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Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Cancer Danger of Roundup for Decades

California groundskeeper makes history by taking company to trial on claims it suppressed information about the weedkiller’s toxicity

At the age of 46, DeWayne Johnson is not ready to die. But with cancer spread through most of his body, doctors say he probably has just months to live. Now Johnson, a husband and father of three in California, hopes to survive long enough to make Monsanto take the blame for his fate.

roundup bottlePhoto courtesy of Global Justice NowActivists have been relabelling bottles of Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller in garden centres and DIY shops across the United Kingdom. Roundup contains glyphosate, a chemical that the WHO has shown to be "probably carcinogenic".

On 18 June, Johnson will become the first person to take the global seed and chemical company to trial on allegations that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products – and his case has just received a major boost.

Last week Judge Curtis Karnow issued an order clearing the way for jurors to consider not just scientific evidence related to what caused Johnson’s cancer, but allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products. Karnow ruled that the trial will proceed and a jury would be allowed to consider possible punitive damages.

“The internal correspondence noted by Johnson could support a jury finding that Monsanto has long been aware of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicides are carcinogenic … but has continuously sought to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions,” Karnow wrote. “Thus there are triable issues of material fact.”

Johnson’s case, filed in San Francisco county superior court in California, is at the forefront of a legal fight against Monsanto. Some 4,000 plaintiffs have sued Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup caused them, or their loved ones, to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled for trial in October, in Monsanto’s hometown of St Louis, Missouri.

The lawsuits challenge Monsanto’s position that its herbicides are proven safe and assert that the company has known about the dangers and hidden them from regulators and the public. The litigants cite an assortment of research studies indicating that the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides, a chemical called glyphosate, can lead to NHL and other ailments. They also cite research showing glyphosate formulations in its commercial-end products are more toxic than glyphosate alone. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a more

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Controversial Kangaroo Cull Underway in Canberra

Animal rights and environmental groups question ethics, efficacy of annual event in Australia's capital

May is late autumn in the southern hemisphere, and as we creep closer to winter, Canberra, Australia’s capital city, is carrying out its annual, and controversial, kangaroo cull. With some pride, the city is known as the “bush capital” due to its wide corridors of native grasslands and gumtree and casurina tree woodlands, and an abundance of accompanying wildlife. As the city sprawls, it is displacing native habitats. At the same time, suburban lawns and sports ovals offer appealing alternative spaces for some animals, particularly our largest and most mobile grazing species, the eastern grey kangaroo. Due in part to the near disappearance of the kangaroo’s main natural predator, the dingo, or wild dog, and declines in traditional Indigenous hunting, kangaroo populations have exploded over recent decades.

kangaroosPhoto by Dieter BethkeThe annual killing by shooting of kangaroos is a slaughter of a creature intricately associated with Australia.

The annual killing by shooting of kangaroos is a slaughter of a creature intricately associated with Australia. The kangaroo is immortalized on our coat of arms, the logo of our world-renowned airline, Qantas, the star of the stilted but global hit ‘60s TV series “Skippy,” not to mention a major a tourist drawcard.

Yet the Canberra government says the adaptable eastern grey also poses hazards as its numbers grow. While the government has been grappling with appropriate, effective and socially-acceptable responses to the kangaroos since the 1990s, in 2014, they categorized the eastern grey kangaroo as a “controlled native species,” paving the way for culls to take place and becoming the first Australian government to publish a government policy on the marsupials and conservation. In May 2017, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government issued an updated management plan for the species. This plan identified three areas of concern regarding the proliferation of eastern grey kangaroos in the region: environmental, economic, and social. The plan was finalized following community consultations which occurred earlier in the year.

The environmental concerns relate to claims of the overgrazing of native grasses by kangaroos, leading to further degradation of the habitat, and harm to threatened species like grassy woodland bird species, lizards, and invertebrates. This includes birds that nest or rely on grassy ground cover for food and insects, such as the hooded robin and brown tree creeper, and reptilian grassland specialists such as the earless dragon, striped legless lizard, and pink tailed worm lizard. Threatened invertebrates include grassland specialists such as the golden sun moth and Perunga …more

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Brief Eulogies for the Animals We Have Lost

Tributes to the curlews, moths, and toads that are no more

An excerpt from Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals: An Extinction Reader.

Urania Sloanus at Sunrise

When the pear tree blossoms, one after another begins to appear just as the sun rises whence they come is a mystery — and their velvet black wings, banded in metallic blue-green and flecked with red and gold, now radiate ever more brilliantly as the sunbeams glint off them, and, fluttering, by dozens, by hundreds, dizzy with the fragrance of the bloom, the glancing light sparkling from myriad refractions so bright one must almost shield the eyes, they engage in playful combats, dancing in their joyousness, crazy with delight, wheeling and soaring higher and higher above the tree, flying up and up till they are lost to sight.

image of Urania sloanus Image by Pieter Cramer and Caspar Stoll, via Wikimedia Commons The last sighting of Urania sloanus, a moth endemic to Jamaica, was reported in 1884 or 1895.

