Ithaca Environment

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Kyoto Climate Treaty Takes Effect, Impact is Unclear

Seven years after it was negotiated, the Kyoto global warming pact went into force Wednesday — imposing limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that many scientists blame for warmer temperatures, melting glaciers and rising oceans...

The United States, the world’s largest emitter of such gases, has refused to ratify the agreement, saying it would harm the economy and is flawed by the lack of restrictions on emissions by emerging economies China and India.
Permalink 8:26 PM

In Bush's Washington, Polluters Write Environmental Laws

From MSNBC's "Hardblogger", David Shuster writes:
This week, several reporters (including myself) were given previously secret documents that clearly show the "Clear Skies Act," (which is supposed to regulate industries that pollute the air) was written by lobbyists representing those very same polluting industries.
Permalink 8:22 PM

Global Warming Melts Bolivian Glaciers

On the occasion of the formal start of the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, MSNBC has had a large number of good articles recently about the environment. Here is a good slide show about the warning signs of global warming (in the upper right-hand corner).

This article by Charles J. Hanley discusses the consequences of glaciers melting in Bolivia. Not long ago, Bolivia boasted downhill skiing on the Chacaltaya Glacier, an hours drive from La Paz. But Edson Ramirez, a Bolivian glaciologist said that the glacier has lost two-thirds of its mass in the 1990s alone, and is now probably a mere 2 percent the size it once was. Besides the loss of recreation, the disappearance of glaciers in South America is threatening water supplies: La Paz gets most of its water from the glacier, and in Peru, 70 percent of the power comes from hydroelectric dams catching runoff from glaciers that may be gone within a decade.

The disappearance of glaciers is a worldwide phenomenon:
They’ll disappear far beyond Bolivia. From Alaska in the north, to Montana’s Glacier National Park, to the great ice fields of wild Patagonia at this continent’s southern tip, the “rivers of ice” that have marked landscapes from prehistory are liquefying, shrinking, retreating.

In east Africa, the storied snows of Mount Kilimanjaro are vanishing. In the icebound Alps and Himalayas of Europe and Asia, the change has been stunning. From South America to south Asia, new glacial lakes threaten to overflow and drown villages below.

Although global warming is certainly a factor in the melting of glaciers, the details can be complex:
A warming Pacific Ocean has created disruptive El Nino climate periods more frequently and powerfully, reducing precipitation, including snows to replenish glaciers. Less snow also means glaciers that are less white, more gray, absorbing more heat. Newly exposed rock walls then act like an oven to further speed melting.

Edson Ramirez at Chacaltaya glacier near La Paz, Bolivia, estimates the frozen storehouse of water will be gone in seven to eight years.

Permalink 7:50 PM

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Sustainable agriculture leader to speak in Ithaca

Thanks to Jessie Lind

Via Meagan Cocke

The Necessity -- and Now the Possibility -- of an Agriculture
Where Nature is the Measure

Wednesday, February 23rd
12:00 - 1:30
G10 Biotech Building
Cornell University

Free and open to the public

Wes Jackson, President of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, is
widely recognized as a leader in the movement for a more sustainable
agriculture. Recipient of the 2000 Right Livelihood Award (the
"alternative Nobel prize"), Jackson is the author of several books
including "New Roots for Agriculture" and "Becoming Native to This Place."

The Land Institute's focus is on a new paradigm for food production
called Natural Systems Agriculture, where nature is mimicked rather than
subdued and ignored. This fifty-year study investigates ways that monoculture
annual grains, such as corn and wheat, can be replaced by perennial grains,
grown in mixtures. The Land Institute personnel believe that with additional
research, an agriculture that is resilient, economical and ecologically
responsible is well within reach.

