Shedding Light in the Darkness

Britain Could Become a Biological Desert

shutterstock_515369695-e1480287688288“Britain will soon become a biological desert,” writes environmentalist Dr. Rosemary Mason in an open letter to Prof. William Cushley, chair of the UK’s Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP). “Few can avoid the pollution of water, soil and air by genotoxic and teratogenic herbicides, insecticides and other industrial chemicals. Governments and regulators only measure a small fraction of them. Human health depends on biodiversity. Food depends on natural pollinators.”

Reported in CounterPunch, Dr. Mason has requested that Prof. Cushley acknowledge genuine independent evidence about the toxic impacts of pesticides.

In a time when the US EPA is being gutted by the Trump administration, Dr. Mason writes: “The devastating effects of these silent killers on us and our environment do not distinguish between farmers or city dwellers, the wealthy or the poor, between media moguls, editors or their reporters, Monsanto or Syngenta executives, prime ministers or presidents. Humans and the environment are being silently poisoned by thousands of untested and unmonitored chemicals.

“What will your grandchildren experience in the way of wildlife? Nothing. It will all have been poisoned by chemical biocides just to make money for the agrochemical corporations and the British government. They should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.”

Mason felt it necessary to write to Cushley because the financial and political clout of powerful agrochemical corporations ensures that their interests are privileged ahead of public health and the environment to the detriment of both. There is in effect a deeply embedded collusion between powerful corporations and public bodies. The agrochemical industry has corrupted public institutions, government policies and decision making.

Mason draws Cushley’s attention to some of the outcomes. She notes independent research that recognizes the extreme toxicity of low levels of systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, which have become widespread in the environment. They cause a virtually irreversible blockage of postsynaptic nicotinergic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the central nervous system of insects (to which the human foetus is also exposed). The damage is cumulative: with more exposure, more receptors become blocked.

In the Netherlands, the levels of imidacloprid in Dutch surface have been increasing since 2004 and such increases are correlated with a decline in invertebrates and in insect-feeding birds.

Mason then goes on to point out that in 2006 she set up a small nature reserve in Wales in response to the decline in birds and invertebrates such as bumblebees, butterflies, dragonflies and moths. However, even the reserve’s biodiversity soon began to witness a loss of biodiversity.

About that time, she received the article by US Scientists Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff ‘Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases’ and immediately suspected that Monsanto’s Roundup was destroying the reserve. That’s because for many years Monsanto’s contractors had been spraying Roundup on Japanese knotweed in the Swansea area where she lives, until it had become Roundup-resistant.

It was clear that the reserve was thus under threat from numerous agrochemicals, which have wide-ranging consequences, not least where human health is concerned.

In the UK, some farmers have been spraying glyphosate pre-harvest since 1980, and the US Center for Disease Control has found strong correlations between it and various diseases which have been increasing over the last 30 years. These include obesity, autism, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver and kidney failure, hypercholesterolemia, stroke and various cancers such as kidney, liver, pancreas, thyroid, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma and leukaemia. In her previous documents, Mason has noted spiralling rates of illness in Wales and the UK in general and has indicated how they are linked to agrochemical use, especially glyphosate (as well as other toxins courtesy of Monsanto having used a quarry as a toxic dump).

Mason quotes Robert van den Bosch, writing in 1978 in ‘The Pesticide Conspiracy’: “If one considers how dangerous these chemicals are, one would suppose that it would be Government policy to minimize their use by every possible means. However the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) notes, ‘there is… no such policy in the UK, nor does the possible need for it appear to have been considered, notwithstanding the great increases in the use of these chemicals.”

In another open letter, to the Director of the European Chemicals Agency, Mason comments on the 15th of March 2017 ECHA report that glyphosate could not be classified as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction. She cites a report of the many types of birth defects in seven geographical areas of Argentina, which was excluded from the BfR glyphosate re-assessment (it was in Spanish, but with an English abstract).

The model of agricultural production foisted on Argentina by international biotechnology companies has led to an 858% increase in the amount of pesticides used per year. Glyphosate is the most commonly used toxic agrochemical in Argentina, comprising 64% of total sales, and 200 million litres of glyphosate were applied during the last crop season.

Data is presented showing the rise in birth defects correlates with the rise in cultivation of GM glyphosate-tolerant soybeans in Chaco, Argentina. Birth defects per 10 000 live births increased from approx. 15/10,000 live births in 1997 to approx. 82/10,000 live births in 2008.

She also reports on the alarming decline of insect populations in Europe. She describes the work of group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s (in Science Magazine).

The Krefeld Entomological Society discovered something alarming in 2013. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. They set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.

“If you’re an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering,” says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data.

Across Germany, only three bumble bee species have vanished, but the Krefeld region has lost more than half the two dozen bumble bee species that society members documented early in the 20th century.

Across North America and Europe, species of birds that eat flying insects, such as larks, swallows, and swifts, are in steep decline.

Dr Rosemary Mason, was former Chair of the West Area, Glamorgan Wildlife Trust. She worked for the National Health Service for 35 years as Consultant Anaesthetist to West Glamorgan Health Authority, authored Anaesthesia Databook: A perioperative and peripartum manual, Edns 1989, 1994 and 2001, Cambridge University Press, served as Assistant Editor of Anaesthesia 1990-2000, and was awarded Pask Certificate for Services to Anaesthesia 2001.


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