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Genetically Modified (GM) Crops
Old 12-29-2011, 10:40 AM   #1
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Genetically Modified (GM) Crops

This morning I watched NHK about news of some small US farmers protest against GM crops and some other environmental issues in the Occupiers movement. I was a little shocked by hearing that in US, the percentages of corns and soy beans being GMed are 80% and 90%. I went to Wikipedia, and their figures are 86% and 93% respectively.

This reminded me of an eye opener PBS documentary, "King Corn" (not "King Kong"), which is about two young men's curiosity in their body chemical composition led their decision to plant and tender one acre of corn in Iowa. I also remember there was a WSJ article not long time ago about some root bugs developed strong resistance to Mondanto's GMed corn and all of sudden these bugs have no archrivals. Of course, GM industries will keep coming up with something new to counter and this will put them perpetually in business. Cross-pollination is another big concern.

There have been a lot research about safety of GM food, especially on potential gene transfer and allergies. In one excerpt from Wikipedia: "As of January 2009 there has only been one human feeding study conducted on the effects of genetically modified foods. The study involved seven human volunteers who had previously had their large intestines removed. These volunteers were to eat GM soy to see if the DNA of the GM soy transferred to the bacteria that naturally lives in the human gut. Researchers identified that three of the seven volunteers had transgenes from GM soya transferred into the bacteria living in their gut before the start of the feeding experiment. As this low-frequency transfer did not increase after the consumption of GM Soy, the researchers concluded that gene transfer did not occur during the experiment. In volunteers with complete digestive tracts, the transgene did not survive passage through intact gastrointestinal tract.". This sounds to me more or less like the classic statement: "The conclusive finding of this investigation is inconclusive.".

To be fair, GM technology does serve special purposes and achieve something good. But with such high penetration rate in US, shouldn't we be more concerned? Even if we can exclude GM food safety from consideration for the time being, how about the monopoly of GM crops over non-GM ones? He who controls your breadbasket controls your destiny. I would like to hear what you think about this.

p.s. This topic is not meant to be politically provocative. Let's try to keep the discussion focused on GM crops/food itself. Moderator, please move this thread to another forum if deemed inappropriate. Thanks in advance.
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Old 12-29-2011, 04:48 PM   #2
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I am concerned about mono-cultures, but that concern exists whether GM or not.

As far as the root worms (or anything else) becoming tolerant of the GM crop, that happens with just about any form of pesticide, whether 'natural', GRAS, or synthesized in a lab. Crop rotations and less concentration of single crops are really key to help break a cycle of any particular 'bug' gaining a stronghold. That has some short term economic issues, but I fear the long-term issues could be worse.

I've never understood the fear of GM genetic material transferring to the person/animal that eats it. Cows have been fed corn, rabbits have been fed carrots, and I have yet to see a tassel sprout out of a cow's head, or a rabbit with a carrot top.

There are pesticides that have been in use for decades, that will kill 'broadleaf' plants, but have no effect on grass/corn. The genetic material in the grass and broadleaf plants has not crossed in all that time to make one susceptible or the other tolerant. I don't get why people think they would.

As far as cross-pollinating being a 'big concern' - why? Farmers have been using specially bred plants for hundreds of years. Why would a GM crop be any more concern than any other selectively breed plant?

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Old 12-29-2011, 07:18 PM   #3
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As far as cross-pollinating being a 'big concern' - why? Farmers have been using specially bred plants for hundreds of years. Why would a GM crop be any more concern than any other selectively breed plant?

-ERD50
Actually I think farmers have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years. What other reason would people have been paying huge stud fees to breed two champion race horses together if not to alter the genes of their offspring? Scientist have found improvements in wheat from Egyptian tombs from various centuries.

The opposition to GMO pisses me off because what it really does is prevent farmers in Africa from growing crops on marginal farmland and then exporting them to places like Europe. Thus keeping them in a cycle of poverty and dependency. Now admittedly there are a lot of other factors including governmental farm policy and some dubious business practice by agricultural firms. Still if you want to make sure that people in Africa die in great numbers banning GMOs is more effective them bombing them.
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Old 12-29-2011, 07:29 PM   #4
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ERD50, you made a very good point about crop rotation and less concentration of mono crops. These good practices should be religiously observed by farmers.

Regarding the possibility of gene transfer, there have been a lot of researches funded by different parties to support or against the hypothesis. For the sake of long term health, IMO, it hurts nothing for us as consumers be vigilant about what we eat, where our food comes from and how. After all, we are what we eat.

