Some Weed Problems

Some Weed Problems Introduction

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) by Walter J. Pilsak

We know and love weeds for their ability to spread to and cover bare soil exposed by fires and floods, but we hate them when their natural abilities spread them into crops and gardens. In nature, weeds are like band-aids on skinned knees, protecting soil from erosion by wind and water. This is good, and should be good enough for us to be selective (not stereotyping) in our attitude toward weeds. But it isn’t. The reason for our persistent hatred is that weeds can compete with and replace crop and garden plants, they can replace native vegetation, and they can block vision and even travel. And, as you will see in the first article below, some weeds have toxic chemicals for defense and aggression and can inflict serious injury to grazers or innocent passersby.

Giant Hogweed (by Appaloosa)

People used to use the techniques of organic gardening to prevent and eradicate weeds. However, in the middle of the last century, science gave us herbicides, chemicals that interfere with weed growth and reproduction. What a pleasure to wave our spray wand over weeds and watch them shrivel and die. For decades, agricultural scientists have improved herbicides. They have even paired them with genetically modified crop plants that aren’t hurt by the magic spray that kills invading weeds.

Herbicides disrupt nature and cause cancer in humans. The chemical industry claims that reduced cost of food production justifies herbicide use. However, herbicides are growing stronger and farmers are applying them more heavily. This increases the harm to nature and human health.

Weeds are not defenseless against herbicides. Most of them produce seeds for the next generation in a single year, and this allows natural selection of herbicide-resistant plants within a few years. As described in the second article below, weed resistance is exceeding the power of the herbicides. As the gap between herbicide efficacy and weed resistance grows, farmers will return to the old organic gardening techniques. Though this will be less harmful to nature and people, it will increase the cost of farmed produce. Consequently, we may have to reduce meat production, a major consumer of farm crops, and, eventually, we will have to reduce human population size.

The articles below include recent discussions of weed problems.

Some Weed Problems References

Click for more on weeds.

Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

GR: Over the past four years that I’ve reported bad news, this is the worst. We’ve known that insects were declining, but no one would have guessed the decline was this deep. Habitat loss is probably the leading cause (Yay farmers!), but pesticides applied to farms, roadsides, and settled areas undoubtedly play a serious part.

A raging disaster of this magnitude should spur a massive response. Can we reduce the human population and its growing demand for food, can we clean up our environment,can we stop using pesticides, can we cluster our homes and leave more untouched wild nature? Of course we can. If we don’t, the consequences for Earth and for humanity will be deep and dark.

Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth.

As well as being pollinators insects provide food for birds and other animals and help control pests. Photograph: Kevin Elsby/Alamy

“The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The traps were set in protected areas and reserves, which scientists say makes the declines even more worrying. Photograph: Courtesy of Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

“The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

“The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

“The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

“When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.” –Damian Carrington (Continue reading: Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers | Environment | The Guardian.)

Take Action: Tell Your Senators to Vote Against EPA Nominee with Chemical Industry Ties

Crony-Capitalism. Is this us? (Click image to read the fine print.)

GR: The Trump/Republican choices for government office are people who 1) lack experience or 2) have close ties to businesses or 3) wish to profit from their positions (For example, Rex Tillerson’s huge Exxon Mobile oil deal with Russia). The instance described below is the second type.

“Tell your U.S. Senators to oppose the Trump Administration’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Michael L. Dourson, Ph.D., who has spent a good deal of his career helping chemical companies resist restrictions on their toxic compounds. The U.S. Senate’s August 20 hearing on Dr. Dourson’s nomination, was abruptly postponed on August 19, with no reason offered, but later held on October 4 under a cloud of controversy.

Write your U.S. Senators now!

“Critics, including former EPA officials, Congressional Democrats, and public health scientists say that Dr. Dourson’s close ties to the chemical industry should disqualify him from becoming the country’s chief regulator of toxic chemicals.