More information

Cornell campus map

Contact: Greg Hostetler,, 607.255.0477
Permalink 10:17 AM

Articles from the National Wildlife Federation

Thanks to Maiken Winter


Emboldened by the election outcome and elevated gas prices, drilling proponents are trying to sneak Arctic Refuge drilling measures past a new Congress and the American public by including them in the federal budget bill. This plan, which has been repeatedly defeated by Congressional opposition over the past few years, remains among the Bush administration's top domestic priorities. Get the complete story and find out what you can do to help.



A new study warns that many plant and animal communities may change dramatically and that some types of forest may disappear as a result of global warming. According to the report, global warming will likely force plant and animal species to move northward if they are to survive and rising sea levels could force some wildlife to move inland or disappear entirely as low wetlands are inundated and coastal marshes become submerged. For more on the study and what you can do to help, click here.



With Valentine's Day upon us, U.S. florists will supply nearly 110 million roses to consumers lanced by cupid's arrow. Those roses-and the millions more purchased throughout the year-are a boon to the economies of flower-growing nations and, in the short term, for floral workers. But in the long term, the flowers threaten both the health of the workers and the environment. The solution to this problem may lie in the hands of flower buyers. Learn more.



The Bush administration recently proposed slashing protections for thousands of miles of streams from southern California to the Canadian border that may provide habitat for federally protected salmon and steelhead. Under the plan, critical habitat currently unoccupied by these fish would be left unprotected, diminishing the chances for future restoration efforts. For the full story on the fishy plan, click here.



The National Wildlife Federation Population & Environment Team invites you to attend its 9th Annual Capitol Hill Days from April 2-5, 2005 in Washington, DC. Learn how to lobby, attend panel discussions on population and environment issues, learn how to build grassroots coalitions and much more! The event is free and limited financial assistance is available to cover lodging or travel expenses. For more information or to register contact Sara Bushey at 202-797-6661 or Registrations must be received by February 28 and forms can be downloaded online.



The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comments through March 18 on its proposal to allow oil and gas development and mineral leasing in Wyoming's Great Divide without effective measures in place to conserve wildlife and essential habitats. Send your comments today.



New Rules Weaken National Forest Protections

What's Next For Congress

All Is Not So Quiet On The Western Front

For the complete issue of EnviroAction, go to
Permalink 8:54 AM

Monday, February 14, 2005

Spirituality and Environmentalism

A group of theologians and religious leaders have written a letter on religion and the environment: God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States.

Also, biologist Fred Van Dyke of Wheaton College (here's his homepage) has spoken on the topic of "The Morality & Spirituality of Environmentalism".
Permalink 9:17 PM

Robert Kennedy, Jr. on Bush's Record

Robert Kennedy, Jr, has a book out on Bush's environmental record:

CRIMES AGAINST NATURE: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy

It's reviewed in the Charlotte Observer.
Permalink 9:13 PM


The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up! This year's theme is "North America's Great Backyard," chosen as a way to celebrate the beauty of birds found across the continent.
For more information, go the The Great Backyard Bird Count webpage.

For Ithaca bird information, check out Cornell's Lab of Ornithology.
Permalink 9:03 PM

Friday, February 11, 2005

Followup On the Death of Environmentalism

In the previous article More on What We're Up Against I mentioned UpstateBlog.Net's take on the "Death of Environmentalism" argument. I now think that they misrepresented the thinking behind the argument put forth by environmentalists Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. They were not saying that the environment was no longer an important issue (far from it). Instead, they were arguing the importance of having a coherent overall progression vision, instead of singling out the environment:

"A critique similar to the one we've made on environmentalism could be made of many other movements -- women's rights, abortion rights, anti-war, criminal justice, labor, and so on. Each of those so-called movements has turned itself into a special interest in defining the problem narrowly and offering technical policy solutions instead of an inspiring vision."

On this topic, The Decembrist says
That's where I find the best argument for blowing up the whole "movement," along with the others. We can't possibly find ways to move society forward as long as everything is put neatly into boxes labeled "environment," "health care," "campaign finance reform," "low-income programs," "pro-choice," etc., and the coalitions that exist are made up of representatives from those movements. Trying to force environmentalists to think about health care doesn't solve the problem either. We need a whole new structure, built around a convincing narrative about society and the economy, and a new way to fit these pieces together.
Permalink 9:12 AM

More on What We're Up Against is a pro-business blog serving upstate New York. In a recent entry here the blog gleefully celebrate the announcement (reported in the New York Times---subscription required) of the "death of environmentalism".

