Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Paul Towers's blog

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Who's calling the shots?

Two weeks ago, sitting next to the current director of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and across from the former director-turned-Clorox lobbyist, I hoped for the best. We sat around a table discussing alternatives to hazardous pesticide use on homes, schools and in agriculture.

But progress on this front can often feel like an uphill battle. And as a recent Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) piece pointed out, chemical corporations and their lobbyists are all too often dominating policy conversations.

Paul Towers
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GE labeling in Oregon & beyond


As I strolled through downtown Ashland, Oregon, last week, I was struck by how many “Yes on 92” signs and stickers I saw. There is clear, visible support from businesses and individuals for the measure to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.

And as the measure heads for a vote on November 4, industrial agriculture groups are pulling out all the stops to keep this ballot initiative from winning. Even so, there is an incredible groundswell of support for labeling GE food in Oregon and beyond. Things are looking hopeful!

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Back to court for Kaua'i

PAN and our partners are back to court to stand up for the law passed by the County of Kaua'i last year. The groups are appealing a judge’s disappointing decision last month that struck down Kauai’s landmark law to ensure some of the world’s largest pesticide and biotech corporations are more transparent about their operations.

The law was intended to lift the veil on which pesticides are being used, and where, on the island. Many of these pesticides travel on wind and water to neighboring schools, neighborhoods and farm land. Despite corporate PR efforts, it’s clear that more information about agricultural practices is essential to building a fair, green and healthy food and farming system on Kaua'i.

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Can’t stop, won’t stop our 'Right to Know'

Just yesterday, Colorado advocates got the signatures they needed to put a public initiative to label genetically engineered (GE) foods on the November ballot. Colorado's proposition 105, and its counterpart in Oregon which qualified last month (Measure 92), are the latest in efforts by a broad coalition of farmers, public interest groups and public health experts to provide consumers with straightforward information about what’s in our food and how it’s grown.

There are plenty of reasons to want that choice, and it should rest with families to make it. Labeling lifts the veil on the vast consolidation of the pesticide and seed market, highlights potential damages to the health and livelihood of family farmers and rural communities, and highlights environmental impacts.

Paul Towers
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California stung by lawsuit to protect bees

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They’re in our garden plants, sprayed on orchards throughout the state, and used as seed coatings on commodity crops in California and across the country. After five years of review, California officials have not only failed to complete an evaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics), they continue to allow more and more of these bee-harming chemicals into the market.

Fed up with the years of hand-sitting, PAN and our partners brought the state and pesticide manufacturers to court today.

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Your (not so) “bee-friendly” plants

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Bee-harming pesticides in our lavender and daisies? In the same week that an international body of scientists released a comprehensive global assessment of the harms of pesticides to bees, a new report shows that these very same pesticides are found in many of our backyard plants — at levels of concern — that are meant to support pollinators.

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A narrow loss, but GE labeling is on its way

Two. That’s the number of votes a bill to label genetically engineered (GE) foods recently fell short of in the California Senate. And not for lack of trying, or lack of public support. A powerful coalition of moms, farmers, businesses and public interest groups joined together to push the bill forward; they filled the Capitol halls, offices and phone lines of State Senators for days leading up to the vote.

After several attempts to bring SB 1381 to a vote on the Senate floor, including convincing several Senators to abstain from voting, it narrowly failed to pass. Still, the movement to label GE food in California and beyond shows no sign of slowing or backing down.

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Progress in paradise

Whew, three islands in four days. I recently returned from a whirlwind speaking tour in Hawai'i with Dr. Tyrone Hayes covering issues of pesticides, corporate control in agriculture and genetically engineered (GE) seeds.

Addressing the topic in high school auditoriums and community health clinics, it’s increasingly clear that people across the state want to build a food system that feeds them, protects community health and fragile ecosystems, and offers fair employment — including pushing back against corporate takeover of the islands' farming land. And they're making real headway.

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Syngenta’s next target: Jackson County, Oregon

Last week, Swiss-based pesticide corporation Syngenta dumped tens of thousands of dollars into a county election in Southern Oregon. Sound familiar? It should. Still reeling from their recent defeat in Kaua'i, Syngenta and the rest of the "Big 6" don’t want to lose any more fights around pesticides and GMOs.

But Oregononians are holding their ground. Led by a group of farmers dubbed Our Family Farms Coalition, these residents put an initiative on the ballot that would restrict the planting of genetically engineered crops. The vote will be on May 20.

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EPA gets it wrong on kids & drift

On Cesar Chavez Day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered a slap in the face to that day’s namesake. Five years after PAN and partners challenged the agency’s lack of protections for children from drifting pesticides — and eight years after Congress passed a law requiring it — the agency yet again failed to take any substantive action.

Frustrated yet? I am. EPA is suggesting it's better to keep pesticides on the market without any new protections, even after acknowledging potentially serious impacts on children. In Monday’s response, EPA stated that “young children may have unique exposures that adults do not have.” And still, the agency has chosen to do next to nothing.

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