Sunday, May 28, 2006

Will the Genetically Engineered Bird Sing as Sweetly?

The recent EU ban of genetically engineered crops has focused attention on GMOs, genetically modified organisms. Less well known known are genetically engineered trees. It is thought that such trees will one day become commonplace.

The research on trees is, of course, directed toward profit, making faster growth and processing of fruits and nuts "more efficient". Amongst other things, scientists are experimenting with a natural pesticide, BT. Unfortunately, any changes will create other problems. Ann Petermann of Global Justice Ecology:


...Each of these characteristics will have devastating consequences on the environment, says Petermann. "Biotechnology is so revolutionary that we know almost nothing about it...but so far everything has been one problem after another." For example, trees with increased levels of BT are supposed to result in a decrease in sprayed pesticides, but the opposite has been the case.

David Suzuki continues:

Trees with increased levels of BT result in the 'natural' selection of insects that are more resistant to the BT pesticide. This, in turn, necessitates higher pesticide levels, which can inadvertently kill non-target species. In the film 'A Silent Forest: The Growing Threat, Genetically Engineered Trees,' David Suzuki explains that the BT pesticide will also leach into the ecological cycle through the roots, leaves, flowers, and pollen. "A forest that kills insects would be catastrophic," says Suzuki.

And attempts to make the trees sterile will likely prove ultimately fruitless.

Scientists are also working on creating sterile GE trees to prevent pollination of native trees; however, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it is nearly impossible to control gene flow through pollen and seed dispersal - even at a 95 percent success rate. As Petermann points out, "the sterilized trees are producing nothing, and the other 5% are still sending out tainted genes situation." ...

And such trees will offer little or nothing of value to the surrounding forest.

...By bearing no flowers, fruit, or nuts, the sterile trees will offer little nourishment to the wildlife around them, and accidental contamination of native forests by the non-sterile - but genetically modified - trees will result in unforeseeable upsets to the ecological balance. For example, according to Greenpeace's website, "reduced lignin could speed up the decomposition of trees, altering soil ecology, structure and fertility."

The dispersal of genetic material is inevitable and the experiences of China, Thailand and Hawaill have provided clear evidence.

The Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science has already found genes from the GE poplars in Xinjiang, China appearing in natural varieties, and researchers have found backyard and organic papaya trees in Thailand and Hawaii contaminated by pollen from nearby GE papaya plantations.

It is also believed that the faster growing trees will deplete nutrients at a faster rate.

Unfortunately, the US is a leader in this area.

The United States has a large stake in biotechnology, with 150 test plots conducting over two thirds of the world's GE tree research. ...

I fear that, eventually, man-made ecosystems of various kinds will supercede the natural ones, that wilderness areas will become a Disneyworld for whatever genetically unaltered wildlife still exists.

WTF?! Bushco Bends Over For Industry (Again)

Big business has apparently come calling for a favor, and Bushco attempts to deliver. Surely that can be the only way to explain this outrage. Despite the advice of EPA scientists against approval of dangerous pesticides, the agency seeks to move forward.


WASHINGTON -- Union leaders representing Environmental Protection Agency scientists and other specialists assert that agency managers and pesticide-industry officials are exerting "political pressure" to allow continued use of a family of pesticides that might be harmful to children, infants and fetuses.

Accordingly, union leaders representing some 9000 EPA scientists have written a letter to Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator, alleging that there has been pressure to reduce of testing practices.

In a letter to Stephen Johnson, EPA's administrator, the union leaders said scientists are being pushed to skip steps in their testing, and alleged that the "integrity of the science upon which agency decisions are based has been compromised."

This is apparently no history of such an event, made more significant by the administrator's status.

The protest from unions representing some 9,000 EPA scientists and other employees about a pending agency determination is unprecedented and a professional rebuke to Mr. Johnson, himself a scientist and former assistant administrator in charge of the agency's program to test the harmful effects of pesticides.

There is an August deadline for evaluation of 20 pesticides, some derived from World War II nerve gas research.

The letter said the agency faces an August deadline to re-evaluate a family of 20 organophosphate and carbamate pesticides,many of them stemming from World War II research on nerve gas. They include malathion, commonly used to kill mosquitoes, and a variety of other chemicals that are used in agriculture, gardens, on golf courses and on flea collars and pest strips.

The problem arises from a failure to review exposure limits as required by the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996.

This sums it up for me.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, whose members include state and federal employees, said "the fact that this letter had to be sent at all is an utter disgrace."

Read the union leaders' letter of protest at: PDF Link

Look at the EPA Inspector General report on the inability to assess child neurotoxicity at: Link

See the Federal Register Notice on Pesticides; Procedural Regulations for Registration Review at: Link

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

One Year Old-Many More To Go

We are fast coming up on the one year anniversary of Survivor Left Blogistan.

When I started out, I wasn't sure that I could keep this going for one week. On 5/29/06 I will have been proven wrong, and happily so. I hope that in some small way I have made some small difference.