Here's their concluding paragraph

Why are environmental issues less popular than they once were? We'd say it's because voters, in New York and elsewhere, are much more skeptical about any benefits, and much more aware of the costs. New York's elected officials like to brag that we're "a national leader" in being green. They seldom mention that, over the 35 years since the original Earth Day, the Empire State has also been a national leader in loss of manufacturing jobs. (In 2004, Upstate's manufacturing employment fell by 2.4 percent, while the nation as a whole gained manufacturing jobs.) If "environmentalism" means government-imposed costs that have little or no real benefit, maybe "the death of environmentalism" isn't a bad thing.
Permalink 7:07 AM

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Correction on talk

The talk by Sandra Steingraber on human rights and the environment is Wednesday, February 16. I mistakenly said Sunday originally. The lecture will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library, on Pulteney Street, on the Hobart/William Smith campus.
Permalink 1:15 PM

Bush EPA Planning Two-Year Amnesty for Factory Farm Polluters

From Jessie Lind

The Environmental Integrity Project, formed by disgruntled EPA staffers who quit and set up shop to watchdog the watchdogs, has forced the EPA to call for a 30-day public comment period on its Amnesty for Factory Farms. The comment period has commenced. Links for public comment are included at the end of this article from Click permalink for more...
During the past decade a new form of pollution has grown into a serious problem--one the framers of the Clean Air Act could never have anticipated. It is caused by the consolidation over the past decade of countless small farms into huge, factory farms that raise thousands of hogs, heifers and chickens in impossibly cramped quarters.

Euphemistically called "concentrated animal feeding operations," or CAFOs, the giant facilities also raise an enormous stench, as giant piles of rotting waste produce clouds of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, and particulates. Their emissions have become so obnoxious that news reports regularly pop up when area residents demand that these corporate farms clean up their mess.

There was little coverage, however, when on the day after last month's presidential inauguration, one of the first acts of the second Bush Administration was to hand these polluters a generous free pass. Judiciously timed for release after the election--and on a day when the story was certain to be lost amidst inaugural euphoria--the EPA offered CAFOs more than two years' immunity from the Clean Air Act--as well as from certain toxic discharge standards--in exchange for participation in a program that would measure their air emissions.

The problem, according to Michele Merkel of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), is that EPA's two-year pass is superfluous: the Clean Air Act already requires polluting facilities to provide this kind of data. As Merkel pointed out in an interview with Grist Magazine, there is no need to paralyze law enforcement for two years in order to collect it.

A former EPA attorney who brought the first CAFO lawsuit five years ago, Merkel says the enforcement hiatus can mean increased health risks for farm workers and nearby residents from emissions such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. A 2002 study by Iowa State University found widespread bronchitis in workers exposed to these pollutants.

In the same Grist report, Ed Hopkins, environmental quality director at the Sierra Club, described one egg farm in Iowa that was found to have ammonia emissions on a par with a fertilizer plant ranked as the ninth largest producer of hazardous gas in the country.

Under the Clean Air Act, said EIP's Merkel, farms violating the law can be fined $27,500 per day. CAFOs signing up for the new EPA plan need only pay a "membership fee" of $2,500, plus a one-time penalty of from $200 to $100,000 (depending on size) for "presumed" past violations. That, says Merkel, is "chump change."

Indeed, one of the biggest factory farmers, Tyson Foods, had ante'd up $100,000 just the week before to enjoy an inaugural candlelight dinner with President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Environmentalists still have one hope for reversing EPA's amnesty. Thanks to a tip obtained by EIP, an EPA plan to omit the usual 30-day public-comment period was reversed when EIP prepared to reveal it publicly. Knowing this would provoke unwanted headlines, EPA reversed itself. A 30-day public-comment period is now underway.


