POSTED: 29 NOVEMBER 2007 - 1:00pm HST

TGI #18: The End of Pesticides

image above: At Jones Beach State Park DDT is sprayed on the public to keep away mosquitos circa 1953

[Editor's Note: Normally these columns are scheduled to appear every other Sunday in the Kauai Garden Island News.The final published version may vary from this text as TGI retains the right to correct and edit the material. The copyright to the published version is held by TGI owner Kauai Publishing. Some material in TGI columns may have appeared on already]

by Juan Wilson on 2 December 2007 Revision 3.4 071130

People have had bad experiences with pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides). Several times what appears to be a miracle product has become wildly popular in solving a nasty problem. After a while that pesticide does not seem as effective as at first. Then side-effects and other negative aspects of continued use become apparent. In the end the pesticide use is curtailed or even banned.

In the 1950's
When I was a kid, DDT was an insecticide used to kill everything from mosquitoes to japanese beetles. In its ability to safely control typhoid and malaria epidemics, DDT was touted a miracle product. It was considered so safe that people were fumigated with clouds of the stuff so they wouldn't be bitten by bugs.

A famous photograph in the National Geographic, from the 50's, shows a tank truck riding along the crowded sand at Jones Beach State Park, on Long Island. It was spraying a wide swath along the sand and was being followed by frolicking children playing in the cool wet mist of DDT.

The US Environmental Protection Agency notes that almost a billion-and-a-half pounds of DDT was used in America. One reason DDT was so effective was that it did not break down easily in the environment. It was persistent. It had a half-life of about eight years in the fatty tissue of the animals that ingested it. It collected in toxic concentrations in fish and other wildlife. It is credited with almost making the bald eagle extinct. As a result DDT eventually had to be banned.

In the 1960's
When I was a young man, Agent Orange was a miracle product of DOW Chemical and Monsanto Corporation. It was used as an herbicide to defoliate broad leafed plants. Entire jungles could be quickly cleared without affecting nearby rice crops. It was considered so safe and effective that, in the decade between 1964-74, over one-hundred-million pounds of it was used to cover over 10% of Vietnam.

At the time the chemical companies sold Agent Orange to the U.S. government, their internal memos indicated that they knew dioxin (in Agent Orange) was a human carcinogen, associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Since the war the Vietnamese Red Cross has registered an estimated one million people disabled by Agent Orange. It too eventually had to be banned.

In the 1970's
Monsanto developed and patented the glyphosate molecule in 1973, and marketed it in a mixture branded "RoundUp". Glyphosate's mode of action is to inhibit an enzyme involved in the synthesis of the amino acids. The chemical is absorbed through foliage and transferred to growing points. The result: The plants that RoundUp touches simply wither and die.

Early studies indicated that glyphosate itself was practically nontoxic by ingestion or by skin contact. It did not cause cancer and was poorly absorbed in the digestive track, did not enter the blood stream and did not accumulate within the body.

More recently

Later research indicates glyphosate induces a variety of functional abnormalities in fetuses and pregnant rats. Also, in recent mammalian research, glyphosate has been found to interfere with an enzyme involved in testosterone production in mouse cells and to interfere with an estrogen biosynthesis enzyme in cultures of Human Placental cells. In controlled studies the World Health Organization found significant glyphosate residues on wheat not lost during baking.

Some opponents of the RoundUp mixture claim to have found genetic damage to DNA in the liver and kidneys of mice that is not related to the active ingredient glyphosate, but to other components of the herbicide mixture used to aid in keeping glyphosate from beading in droplets on leaves and in enabling absorption into plant cells.
In Denmark it was discovered that the herbicides had been moving down through the soil and polluting the ground water at a rate five times higher than the level allowed. Denmark imposed a ban on glyphosate in 2003.

Today on Kauai
Not that long ago the Kauai County actually landscaped our roadsides. There was mowing, pruning and clipping done by machines and handheld tools. It took time, money and provided many jobs. The results were beautiful.

Today "landscaping" work is done on the cheap with a tanker-truck full of herbicide spraying the side of our public roads wherever there is a sign, telephone pole, culvert or "overgrowth". The results create an endless swath of withered dying plants along the sides of our road s... ugly!

