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FEED - December 2009 - Union of Concerned Scientists

By Union of Concerned Scientists


1. Engineered crops won't fix nitrogen pollution problem
2. Antibiotic resistance estimated to cost $20 billion a year
3. Biotech crops responsible for huge increase in weed killers
4. Bon Appétit produces guide to help young farmers
5. Major cattle producer loses right to use organic label

1. Engineered crops won't fix nitrogen pollution problem
A new UCS report concludes that we need multiple approaches to address the serious problem of nitrogen pollution from overapplication of fertilizer to crops. Excess fertilizer from fields pollutes the air and water and some of it is converted into nitrous oxide, a potent heat-trapping gas that also degrades the ozone layer. The report found that, despite more than a decade of effort, biotechnology companies have not yet succeeded in commercializing genetically engineered (GE) crops that will use nitrogen more efficiently. More promising solutions include traditional breeding, which has already produced crops with improved nitrogen efficiency; precision agriculture that matches fertilizer applications to times when crops are best able to use it; and environmentally friendly farming techniques such as cover crops that reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers and remove excess nitrogen from fields. Although GE attracts large amounts of private investment, we need to increase public research funding and provide incentives for other approaches in order to fix our nitrogen problem. Read No Sure Fix: Prospects for Reducing Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollution through Genetic Engineering.

"The challenge of optimizing nitrogen use in a hungry world is far too important to rely on any one approach or technology for its solution. We don't want to put all our eggs in the GE basket." ~ Doug Gurian-Sherman, Senior Scientist and author of the report

2. Antibiotic resistance estimated to cost $20 billion a year
Antibiotic-resistant infections cost patients, their families, and the U.S. healthcare system $20 billion a year, according to a new study. The researchers estimated that there were 900,000 such infections nationwide in 2000, extrapolated from the infections seen in one Chicago hospital. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop in response to the overuse of antibiotics in both human medicine and food animal production. Read an article about the study, or read the study abstract in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Then, tell your representatives in Congress to cosponsor legislation to protect valuable antibiotics for use in humans rather than feeding them to livestock that are not sick.

3. Biotech crops responsible for huge increase in weed killers
According to a new report from the Organic Center, and contrary to industry claims, the use of weed killers (herbicides) in the United States has increased dramatically—by 383 million pounds—over the first 13 years of commercial production of GE crops. Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States attributes the increased use to weeds that have become resistant to herbicides with the widespread planting of GE herbicide-tolerant crops. These crops are engineered to withstand weed killers so that the chemicals can be applied to fields to kill weeds. However, their overuse on GE crops has led to weeds that, like the crops, can tolerate the herbicides. As farmers use more and more herbicides to control them, the weeds become more resistant in turn, requiring even more herbicides to control them. This report, like UCS's report Failure to Yield, refutes the biotech industry's overstated assertions of the benefits of GE crops. Read the report, which was funded by UCS and other public-interest groups. To learn more about how herbicide-tolerant weeds are overtaking fields in the South, watch an ABC News video.

"The report shows that the overall chemical footprint of today's engineered crops is massive and growing. The growth in herbicide use has important implications for public health, the health of the environment, and farmers' bottom lines." ~ Margaret Mellon, Food & Environment Program Director

4. Bon Appétit produces guide to help young farmers
A new guide to help student gardeners form business partnerships with college food service providers is available from Bon Appétit Management Company. The guide covers topics such as crop planning, budget, liability insurance, food sanitation and packaging, and marketing and promotion. Bon Appétit, which has a history of purchasing food from student-run farms, created the guide to help more young people launch careers in farming. In addition, the local, on-site production of food for college cafeterias is healthier for the environment and the students. Read the guide (pdf).

5. Major cattle producer loses right to use organic label
After a four-year investigation and legal battle, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has suspended the organic certification of Promiseland Livestock, LLC, for four years. Promiseland, one of the largest organic cattle producers in the United States, manages 22,000 beef and dairy cattle in Nebraska and Missouri. Investigators accused Promiseland of violating numerous organic regulations, including feeding conventional grain to cattle and reselling conventional grain as organic. The suspension directly resulted from the company's inability to provide records demonstrating its compliance with organic standards. The ruling signifies a commitment by the USDA to ensure the integrity of the organic label, which is critical to consumer confidence and support for organic products. Read more from the New York Times.


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