“U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said, “Dr. Dourson’s consistent endorsement of chemical safety standards that not only match industry’s views, but are also significantly less protective than EPA and other regulators have recommended, raises serious doubts about his ability to lead those efforts. This is the first time anyone with such clear and extensive ties to the chemical industry has been [nominated] to regulate that industry.”

“Dr. Dourson’s professional history provides important context for considering his nomination. He did a turn at EPA from 1980 to 1994, starting as a staff toxicologist, and then leading a pesticide and toxics group that supports EPA’s regulatory work. However, in 1995, Dr. Dourson started the consulting group, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), which has done contract work for chemical companies, producing research and reports that often “downplayed the health risks posed by their compounds.” Source: Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog » Blog Archive Take Action: Tell Your Senators to Vote Against EPA Nominee with Chemical Industry Ties – Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog

The Ever-Revolving Door: Industry and the EPA

GR: The ‘revolving door’ between government and industry creates close ties that often weaken regulation of business activities. Here’s an example. The article below gives another well-documented example of this insidious problem within our government.

Beyond Pesticides, October 3, 2017– “On August 20, the U.S. Senate was to have held a hearing on the Trump Administration’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for chemical safety, Michael L. Dourson, PhD. The hearing was abruptly postponed on August 19, with no reason offered, and has not yet been rescheduled.

“Dr. Dourson has spent a good deal of his career helping companies resist constraints on their use of potentially toxic compounds in consumer products. Critics, including former EPA officials, Congressional Democrats, and public health scientists say that these ties with the chemical industry, in particular, should keep him from becoming the country’s chief regulator of toxic chemicals.

“U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) said, “Dr. Dourson’s consistent endorsement of chemical safety standards that not only match industry’s views, but are also significantly less protective than EPA and other regulators have recommended, raises serious doubts about his ability to lead those efforts. This is the first time anyone with such clear and extensive ties to the chemical industry has been [nominated] to regulate that industry.”

“Dr. Dourson is perhaps the most recent example of the “revolving door” phenomenon — the movement of people between roles as agency regulators or legislators, and positions in the industries that are affected by laws and regulations promulgated through those government roles. The door revolves in both directions, with folks leaving industry to join government, and vice versa. Critics say that this ready switching of roles creates unavoidable conflicts of interest and that those who do so have dubious ethical standing for undertaking the positions they seek. Indeed, ethics experts say that, if confirmed, Dr. Dourson’s work on behalf of industry could constitute significant conflicts of interest.

“Dr. Dourson’s professional history provides important context in which to consider his nomination. He did a turn at EPA from 1980 to 1994, starting as a staff toxicologist. By 1989, he headed a pesticides and toxics group, supervising scientists who support EPA’s regulatory work. In 1995, Dr. Dourson started his consulting group, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, which has done contract work for chemical companies, producing research and reports that often “downplayed the health risks posed by their compounds.” — Source: Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog » Blog Archive The Ever-Revolving Door: Industry and the EPA

European Glyphosate Safety Report Copy-Pasted Monsanto Study

GR: We need more regulator regulators. Regulatory government agencies are often so close to the businesses they regulate that they achieve very little control over business behavior. And that’s here, there, and everywhere. Humans are a greedy bunch. But how dull philosophy and literature were it not so. Here’s a perfect example of poor regulatory behavior:

“Two years ago, the debate over glyphosate’s link to cancer took a surprising turn when the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) infamously rejected the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer’s March 2015 classification of the weedkiller as a possible carcinogen.

“However, new reporting from the Guardian reveals that the European agency’s recommendation that the chemical is safe for public use was based on an EU report that directly lifted large sections of text from a study conducted by Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate-based Roundup.

“The particular sections cover some of the biggest questions about glyphosate’s supposed health risks, including its links to genotoxicity, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity.

“The revelation comes as the European Union debates whether it should extend its licensing of the world’s most popular herbicide. As it happens, the EFSA provides scientific advice to the EU and plays a key role in the authorization of thousands of products that end up in Europe’s food chain, including genetically modified organisms, pesticides, food additives and nanotech products, according to Corporate Europe Observatory, a non-profit watchdog group.