About cross-pollinating, yes farmers have been using this practice for hundreds if not thousands years. That's not the problem at all. The key concern is the deliberate terminator gene. Once they get cross-pollinated with non-GM crops, the non-GM crops' seeds can not germinate anymore. This could potentially create a very serious situation in which a few big GM companies can dictate our food source supply. Even worse, if those seeds with terminator gene were exported, unintended or deliberately, to some other countries, the subsequent consequences would be dire. People could die from famine in that scenario. Of course, as of now, based on what I read, Monsanto pledges not to commercialize terminator gene yet. However, any one buying seeds from them must sign agreement that no seeds harvested from GM crops can be saved, sold for further cross-breeding, planting. This doesn't sound encouraging at all, at least to me.
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Old 12-29-2011, 07:39 PM   #5
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The opposition to GMO pisses me off because what it really does is prevent farmers in Africa from growing crops on marginal farmland and then exporting them to places like Europe.
This is an unintended consequence which I haven't thought about. Your point is well taken. Fundamentally, I'm not totally opposing GM. It does reduce pesticide usage and boost crop yields in some cases. I just hope this technology could be treated and adopted more cautiously, further independently analyzed and examined.
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Old 12-29-2011, 07:58 PM   #6
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Actually we aren't as far apart as I thought. I think it is important to differentiate the benefits of genetic modification which I think are huge and probably especially so for poor farmers, from the current business practice of companies like Monsanto regarding GM seeds.

I am no expert but I think that famine etc. risk are probably pretty small and reasonable oversight is sufficient. On the other hand the risk that Monsanto, ADM have a lock on future food source is significant and is worth being concerned about. I am pretty sure that they have really good lobbyist and they have gotten some great laws (from there point of view) passed which prevent farmers from making their own seed crops. Monopolies are bad enough, but government assisted monopolies are truly awful.

I wish the opposition to GMO focused on the corporate welfare aspect instead of GMO foods is going to cause your children to have 1 hand and 3 feet variety.
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Old 12-29-2011, 08:07 PM   #7
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I eat tomatoes and fish at the same time. Thus the tomato DNA and the fish DNA mix in my digestive track. Is that bad for me?

I eat soybeans, rice, and fish at the same time. What does the naturally occurring soybean trypsin inhibitor do to me?
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GMO Info Website
Old 12-29-2011, 08:40 PM   #8
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GMO Info Website

Here is a great website run by Plant Genetics scientists, professors and undergraduate students. I think it might put your mind at ease regarding the safety of genetically engineered/modified foods.

What scares you about GE foods? Biofortified
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Old 12-29-2011, 08:44 PM   #9
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However, any one buying seeds from them must sign agreement that no seeds harvested from GM crops can be saved, sold for further cross-breeding, planting. This doesn't sound encouraging at all, at least to me.
This is straight economics, and many people miss the background on it. I spent some years on a family farm, so I do have a little insight, or just exposure to this stuff.

The background: Prior to GM, corn seed companies sold what are called F1 Hybrid seeds to farmers. F1 hybrids are a cross pollination between two different varieties. The seed produced has a desired mix of traits from the two varieties. However, the seed produced from that plant will not produce a plant like itself (you need the two different varieties as parents), and are often sterile. A mule is an example of an F1 hybrid, with horse & donkey the parents.

So..... the seed companies had a built in protection for their F1 product. If the seeds were saved they would not give the desired results, so farmers did not do that. And the effort required to produce the hybrid seed was better left to the big companies.

Now, GM seed does produce a plant exactly like the parent. So farmers would WANT to save the seed to save money, but the seed companies would go out of business after all their R&D. So if the farmer wants the advantages of GM crops, he signs the agreement. Or he is free to buy F1 hybrid seed, or grow his own (non-GM).


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Old 12-30-2011, 07:47 AM   #10
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I think it is important to differentiate the benefits of genetic modification which I think are huge and probably especially so for poor farmers, from the current business practice of companies like Monsanto regarding GM seeds.
Absolutely. In long term, poor farmers in developing countries probably will be better off with help from GM to boost yields, but without dependencies from big companies like Monsanto.

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Thanks for the link.

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The background: Prior to GM, corn seed companies sold what are called F1 Hybrid seeds to farmers. F1 hybrids are a cross pollination between two different varieties. The seed produced has a desired mix of traits from the two varieties. However, the seed produced from that plant will not produce a plant like itself (you need the two different varieties as parents), and are often sterile.
Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative background information, and I learn something new from this forum everyday. This reminds me of some bush/pole bean and tomato seeds I ordered for my garden which are labeled as hybrid disease resistant.