It is time for the County of Kauai to stop using glyphosate containing herbicides, and other chemical means of "landscaping" the Garden Island. Not only is it ugly, but it is dangerous.

The County is not the only one that needs to change its habits.

RoundUp family of products are now the best-selling agrochemicals in the world, with a market in the billions of dollars. But the Monsanto's patent on RoundUp expired a decade ago. They have clung to two-thirds of the glyphosate business by cutting prices, but have made plans to extend their leverage with the product line.

To keep the franchise healthy and profitable, Monsanto determined to create Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and patent the results. A key to their strategy was to make those crops "RoundUp Ready". This meant that the genetically engineered crops would be immune to the effects of RoundUp. This, in turn, meant that even if you did not use Monsanto's RoundUp and turned to a generic product, you would still be hooked on the RoundUp Ready crops.

Monsanto has also engineered crops not to grow UNLESS sprayed with RoundUp. Even more sinister, they have designed crops with "Terminator" genes that self-destruct unless "licensed" by a product from Monsanto. In a word Monsanto wants to OWN life.
Kauai has become the Genetic Engineering capital of the world. All the major players in the business (and their subsidiaries) have set up operations here: Dupont, Pioneer, Syngenta, Dekalb and Monsanto.

They chose Kauai because it has plenty of water, 365 days of growing seasons and is the most isolated place in the world. That means if an unthinkable accident happens here, we will be its only victims. The acres of GE corn grow as small farmers find it more profitable to lease to Big Ag Biz experiments, rather than raise food crops themselves.

The End of the Road
Today it is hard to find a product in the supermarket that is not shipped thousands of miles, wrapped in plastic, and free of corn syrup as an ingredient. The beverage/chip aisle is the epitome of this bad agriculture. Empty carbohydrates, sugar water and fat are wrapped in inflated colorful balloon packaging like birthday presents. Mmmmm! It might appropriately be called the Diabetes Aisle.

The purveyors of these products are the likes of Arthur, Daniels, Midland (ADM), Cargill, Frito-Lay and Coca-Cola. Their enablers are Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta, right here on Kauai.

However, the Big Ag Biz of corn, soy, wheat, etc., has reached a point of diminishing return on investment. It uses too much pesticide, fertilizer, mechanization, transportation, and packaging in a world where petrochemicals are not abundant.

The energy efficiency of industrial agriculture has deteriorated over time. In "The Oil We Eat" (Harpers Magazine 02/04) it is revealed that in 1940, just before chemical-intensive agriculture really took hold, the average farm produced 2.3 calories of food for every calorie of fossil energy used. By 1974 the ratio had fallen to 1:1. Today the average U.S. farm uses three calories of fossil fuel in producing one calorie of food (3:1).

As it stands, the Big Ag Biz model of industrialized food production is fatally flawed.

And Tomorrow the World
What the world needs is the technology for growing crops locally and organically, without the need of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides. That is what ADM and Syngenta should be working on. Instead they want to own life itself with a patent lock on the technology of mammoth monoculture agricultural. The problem is that "mode of life" will soon be as dead as the dinosaurs.

My suggestion is that the GMO companies on Kauai should voluntarily withdraw from doing experiments in fields within a wide buffer zone around residential areas. This distance will need to be determined, but will likely need to be measured in hundreds of yards. In addition, GMO companies should not be adding new fields to their experimental efforts. We are not lab rats in your experiment.

In a longer time frame, these companies should be moving towards commercial crops that do not require fertilizer or pesticide to survive.

GMO companies should re-align their long-range strategy. They should go on a crash course to understand the best techniques for small scale organic farming in the tropics. They could create thousands one to five acre individual farm plots. They could grow differing organic crop mixes, timings, arrangements and practices.

The results would be to find out what works in Hawaii and other tropical locals. We would learn which plots were the most stable, productive, independent and in balance with the external environment. They could do the same in other climates and share the results with the world. By doing so these corporations would be heroes and create a reputation beyond being a greedy accomplices in the death of the planet.

I encourage individual emplyees of the GMO companies to reach out to those who have been resisting their current corporate goals. There is useful work to do here. In the end we all want to live on the Garden Island and not the Mutant Corn Island

The Garden Island News Column Menu Listing of all "Island Breath" articles submitted to TGI
16 November 2007 - 11:00am HST

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