Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037 United States
Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037 United States
Learn more about our bee catastrophe; More Than Honey
New post on Wellcome Collection blog
Ladybirds: good for pest control, or pests themselves? As our Who’s the Pest? season draws to a close, Emma Rhule takes a closer look at our relationship with these tiny flying beetles.
Bright, colourful and hearty eaters of aphids (the sticky little flies that infest everything from cabbages to roses), ladybirds have long been the gardener’s friend. Gardeners and farmers will go to great lengths to encourage more ladybirds onto their patch. One way you can entice ladybirds into your garden is to plant wildflowers – they are particularly fond of marigold and nettles. And, if all else fails, the eggs and larvae can be bought online.
There is a long history of introducing exotic ladybirds to help control agricultural pests. The Vedalia ladybird, Rodolia cardinalis, which was originally from Australia, is credited with saving the Californian citrus industry in the late 1880s. It was the start of the biological control industry that controls pest species using other organisms.
Following in this tradition, the harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, was released across the USA and Europe to help combat aphid infestations. Originally from Asia, the voracious appetite of this beetle makes it an extremely successful control agent. A single adult can eat more than 200 aphids a day, and a developing larva can consume upwards of 1000 aphids. Their use allows farmers to reduce the amount of insecticides they need on their crops which should, in turn, allow other beneficial insects to flourish.
The very hungry ladybird
Unfortunately, the harlequin’s insatiable appetite is not limited to aphids: the larvae are particularly indiscriminate. They will eat almost anything they encounter – including other aphid eaters such as hoverflies and lacewings, as well as caterpillars. They will also eat the eggs and larvae of other ladybirds, and their cannibalistic tendencies even extend to their own siblings. To make matters worse, there is little that eats the harlequin. Like our native ladybirds, their bright colours advertise the toxins present in their blood. These chemicals make ladybirds taste foul and can be deadly to imprudent would-be predators.
In 2004, the first British harlequin was spotted in the car park of a country pub in Essex called The White Lion. Never intentionally introduced, researchers suspect the early arrivals that reached the UK were a combination of hardy pioneers flying across the Channel and sneaky stowaways in imported goods. Since then, they have spread across the UK and been reported as far north as the Shetland Islands.
Since arriving, the harlequin’s wide-ranging diet has had serious implications for British ladybirds. The once familiar two-spot ladybird has been particularly hard hit, losing out to the larger, hungrier competitor with which it now shares its habitat. The wider ecosystem is affected, too – particularly the predators, parasites and pathogens that rely on these native species for their own existence.
And humans do not escape unscathed. Over the past few years, come October and November, you may have seen harlequins in your house. In the winter, our native species mostly hibernate outside in dead leaves or in the crevices of tree trunks, sheltered from the cold and rain. In their native Asia, harlequins normally use rocks and cliffs. In the relatively flat UK, houses must seem like a good alternative. Once the central heating comes on, though, the beetles warm up and start flying around. They may be hungry and take a nibble. A little nip is usually not a problem, but some people can experience an allergic reaction. If they are feeling threatened, the natural response of all ladybirds is to leak a small amount of foul-smelling yellow blood from their knees, which can stain curtains and sofas.
So what can we do? It would be impossible to capture and kill all the harlequin ladybirds in the country. In fact, the Harlequin Ladybird Survey, which has been monitoring the spread of the ladybird since its arrival, strongly discourages this because there is a real risk of misidentification. The harlequin was the focus of my PhD research: one of my jobs involved opening letters containing live ladybirds, sent to us by members of the public for identification. These days, photos can be uploaded with records of sightings allowing researchers to verify exactly which species has been found, saving us from climbing onto tables to recapture escapee beetles crawling across the ceiling.
When the harlequin was taken from its native environment, researchers made sure that any released into the wild were free of parasites. As such, many of the natural checks and balances that would have kept the numbers of individuals under control were removed. Nothing in the new environment would have been immediately able to fill the gap, allowing populations to flourish. One hope is that the parasites and pathogens that exploit our native ladybirds will start to adapt to the newcomer. Nearly ten years on, there is some evidence that this is starting to happen.
But how long can we wait when the problems are already apparent? My research looked at whether a sexually transmitted parasite found on European ladybirds,including the harlequin, could help. The blood-sucking parasite can be thought of as a form of ladybird birth control. When females are infected with adult parasites, they still lay eggs, but these do not hatch – the ladybird is effectively sterile. If the parasites die, within a couple of days any eggs laid will hatch. Of course, I am aware of the irony of my work – could we, and should we, introduce yet another species to help control an exotic beetle that was itself introduced to fight an insect pest? Could the parasite become the next problem in town?
After five years, I came to the conclusion that we still didn’t know enough to justify taking that risk. Increasingly aware of what can go wrong when we tinker with ecosystems, we are much more cautious than we used to be, and rightly so. From grey squirrels to cane toads, knotweed to ladybirds, there are lots of examples of the unintended side-effects of our actions. So, who is really the pest? Those species that arrive in a new place and wreak havoc, or the species that put them there?