So if I want to be a self sufficient farmer after I retire, I might even have difficulty to secure some traditional corn seeds then.
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Old 12-30-2011, 08:00 AM   #11
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This is an unintended consequence which I haven't thought about. Your point is well taken. Fundamentally, I'm not totally opposing GM. It does reduce pesticide usage and boost crop yields in some cases. I just hope this technology could be treated and adopted more cautiously, further independently analyzed and examined.

Say what, look up Roundup ready soybeans, spray the whole field with a herbicide but the soybean plant survives. Just what I want on my tofu.
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Old 12-30-2011, 08:55 AM   #12
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Say what, look up Roundup ready soybeans, spray the whole field with a herbicide but the soybean plant survives. Just what I want on my tofu.
Hey, I also eat tofu and we probably can only be counted as the minority consuming food directly made out of Roundup ready soybeans. I heard there is a new kind of super weed now which is immune to Roundup. Sigh, a never ending battle.

When I visited Mountain Saint Helen, the tour guide told us that after the volcano eruption, to restore the local forest cover, a lot of herbicide was sprayed from airplanes to kill everything on ground before getting tree saplings down. Personally, I would love to see Roundup ready trees. Well, any decision/action bears unintended consequences, so I'd better to be careful what I wish for.
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Old 12-30-2011, 09:02 AM   #13
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Without brazillions of acres of mono-culture - corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, we'd have mass starvation, so we're stuck with it, even as we should probably try to increase genetic diversity in food crops.

Anyone who has planted a garden plot knows that weeds and bugs can be difficult to control. Now multiply that by 1000 or 10000 or 100000, and the magnitude of the problem becomes clear.
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Old 12-30-2011, 09:06 AM   #14
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Say what, look up Roundup ready soybeans, spray the whole field with a herbicide but the soybean plant survives. Just what I want on my tofu.
And what do you think they used before they had GM 'Round-Up Ready' soybeans? I'll leave the research up to you, but I think you'll find that the stuff they used was something with worse effects on the environment than Round-Up.

Round Up (glyphosate) is really pretty benign. I've become more comfortable using it (carefully, in limited amounts) around my house, and yes, even around the fruit trees (you can't get it on the leaves or thin bark, but I'm not spraying anywhere near the top, just around the base, and away from the trunk). It breaks down pretty quickly/easily - never makes it into the root system of the tree.

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Old 12-30-2011, 09:43 AM   #15
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So if I want to be a self sufficient farmer after I retire, I might even have difficulty to secure some traditional corn seeds then.
I think you can find some 'heritage' crops that are not F1 hybrids (seed is true to parent), and have very good characteristics. Taste may be exceptional - in the goal to breed F1s with other desirable traits (disease and drought resistance, ripening at one time, shipping tolerance), taste may take a back seat.

Which may make crop and variety rotation even more important, but that's easier to manage on a small farm.

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Old 12-30-2011, 11:46 AM   #16
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And what do you think they used before they had GM 'Round-Up Ready' soybeans? I'll leave the research up to you, but I think you'll find that the stuff they used was something with worse effects on the environment than Round-Up.

Round Up (glyphosate) is really pretty benign. I've become more comfortable using it (carefully, in limited amounts) around my house, and yes, even around the fruit trees (you can't get it on the leaves or thin bark, but I'm not spraying anywhere near the top, just around the base, and away from the trunk). It breaks down pretty quickly/easily - never makes it into the root system of the tree.

-ERD50
If you have to use poison on plants on land, glyphosate is reportedly one of the least toxic. In water, it's deadly. Unfortunately, Roundup is more than just glyphosate. Wiki has a good summary.
In large applications it often gets oversprayed into water, or is washed into water. Infertile and mutated frogs and fishes, anyone?
Starting my education as a biologist and lover of fishes and amphibians as well as terrestrial critters including myself and my family, I choose to have a poison-free garden, so there are weeds. If I want contaminated produce, I can get that at the store.
But I do understand that if you're trying to make money growing food, you're going to use poison to make a bigger profit, unless you go to the greater trouble and usually lower profit of going organic.
We humans as a population seem to be reproducing ourselves just fine with GM crops and Roundup. It's the other critters that aren't doing so well.
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Old 12-30-2011, 12:46 PM   #17
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In water, it's (glyphosate) deadly. Unfortunately, Roundup is more than just glyphosate. Wiki has a good summary.
'Deadly' is a rather imprecise and inflammatory term. Reminds me of the typical level of journalism today, rather than a comment I would expect from someone educated in any field of science, especially biology.

