Eco News

 Monsanto’s Grip On U.S. Agriculture Grows Stronger

 

Back in February, the bully of American agriculture, Monsanto, breathed a sigh of relief when a federal class-action lawsuit against the agricultural and chemical company was dismissed. The Missouri-based gene giant flexed its muscles even more on March 15 when the U.S. Government approved a large-scale experiment with genetically modified crops that Monsanto insists will thrive in the most arid of conditions.

 

On the surface, the move sounds like a godsend for Middle America crops. But once all the cornhusks are counted, not a single organic farmer would be shocked if Monsanto’s profits end up being the thing that grows must abundantly. Rather than continue pouting about the agribusiness’ questionable ways, the group striving to slow the company down, Occupy Monsanto, donned biohazard suits on March 16 and told Congress again about the brand’s harmful actions.

 

Monsanto’s volatile relationship with organic farmers was first introduced to the masses with the 2008 documentary Food Inc. Monsanto brings patent-enforcement lawsuits against organic farmers at an average rate of 13 lawsuits per year. The farmers who don’t use Monsanto products are charged with infringing on Monsanto’s seed patent. Often, pollen from a genetically modified seed originating at a Monsanto farm can crossbreed with the organic seeds of neighboring farms. When this happens, and the company finds traces of their patented seed and sues for patent infringement.

 

 

Hundreds of farmers and advocates, led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, ascended on Lower Manhattan to put a serious dent in Monsanto’s patent policy with a lawsuit of their own. They were hoping that the New York Federal District Court that oversaw the class-action suit against the company would sympathize with the organic farmers and prevent Monsanto from enforcing their patent.

 

The ruling judge, Naomi Reice Buchwald, was not so sympathetic. She said that the plaintiffs had “overstated the magnitude of [Monsanto’s] patent enforcement” and that Monsanto’s average of annual lawsuits “is hardly significant when compared to the number of farms in the United States, approximately two million.”

 

The greater significance of the lawsuit is that it points to troubles in organic agriculture. The dismissed Monsanto suit highlights the increasing burden and barrier to success of organic farms and produce. With most organic farms already containing anywhere from one-half to two percent genetically modified seed, it’s not hard to imagine American farms where nothing is left completely organic anymore, especially with companies like Monsanto spreading their seed over the organic agricultural community.

 

But if OSGATA and others just look to South America for inspiration, they’d realize all hope wasn’t lost against the menacing Monsanto. Thanks to the unrelenting pressure of a farming community of about 6,000, Peru officially banned genetically modified ingredients anywhere in its borders for the next decade. A few more punches like that to Monsanto’s gut should at least make the behemoth stagger a bit.  -Raffi Simel

 

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 Uganda President Issues Statement on Stop Kony Campaign

 

Just hours ago, we received a press release from the Office of Uganda President Yoweri Museveni with the headline “Response to International Discourse of LRA Activity.” The press release was clearly written as a reaction to the increased attention on the central African nation caused by the controversial Stop Kony” video released by an organization called Invisible Children.

 

The viral video campaign, which seeks to draw attention to Central African militia leader Joseph Kony, has come under fire from critics both in the West (who question the integrity of Invisible Children’s fundraising efforts) and in Uganda (who claim that the 30-minute video offers an inaccurate portrayal of Africa’s longest-running conflict). In truth, Kony started his Lord’s Resistance Army in the 1980s to rebel against Uganda’s army, which has often been accused of  numerous human rights abuses.

 

In the statement released to the media today, the Ugandan government “welcomes all campaigns which seek to raise awareness and highlight the plight of people affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army,” but strongly urges that “any awareness campaign fully takes into consideration the current realities of the situation.” In their eyes, the reality is that the LRA was successfully expelled from the country by the Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces in 2006, and are currently “a diminished and weakened group with numbers not exceeding 300.”

 

The statement goes on to express concern that “misinterpretations of media content may lead some people to believe that the LRA is currently active in Uganda,” suggesting that Kony and the LRA could be eliminated entirely with a little logistical support from the United States. More importantly, the government seems concerned that the attention on Kony may prevent westerners from visiting their country, which they point out was named a top must-see travel destination for 2012 by Lonely Planet. You can read the complete contents of the press release here.  –Bret Love

 

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 Antarctic Ocean Alliance Proposes Marine Reserves

 

United Nations members met in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 and agreed to set aside 10 percent of the world’s oceans as reserves by 2020 as part of a target called the “Convention on Biological Diversity.”  A year and a half later, that target is no closer to reality than it was then.  Some estimates say that less than half of 1% of our oceans are fully protected as no-take zones (areas in which destructive activities are prohibited).  According to fishery scientists, ocean reserves provide hope for restoring areas that have been stressed by extractive and destructive activities.

