, tumours, anaemia, hepatitis, infant death..

Re GM Cancer Warning Can No Longer Be Ignored, the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside hosted Sophia Gatika in Krakow in October 2012. She had already spoken in the European and German Parliaments, telling a shocking story of sickness and death in her community in Argentina as a result of mass glyphosate spraying of GM soya. Here is the list of sicknesses attributed to the spraying, as analysed by the University of Buenos Airies: leukemia, cancer, lupus, tumours, anaemia, hepatitis, and infant death. Sophia lost her own daughter to the spraying. The feeding experiments of Seralini’s team can surely leave no one in doubt that an outright ban of GMO must be set in motion without further delay (see Why Glyphosate Should Be Banned, SiS 56).
Sir Julian Rose, President, International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside, Krakow, Poland

Simi Valley nuclear accident worse than Three Mile Island

I have been reading your articles on Fukushima and Chernobyl (Announcing Death Camp Fukushima Chernobyl - an ISIS special report, also SiS 55) . Why not check out the worst US ‘accident’ in history…the one that no one ever heard about: Simi Valley (Santa Susanna) nuclear accident of 1959, involving a sodium reactor. The plant was later converted to a rocket engine testing site into which RocketDyne/McDonnell Douglas injected millions of gallons of toxic fuel into the soil. The drinking water is still contaminated for miles around the tract. This incident was more than 100 times worse than Three Mile Island. Families have been moved back in. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) covered up this incident and denied it for over 20 years. Cancer deaths are up more than 5 times the national average.
Gene Sperling, Los Angeles, California, USA

Synthetic Biology Safety an afterthought?

In Aptamers for Biosensing, Diagnosis, Drug Delivery and Therapy (SiS 56), you write “they are more likely to survive in the environment with unknown consequences for health and the ecology of our aquatic systems.” This comes in as an afterthought. So even for i-sis our ignorance is still less important than our knowledge.
Jerome Ravetz, Oxford, UK

Regarding environmental contamination: if proven, treatment centres with bio-waste controls will add costs, but not terribly high, while the life-saving possibilities are developed.
Linus Hollis, Oakland California, USA

Dr Mae-Wan Ho replies
My comment may seem like an afterthought to you Jerry, but definitely not. I see an obligation to inform on what is known as far as possible and then point out the areas of our ignorance. You would not want me to speak from a position of ignorance do you?

Bring back perennial crops

Re World Water Supply in Jeopardy (SiS 56), I have just finished reading Wes Jackson’s book Consulting the Genius of the Place. In it he shows that our abuse of the eco-sphere started with the agricultural revolution some 10 000 years ago when humankind first domesticated annual grasses for grains rather than perennial grasses. Even though it has been obvious to untold generations that agriculture using annual grains is environmentally destructive we have not questioned the annuality of grains rather we have been trying to ameliorate the negative consequences of their cultivation through equally ecologically destructive means like chemical fertilizers. I would guess that the cultivation of perennial grains would be much less demanding of water than the equivalent annual grains. Wes Jackson through The Land Institute, which he established in Kansas USA, has been working to develop perennial grain crops for the last 30 years. In my view his efforts are creating a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Rory Short, Gauteng, South Africa

Mae-Wan Ho replies
Regarding the full benefits of perennial grains please read Ending 10 000 Years of Conflict between Agriculture and Nature (SiS 39) by Stan Cox, a scientist with the Land Institute. Perennials certainly use water much more efficiently, but also other nutrients, thereby preventing water pollution, and even more importantly, runoffs and loss of topsoils. They also give higher yields, sequester more carbon both above and below ground, and save energy; and are suitable for production in marginal lands.

Article first published 14/11/12

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Rory Short Comment left 20th November 2012 07:07:26
I have just finished reading, as you recommended, SiS 39 by Stan Cox. Uplifting and challenging, how do we get our departments of agriculture, agricultural research institutes and plant breeders to focus on developing perennial grain crops and, perhaps, even more importantly getting the Gene Giants to change direction. Their nostrums are just compounding the original 10,00 year old human error of domesticating annual grains.