Thursday, May 21, 2009

Musings: The Real Culprits

The wedge moon was directly above Venus, and about an arm’s width apart, when Koko and I got in the car and headed north, passing the road crews just pau work from their all-night shift in Kapaa. The ocean was glassy at Kealia, and the sky started to brighten about Anahola. By Waipake, pink fingers from numerous unseen hands were reaching out to the mountains, which were clear and deep lavender, softened by light infused with dew and ehu kai.

At Lumahai we parked and walked onto that broad, long expanse of olivine sand shimmering in the just-risen sun. The surf was cracking — translucent green barrels hurled themselves on the shore in an explosion of white pyrotechnic glory. Mesmerized, I sat on gray rocks still filled with the night’s cold and just watched for a long time.

That was yesterday. Today when Koko and I set out walking the air was chilly and the sky was packed tight with stars. In the east, Venus was on nearly equal footing with a golden crescent moon bright enough to illuminate its whole. They formed a triangle with Mars, faintly red, and remarkable for its naked-eye visibility, while Jupiter reigned in the south.

We returned home just as Wailaleale was crowned in a pink halo, compliments of the sun peeking out of a bed of orange clouds. On days like these, where spring lengthens into summer, the natural world beckons me like pollen lures bees — yet another species suffering the ill effects of sharing the planet with humans.

It seems evidence is mounting on the cause of colony collapse disorder, and not surprisingly, one of our toxic creations — imidacloprid, the world’s best-selling insecticide — is implicated. According to an article in Salon:

... the National Honeybee Advisory Board, which represents the two biggest beekeeper associations in the U.S., recently asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the product. "We believe imidacloprid kills bees -- specifically, that it causes bee colonies to collapse," says Clint Walker, co-chairman of the board.

Beekeepers have singled out imidacloprid and its chemical cousin clothianidin, also produced by Bayer CropScience, as a cause of bee die-offs around the world for over a decade. More recently, the same products have been blamed by American beekeepers, who claim the product is a cause of colony collapse disorder, which has cost many commercial U.S. beekeepers at least a third of their bees since 2006, and threatens the reliability of the world's food supply.

Scientists have started to turn their attention to both products, which are receiving new scrutiny in the U.S., due to a disclosure in December 2007 by Bayer CropScience itself. Bayer scientists found imidacloprid in the nectar and pollen of flowering trees and shrubs at concentrations high enough to kill a honeybee in minutes. The disclosure recently set in motion product reviews by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the EPA. The tests are scheduled to wrap up in 2014, though environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, are petitioning the EPA to speed up the work.

Also not surprisingly, Bayer CropScience has resisted calls for a ban of its best-seller:

Bayer CropScience spokesman Jack Boyne says his company's pesticides are not to blame. "We do a lot of research on our products and we feel like we have a very good body of evidence to suggest that pesticides, including insecticides, are not the cause of colony collapse disorder," he says. "Pesticides have been around for a lot of years now and honeybee collapse has only been a factor for the last few years." (Imidacloprid has been approved for use in the U.S. since 1994 and clothianidin has been used since 2003.)

Yes, even as one of its most popular products is implicated in a phenomenon that could threaten the world’s food supply, the Bayer CropScience website proudly maintains the fiction that it is “safeguarding food for a growing world population” and “developing new crop protection, plant breeding and plant biotechnology solutions to help increase farm yields throughout the world.”

But given their toxic track record, and penchant for outright deception, can we really afford the kind of “help” that the world’s largest pharmaceutical and chemical companies want to offer?

As author Michael Pollan noted on a recent Democracy Now! broadcast, these biotech firms are successfully co-opting the language, if not the actual principles, of the new buzzword — sustainability:

Monsanto is very much on the attack right now, pushing its products, particularly in Africa, and making the case that the most sustainable agriculture will be intensive production on the land base we have. The argument is that there’s only so much arable land in the world, we have ten billion people on the way, and that the only way to feed them is to get more productivity over the land we have, to further intensify agriculture, using their genetically modified seeds.

…it’s very interesting that Monsanto should be arguing that it has the key to improving productivity. If indeed what we need to do is improve productivity, don’t look at genetically modified crops. They have never succeeded in raising productivity. That’s not what they do. If you look at the—the Union of Concerned Scientists just issued a report looking at the twenty-year history of these crops, and what they have found is that basically the real gains in yield for American crops, for world crops, has been through conventional breeding. Genetic modification has—with one tiny exception, Bt corn used in years of very high infestation of European corn borers—has not increased productivity at all. That’s not what they’re good at. What they’re good at is creating products that allow farmers to expand their monocultures, because it takes less management. So, if indeed we need to go where Monsanto says, there are better technologies than theirs.

Meanwhile, the bees are dying, most likely from the very same crap that these self-proclaimed saviors of agriculture have been peddling for years. As UC-Davis entomologist Eric Mussen noted:

…. ongoing research into chronic exposure to insecticides will be crucial. It's likely, he says, that exposure to even low doses acts like a one-two punch: It can weaken the bees until a parasite or pathogen moves in to finish them off.

That cumulative effect is something that doesn’t get talked about much, whether we’re looking at environmental or human health. What, really, are the ramifications of immersing ourselves and other organisms in a lifelong chemical cocktail? How do these products work synergistically? We don’t know, because we’re not looking and very few are even asking.

The bees, of course, are not the only ones dying from the creations of the big pharm-chem companies. As The Garden Island reports today:

Prescribed medications are killing more people than illegal drugs, according to a Hawai‘i-based drug educator.

The article goes on to quote Gary Shimabukuro, who has apparently finally wised up to the fact that the legally sanctioned stuff is far more deadly — and available — than the illegal substances. He also notes that:

Only marijuana is abused more than prescription drugs, said Shimabukuro.

(However, he fails to mention that there has NEVER been even one death linked to marijuana. So what is the rationale for its illegality?)

My point in all of this is that we lock up small time drug pushers and fine minor polluters while allowing the real culprits — the international pharmaceutical and chemical companies — to not only run free and massively profit, but gain increasing power over our bodies, minds, food, environment and future.

Doesn’t this strike you as kind of crazy?


Anonymous said...

yes crazy and sad indeed. we have no one to blame but ourselves; lucky we can change and improve on this. we don't have to follow the model prescribed

Anonymous said...

The good news is that at least in California, they are beginning to debate whether pakalolo should be legalized. That would end one legal absurdity based on old junk science.

The bad news is the new research suggesting that human exposure to pesticides affects us at the genetic level, and such exposure can affect brain development in the children and even grandchildren of those exposed. And both the pakalolo and the food people eat are probably sprayed with the same toxic bug-killers.

Anonymous said...

Ah...a new market: ORGANIC pot!

darwin_was_pretty_smart said...

kauai loves its pot