“The Guardian reports that dozens of pages from of the 4,300-page renewal assessment report (RAR) published in 2015 “are identical to passages in an application submitted by Monsanto on behalf of the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry body led by the company.” –Lorraine Chow (Continue reading: European Glyphosate Safety Report Copy-Pasted Monsanto Study.)

Illegal Pot Farms Are Fouling California Waterways with Banned Pesticides

GR: Legalizing marijuana has been a progressive goal for many years. Over the same period, illegal pot farming and distribution has been one of the nation’s largest illegal industries. Now, the industry is becoming legal. Fine; people should have freedom to make personal choices. However, the pot industry, like most other industries has no concern for the consequences of its business operations. The story below is about pesticides, but other reporters have described the loss of wilderness, wildlife, soil, and water as pot farmers shove nature aside to make a profit.

Legalizing an industry can give public (government) control over product safety and environmental abuse. Of course, the current American administration is working hard to give all industries unregulated freedom comparable to the illegal pot industry. We all hope that this is a temporary blip in public control of the irresponsible actions of the weaker members of our species and that we can reinstate regulations soon.

“Illegal cannabis grow operations are polluting California waterways with banned pesticides, according to reports from Reuters. Despite recent legalization of recreational marijuana in the state, California still accounts for over 90% of illegal grow operations within the U.S. The extent of contamination puts wildlife and drinking water at risk, necessitating increased monitoring and enforcement to stop ongoing ecological damage.

“Unreleased reports obtained by Reuters indicate the presence of pesticides, such as diazinon and carbofuran, which have been linked to a range of adverse human health outcomes. Both chemicals inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE), an enzyme important for the transmission of nerve impulses. When AChE is inhibited, acetylcholine accumulates leading to overstimulation of neurotransmitters, resulting in muscle weakness, confusion, and paralysis, among other symptoms. Both chemicals have also been shown to be highly toxic to birds. According to EPA reports from the 1980s, carbofuran applications contributed to the death of between one and two million birds each year. Diazinon has likewise been linked to hundreds of bird kill incidents, with reports in the 1980s involving over 23 bird species in 18 states.

Ecologist Mourad Gabriel of Integral Ecology Research Center stands amid an illegal marijuana grow site in Northern California. (Courtesy Mark Higley/Hoopa Valley Tribal Forestry/University of California Davis Faculty/Handout via REUTERS)

“Reuters reports that law enforcement officers have been hospitalized from only touching plants or equipment contaminated with illegal pesticides. A police dog almost died from jumping in contaminated water, and there have been accounts of cows poisoned by nearby grow operations. “Carbofuran is in the water, and it’s not supposed to be,” said Mourad Gabriel, PhD, an ecologist who works with law enforcement on marijuana contamination issues to Reuters.

“According to Dr. Gabriel, half of the streams in eight watersheds known for illegal cannabis cultivation are contaminated with pesticide residues. “It’s like a layer cake,” Dr. Gabriel indicated. “They put chemical on chemical on chemical. We’ll find different chemicals in the water on different years.” Indeed, while some creeks tested clear during one season, return testing is finding new chemicals making their way into streams, likely as a result of their movement through the soil.” –Beyond Pesticides (Continue: Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog » Blog Archive Illegal Cannabis Operations Are Fouling California Waterways with Banned Pesticides – Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog.)

Did Monsanto Write Malawi’s Seed Policy?

GR:  Monsanto did. The company’s unscrupulous efforts to increase profits are harmful to humans and nature. This story may raise your blood pressure a bit. Such stories of corporate and government greed and corruption have driven some environmentalists to begin predicting human extinction.

“In late July, a short article was published in a Malawian newspaper: Press Release on Organization of Seed Fairs. Issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development, in conjunction with the Seed Traders Association of Malawi, the short statement advised the public that “only quality certified seed suppliers registered with government to produce and/or market seed should be allowed to display seed at such events.” The release was signed by Bright Kumwembe for the Agriculture Ministry.