The Freshwater Mussels of North America

Lolling about in the riffles and shallows of the Tennessee and Cumberland river systems were once so many mussels, their names evocative and flamboyant: Sugarspoons and Acornshells, Winged Spikes and Narrow Catspaws. The free-flowing waters were filtered by Angled Riffleshells, Forkshells, and Leafshells, both Cumberland and plain, and in the gravels with rapid currents hid the Yellow-blossoms, Green-blossoms and Tubercled-blossom Pearly Mussels.

Pollywogging in the Wabash tributaries would turn up abundant Round Combshells, Tennessee Riffleshells and Sampson’s Naiads.

In the Apalachicola River system, both the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers that ran through the loblolly pine forests, you could find the Lined Pocketbook.

The Hazel Pigtoe reclined in the Mobile basin with the True Pigtoe while the Scioto Pigtoe took to the Ohio and the Coosa Elktoe to the Coosa.

The Carolina Elktoe thrived in the Carolinas and the Ochlockonee arcmussel sought the shoals of the Ochlockonee River in Florida and Georgia.

The Tombigbee River has lost its eponymous moccasinshell, the Rio Grande its Monkeyface and False Spike. The empty shells of the Stirrupshell were last collected in Alabama and Mississippi in 1989, their lustrous interiors still brilliant.

The Flight of the Eskimo Curlews

Once the curlews flew across North America in vast flocks a mile long and a hundred yards wide. From far off the calls of a distant flock were said to sound like the jingling of countless sleigh bells. They flew in a wedge shape, the sides of which were constantly swaying back and …more

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British Appetite for Avocados is Draining Region Dry, Say Chilean Villagers

Growers accused of illegally diverting rivers and leaving locals without water

British supermarkets are selling thousands of tons of avocados produced in a Chilean region where villagers claim vast amounts of water are being diverted, resulting in a drought.

Major UK supermarkets including Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, Aldi and Lidl source avocados from Chile’s largest avocado-producing province, Petorca, where water rights have been violated.

avocadoPhoto by Procsilas Moscas Demand for avocados in the UK has soared in recent years, and 67 percent of those avocados come from the Valparaiso region in Chile.

In Petorca, many avocado plantations install illegal pipes and wells in order to divert water from rivers to irrigate their crops. As a result, villagers say rivers have dried up and groundwater levels have fallen, causing a regional drought. Residents are now obliged to use often contaminated water delivered by truck.

Veronica Vilches, an activist who is responsible for one of the Rural Potable Water systems, says: “People get sick because of the drought – we find ourselves having to choose between cooking and washing, going to the bathroom in holes in the ground or in plastic bags, while big agri-businesses earn more and more.”

In 2011, Chile’s water authority, the Dirección General de Aguas, published an investigation conducted by satellite that showed at least 65 illegal underground channels bringing water from the rivers to the private plantations. Some of the big agribusinesses have been convicted for unauthorized water use and water misappropriation.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the major supermarkets, said the stores had been made aware of the allegations. A spokesperson said: “Our members have been made aware of the allegations made regarding production practices of avocados in the Petorca region of Chile. Retailers will work with their suppliers to investigate this.

“Safeguarding the welfare of people and communities in supply chains is fundamental to our sourcing practices as a responsible industry.”

Lidl said most of its avocados came from a supplier whose practices they trusted. But the store said it would investigate to see if any of its fruits came from Petorca.

A spokesman said: “While not all of our avocados are sourced from the Chilean province of Petorca, those that do come from this region are sourced from Rainforest Alliance-certified producers. Nevertheless, we were concerned to learn of these allegations and will therefore be investigating the matter with both our supplier and the Rainforest Alliance.”

Two thousand liters …more

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City Hall vs. Big Oil

Podcast takes listeners to Richmond, CA, where organizers are mobilizing for a sustainable future

Smackdown: City Hall vs. Big Oil is the 4th episode in Stepping Up podcast, which tells the stories of people who are responding in unique and unexpected ways to the daunting crisis of climate change. Perhaps the most compelling form of climate activism today is local electoral politics. With climate deniers holding the highest offices in the land, many Americans are getting involved in city and county elections, working from the ground up for a clean and carbon-free environment.

Andres Soto is one of them.

photo of Richmond refineryPhoto by Michael Moore The Chevron refiery has been in Richmond for more than a centruy, but a 2012 explosion and subsequent fire drew renewed attention to the health and safety issues associated with the operation .

Smackdown takes us to Richmond California, a mid-sized American city with a large Latino and Black working class population. At 62, Soto has spent his whole life in the Mexican American neighborhoods of Richmond and surrounding towns. His powerful build belies a sweet personality. Music is his passion and he leads his hot Latin jazz band, the Bay Breeze, on his saxophone.

But organizing for a sustainable Richmond is Soto’s mission. Working to protect the town from toxic pollution as head of the Richmond chapter of Communities for a Better Environment, he joins with residents of all races and classes. The local Chevron oil refinery looms large over this pursuit.