Sign a petition with Organic Consumers.

This story was jointly produced by BushGreenwatch and Grist Magazine. For more on this story, visit Grist Magazine

Permalink 11:45 AM

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Toxic Effects of Industrial Farming in NY

From Jessie Lind
This from Eden, NY in Erie County - the latest in a growing list of communities affected by concentrated animal feeding operations. Sadly, this man has been told by his state DEC agent that ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions from CAFOs will soon be regulated. Truth is, the EPA and the national lobbying groups for Swine and Egg and Milk producers have just negotiated a Safe Harbor Consent Agreement which will delay any enforcement of Clean Air Act regs for another 3-5 years, if not longer. If a similar situation of an expanding dairy were to occur in Tompkins County or another community in the Cayuga Lake Watershed (not to mention Airshed), we would be powerless to prevent or curtail the effects so long as the CAFO is in compliance with state Nurtient Management Plans devised by the Dept of Ag and Markets.

Please visit the link Friends of Rural New York for futher links and information on the problem in NYS. For the big picture, visit Sierra Club and Natural Resource Defense Council's websites. Click permalink for more...

Eden Neighbor Calls for Help- CAFO Model Fails Again

Add this one to the ever growing lists of citizens who are suffering from the effects of the failed model of agriculture called CAFOs- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

I live in the town of Eden, NY. There is a dairy farm that has added many cows in recent months. He has close to 400 cows on around 5 acres. It is located less than a quarter mile from town center and is surrounded by residential housing. The stench is overwhelming and is actually penetrating the walls of my house and making me feel ill. This despite sub-zero temperatures.

I have filed a complaint with the NY DEC Buffalo office as of today (2-2-05) They say “odors” are not yet regulated but may soon be. He was not aware of EPA Clean Air regulations but said they are looking to regulate ammonia. The NY Farm Bureau web site says they are being enforced. The NY DEC guy said that it just so happened that they had someone coming out to TEST THE WATER at the West Church Street Dairy Farm on 2-3-05! I guess they’ve had several complaints about overflowing “lagoons” and ground water contamination from the heavy rains this summer. The owner has been spreading liquid sewage all over the fields for over a week. Not sure how this will affect the DEC test readings on Thursday but I can tell you one thing; the sewage melted the snow away despite very cold temperatures.

I am waiting for contact from the Town of Eden supervisor Glenn Nellis in regards to this issue. The stench has been constant since January 19, 2005. There is also a playground within 300 yards of this massive waste storage lagoon.

Also note: A residential development has been proposed and is expected to be approved . This development is a stone’s throw from this farm and it’s offensive lagoon. 24 lots of 1/2 acre each. I can’t imagine what the new owners will do when they buy these lots and realize that they are next to a toxic waste site.

I need help. My house stinks, my car stinks, my basement stinks, my clothes even stink. I can taste it in my mouth. I can’t imagine what the Mexicans who work on this farm feel like after a day in this Hell hole. Are they provided with respirators per OSHA requirements?

Gregg Kaczmarczk
Eden. NY
Erie County

Permalink 5:53 PM

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cayuga Lake Watershed

Introducing the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network. From their website:

We are a community-based, not-for-profit organization made up of citizens, businesses, associations, and local governments from throughout the Cayuga Lake Watershed. Located in the Finger Lakes Region of central New York, the watershed is comprised of three counties with lake shoreline (Cayuga, Seneca and Tompkins) and four counties (Cortland, Ontario, Schuyler, and Tioga) in the uplands of the watershed.

The Network strives to:
  • encourage individual stewardship throughout the watershed by raising awareness of watershed concerns,
  • provide an interactive, responsive forum that strives for discovery and exchange of information, and
  • be a functional advocate representing the entire watershed community.