Practically everything is deadly, depending on concentration and application. Without some frame of reference, 'deadly' is almost meaningless.


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..., I choose to have a poison-free garden, so there are weeds. If I want contaminated produce, I can get that at the store.

But I do understand that if you're trying to make money growing food, you're going to use poison to make a bigger profit, unless you go to the greater trouble and usually lower profit of going organic.
I'm not sure it's simply a matter of making money - could we even feed our population without some of these technologies? Can the poor afford 'organic'? And I'm sure we've discussed it before, but 'organic' has significant drawbacks too. In some cases, fields are worked, watered to sprout the weeds, then worked again to kill the weeds before planting. All of that uses more fuel and water, there is more erosion, less time for crops to grow, so even more land must be worked to make up the difference, resulting in even more fuel, water use, erosion, etc. It isn't all gravy.


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We humans as a population seem to be reproducing ourselves just fine with GM crops and Roundup. It's the other critters that aren't doing so well.
I'm pretty sure that is an allegation, not a fact (but I could be wrong). Any reliable links to confirm actual damage to critters (not lab studies of the possibility of damage)?

-ERD50
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Old 12-30-2011, 02:03 PM   #18
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(snip)
Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative background information, and I learn something new from this forum everyday. This reminds me of some bush/pole bean and tomato seeds I ordered for my garden which are labeled as hybrid disease resistant.

So if I want to be a self sufficient farmer after I retire, I might even have difficulty to secure some traditional corn seeds then.
I think you can find some 'heritage' crops that are not F1 hybrids (seed is true to parent), and have very good characteristics. Taste may be exceptional - in the goal to breed F1s with other desirable traits (disease and drought resistance, ripening at one time, shipping tolerance), taste may take a back seat.

Which may make crop and variety rotation even more important, but that's easier to manage on a small farm.

-ERD50
They are also called "heirloom" or "open pollinated" varieties. There are some specialist seed companies where you can buy them. Also investigate an organization called the Seed Savers' Exchange (that may not be the exact name). There are also books available about how to grow and save your own vegetable (or flower) seed, with selection for the ones that do best in the conditions of your specific garden. I think some of the books may also describe how to develop a new variety of open pollinated vegetable.
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Old 12-30-2011, 04:41 PM   #19
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'Deadly' is a rather imprecise and inflammatory term. Reminds me of the typical level of journalism today, rather than a comment I would expect from someone educated in any field of science, especially biology.
...
I'm not sure it's simply a matter of making money - could we even feed our population without some of these technologies? ...

'organic' has significant drawbacks too. In some cases, fields are worked, watered to sprout the weeds, then worked again to kill the weeds before planting. All of that uses more fuel and water...

I'm pretty sure that is an allegation, not a fact (but I could be wrong). Any reliable links to confirm actual damage to critters (not lab studies of the possibility of damage)?

-ERD50
Well, no one would accuse me of being a professional ecologist. I just read Science magazine, and not every issue.
So any aquatic ecologists out there, please do chime in.
I'm pretty sure Monsanto is in the business of making money. Can we feed our population without using this stuff? I do not know.
I'm not a professional organic farmer, either, but I believe the newer no-till methods use much less energy.

As to allegation, not fact, here's just one abstract of a commonly cited author and study:

ESA Online Journals - THE IMPACT OF INSECTICIDES AND HERBICIDES ON THE BIODIVERSITY AND PRODUCTIVITY OF AQUATIC COMMUNITIES

"...However, Roundup completely eliminated two species of tadpoles and nearly exterminated a third species, resulting in a 70% decline in the species richness of tadpoles"



and a discussion of his study aimed at a lay person (which I pretty much am these days, having ERed 10 years ago)

Common Herbicide Lethal to Wetland Species | Conservation Magazine

"Monsanto also argues that Relyea’s application rate was too high. However, Relyea disagrees, saying that the concentration of Roundup in the meso-cosms was the same as the maximum that other studies have estimated can occur in natural shallow wetlands after application in surrounding areas (3.8 vs. 3.7 milligrams active ingredient per liter). He has since shown that using just one-third as much Roundup can still kill two-fifths of the amphibians."

One reason I'm tuned in to Roundup abuse is that this is happening in my neck of the woods. The Alaska Railroad wants to and has been spraying herbicides on the tracks, rather than use mechanical removal of plants. One of my neighbors allegedly (meaning I haven't seen it but his word is impeccable) has video of the AKRR spraying on streams and bogs along the tracks, in violation of their permit. It would take a lot of careful work for them NOT to violate their permit, because their tracks run along rivers and through wetlands. To hell with the critters, no one will notice, they're in a hurry.