Established in 1905, the Chevron refinery has been in Richmond for more than 100 years. And the city has been run as a company town for most of its history, with Chevron doling out jobs and holding sway over local politics. Pollution stemming from this refinery is legendary — the facility spews particulate matter into the air and dumps waste into toxic pools. Processing 240,000 barrels of crude oil daily, it is also contributing heavily to global warming. And it is one of five big refineries hugging this piece of the East Bay shoreline.

In 2004, Andres helped establish the Richmond Progressive Alliance, or RPA. The goal was to turn city politics on its head, creating a local government that would work on issues such a police relations, housing, and education. It would also challenge Chevron’s hegemony over the town. The RPA won big that year and continued to build a strong, left-leaning government over the next ten years. They called for higher taxes on Chevron, stricter control of flaring, and …more

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Facing Climate and Water Pressures, Farmers Return to Age-Old Practice

Just 5 percent of California farmers use cover cropping, but that's likely to change as researchers start to track many benefits

This spring in California several orchards around Solano and nearby counties sported a new look: lush carpets of mixed grasses growing as tall as 3 feet beneath the trees’ bare branches. By summer the scene will change as farmers grow and harvest their nut crops, but the work of the grasses will continue unseen.

photo of cover cropPhoto by USDA NRCS South Dakota Cover crop seedlings push through the soil wheat stubble on a South Dakota farm. Despite the many ecological benefits, only 3 percent of farmers currently use cover crops nationwide.

Today just 5 percent of California growers are using cover crops — and 3 percent nationwide — but that’s likely to change.

Cover cropping, an agricultural technique as old as dirt, is taking root in California. Used to enhance soil nutrition and improve the growth of plants, it fell out of favor after World War II when the practice was replaced by the use of chemical fertilizers.

Farmers have used off-season plantings for millennia to build soil and keep it from blowing or washing away. Like their predecessors, walnut and almond growers are using these seasonal noncash crops to hold in moisture and provide habitat.

Farmers are also returning to the practice to curb the effects of a changing climate. As hotter and drier conditions hit most of the state, Central Valley growers are planting grasses and legumes under their trees to increase the carbon and nitrogen in their soils. And as implementation of the state’s new drought-driven groundwater regulation approaches, they are testing the ability of cover crops to increase the amount of water stored in the ground that grows their nuts and vegetables.

“Folks are really thinking hard about where their water comes from, and they’re thinking about carbon, too — things that are new in terms of farming systems in relationship to the world,” said Wendy Rash, a district conservationist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

She is part of a loose coalition of growers, scientists, and conservationists working to expand the use of cover crops and identify the places where they can provide the greatest ecological benefit at the lowest cost to the farmer. Some are weighing the economic advantages and risks, some the potential for effecting agricultural policies.

Among these efforts is an ambitious project aimed at a seemingly incongruous goal: river restoration. The Freshwater Trust, a Portland-based conservation group, …more

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Could Worms and Bacteria Offer a Solution to Plastic Pollution?

Research suggest that plastic-eating caterpillars and mutant enzymes could help break down trash

Each year, the world produces 300 million tons of plastic — an incredibly resilient synthetic product that pollutes every corner of the globe. Plastics are regularly ingested by wildlife on land and at sea, and eventually end up in the food on our plates.

photo of plastic on beachPhoto by Bo Eide Hard-to-break-down plastic waste poses threats to wildlife and humans alike. Scientists, however, think wax worms may hold some clues as to how to degrade this troubling type of trash.

In 2012, Federica Bertocchini, a developmental biologist at Spain's Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, accidentally uncovered some wax worms while managing her beehives. Wax worms are the larvae of Galleria Mellonella, or the greater wax moth. They are commonly found in beehives, where the moth lays her eggs and the larvae feed on the wax produced by the bees — hence, the caterpillar's common name.

Bertocchini cleaned out her hives and placed the wax worms in a plastic bag, setting them aside for disposal. But when she returned to the bag later, the caterpillars had eaten their way out, creating multiple holes.

In order to make sure the wax worms were not just chewing holes in the bag but were actually digesting the plastic, Bertocchini designed a simple experiment: She mashed up the larvae and applied the resulting paste to polyethylene plastic bags. This would test whether or not the enzymes produced in the caterpillars' stomachs, or possibly the bacteria living within and on their bodies, could truly break down the plastic. After half a day, approximately 13 percent of the plastic had disappeared.

Like plastic, wax is a polymer consisting of a complex string of carbon atoms. "Since they eat wax," Bertochhini told National Geographic, "they may have evolved a molecule to break it down, and that molecule might also work on plastic.”

To explore her findings further, Bertocchini teamed up with biochemists Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe at the University of Cambridge to analyze the chemical composition of plastic as it reacted to wax worm paste. More specifically, the researchers used spectroscopy to look at how the polyethylene absorbed or reflected infrared radiation during the reaction. This analysis showed that some of the plastic was converted into ethylene glycol — a sign that it was being genuinely degraded.

"It’s extremely, extremely exciting, because breaking down plastic has proved so challenging," Bombelli told The Telegraph. When his team …more

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