Cayuga Lake Watershed

If you have a way to read PDF then this is a good source of information and pictures about the Cayuga Lake Watershed.
Permalink 1:49 PM

Talk Announcement: Contaminated Without Consent: A Human Rights Approach to the Environment

As part of the Fisher Center 2005 Lecture Series (Hobart and William Smith Colleges), there will be a lecture Wednesday, February 16 by Sandra Steingraber on human rights and the environment. The lecture will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library, on Pulteney Street, on the HWS campus. Click permalink for more...From the HWS website:

Ecologist, author and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber is an internationally recognized expert on the environmental links between cancer and reproductive health. As a biologist and a writer, Steingraber researches environmental contamination and cancer by following connections between “objects we use and the places they come from.” For Steingraber, the environment includes human bodies, with a focus on women and reproduction. Her research and writing dovetail in her commitment to changing practices of manufacturing and of consumption, from industry through to agriculture. Connecting poetry and biology, research and writing, her collected works have been described as “an intricate weaving of scientific data, personal stories, and an intensely lyrical style.” Currently an interdisciplinary distinguished visiting scholar at Ithaca College, Steingraber has been on faculty at Cornell University, a fellow at the University of Illinois and at Radcliffe, and served on President Clinton’s National Action Plan on Breast Cancer.

Available Readings: Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment; Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood; Post-Diagnosis; co-author of The Spoils of Famine

Co-sponsored with Writers Reading

Sandra Steingraber

Permalink 1:11 PM

British Environmentalist Website

Introducing a wonderful British organization, Friends of the Earth. Their campaigns include
  • Corporates: Exposing bad business and challenging corporate power

  • Real Food:Working towards greener farming and a five-year ban on genetically modified (GM) food

  • Climate: Fighting climate change, promoting green energy and opposing nuclear power.

  • Global Trade: Fighting the damaging effects of the global free trade system.

  • Biodiversity: Campaigning to protect the world's wildlife habitats.

  • Waste: Campaigning for increased recycling and against more incinerators and landfill sites.

  • Safer Chemicals: Chemicals are everywhere but not all of them are safe - reduce your risk and act for better laws.

  • Transport: Working to reduce the impact on the environment of the movement of people and goods in the UK.

  • Policy and Research Unit: Providing research and policy development for decision-makers and campaigners.

  • Local: Campaigning on a local and regional level.

Permalink 11:35 AM

Missouri May Lose Important Source of Conservation Funds

Thanks to Maiken Winter
The Missouri Prairie Foundation Action Center was recently established to support the responsible stewardship of all of Missouri's natural resources. We wanted to call your attention to a current important issue and to ask for your help now.

The Design for Conservation was begun a generation ago and has provided consistent funding for wildlife and natural resources protection throughout Missouri. Commonly known as the Conservation Sales Tax, the Design for Conservation is actually a comprehensive plan to make Missouri more beautiful and bountiful as the years go by. Since its inception the Design has, almost annually, been challenged by a few, but it has always enjoyed broad support from those who value everything from hunting and fishing to hiking and bird watching.

The Design for Conservation is currently being threatened by a proposal in the state legislature. Please take a moment to read and sign the following Conservation Pledge. Then use your email to help us spread the word.

Thank you. Together, we can keep Missouri beautiful and bountiful for future generations.
Permalink 9:20 AM

Ominous Warnings from Environmental Conference

(Thanks to Jane Marie Law)

From The Independent

Apocalypse now: how mankind is sleepwalking to the end of the Earth

06 February 2005

Future historians, looking back from a much hotter and less hospitable world, are likely to pay special attention to the first few weeks of 2005. As they puzzle over how a whole generation could have sleepwalked into disaster - destroying the climate that has allowed human civilisation to flourish over the past 11,000 years - they may well identify the past weeks as the time when the last alarms sounded.

Last week, 200 of the world's leading climate scientists - meeting at Tony Blair's request at the Met Office's new headquarters at Exeter - issued the most urgent warning to date that dangerous climate change is taking place, and that time is running out.
[Click Permalink for more...]