Emma Rhule is a graduate trainee at the Wellcome Trust. Play our Who’s the Pest gameonline.
URL link for this release: http://www.farmtoconsumer.org/news_wp/?p=8172
Contact: Liz Reitzig, Co-founder, Farm Food Freedom Coalition
Pete Kennedy, President, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, 703-208-3276, firstname.lastname@example.org
Farmer Faces Jail for Feeding Community:
Customers and Other Supporters to Attend Court with Farmer
Baraboo, WI—May 8, 2013–GlobeNewswire–Food rights activists from around North America will meet at the Sauk County Courthouse in this tiny town on May 20 to support Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger and food sovereignty. Hershberger, whose trial begins that day, is charged with four criminal misdemeanors that could land this husband and father in county jail for up to 30 months with fines of over $10,000.
The Wisconsin Department of Agricultural Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) targeted Hershberger for supplying a private buying club with fresh milk and other farm products.
DATCP has charged Hershberger with, among other things, operating a retail food establishment without a license. Hershberger repeatedly rejects this, citing that he provides foods only to paid members in a private buying club and is not subject to state food regulations. “There is more at stake here than just a farmer and his few customers,” says Hershberger, “this is about the fundamental right of farmers and consumers to engage in peaceful, private, mutually consenting agreements for food, without additional oversight.”
A little more than a year ago, food rights activists from around the country stood in support of Hershberger at a pre-trial hearing. They read and signed a “Declaration of Food Independence” that asserts inherent rights in food choice. This month after the trial each day, many of the same food rights activists plus others will gather at the Al Ringling Theater across the street from the courthouse and hear presentations by leaders in the food rights movement. Notable speakers include Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, Mountain Man show star Eustace Conway, and food rights organizer from Maine, Deborah Evans.
Hershberger, and other farmers around the country, are facing state or federal charges against them for providing fresh foods to wanting individuals. In recent months the FDA has conducted several long undercover sting operations and raids against peaceful farmers and buying clubs that have resulted in farms shutting down and consumers without access to the food they depend on.
Information about farm raids: http://www.FarmFoodFreedom.org
For additional information on raw milk: http://www.westonaprice.org
Every beekeeper, small or large, hobbyist or commercial, knows that honeybees are in trouble. Over the past decade, bee colonies have been dying in increasing numbers. Last year was especially bad. Perhaps as many as half the hives kept by commercial beekeepers died in 2012. The loss has created a crisis among fruit and vegetable growers, who depend on bees to pollinate their crops.
Last year, researchers identified a virus as a major cause of the die-off; the latest suspect is a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are used to protect common agricultural seeds, including corn. The insecticides are systemic, which means they persist throughout the life of the plant. Scientists have demonstrated that exposure to these chemicals damages bees’ brain function, including their ability to home in on the hive.
In mid-March, environmental groups and beekeepers sued the Environmental Protection Agency to persuade it to withdraw its approval of two of the most widely used neonicotinoids. The manufacturers of these chemicals — notably Syngenta and Bayer CropScience — have claimed again and again that they are safe. And it is true that bees face other stresses. Even so, beekeepers managed to keep their hives relatively healthy before the increased use of neonicotinoids began in 2005.
Bees are essential to modern agriculture. There is no replacing them, no substitute of any meaningful kind. The E.P.A. has sent a team to central California — where more than 1.6 million hives are needed every spring — for “discussions.” That is not remotely good enough. The agency must conduct an immediate analysis of neonicotinoids. The manufacturers’ bland assurances seem empty in the face of this long-term die-off of these beneficial creatures.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO—From its beginnings as a small chemical company in 1901, Monsanto has grown into the largest biotechnology seed company in the world with net sales of $11.8 billion, 404 facilities in 66 countries across six continents and products grown on over 282 million acres worldwide. Today, the consumer advocacy nonprofit Food & Water Watch released its report, Monsanto: A Corporate Profile.
“There is a growing movement of people around the country who want to take on Monsanto’s undue influence over lawmakers, regulators and the food supply,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the book Foodopoly. “People need to know about Monsanto’s history as a heavy industrial chemical manufacturer; a reality at odds with the environmentally friendly, feed-the-world image that the company spends millions trying to convey.”
“At the end of March, the American public saw first hand the unjustifiable power that Monsanto holds over our elected officials when an unprecedented rider, dubbed the ‘Monsanto Protection Act,’ was tacked onto the spending bill to fund the federal government,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! “This is an outrageous interference with our courts and separation of powers and we cannot sit back and allow our elected officials to continue to take orders from Monsanto at the expense of family farmers and consumers.”
The report offers a timeline of milestones in the company’s history including chemical disasters, mergers and acquisitions, and the first genetically modified plant cell.
“Despite its various marketing incarnations over the years, Monsanto is a chemical company that got its start selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and, in recent years, seeds genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of Monsanto herbicides and pesticides,” said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of Organic Consumers Association. “Monsanto has become synonymous with the corporatization and industrialization of our food supply.”
