Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


Leave a comment

Good news from Chile!

From the newly elected government of Chile, an inspiring initiative on the genetic manipulation front:

Chile Derails ‘Monsanto Law’ That Would Privatize Seeds.

Chile protests GMOsPhoto: International Business Times

The bold move followed years of public protest against GMOs throughout Chile.

Alicia Muñoz, of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (Anamuri) explains: “All of the resistance that rural organizations, principally indigenous communities, led during these past years was a success.  We were able to convey to the parliament how harmful the law would be for the indigenous communities and farmers who feed us all.  Big agriculture, or agro-business, is just that, a business.  It doesn’t feed our country.”

Meanwhile in Canada, the US and the EU, governments beholden to the agri-corps rush to do their profit-driven bidding.

The new government in Chile sets an example of what responsible governments can do when they attend to the needs of their people, rather than serve the grey ghosts that stalk the corridors of power.

Follow the international GMO battle in Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science, coming from Between the Lines, autumn 2014.


Leave a comment

Monarch butterfly in ‘grave danger’

2005_0831Monarch_Aug050001

In late summer 2013, we saw only three or four of these beautiful butterflies in our eastern Ontario garden, a stunning loss that many other people have confirmed.  Here’s why.  It’s a sad, infuriating story of nature, science and power abused.  Deeply entwined with our own, the story of the Monarchs is bleak, but not finished.

From Andrea Germanos at the independent news site Common Dreams, on January 29, 2014:

A new report from the World Wildlife Fund and Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas found that the number of monarch butterflies hibernating in Mexico dropped to its lowest level since records began in 1993.

The insects make an epic journey of thousands of miles each year from Canada and the U.S. to spend November through March hibernating in Mexico’s temperate forests.

Clues that this year’s numbers would be the continuation of a troubling trend have been in for months, with the new study bringing more grim proof that the monarch is in trouble.

Using satellite and aerial photographs, the new study documented that 1.65 acres of forest were inhabited by monarchs during December of 2013, marking a 44% drop from the same time in 2012.

“Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the monarch butterfly migration – a symbol of cooperation between our three countries – is in grave danger,” stated Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico Director General.

While the study focused on deforestation and forest degradation in monarch reserves that serve as their winter habitat, it points to a trio of perils contributing to declining numbers of monarchs.

There are 3 primary threats to the monarch butterfly in its range in North America: deforestation and degradation of forest by illegal logging of overwintering sites in Mexico; widespread reduction of breeding habitat in the United States due to land-use changes and the decrease of this butterfly’s main larval food plant (common milkweed [Asclepias syriaca]) associated with the use of glyphosate herbicide to kill weeds growing in genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant crops; and periodic extreme weather conditions throughout its range during the year, such as severe cold or cold summer or winter temperatures.

Other butterfly experts have pointed to these three factors as well, though Lincoln Brower, a professor of biology at Sweet Briar College who has studied the monarch migrations for decades, told the Washington Post‘s Brad Plumer that “The most catastrophic thing from the point of view of the monarch butterfly has been the expansion of crops that are planted on an unbelievably wide scale throughout the Midwest and have been genetically manipulated to be resistant to the powerful herbicide Roundup.”

Another leading scientist who has spent three decades studying the monarch, Karen Oberhauser, professor at the University of Minnesota, added to this point, saying “Numerous lines of evidence demonstrate that the Corn Belt in the U.S. Midwest is the primary source for monarchs hibernating in Mexico,” and the region has been hit by the explosive use of Roundup-resistant crops.

This has meant that milkweed, the host plant for the monarch caterpillar, is being wiped out from fields, something that Chip Ward, Director of Monarch Watch, has been documenting.

“These genetically modified crops have resulted in the extermination of milkweed from many agricultural habitats,” added Oberhauser.

Dr. Phil Schappert, a Canadian butterfly conservationist, added in a statement that “‘the economy first’ practices, instead of sustainable land use practices, threaten monarch habitat” in Canada, and urges his country and the United States to “implement measures that protect the reproductive habitat and feeding grounds of this butterfly.  Otherwise, this spiral of population decline will continue,” Schappert added.

Monarch Watch’s Ward adds, “Let’s plant milkweed – lots and lots of it.”