A summary of the conference from the Daily Kos (Click the link for more discussion, pictures and additional links)

What could happen? Wars break out over diminishing water resources as populations grow and rains fail.

How would this come about? Over 25 per cent more people than at present are expected to live in countries where water is scarce in the future, and global warming will make it worse.

How likely is it? Former UN chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali has long said that the next Middle East war will be fought for water, not oil.


What could happen? London, New York, Tokyo, Bombay, many other cities and vast areas of countries from Britain to Bangladesh disappear under tens of feet of water, as the seas rise dramatically.

How would this come about? Ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica melt. The Greenland ice sheet would raise sea levels by more than 20ft, the West Antarctic ice sheet by another 15ft.

How likely is it? Scientists used to think it unlikely, but this year reported that the melting of both ice caps had begun. It will take hundreds of years, however, for the seas to rise that much.


What could happen? Famously wet tropical forests, such as those in the Amazon, go up in flames, destroying the world's richest wildlife habitats and releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide to speed global warming.

How would this come about? Britain's Met Office predicted in 1999 that much of the Amazon will dry out and die within 50 years, making it ready for sparks - from humans or lightning - to set it ablaze.

How likely is it? Very, if the predictions turn out to be right. Already there have been massive forest fires in Borneo and Amazonia, casting palls of highly polluting smoke over vast areas.


What could happen? Britain and northern Europe get much colder because the Gulf Stream, which provides as much heat as the sun in winter, fails.

How would this come about? Melting polar ice sends fresh water into the North Atlantic. The less salty water fails to generate the underwater current which the Gulf Stream needs.

How likely is it? About evens for a Gulf Steam failure this century, said scientists last week.


What could happen? Food production collapses in Africa, for example, as rainfall dries up and droughts increase. As farmland turns to desert, people flee in their millions in search of food.

How would this come about? Rainfall is expected to decrease by up to 60 per cent in winter and 30 per cent in summer in southern Africa this century. By some estimates, Zambia could lose almost all its farms.

How likely is it? Pretty likely unless the world tackles both global warming and Africa's decline. Scientists agree that droughts will increase in a warmer world.


What could happen? The seas will gradually turn more and more acid. Coral reefs, shellfish and plankton, on which all life depends, will die off. Much of the life of the oceans will become extinct.

How would this come about? The oceans have absorbed half the carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming, so far emitted by humanity. This forms dilute carbonic acid, which attacks corals and shells.

How likely is it? It is already starting. Scientists warn that the chemistry of the oceans is changing in ways unprecedented for 20 million years. Some predict that the world's coral reefs will die within 35 years.


What could happen? Hurricanes, typhoons and violent storms proliferate, grow even fiercer, and hit new areas. Last September's repeated battering of Florida and the Caribbean may be just a foretaste of what is to come, say scientists.

How would this come about? The storms gather their energy from warm seas, and so, as oceans heat up, fiercer ones occur and threaten areas where at present the seas are too cool for such weather.

How likely is it? Scientists are divided over whether storms will get more frequent and whether the process has already begun.

Sarcastic comment alert: Guess Jeb and George will have a few more photo opportunities.


Aside from the obvious (quit driving gas-guzzlers, or if you have to drive, think about driving a hybrid), there have been some interesting suggestions regarding decreasing greenhouse gases. One of these ideas is CO2 sequestration, although I think that the first priority should be to just quit driving gas-guzzlers.
Permalink 7:43 AM

Socially Responsible Investing---Talk at IC

As part of its Distinguished Alumni/Sustainability speakers series, the School of Business at Ithaca College is pleased to announce a talk by Nikki Daruwala '88.

Daruwala will speak on "Socially Responsible Investing -- the Right Strategy for the Times" on February 17, 7:00-8:15 p.m., in Emerson Suite C.

Daruwala, a graduate of IC in business and psychology, is manager of advocacy and social policy and senior research analyst with the Calvert Group.

