Washington Insider--Thursday

The Risk From Glyphosate

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

USDA Awards 1st Contracts for HPAI Vaccines for Stockpile

Contracts have been awarded to two companies to manufacture doses of avian influenza vaccine to develop a National Veterinary Stockpile. However, this development does not signal a decision to vaccinate for highly pathogenic avian influenza, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced.

The companies included in this award were Harrisvaccines and Ceva.

While reiterating APHIS has not approved the use of vaccine to respond to avian influenza, the agency is preparing to ensure that vaccine is available should the decision be made to use it during a future outbreak. Any decision to use vaccination in a future bird flu outbreak would require careful consideration of the efficacy of the vaccine, any impacts of using an avian influenza vaccine in the field, and the potential trade impacts.

Earlier in the year, APHIS issued a request for proposals from vaccine manufacturers with the interest and capability to supply a variety of Eurasian H5 vaccines in sufficient numbers to establish the emergency stockpile.

Although no decision has been made to use vaccine in the event of a future outbreak, APHIS will continue to issue requests for proposals to vaccine manufacturers on a quarterly basis through September 2016, to allow additional products to be developed and considered for the stockpile should an outbreak occur.

This is yet another step in the process to gear up for the potential return of bird flu as the fall migration of wild birds -- waterfowl in particular -- is seen as a potential way for the bird flu to re-emerge in the domestic U.S. poultry flock. The fact USDA is emphasizing three times in press communications that there has not been any decision made to use a vaccine in the event of an outbreak this fall underscores the gravity of such a decision relative to trade issues in particular.


Cargill Official Challenges Ag Industry on Climate Change

Climate change is not a popular topic in farm country or with many in agricultural circles, but the former CEO of Cargill Inc. Greg Page used an appearance this week at Kansas State University to challenge those present that the industry needs to prepare for a climate that will be different in the future and to participate in the process.

Warming is already extending growing seasons in places including North Dakota and farmers there have used that to expand the number of crops they grow to 30, Page noted. "At this stage, the good that's happened in the top two degrees of latitude, basically central North Dakota and up, has not come at the expense of any other place," Page noted.

However, "sometime in the next 20 years, the point at which there will be places that will start giving up productivity," Page continued.

"From an agricultural standpoint, we have to prepare ourselves for a different climate than we have today," Page said. He noted that the debate over climate change and its causes should not preclude preparing for the expected effects.

NOTE: Page will be discussing the issue at the DTN/Progressive Farmer Ag Summit December 7-9 in Chicago.



Washington Insider: The Risk From Glyphosate

Earlier this month, the Washington Post published an important article on glyphosate, "the chemical Monsanto depends on." The purpose was to raise safety questions in terms of the actual context of their regulation and use.

The Post said it is really difficult to talk "soberly" about glyphosate, especially since the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO agency, declared the chemical a probable human carcinogen. "Opponents of GMOs made hay over the report, urging consumer caution and regulatory attention. Equally predictably, GMO supporters questioned both the agenda of the agency and the quality of the assessment," the Post stated.

It turns out that the IARC evaluated existing studies rather than search for new findingds, much like EPA did when it reviewed over 55 epidemiological studies conducted on the possible cancer and non-cancer effects of glyphosate and concluded that "this body of research does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer."

The Post interviewed toxicologist David Eastmond, professor and chairman of the department of cell biology and neuroscience at the University of California at Riverside on how to interpret these findings. There have been hundreds of studies on glyphosate, he said, and "with that number of studies, you're always going to find some which give you positive results, tests that would suggest it could be toxic under certain conditions, and you can run with that."

The current issue arises from the ambiguous objective of the IARC, the Post thinks. It works to find substances that can cause cancer, but not the levels of exposure that are risky. It turns out that this list is long and includes alcohol consumption, leather dust, Chinese-style salted fish and many others. So, interpretation of the IARC findings depends on dosage levels and whether exposure is high enough level to carry risk a "very difficult concept to deal with," the Post said.

The article cited other environmental toxicologists who generally emphasize the very small exposure that humans typically receive from glyphosate, and, that exposure amount is key. If there is a risk, it's people who are regularly exposed to a larger amount of glyphosate like some farm workers who apply it. Eastmond emphasized that exposure to the residue in food poses little risk.

The article pursued the issue further, and suggested that "what glyphosate does to humans isn't the only issue, of course. There's also what it does to the environment, and there have been both good and bad consequences of herbicide-tolerant crops."

For example, it has led to increased pesticide use, the Post said, in terms of pounds of herbicide per acre "for soybeans but not of corn." And, GMO supporters point out that, even when more pounds are used, glyphosate is "replacing more-toxic herbicides." That's true of both corn and soy, although herbicides other than glyphosate are now increasing again in soybeans, the Post noted.

One definite positive, the Post argued, is that herbicide tolerance has enabled farmers to reduce tillage, traditionally used to uproot and kill weeds. This process severely disturbs the soil, facilitates erosion and runoff of nutrients and chemicals, consumes energy and is costly to producers. Reduce tilling, and you reduce those problems and retain more water in the bargain, the Post article highlighted.

On the negative side, herbicide tolerance has hastened the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds, so farmers have to turn to other herbicides or to more tillage to control those.

Overall, the Post concluded that whether total herbicide use is seen as increasing or decreasing depends mainly on how you count use of a less-toxic chemical to "replace a more-toxic one," and probably is not the main issue -- which is consumer hostility to biotech crops mainly designed to help producers rather than consumers.

This severely threatens the future capacity of biotech crops to realize their potential to dramatically improve food quality and availability for those most in need as some consumers and activist groups call for limiting or banning biotech crops.

So, the Post ended its look at glyphosate fairly quietly and then focused on consumer perceptions. "We have a baby here, and we have bathwater. We have to learn to tell the difference."

Certainly, this is a very different conclusion than the ones being reached by many, highly vocal urban foodies. It likely will generate a lot of commentator anger, but perhaps also some new understanding of ag technology issues, Washington Insider believes.

The Post article can be read here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/…

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