Today's Headlines
EarthTalk: Are there any safe, nontoxic garden herbicides?

  - There are now several natural herbicides on the market.  One of the
most effective natural ingredients is corn gluten meal, a yellow powder
that is a waste product of the corn milling process.
   While the meal has been used in dog, fish, and other animal foods for
years, it has only recently been marketed as a natural herbicide. As
researchers at Iowa State University's (ISU) Horticulture Department
discovered, the material naturally inhibits the growth of seeds' initial
root systems, while doing no harm to already established plants.

   ISU researchers say that once vegetables or flowers have their first
true leaves, corn gluten meal can be safely and effectively applied to kill
weeds.  ISU scientists also note that, because corn gluten meal is high in
nitrogen, it is beneficial to surrounding plants, doubling as a fertilizer.

   It has been reported that corn gluten meal is particularly effective
against dandelions, pigweed, crabgrass, plantain, and curly dock. ISU
scientists suggest an application rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet
and they say the product remains effective for five to six weeks.
Researchers say that corn gluten meal should be applied to lawns about
three to five weeks before weeds begin to grow.

   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Pesticide
Programs urges people to decrease the amount of chemical herbicides used to
battle weeds.  There are already more than 865 active ingredients
registered for use in pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  About 350
pesticide products, including herbicides, are used on the foods we  eat and
to ward off pests from our homes and pets. But pesticides and herbicides
often contain toxic substances that are harmful to human and ecological

   ChemFree+ is one brand of herbicide that uses corn gluten meal.
Available from Chem Free Lawns, it is advertised as both a natural weed
control and fertilizer for lawns and gardens and harmless to people, pets,
groundwater, insects, and soil microorganisms. Comparable products include
Dynaweed from the American Natural Products Company and "A-Maize-N" from
Planet Natural.


        < For those who judge a technology by its organisational origins
&/or control, and for those who predict from past misbehaviour of big
gangs, the USA maize-ethanol-gasohol-DDG etc industry, controlled by such
little-known big gangs as Archer Daniels Midland corp, any new 'OK'
byproduct should be viewed with scepticism.  I can predict many scientists,
let alone others, would feel it's a remote chance that corn gluten meal
would turn out to contain novel chemicals capable of poisoning e.g
predatory ladybirds that normally keep insect pests in check.  But that's
entirely plausible in view of the Showa Denko GM-bacilli.  One or more
maize GM-mutant might turn out to be toxic in some sense, if it were
properly examined; and the CGM from that mutant strain might contain most
or all of the toxin(s).
        I predicted the USA govt would dump on starving Africans the
millions-of tons stockpiles of USA GM-maize rejected by Europe where
GM-maize is not permitted for human consumption.  Refusal of some African
govts to accept these dumps has been one of the most heartening aspects of
the past half-decade.  Those govts, like Prince Charles, understand GMOs
far more than your typical media stooges or govts brainwashed by
gene-jiggering corps.
        Activism for conservation has a larger turnover than when I got
into it (before Greepneace), but is far less nimble  -  not on the balls of
its feet but rocked back on its heels or groping around in a fog of
ideology.  The work of Greenpeace NZ on toxic chemicals was shut down by a
lesbian/racist power-play, so that the firm has rarely been able to respond
in an informed way to new queries about chemical health hazards.
        Who will tell us about the testing of CGM?  How well tested was
CGM, in its role as a natural herbicide, before the glut of GM-maize?  What
chemical differences have been found in this or that GM-maize?  What
biological properties of the GM-CGM have been studied?
        I am suggesting that any attempt by ADM et al to add value of a
byproduct must be viewed with some awareness of the gangs in the particular
industry.  The most lavish offices I saw in DC 2 decade ago were those of
the gasohol industry, right handy on the foothills of Capitol Hill.
Extending petrol with ethanol is a reasonable way to increase
knock-resistance dubious process.  The resulting fuel, gasohol, containing
about 10% alcohol, is OK as a fuel; but there are other ways of boosting
knock-resistance (my favourite is water-injection), and it should be
clearly understood that energy farming as done by agribusiness absorbs more
energy (mostly as dieseline) than it produces in that fuel.  Energy farming
is an energy sink, not a net energy producer.
        If ethanol were produced as a byproduct of some valuable food, that
might be OK.  But to grow maize for the prime purpose of making ethanol is
a misconceived process.  So any value-added byproduct of this process
should be appraised carefully  -  it might help to make more profit, but we
should be wary of byproducts from misconceived industries. (The main
ethanol factory in NZ uses byproduct whey from the world's biggest casein
factory, which also features a 3MW biogas generator as the first stage of
the wastewater treatment.)

        OK class, that was today's routine item.  Now here's a more arcane
problem: why don't the oil/chemical complexes produce bulk ethanol?  Bulk
two-carbon compounds arise in petrochemical processing complexes, which
often adjoin refineries; is it really uneconomic to convert some to the
2-carbon alcohol?