Farmers’ Day in Court

January 30, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living

BY SHAWN DELL JOYCE

Monsanto’s seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90 percent of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. This has resulted in onerous costs to farmers through high technology patent fees for seeds as well as burdensome litigation costs in defending themselves against lawsuits asserted by Monsanto, which has filed a motion to dismiss the current lawsuit.

This is ironic, considering how often Monsanto has sued farmers. From 1997 through April 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against American farmers in at least 27 different states, for alleged infringement of its transgenic seed patents and/or breach of its license to those patents, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. As a result of these aggressive lawsuits, farmers live in fear of accidental cross-pollination of their fields by genetically-engineered crops. Monsanto has generated an atmosphere of fear and loathing in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.

“I don’t think it’s fair that Monsanto should be able to sue my family for patent infringement because their transgenic seed trespasses onto our farm and contaminates and ruins our organic crop,” testifies farmer Bryce Stephens of Kansas-based Stephen’s Land and Cattle Co. “We have had to abandon raising corn because we are afraid Monsanto wouldn’t control their genetic pollution and then they would come after us for patent infringement. It’s not right.”

Some 200 million acres of the world’s farms grew biotech crops last year, with many of these farms located next to or nearby organic farms. Genetically-modified organisms move around in the ecosystem through pollen, wind and natural cross-fertilization. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted two separate independent laboratory tests on non-GM seeds “representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply” for corn, soy and oilseed rape. The test found that half the corn and soy, and 83 percent of the oilseed rape were contaminated with GM genes, eight years after the GM varieties were first grown on a large scale in the U.S.

The reports states that “Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life at the most elemental level.” There could be serious health risks if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM crops were consumed in food.

Some organic and conventional farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops in order to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Jim Gerritsen, OSGATA President and owner of Wood Prairie Farm, in Maine states; “We are family farmers and we are in court to let the judge know that our survival as farmers depends on this lawsuit. We’re not asking Monsanto for one penny. We just want justice for our farmers and we want court protection from Monsanto.”

-CNS

Alternatives to Road Salt

January 23, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living

BY SHAWN DELL JOYCE

Winter weather has struck hard this year, and many people and municipalities are pouring on the road salt. According to the National Research Council, we Americans dump between 8 million to 12 million tons of salt on our roads per year. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York report the highest level of salt use, with New York weighing in at 500,000 tons per year. The New York State Department of Transportation requires a road-salt application rate of 225 lbs. per Lane-Mile for light snow and 270 lbs. per Lane-Mile for each application during rapidly accumulating snow.

When you consider that there are approximately 6,000 mi. of paved roadways near NY watersheds, you begin to see how all that road salt adds up. Some roads may get up to 300 tons of road salt per Lane-Mile each year. Recently, many scientists have begun to study the effects of so much road salt on ecosystems, water quality, public health and road quality. Here are a few things you should know before you break out that sodium chloride, the most commonly used deicer.

– Salt destroys soil structure by killing some soil bacteria. This allows more soil to erode into streams, taking the salt with it. Salt erosion contaminates drinking-water supplies to levels that exceed standards.

– Salt doesn’t evaporate or otherwise get removed once applied, so it remains a persistent risk to aquatic ecosystems and to water quality. Approximately 55 percent of road-salt runs off with snowmelt into streams, with the remaining 45 percent infiltrating through soils and into groundwater aquifers, according to a 1993 study.

– Salt slowly kills trees, especially white pines, and other roadside plants. The loss of indigenous plants and trees on roadsides allows hardier salt-tolerant species to take over.

– Salt can change water chemistry, causing minerals to leach out of the soil, and it increases the acidity of water, according to Dr. Stephen Norton, a professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Maine.

– Elk, moose and sheep eat road salt, causing “salt toxicosis” where they lose their fear of vehicles and humans, causing many fatal encounters.

– Salt cracks animal paws, making house pets particularly susceptible.

– Road salt seeping into drinking water changes its flavor, and supplies the excess dietary sodium associated with hypertension.

– Salt corrodes metals like automobile brake linings, frames and bumpers, and can cause cosmetic corrosion. To prevent this corrosion, automakers pay almost $4 billion per year.

– Salt can penetrate concrete to corrode the reinforcing rods causing damage to bridges, roads and cracked pavement.

Canada is considering classifying conventional deicers as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. California and Nevada restrict road-salt use in certain areas to reduce damage to roadside vegetation. Massachusetts is using alternative deicers to prevent contamination of drinking water. New York State is considering doing the same to protect New York City’s watershed.

There are alternatives to sodium chloride that are relatively harmless to the environment and still get the job done. Calcium magnesium acetate and potassium acetate are two chloride alternatives currently available. They are much more expensive than road salt, but if you factor in the loss of wildlife, soil erosion, water quality and corrosion, these alternatives start to look like a real bargain.

-CNS