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April 15, 2009

Crayfish biotech disaster

Crayfish, originally uploaded by blue paper.


ICON, a pesticide manufactured by Bayer CropScience, was used by Louisiana rice farmers to control rice weevils that plague one of the state's largest cash crops. But it had the unfortunate side-effect of sterilizing crawfish, another major crop which are often farmed in the same fields as rice.


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How is that a "biotech" and not just plain old chemistry disaster?

I think it was one of those high tech "smart" pesticides that's supposed to surgically target one kind of organism without poisoning everything else. Or, much else, as they learned in this case.

In Minnesota we have a problem of frogs being born with deformities.

An expert who attributes the problem to pesticides was invited to a state government conference, and then uninvited.

Blogs are good for every one where we get lots of information for any topics nice job keep it up !!!

No crayfish, no rice, no gumbo! That is why Germany had the good sense to ban genetically-modified corn marketed by Monsanto, the same company that bankrupted third world farmers ... and drove some to suicide.

IANAMBNAC, however, after a bit of Google/wiki, Icon, active ingredient cyhalothrin, is a pyethroid insecticide. Cyhalothrin is a fluorinated pyrethrin analog. Pyrethrins are extracted from chrysanthemums, found to have insecticidal properties, easily broken down, and generally non-toxic except in the case of aquatic organisms (and, well, bugs). Pyrethroids are chemically synthesized versions better able to withstand the rigors of the environment outside of a flower. The first pyrethroid synthesized, Allethrin, is the active ingredient in Raid.

So, anyway, not genetically engineered but certainly some distance from nature and easily within the broad umbrella of "biotech", at least in my book.


I've always occupied an odd position in the whole industrialized agriculture/biotech debate. In another life I studied molecular biology for a time and have always had high hopes for the potential and promise of genetic engineering. I've also had an ever growing fear of the staggering potential for disaster and misuse inherent in the technology. I see chemical engineering and industrialized agriculture in much the same way. In a planet of six billion plus, ever increasing, with many still hungry, I don't see industrialized agriculture going away. I see it as indispensable. Sadly, the current practice is grossly irresponsible, not even remotely sustainable, and already all too frequently disastrous as in this case, or the recent GM corn crop collapse in South Africa, or the ongoing nightmare of independent farmers in India, etc., etc.

The reason is the same as always... Somewhere in all the googling I found that the recommended application of Icon cost around $13-$15 per acre. Approx. three million acres of rice under cultivation in the US. Ballparks around $42 mil./yr. revenue in the US alone (not the world's largest rice producer by a long shot). The big settlement for the crawdad debacle was $45 mil., and the Corporatist Circuit Court of Appeals was kind enough to limit their liability beyond that, so Bayer will clear a tidy profit overall. Wonder how much of that profit went into research and product testing as opposed to lobbying and litigation? They made the same calculation as Ford did with the Pinto, except with today's courts, with predictable results. Not an exclusively American problem either - google the poor schmuck (Percy Schmeiser, dastardly criminal) in Canada who was successfully sued for having the temerity to allow his crops to be cross pollinated by the Monsanto GM crops down the road, now exposing all Canadian farmers who don't purchase Monsanto seed open to potential liability.

Public utility companies have their profits regulated because they provide an indispensable commodity, as an effective monopoly, and without restraint they would bleed us all for all they could get. I doubt PUC's are the perfect answer but I believe you're a fool if you think your utility bills would be smaller without them. ** Fortunately for us food is optional, so it only makes sense not to burden these hardy entrepreneurs with needless regulation, and having more than 2/3 of the planet's food supply controlled by a handful of companies (Cargill, ADM, Monsanto, ConAgra, and big pharma on the bleeding edges) just makes American agriculture more competitive, and it hardly needs repeating but of course profits are, as always, sacrosanct. To do otherwise would mean placing the health, well being and livelihoods of human beings over shareholder value, and that's just crazy talk. ** (sarcasm tags not working)

A damn shame, par usual. I still believe that these technologies are essential to our survival, especially with billions more in the chute. There is no reason that these technologies can't be applied in a sane manner, aimed towards a resilient and sustainable food supply. The problem is not necessarily with the technology, but that their application is focused entirely on maximizing profits without regard for safety, resilience or sustainability. As it stands now we are setting ourselves up for a potato blight scenario of epic proportions, and without some government imposed incentive I doubt the Cargills, Bayers, et al will look beyond the bottom line until they're forced to resort to gardening inside their gated communities.

... I think I'll expand the garden a bit this year.

In Louisiana it's always crawfish, never crayfish.

It's a place that loves posion: some towns have year-around Mosquito Control, trucks with a compressor and a tank pf Malathion. You might expect the sweet soapy redolence of magnolia, but no...

At least they grow a lot less soybeans, so there's less herbicide sprayed before harvest.

Hey guys, check out this documentary on Hulu called the Future of Food

Monsanto is one of the most villainous companies of all time!!

A sad irony here is that the crayfish involved here is most likely the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), an animal that is anything but threatened by the unintended consequences of pesticides used in rice farming. P. clarkii (and a handful of other farmed crayfish out of approximately 400 species of crayfish worldwide) possesses a suite of physiological, behavioral and life-history characters that make it well suited for intensive cultivation as well as making it an aggressive colonizer outside its native range. Originally native to the U.S. Southeast and N.E Mexico, P. clarkii is now found on all continents but Antarctica and Australia, and it's probably only a matter of time before they reach the latter. Originally introduced as an aquacultural food source, it continues to spread via bait buckets, as pets in aquariums and garden ponds, and on their own through rivers and canals. In Southern Spain where there were no native crayfish they're suppressing native amphibians which didn't evolve with crayfish. In North & Central Europe they are the vector for crayfish plague fungus (Aphanomyces astaci) which will probably eventually drive native crayfish to extinction.
A select few species of (mostly North American) crayfish have been introduced willy-nilly widely outside their native ranges mostly to the detriment of native aquatic fauna and flora. The effects are often subtle and unexpected. For example, P. clarkii's propensity to dig burrows can release previously sequestered elements into water bodies, completely changing their water chemistry and nutrient availability (besides weakening levees and shores). They taste good and provide a lot of food, but at the expense of further global ecological homogenization.

P. clarkii in the Nile River.

F.A.O. on P. clarkii aquaculture.

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