Karl Tupper's blog | Pesticide Action Network
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Karl Tupper's blog

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Pesticide residues: From fork to farm

Stories about pesticide residues on food are making the rounds again. After my umpteenth media call, a blog seemed in order.

As I told the LA Times, here's my basic response: "It’s the farmers, farmworkers and residents of rural communities who are really most at risk" from pesticides, not consumers. While these folks are exposed to pesticides from food like the rest of us, they also must contend with pesticide fumes drifting out of fields, exposure from working directly with pesticides, and pesticide-coated dust and dirt tracked into their homes from the fields. Tom Philpott of MotherJones, nails this topic.

Karl Tupper
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Pesticide residues: From fork to farm

Apples and celery this week. Cilantro a couple back. Stories about pesticide residues on food are making the rounds again. After my umpteenth media call, a blog seemed in order.

As I told the LA Times, here's my basic response: "It’s the farmers, farmworkers and residents of rural communities who are really most at risk" from pesticides, not consumers. While these folks are exposed to pesticides from food like the rest of us, they also must contend with pesticide fumes drifting out of fields, exposure from working directly with pesticides, and pesticide-coated dust and dirt tracked into their homes from the fields. Tom Philpott, newly migrated to MotherJones, nails this topic.

Karl Tupper
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Blowin' in the wind (aka Drift)

It seems like a no-brainer: If you happen to live or work or go to school across the street from a field or orchard where pesticides are sprayed, you might think, "Maybe I'm breathing some of these pesticides." Especially when the wind blows from the field towards you. Especially when you can smell the pesticides. And you might also think, "Maybe this isn't good for me." Especially when the guys applying the pesticides are wearing Tyvek spacesuits. Especially if you start feeling ill.

And you'd be right to think these thoughts, even though most growers and pesticide applicators will tell you that you're crazy and have nothing to worry about. For years PAN's been working with concerned communities to show that these exposures are real and need to be taken seriously. And now a new study by scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and various states' Departments of Health, corroborates what we've been saying all along.

Karl Tupper
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Cilantro, chlorpyrifos & flying blind

In my last post, I asked "Where's the data?" — specifically the latest installment from the USDA's Pesticide Data Program, which tests thousands of food samples for pesticide residues every year. The PDP data is the basis for our WhatsOnMyFood.org website that allows you to see which pesticides are found on food (and in water), how often, in what amounts, and with what associated health risks.

After months of delay, the data is finally out. In a nod to the produce industry (who had complained about "misuse" of the data by "activist groups") the USDA included a two page "What Consumers Should Know" factsheet with the report, but otherwise the presentation of results and data is the same as it's always been. And then there's cilantro.

Karl Tupper
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Where's the data?

As we reported in last month's update of What's On My Food?, USDA's 2010 pesticide residue data has been mysteriously delayed for five months.

As we suspected, it seems the produce industry isn't happy with the way USDA has been presenting its annual public summary of the data, and has been pressuring the Department to make changes. In a letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last month, they charge that the annual report "has, in previous years, been mischaracterized repeatedly by environmental activists and news media to the extent that it has discouraged people from consuming fresh produce." Apparently "mischaracterized" is industry-speak for "brought to the attention of the public".

Karl Tupper
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Syngenta's plan to smear the justice system

In 2004, a group of public utilities in Illinois took pesticide-giant Syngenta to court to answer for the pollution caused by its flagship herbicide atrazine. Syngenta’s response? Wage a PR campaign against the court itself. While transforming a lawsuit into a media spectacle is a common, if unfortunate, tactic these days, targeting the court itself is a new low.

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We did it! Global endosulfan ban!!

Geneva, April 29: I am extremely pleased to report that the Parties to the Stockholm Convention have just agreed to phase out endosulfan globally! This is a huge victory for PAN and our partners around the world, most especially our civil society colleagues in India who have worked tirelessly to make this happen.

The final decision has a few loopholes (they almost always do), allowing endosulfan to be used on certain crops against some specific pests for the next six years. But we’re nonetheless very happy, and I’m certainly relieved. The loopholes (“specific exemptions” in the language of the treaty) were a necessary, if unfortunate, compromise needed to get India to agree to the ban. Still, most uses will end next summer, with a short list winding down through 2017. And then that’s it: no more endosulfan.

Karl Tupper
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Endgame for endosulfan

I know I've written it before, but we're really witnessing the endgame for endosulfan in Geneva this week. I'm here, once again, for negotiations under the Stockholm Convention, otherwise known as the POPS treaty. The global agreement bans the worst of the worst chemicals — Persistent Organic Pollutants like dioxins and PCBs. As I've been chronicling in this blog, endosulfan has been winding its way through the Convention's evaluation process for several years now. If the stars align, it'll finally be added to the Convention this week, triggering a global phaseout.

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DDT: Still poison after all these years

Next Monday is World Malaria Day, and DDT will surely be in the news. The usual parade of opinion pieces calling for a revival of DDT spraying to control malaria (as though it ever stopped) will be on display.

You'll likely also read that the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised fresh concerns about its safety, and you may even hear that the Stockholm Convention has endorsed its continued use. Let me try to explain what's going on.

Karl Tupper
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California rolls out 'new' air monitoring plan

A few weeks ago, California's Department of Pesticide Regulation announced the launch of a new, "first of its kind" air monitoring network designed to look for pesticides drifting into populated areas in the state's fertile agricultural valleys. Weekly samples will be collected over the course of a year in three communities: Shafter, Salinas, and Ripon. Each will be analyzed for 34 pesticides including many neurotoxic insecticides and highly toxic fumigants like methyl iodide. It's an ambitious project, and it's sure to yield a ton of interesting data, yet I just can't get excited about it because: a) PAN's been doing a version of this for years; and b) lack of data isn't the problem at this point.

Karl Tupper

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