All interested are cordially invited.
(Thanks to Jim Rothenberg)
Permalink 7:35 AM

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Religion and Environmentalism in the News

In the Washington Post today:

'God's Mandate': Putting The White House on Notice

Frustration with the Bush administration's environmental polices is bubbling up from mainstream churches and synagogues, as reflected in a statement signed recently by more than 1,000 clergy and congregational leaders in about 35 states.

Called "God's Mandate: Care for Creation," the statement says that "there was no mandate, no majority, or no 'values' message in this past election for the President or the Congress to rollback and oppose programs that care for God's creation."
(Thanks to Max Sawicky)
Permalink 2:34 PM

Forum on Religion and Ecology

Introducing the Forum on Religion and Ecology, which explores the relationship between ecology and religious faith:

The Forum on Religion and Ecology is the largest international multireligious project of its kind. With its conferences, publications, and website it is engaged in exploring religious worldviews, texts, and ethics in order to broaden understanding of the complex nature of current environmental concerns.

The Forum recognizes that religions need to be in dialogue with other disciplines (e.g., science, ethics, economics, education, public policy, gender) in seeking comprehensive solutions to both global and local environmental problems.
(Thanks to Ann Grodzins Gold)
Permalink 1:44 PM

Friday, February 04, 2005

Genetic Engineered Plants and the Third World

Genetic engineering promises crops that are resistant to cold, drought, disease and pests. The Rockefeller Foundation is funding a "golden rice" project designed to improve nutrition in the developing world. Here in Ithaca, at Cornell University, researchers are working to develop a banana that carries the hepatitis B vaccine. If successful, someday a genetically modified banana could deliver an extremely low-cost, easy-to-administer vaccine to places like Africa where it is sorely needed.

In spite of these potential benefits of genetic engineering, these designer plants also pose potentially serious problems for farmers and consumers, especially in poor third world countries.

One problem is that in trying to make plants pest-resistant, agricultural research companies such as Monsanto have produced plants that are capable of producing their own chemicals which are toxic to insects. For example, Monsanto has created a variety of plants that incorporate a gene found in soil bacteria to produce a protein that is poisonous to pests such as the corn borer and the cotton boll worm. Unfortunately, the same protein may pose a threat to beneficial species such as birds, bees, butterflies and beetles which are necessary for pollination and for pest control though pest-predator balance. Nothing is yet known of the impact on the health of humans and livestock when toxin-producing crops such as potato and corn are eaten. Monsanto is introducing such genetically modified crops into India without adequate ecological studies of their effects. The Indian people are basically being used as guinea pigs for a risky experiment.

A second risk for third world farmers of genetically modified plants is seed sterility. A "terminator gene" was developed with the support of the US Department of Agriculture that makes the second generation of crops such as corn genetically sterile. The corn looks and tastes like regular corn, but it cannot be used as seed. This "feature" of the corn makes a farmer permanently dependent on the seed supplier; a farmer cannot save a portion of his crop to use as seed next year. (Thanks to a campaign led by Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto has abandoned plans to use of "terminator" seeds in Kenya). Even without such terminator genes, the use of genetically engineered crops in third world countries can lead to the abandonment of nutritious and ecologically sound local crops in favor of US-developed crops. This development makes the farmers more dependent on US companies, and also decreases biodiversity, making their agriculture more vulnerable.
Permalink 2:51 PM

Designer Crops Make Iraqi Farmers Dependent on US Companies

From, via the Daily Kos.

A new report [1] by GRAIN and Focus on the Global South has found that new legislation in Iraq has been carefully put in place by the US that prevents farmers from saving their seeds and effectively hands over the seed market to transnational corporations. This is a disastrous turn of events for Iraqi farmers, biodiversity and the country's food security. While political sovereignty remains an illusion, food sovereignty for the Iraqi people has been made near impossible by these new regulations.

(Thanks to Jane Marie Law)
Permalink 2:35 PM