Feel free to post your comments/praise/complaints below. I look forward to reading them and to another year of this blog.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Food, Fuel and Fools, Next Exit

Afternoon on the southbound Garden State Parkway, one of the New Jersey's main arteries. We are on our way to the so-called exit 0, Cape May, at the tip of the state. The roadway is crowded and we have spent considerable time sitting in stopped traffic. The Toyota is in need of some fuel and so are we. Dodging a lumbering SUV, we head off the highway onto the ramp for the next service center.

After some searching, we find a space in the vast parking lot and walk up to the building. Once inside we are greeted by crowds and a choice of fast food menus. After waiting in line and making our selections, we find an empty table amongst the many seated diners.

Mounted on brackets above the diners are two large TV monitors. And many heads are turned in the direction of the monitors. In fact, a number of people are standing so that they will be better able to see the broadcast.

What could it be? Perhaps some new revelations regarding the NSA? Perhaps a new low in the administration's approval numbers? (Maybe we should start calling them disapproval numbers.) Or perhaps some entirely new and fascinating scandal?

But no, it is none of these.

Standing up to get a clear view I can see cars on the screen. It is a car chase out in Dallas. Police are attempting to apprehend an individual for some unknown transgression. The camera, apparently mounted in a helicopter, is following the pursued vehicle down the roadway.

I was expecting more.

Would a new NSA revelation have received the same attention? I have my doubts.

Chicken/egg question. Did the infotainment come first, or the "need" for it? I wonder how many of these people would know what the Downing Street Memo is?

Perhaps Don Henley was right, crap is king.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Put A Cork In It

How is the decline of cork bottle closures connected to endangered species? Read on.

ENS Link

The cork oak forests, unique to the Mediterranean area, provide habitat for a number of endangered species, including the black stork. They also provide a sustainable source for traditional closures for the wine industry and steady income for some 100,000 people. But the increasing use of unsustainable synthetic closures (and screw top bottles) have decreased the demand for cork. And that has led to a decline of the cork forests.

In a misguided attempt to address the problem, faster growing but less fire resistant species (eucalyptus) have been planted. (The thick bark of the cork oaks provides excellent fire resistance.)

A plan for certification of cork quality will provide more assurance and consistency for the wine industry and thereby slow the decline of the forests. (Cork closures have a higher failure rate than the newer devices.) This will serve to maintain a unique habitat and preserve the endangered species therein. Furthermore, planting the robust cork oaks amongst the less resistant species will provide for fire breaks.

I would urge all consumers to reject plastic (polymer) and screw top bottles as non-sustainable and inferior substitutes.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rep. Boehlert Does GBCW

Previously, I've chronicled the exploits of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, chairman of the House Committee on Science, here, here and here.  Though some may have concerns with him on other issues, he has been an advocate for environmental issues, sometimes coming into conflict with others of his party.  Oh yes, Rep. Boehlert is a Republican.

His recent decision not to seek reelection gave rise to an interesting interview published in yesterday's New York Times.


Here are some telling excerpts.

In 24 years in Congress, Mr. Boehlert, a Republican from Utica, N.Y., who is chairman of the House Committee on Science, has been a strong advocate for science and the environment. As such, he has sometimes found himself at odds in Washington with the leadership of his own party.

"This is a town," he said, "where everyone says they are for science-based decision making -- until the science leads to a politically inconvenient conclusion. And then they want to go to Plan B."

In March of this year, Rep. Boehlert determined that he would not go beyond his current term.

Q. In all your years in Congress, can you recall a time when science issues were as politicized as they are today?

A. Making science political is just a part of the current times. And I've never seen a time on Capitol Hill when there has been as much partisanship as there is right now. The tolerance level is at an all-time low.

It's not just about science. But guess what: the good news is that people are finally talking about science. There didn't used to be many conversations about science. That's healthy.

As to being a "moderate Republican", he had this to say:

Q. You're considered a moderate Republican. Does it sadden you that you're often described as one of the last of a breed?

A. It makes me sad to think that people speculate that my kind of public official is an endangered species.

When I was a kid at Utica College, my governor was Nelson Rockefeller and my senators were Kenneth Keating and Jacob Javits, all progressive Republicans. And they taught me very early that government was about improving the lot of others.

I remember Nelson Rockefeller had a campaign poster: "If fish could vote, they'd vote for Nelson Rockefeller." That was because he was so sensitive to the environment. And I've long felt that Republicans shouldn't cede the issue of the environment to the other party.

Improving the lot of others?  What planet is this guy from?  And ceding the issue of environment, well, that ship has apparently sailed.

But here's an interesting discussion of CAFE standards:

Q. Your main legislative effort has been a measure to mandate an increase in fuel efficiency standards on new cars -- corporate average fuel economy standard, the so-called CAFE standards. That's never passed. Why?

A. Well, we've tried, three times over six years. Each time, we get closer. Last October, when another energy bill came to the floor, I tried again by offering an amendment.

I went to the Rules Committee, and the Republican leadership said: "Look, you already had a vote on this in this Congress. What's changed?"

I said, "Hurricane Katrina and $3-a-gallon gasoline." They did not allow the House to consider my amendment because they took an unofficial count and discovered it might pass. ...