 

Ocean reserves operate much like national parks. However, nearly 15 times as much land area is protected than ocean areas.  One particularly at-risk region is the Antarctic Ocean.  Home to about 10% of the world’s oceanic life (including 10,000 species such as penguins, seals, and whales), the Antarctic stands to lose a lot if the United Nations doesn’t stay true to its commitment.

 

Luckily, the UN’s lack of progress is being met by a coalition of environmental groups calling itself the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, which  includes prominent members such as Greenpeace, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and our friends at the World Wildlife Fund.

 

Last week, the Alliance proposed a network of reserves spanning 1.39 million square miles, comprised of 19 reserve zones around Antarctica. This would be the world’s largest collection of marine reserves to date.  Currently, the largest single reserve in the world is the Chagos Islands area in the Indian Ocean, which is 210,000 square miles.

 

Hopefully this giant push for desperately-needed ocean reserves by the world’s leaders in environmental activism will not only catch the attention of the United Nations, but propel it into action.  –Raffi Simel

 

If you enjoyed reading about the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, you might also like:

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Six New Species of Snake-like Amphibians Discovered in India

 

A team of scientists from the University of Delhi, the U.K. National History Museum, and Belgium’s Vrije University has spent more than 2,000 hours over the last 5 years digging in northeastern India beneath tropical undergrowth.  Their tireless shoveling has led to the discovery of a suspected six new species, three of which have already been confirmed.

 

The elusive animals are part of a group of limbless amphibians who split off from their other relatives over 140 million years ago in Africa, of the “caecillian” species.  These tiny snakelike amphibians are “very difficult to see above the soil because of their burrowing nature and cryptic appearance”, said S.D. Biju of the University of Delhi.

 

 

Little is known of the species being called Chikila Fulleri, an extension of the African local tribal name for caecillians.  What is known is that females are extremely protective of their young.  Mothers guard their eggs for nearly 95 days without eating anything.  The team noted that this protective feature is rarely seen from other amphibians.  Young caecillians have been known to feast off the flesh of their mother’s skin after hatching, which doesn’t seem very fair after three months of such high-level maternal care.

 

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees scientists will be able to learn more about the species in the future.  Their native habitats in India have been in serious jeopardy due to slash and burn agriculture.  If the enormity of the agricultural malpractices in the region can affect an animal as rare and tiny as the Fulleri, desperate measures must be taken to protect habitats in the area. Biju’s hope is that this family of new species “may be a flagship animal for conservation in the region.”  –Raffi Simel  (photos by S.D. Biju)

 

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 Jurassic Plant! Russian Scientists Revive 30,000-Year-Old Flower

If you’ve ever wondered if Jurassic Park was really possible, scientists may have found your answer in a river bank in Siberia, from which they were able to bring a 30,000-year-old plant back to life!

 

Russian scientists from the Institute of Cell Biophysics recently uncovered fruit that has laid frozen in the banks of Siberia’s Kolmya River for over 30,000 years.  They have since successfully raised plants called Silene stenophylla (of the campion family) from the ancient fruit.

 

The scientists found around 70 squirrel hibernation burrows in the frozen river banks at depths ranging from 20 meters to nearly 40 meters below ground level.  The burrows included bones of mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, and plant and fruit remains.  The presence of vertical ice proved that these remains in the fossil burrows have been continuously frozen all these years.
Back in Moscow, the team of scientists tried to germinate mature seeds recovered from the plant remains, but failed.  However, they found success in using “placental tissue” from the fruit itself.  According to Robin Probert, head of conservation and technology at the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank, “This is by far the most extraordinary example of extreme longevity for material from higher plants.”  Prior to this, the oldest plant material to be brought back to life was date palm seeds stored for 2,000 years at Masada in Israel.
The research from the Kolmya River project has the potential to help in scientific studies of evolution, illuminating environmental conditions of the past as well as providing insight on bringing plants back to life that have been extinct for thousands of years… provided that more squirrels hid away such treasures for us to uncover.  And let’s be honest: Can reviving dinosaurs be all that far behind?  –Raffi Simel

 

If you enjoyed reading about the Jurassic Plant, you might also like: 

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Co-Founded by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel is an ecotourism, nature / wildlife conservation & cultural preservation magazine. More about us.

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How To Get To Antarctica w/out Doing the Drake
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Top 5 Eco Attractions in Antarctica
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Cancun- Cancun Underwater Museum
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