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Roundup is one of the most widely used pesticides in the world. But it increases the incidence of disease in fish, a new study shows. And yet it looks like the government is about to greatly expand the U.S. acreage where it is applied by approving planting of vast swaths of genetically engineered alfalfa. These “Roundup-Ready” hayfields worry opponents of GE foods, and this latest news about the effect on fish is bound to stir the pot some more. (The opportunity for public comment on allowing GE alfalfa ends soon, btw.)

The new fish study, out of New Zealand, showed that when applied at recommended rates on fields near a freshwater stream, Roundup didn’t kill young freshwater fish outright. Score one point for Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer.

However, what Roundup did at this relatively dilute concentration was to increase the production of worm that’s a parasite of the fish, and comes from a particular snail. And the combination of more parasites and moderate levels of Roundup – aka “glyphosate” – produced what scientists called “significantly reduced fish survival.” They concluded:

“This is the first study to show that parasites and glyphosate can act synergistically on aquatic vertebrates at environmentally relevant concentrations, and that glyphosate might increase the risk of disease in fish. Our results have important implications when identifying risks to aquatic communities and suggest that threshold levels of glyphosate currently set by regulatory authorities do not adequately protect freshwater systems.”

I haven’t been able to access the full paper yet, but the Conservation Maven blog did, and they quote an interesting observation from the New Zealand scientists regarding the timing of Roundup applications:

“The timing of the application of glyphosate formulations is often in spring, coinciding with the period of larval fish emergence and early susceptibility to parasite infection; and early fish life stages are highly susceptible to environmental stressors.”

Now, on to the alfalfa: Melissa Allison has a story in today’s Seattle Times saying that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is collecting the last public comment on its proposal to allow genetically engineered alfalfa hay fields. She reports:

“Roundup Ready alfalfa was on the market briefly beginning in 2005 and can still be grown on the 200,000 acres that were initially planted nationwide. A court halted further sales until the USDA’s environmental analysis is completed, a decision Monsanto questioned in a separate case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.
Sugar-beet farmers are seeking a similar injunction against Roundup Ready sugar beets in federal court this week.”

The court case came out of northern California.

We’ve touched before on the push to promote GE foods as the answer to widespread hunger around the world. It seems that the United States is pretty much going ahead no matter what other countries think. It’s pretty clear that’s where USDA is headed, since its preliminary decision is that “no significant impact on the human environment.”

And as we all know, it’s only the human environment that matters. right?
— Robert McClure

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