“I received this news in the U.S. as I prepared a research trip to Malawi, and I was shocked. Malawi is in the final stages of a multi-year effort to reform its seed policy and laws, and the largest point of contention at this point is the failure of the draft policy to recognize and protect so-called “farmers’ rights” to save, exchange and sell the seeds they grow on their farms.

“Remarkably, the policy seeks to define the word “seed” as applying only to certified seed from commercial companies. Farm-saved seed is referred to in the policy as just “grain,” unworthy even of the word seed.

“Some 80 percent of the crops grown in Malawi come from farm-saved seeds, and many of those seeds are displayed, exchanged and sold at local seed fairs. These are often community events organized by local non-governmental organizations or district agriculture offices to promote seed improvement. Farmers show their most successful varieties, sometimes alongside seed from commercial companies that have bred, patented and produced “improved” varieties that are then certified by the government for quality.

“What this press release implied, in no uncertain terms, was that henceforth farmers would not be allowed to display their seeds. The formal and informal seed sectors have coexisted for decades. Why was the Malawian government, embroiled in a controversy over a still-unfinished seed policy, threatening to ban farm-saved seed from the market?” –Food Tank (Continue: Did Monsanto Write Malawi’s Seed Policy?)

Ask your Governor to Stop Monsanto’s Deceptive Marketing

GR: Here’s an opportunity for you to oppose the spread of Monsanto’s dangerous herbicide RoundUp.

“Tell your Governor to stop Monsanto from making false and deceptive claims about glyphosate (Roundup) –a pesticide that hurts workers. Because of its wide use by workers in parks, along utility and railroad rights-of-way, and on farms, use of Monsanto’s glyphosate results in more exposure than any other pesticide. Monsanto has developed and continues to grow its market for this product with false claims of the safety of the toxic chemical. Glyphosate is listed as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (of the World Health Organization) and disrupts a pathway in humans necessary for healthy functioning of the gut microbiome. Meanwhile, Monsanto actively advertises and promotes its Roundup products as targeting an enzyme “found in plants but not in people or pets.”

“Although EPA considers glyphosate to be “of relatively low oral and dermal acute toxicity,” symptoms workers could experience following exposure to glyphosate formulations include: swollen eyes, face, and joints; facial numbness; burning and/or itching skin; blisters; rapid heart rate; elevated blood pressure; chest pains, congestion; coughing; headache; and nausea.

“The additional ingredients in Roundup can be more toxic than glyphosate alone, resulting in a number of chronic, developmental, and endocrine-disrupting effects. The “inert” (non-disclosed) ingredients in Roundup formulations kill human cells at very low concentrations. At least some glyphosate-based products are genotoxic.

“Because glyphosate disrupts the shikimate pathway, crucial for manufacturing aromatic amino acids in plants but not animals, Monsanto claims that it does not harm humans. However, many beneficial bacteria use the shikimate pathway, and glyphosate, in fact, is a patented antibiotic. Glyphosate destroys bacteria in the human gut and, therefore, is a major contributor to disease. Disturbing the microbiota can contribute to a whole host of “21st century diseases,” including diabetes, obesity, food allergies, heart disease, antibiotic-resistant infections, cancer, asthma, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. The rise in these same diseases is tightly correlated with the use of glyphosate herbicides, and glyphosate exposure can result in the inflammation that is at the root of these diseases. Glyphosate appears to have more negative impacts on beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to flourish and enhancing antibiotic resistance.

“Although consumers are at risk from Monsanto’s glyphosate products, the workers who apply it and work in fields and parks, and along rights-of-way where it is used are at greatest risk.

“There is precedent for states acting on false claims by manufacturers. Massachusetts sued Bayer for false and deceptive claims on the label for its neonicotinoid products that harm bees. Every state can seek to protect against a false and deceptive claim under consumer protection and truth-in-advertising law.