More on GMOs vs conservation biology in Pesky Facts: unspun science for dangerous times, from Between the Lines, autumn 2014.

(Monarch photo: Michael Riordon)


Leave a comment

Good news: Suicide Seeds Are Dead… in Brazil… for the moment…

In a great bit of news for World Food Day, a key Brazilian congressional committee today withdrew the consideration of legislation that would have allowed the sale and use of Terminator Technology, also known as suicide seeds.

Terminator seedsThe Constitutional Commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives was slated to consider Bill PL 268/2007 this morning, but decided instead to withdraw it from the agenda – taking into account the social concerns raised by the national and international mobilization in opposition to the bill.  Further, the President of the Commission pledged that as long as he is at the helm, he will not allow the bill back on the agenda.

“This should be taken as a victory for Food Sovereignty and Farmers’ Rights around the world. Social movements, farmers’ organizations and CSOs both in Brazil and internationally have made it crystal clear that Terminator has no place in our food, fields or future,” said Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American Director for ETC Group. “This is great news for World Food Day.”

The ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) does essential work with international grassroots allies like Via Campesina, to resist mad science and corporate control of food production around the world.

The full story is here.

This story and others  will be pursued in Bacon’s Garden: travels in nature, science and power, forthcoming from Between the Lines in spring 2014.


Leave a comment

Just say no.

This “synthetic biology” scheme is patently nuts.  In fact it’s criminally insane.ETC synthetic biology image

Once released, these Frankenseeds, a very dangerous gimmick, can never be recalled.  Governments claim to be helpless in blocking it.

Can we stop it?  Maybe not, but surely it’s worth a try.

The organization behind the petition to block the funding, ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), is deeply responsible and worthy of trust.

Please read their plea, and decide for yourself.  You can add your name and voice, here.


1 Comment

Science is objective: true or false?

After teaching plant agriculture for 32 years at Guelph University, Associate Professor Ann Clark ‘retired’ in 2010 to a farm in eastern Ontario.  It would be her refuge and her lab.

Clark designed the farm to be “post-oil.”  Here she can try out experiments for which research Monsanto Business Incubatorfunding always eluded her.  Since neither of her teaching specialties, grasses and organic agriculture, tends to generate proprietary profits, the corporate funders that increasingly dominate research funding were not interested.

From the late 1990s on, Ann Clark became an eloquent critic of the impacts that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can have on livestock, farm survival and the environment.  Unsought by her and unpaid, this new public role did not foster Clark’s career.  “Academic suicide, some of my colleagues called it,” she says.  “By their standards I’m not a very good scientist.”

By what standards can they judge as ‘not good’ a scientist who has inspired countless students, farmers and citizens with her knowledge and integrity?  “The problem is,” she replied, “I can’t accept one of the central tenets of their dogma: that science is objective.  When I got my PhD I fully believed that it is.  But then one of my PhD examiners backed me into a corner where I had to acknowledge that personal values will inevitably determine what questions you ask as a scientist, and the questions you ask will inevitably pre-determine the range of answers you’ll get.”

This view is powerfully confirmed by the ongoing battle over a study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini & his co-researchers, on impacts of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize and its associated herbicide Roundup.

Hours after the study was published in 2012, a vicious, well-orchestrated assault erupted against Séralini.  “This is so disturbing,” says Ann Clark.  “Very often industry research doesn’t ask the right questions.  He  asked some of the right questions, and for that he’s under attack.”

In response, Clark joined with eight other scientists to publish an open letter supporting Séralini, and to “raise the profile of fundamental challenges faced by science in a world increasingly dominated by corporate influence.”  Signed by an impressive roster of scientists in many countries, the October 2012 letter cites other researchers who’ve been attacked for studies questioning GMOs and Monsanto.

Read more:

Ann Clark’s vision of post-carbon farming and food production is here:  The future is organic: But it’s more than organic!

Corporate Push for GMO Food Puts Independent Science in Jeopardy.  Vandana Shiva, The Asian Age, December 2012.

Growing Maize Disaster (in Mexico).  ETC Group, December 2012.

FDA [Food and Drug Administration, US] Quietly Pushes Through Genetically Modified Salmon.  Anthony Gucciardi, Natural Society, December 2012.