I sound very negative, I know, it's just that every use of poison has positives and negatives. It doesn't mean they should never be used, it's just that I felt the "other side" needed to be represented. I don't mean to be inflammatory. I'm working on that.
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Old 12-30-2011, 05:43 PM   #20
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... and a discussion of his study aimed at a lay person (which I pretty much am these days, having ERed 10 years ago)

Common Herbicide Lethal to Wetland Species | Conservation Magazine.
Thanks for the links. While it is interesting that he saw these death rates from Round-Up, I really have to wonder about how this relates to real word use. Hopefully, this was just due to editing in the article, but I saw no mention of a control group. I know that when I try to simulate an aquatic environment at home (an aquarium), I don't add any pesticides, and most of my fish still die

And this study was all based on 'simulated aquatic environments' (250 gallon tanks), not a study from actual damage to critters in the wild. I really doubt you can provide a truly balanced ecosystem in a 250 gallon tank. Nature is more complex than that

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Relyea simulated wetland ecosystems by collecting plankton, plants, and animals from wetlands in northwestern Pennsylvania and putting them into 1,000-liter cattle tanks at natural densities. The animals included snails, spotted salamanders, and five species of tadpoles as well as beetle and dragonfly larvae. He then treated the mesocosms with four pesticides: two insecticides (carbaryl and malathion) and two herbicides (2,4-D and Roundup), applying them at the manufacturers’ recommended maximum application rates to simulate direct overspray on a wetland. After about two weeks, Relyea assessed how the pesticides had affected the species in the mesocosms.
So he applied the maximum rate for dry land directly to his 'wetland'. As noted, this stuff isn't for use on wetlands. Now, anything can be misused. We can't rule out its use based on that, or we need to eliminate organic farming since we've had e-coli breakouts in organic spinach. But, if the cow manure was handled properly, there would be no problem.


Further, these are tanks - so what he sprayed on there would remain, there would be no dilution. So this would be like spraying an entire wetland, not just having some of the edges sprayed. His study (from what we can tell) doesn't sound very representative of even a misuse of the product.

From your ref (my emph):

Quote:
"Monsanto also argues that Relyea’s application rate was too high. However, Relyea disagrees, saying that the concentration of Roundup in the meso-cosms was the same as the maximum that other studies have estimated can occur in natural shallow wetlands after application in surrounding areas...
Again, have they ever actually measured these levels in any wetland, anywhere? If so, why not report on those levels? How did they come by these estimates?

I'm certainly not going to defend anyone for (allegedly) misusing the product (the AKRR you mention) - they should follow all the restrictions. But in reality, if there was some over-spray, and it did kill some critters in some of the wetland area near the tracks, isn't that going to be a small, small % of what is in that wetland? I'm not trying to rationalize their alleged misuse, but we have to be realistic. If we have zero tolerance, than neither of us should be alive, we impact the environment - we certainly shouldn't be typing on computers. And there are some forms of RoundUp designed for use near water - does your friend know for a fact that they were not using that type? Also from wiki:

Quote:
Other glyphosate formulations registered for aquatic use have been found to have negligible adverse effects on sensitive amphibians.

Quote:
Originally Posted by toofrugalformycat
I sound very negative, I know, it's just that every use of poison has positives and negatives. It doesn't mean they should never be used, it's just that I felt the "other side" needed to be represented. I don't mean to be inflammatory. I'm working on that.
Fair enough. I just get on edge when I see negatives piled on something w/o considering the overall net gain/loss, or whether the alternatives are worse.


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I'm not a professional organic farmer, either, but I believe the newer no-till methods use much less energy.
No-till (and/or minimal till) is in wide use among non-organic farmers also. So that is a wash. If the organic farmers need to do an extra till to kill the weeds that sprouted, it's still an extra till. No/Low-Till is now the norm here in Corn Country. When I was a kid, we disked (to break up the corn stalks so they would not plug the plow), maybe did a fall plowing, then a spring plowing, then another disking and harrowing (sometimes combined) to make the field smooth enough for the corn planters of the day. Now, they might chisel plow in the fall, and the planters have chisel and disk built in and are designed to plant right through the stubble and all. Fewer trips through the field, much less erosion, and it saves money. Making a profit and reducing the environmental impact are not always mutually exclusive.

-ERD50
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