“Please use the Beyond Pesticides links and letter to urge your Governor to act on false claims by Monsanto” –Beyond Pesticides (Sign me up! — Beyond Pesticides)

Weed killer designed to save farms is devastating them

GR: With the chemical industry in control of Congress and government regulators, every plant and animal of every country on Earth is in danger. Toxic chemicals added to the land, air, and water cause death, disease, and disruption of natural ecosystems. They poison the insects and spread through the food chain weakening and killing wildlife. As biodiversity declines, natural flood control and soil protection is lost and air and water filtering declines. The result is a great loss productivity and ever-increasing toxicity of the environment.

BLYTHEVILLE, ARK. — “Clay Mayes slams on the brakes of his Chevy Silverado and jumps out with the engine running, yelling at a dogwood by the side of the dirt road as if it had said something insulting.

“Its leaves curl downward and in on themselves like tiny, broken umbrellas. It’s the telltale mark of inadvertent exposure to a controversial herbicide called dicamba.

“This is crazy. Crazy!” shouts Mayes, a farm manager, gesticulating toward the shriveled canopy off Highway 61. “I just think if this keeps going on . . .”

“Everything’ll be dead,” says Brian Smith, his passenger.

“The damage here in northeast Arkansas and across the Midwest — sickly soybeans, trees and other crops — has become emblematic of a deepening crisis in American agriculture.

“Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.

“The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.

“The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.

“Government officials and manufacturers Monsanto and BASF deny the charge, saying the system worked as Congress designed it.” –Caitlin Dewey (Continue: Weed killer designed to save farms is devastating them).

Thanks to Bob Vella the Secular Jurist for finding this story.

Tell Congress: Vote No on Clovis for USDA Chief Scientist

Sam Clovis, Trump’s choice for USDA chief scientist.

GR: The USDA Chief Scientist must be a scientist. The USDA evaluates the safety of outdoor activities including farming, logging, ecosystem protection, herbicide use for weed control, and many more. The person in charge of the evaluations must understand the methods used for measurement and analysis and must understand the certainty or lack of certainty of the results. Sam Clovis has no experience in scientific methods. Trump selected his other appointees based on political connections and not qualifications. Clovis may be the worst of the worst. The Union of Concerned Scientists has given us some information to use in protest of Clovis’ appointment.

“President Trump has nominated Sam Clovis—a vocal climate change denier with no training in science—for the role of chief scientist at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Clovis’ nomination represents an abandonment of America’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers who depend on the USDA to provide sound scientific guidance on the pressing challenges facing our nation’s food system. Moreover, Clovis’ history of denying climate change and peddling racist and homophobic conspiracy theories calls into question his capacity to make informed, objective, and sound investments for the future of American agriculture.

“Scientists and experts around the country are signing this letter to demand that the USDA chief scientist have a strong scientific background in order to fulfill the demands of this crucial position.

“Add your name to this letter urging the Senate Agriculture Committee to stand by its commitment to scientifically informed governance by voting no on Sam Clovis for USDA chief scientist.

“Learn more about the case against Clovis, and read the nine questions the Senate should ask of Clovis. Check out our Sidelining Science Since Day One report.” Union of Concerned Scientists.


GR:  Contact your Senators and ask them to reject the Clovis appointment. You could also contact Senator Pat Roberts, chairman and Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

Tell your Senators that Sam Clovis falls far short of the standards of chief scientist. While he holds a Doctorate of Public Administration, his professional background is completely devoid of relevant scientific experience. The USDA chief scientist must have a strong scientific background to administer scientific programs and make crucial decisions on food safety, agricultural productivity, and emerging threats to public health. Dr. Clovis lacks grounding in the scientific process and is not equipped to make informed, objective, and strategic investments for the future of American agriculture.

There are some excellent smart phone apps that simplify contacting congress. I’m trying out “Congress” by Eric Mill my phone. Seems pretty good so far.