Farewell, Rep. Boehlert.    


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Katherine Harris Photo Caption Contest

Come up with a caption for the photo of Republican tool Katherine Harris, seen below. The best caption wins an expense-paid trip to the lavish offices of Survivor Left Blogistan, a meeting with the staff and our undying admiration. Good luck!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Food For Thought

Imagine, if you will, a pastoral landscape.  Here we find open green pastures under clear blue skies.  In this landscape a herd of dairy cows is happily grazing, freely pursuing whatever it is that such animals pursue.  The milk produced by these cows is organic, and appropriately labelled as such on its packaging.

Now imagine a large number of cows, tightly penned in.  Their diet does not include the fruits of open grazing.  In fact they are sometimes fed slaughterhouse refuse, antibiotics and engineered grains.  And yet the milk produced by this animals is sometimes also called organic.  How can that be?

The answer can be summed up in two words: big business.  Big business has noticed that while sales of "conventional" food products have shown limited growth, sales of organic foods have been seeing large and steady increases over the past few years.  And big business wants a piece of the action.

While most producers endeavor to provide products that can honestly be called organic, two large companies are playing by a different set of rules.


Two of the largest organic dairy companies in the nation, Horizon Organic (a subsidiary of Dean Foods), a supplier to Wal-Mart and many health food stores; and Aurora Organic, a supplier of private brand name organic milk to Costco, Safeway, Giant, Wild Oats and others, are purchasing the majority of their milk from feedlot dairies where the cows have little or no access to pasture.  Together, these corporations control up to 65% of the organic dairy market.

The USDA has proposed revisions to the National Organic Program.  Public comment is being sought.  The deadline is June 12, 2006.  The revisions are here.

Here's one telling section:

The proposed rule revises the NOP regulations to clarify that non-organically produced products listed in section 205.606 of the regulations may be used as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as "organic" or "made with" organic ingredients, only when such organic products are not commercially available.

I would question why there would be any use of such non-organic ingredients at all.  Would other manufacturers use inferior components if necessary ones were not available?    

You can take action here or here.

I would urge you to do so

A further food-related issue is found in food labelling legislation, previously passed by the House and currently before the Senate.  The National Uniformity for Food Act will do away with the ability of states to set their own more stringent guidelines.  Instead, federal legislation will supercede and roll back labelling standards.  Under the legislation, states will be required to apply to the federal government for permission to set more stringent labelling.


You may take action here.

The Senate needs to hear from you.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

States Sue Feds On Mileage Standards

Not content with continuing federal incompetence, 10 states have initiated a lawsuit challenging the existing mileage standards for light trucks.


California today launched its latest skirmish with the Bush administration over environmental rules, suing the federal government over SUV gas-mileage standards that the state considers too lax.

The suit, joined by nine other states, argues that the federal government didn't fully consider potential damage to the environment when it announced new fuel efficiency standards for sports utility vehicles and light trucks. Under the administration's new standards, issued in March, those vehicles must have a fleet-wide average of 24 mpg by the year 2011.

You may recall that Mr.Bush recently requested independent control over automobile standards. A simple enough request, no?


In Biloxi, Miss., Bush noted Congress was debating several energy-related concepts, "and one idea is to give me a capacity to raise CAFE standards on automobiles.

"I encourage them to give me that authority. It's authority that I use for light trucks. And I intend to use it wisely if Congress would give me that authority," Bush said.

Umm, I have 2 questions at this juncture.  First, is there actually anyone left capable of being convinced that such authority would be used  wisely?  (Perhaps those unfortunate individuals who just fell off the turnip truck, or however the saying goes.)  Secondly, why is authority being requested by an individual who saw no wrong in usurping the FISA courts on domestic spying?  But I digress.

On the existing standards, there was this incisive quote:

NYT Link

The attorney general of Massachusetts, Thomas F. Reilly, said in a statement, "At a time when we are all facing a gas crisis, the Bush administration is pushing for fuel economy standards that appear to be authored by the oil and auto industries."

And this:

"It's disappointing when you see power exercised to benefit the auto industry rather than consumers or environmental challenges," said Bill Lockyer, the attorney general of California, discussing the Bush administration's fuel economy rules.

The various states bringing suit are as follows:





New Jersey

New Mexico

New York


Rhode Island


District of Columbia

New York City

The Attorney General of New York State has an extensive press release, seen in part directly below:


May 02, 2006


... "At a time when consumers are struggling to pay surging gas prices and the challenge of global climate change has become even more clear, it is unconscionable that the Bush Administration is not requiring greater mileage efficiency for light trucks," said Attorney General Spitzer. "The failure of this Administration to lead on vital environmental issues like this will burden our nation for generations to come."

"Given the number of light trucks that travel daily around New York City, the NHTSA should not have ignored, among other things, the significant environmental effects of the carbon dioxide emitted from such vehicles that contribute to climate change," said New York City Corporation Counsel Cardozo. "The City remains concerned about the adverse impacts from global warming that our residents, infrastructure, and resources have and will continue to experience in light of the City's coastal, island geography and extremely dense urban population." ...

The full release can be found at the link.