The report concludes with recommended actions for the federal government to take to temper Monsanto’s anticompetitive practices and control over agricultural research and government policies. It also suggests steps that regulators should take to better protect consumers and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of GE crops.
“Even though you won’t find the Monsanto brand on a food or beverage container at your local grocery store, the company holds vast power over our food supply,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director, Center for Food Safety. “This power is largely responsible for something else we cannot find on our grocery store shelves — labels on genetically engineered food. Not only has Monsanto’s and other agribusinesses’ efforts prevented the labeling of GE foods, but they spend millions to block grassroots efforts like California’s Prop 37 in order to keep consumers in the dark.”
“Last November, Monsanto alone spent more than $8 million to drown out the voices of Californians who wanted the right to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered,” said Pamm Larry, a leader of the national grassroots movement to label GE foods and Proposition 37’s initial instigator. “Now Washington is bracing for the industry’s deluge of misleading advertising to defeat I-522. The best way to combat this confusion and doubt is through telling the truth and educating consumers on how labeling will empower them to make informed choices about the food they feed their families and loosen the stranglehold that corporations like Monsanto have over our food supply.”
“The chemical pesticide industry, with Monsanto leading the way, took over U.S. seed industry and engineered bacterial genes into food crops with the primary purpose of selling more weed killer that contaminates our food, water and bodies,” said David Bronner, the CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and leader in GE food labeling campaigns across the country. “Just like the citizens of Europe, Japan and China, Americans deserve the right to opt out of the genetically engineered food science experiment.”
Monsanto: A Corporate Profile can be downloaded here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/monsanto-a-corporate-profile/
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.
Contact: Anna Ghosh, aghosh(at)fwwatch(dot)org, 415-293-9905
Nothing affects public health in the United States more than food. Gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year — nearly half of all deaths — and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases.
And the root of that dangerous diet is our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.
We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system. It’s been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals… I could go on. The point is that “sustainability” is not only possible but essential: only by saving the earth can we save ourselves, and vice versa.
How do we do that?
This seems like a good day to step back a bit and suggest something that’s sometimes difficult to accept.
We can only dismantle this system little by little, and slowly. Change takes time. Often — usually — that time exceeds the life span of its pioneers. And when it comes to sustainable food for billions, we’re the pioneers of a food movement that’s just beginning to take shape. The abolition movement began at least a century before the Civil War, 200 years before the civil rights movement. The struggle to gain the right to vote for women in the United States was active for 75 years before an amendment was passed. The gay rights struggle has made tremendous strides over the last 40 years, but equal treatment under the law is hardly established.
Well-cared-for animals will necessarily be more expensive, which means we’ll eat fewer of them; that’s a win-win.
Activists who took on these issues had in common a clear series of demands and a sense that the work was ongoing. They had a large and ever-growing public following and a willingness to sacrifice time, energy and even life for the benefit not only of contemporaries but for subsequent generations.
They were also aware that there is no success without a willingness to fail; that failure is a part of progress. A single defeat was seen as a temporary setback. The same vision should be applied to every issue the nascent food movement is tackling.
Yet before we can assess our progress, we must state our goals. There is no consensus behind a program for achieving sustainable production of food that promotes rather than attacks health. We can’t ask for “better food for all”; we must be specific. In the very near term, for example, we must fight to protect and improve programs that make food available to lower-income Americans. We must also support the increasingly assertive battles of workers in food-related industries; nothing reflects our moral core more accurately than the abuses we overlook in the names of convenience and economy.
Beyond that, I believe that the two issues that will have the greatest reverberations in agriculture, health and the environment are reducing the consumption of sugar-laden beverages and improving the living conditions of livestock.
About the first I have written plenty, and can summarize: when we begin treating sugar-sweetened beverages as we do tobacco, we will make a huge stride in improving our diet.
The second is even more powerful, and progress was made in that arena in 2012 as one food company after another resolved to (eventually) reject pork produced with gestation crates. So over the next few years, some animals will be treated somewhat better. This is absolutely, unquestionably thanks to public pressure, which should now set its sights higher and insist that all animals grown for food production be treated not just better but well.
Well-cared-for animals will necessarily be more expensive, which means we’ll eat fewer of them; that’s a win-win. They’ll use fewer antibiotics, they’ll be produced by more farmers in more places, and they’ll eat less commodity grain, which will both reduce environmental damage and allow for more land to be used for high-quality human food like fruits and vegetables.
Allies may argue that I miss the mark with either or both of these, and that’s fine: it’s a discussion. The point is that no major food issue will be resolved in the next 10 years. As pioneers, we must build upon incremental progress and not be disheartened, because often there isn’t quick resolution for complex issues.
An association between tobacco and cancer was discovered more 200 years ago. The surgeon general’s report that identified smoking as a public health issue appeared in 1964. The food movement has not yet reached its 1964; there’s isn’t even a general acknowledgment of a problem in need of fixing.
So, in 2013, let’s call for energy, action — and patience.