April 5, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Bees, Monsanto, Free Trade and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Are neonicotinoids killing honeybees?

Bees in decline. Not one, but two new studies point to the culprit in colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon in which honeybee populations are declining. The two studies, one by French researchers and one by British researchers, point to use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Not surprising, the pesticide lobby is waging a multi-million dollar battle to prevent regulation. An estimated 150 million acres of American farmland is about to be planted with seeds bathed in neonicotinoids, posing harm to migrating songbirds as well as bees. Because of colony collapse disorder, costs to almond growers for renting hives to pollinate their crops is increasing sharply. You’ll be seeing those costs in more expensive almonds next year at the grocery store.

The United States of Monsanto. The bill Congress recently passed to avoid a government shutdown contained a rider that helps companies that make genetically modified crops. Sadly, President Obama signed the bill, further tarnishing the environmental record of his administration. The rider takes away the authority of federal courts to order GMO crops removed from sale and production if they are found to be harmful. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Monsanto announced Q2 profits that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Here is a terrific “corporate profile” of Monsanto, created by our friends at Food & Water Watch. The profile outlines Monsanto’s history and its undue influence over lawmakers, regulators and the food supply. Follow their daily Monsanto Facts on Twitter via @foodandwater.

Food regulations in the EU. The Obama administration is pursuing a free trade agreement with the European Union that would grant corporations new political power to challenge regulations both at home and abroad—this could have significant ramifications for the food systems in the EU and U.S. Unfortunately, it seems likely that if this agreement is passed, instead of the U.S. being able to look to the EU for examples of regulations that protect the public’s health, the EU will be brought down to our food system standards. I shudder to think what this increase in influence could mean for food corporations doing business around the world. It may also signal the end of the application of the precautionary principle to food policy in the EU.

Who’s the real turkey? On Tuesday, the Pew Charitable Trusts published a study showing that health officials identified ground turkey from Cargill Meat Solutions as the likely outbreak source a full 22 weeks after the first person fell ill and 10 weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected an outbreak. One comment in the report is that, “Federal and state health officials often fail to prioritize Salmonella outbreaks.”

Climate challenges the Maasai. The pastoral Maasai culture has become fragile in the face of climate change. Having thrived for centuries in East Africa’s Savannah, this semi-nomadic population is being undermined by increasingly erratic weather—droughts one year, downpours the next. In recent years, a series of relentless droughts has wiped out more than 50 percent of their herds. To add insult to injury, the Tanzanian government now wants to evict the Maasai from tribal lands in Tanzania to clear the way for wealthy trophy hunters eager to shoot lions and leopards.

Tsunami of rain. In Buenes Aires, Argentina, this week, a “tsunami of rain” has forced thousands of people to be evacuated and caused significant damage to homes and infrastructure. As of Thursday, the death toll stood at 54. This situation is sadly reminiscent of what happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, yet one more severe weather event plaguing our planet.

Cheesehead for a day. Early this week I had the pleasure of spending two days with colleagues at the Department of Population Health at the University of Wisconsin. I gave a talk titled, “Peak Oil, Food Systems and Public Health” (video here). I also had an opportunity to visit an extensive complex of community gardens, CSA, and congregate housing where 80 percent of the units were reserved for families whose incomes are below 80 percent of median Wisconsin family incomes. I also visited the Center for Resilient Cities, a platinum LEED-certified building that houses a community center, a middle school, an aquaculture/aquaponics facility, and a green house to prepare seedlings for planting in the urban gardens surrounding the facility—gardens that are the Madison extension of Will Allen’s Growing Power project in Milwaukee.


  1. Posted by Law Fook Loong

    I feel utter frustration at big Agribusiness’ influence over the US Administration. Unfortunately, their decisions will have ramifications through the rest of the world.

    Further, as you suggest, the EU is succumbing to their lobbying.

    Professor, may you and your team, together with your fellow advocates for a livable future, not waver in your efforts.

    I wish you every bit of success.

    (I am one of your many students, who completed the Coursera course you & colleagues conducted. You have certainly opened my eyes to look more closely at the food system in my country and its affect on public health. Thank you!)

  2. Pingback: CLF Week in Links: Heart Disease, Ag-Gag Laws, EPA and More | Center for a Livable Future

  3. Posted by Linda Carpenter

    I just read F&WWs corporate profile of Monsanto.

    I’ve been told many times that the suicides of Indian farmers & its link to Monsanto have been debunked.

    Can you provide any illumination into this?


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