Last week’s New York Times article, “Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery,” has set CCD observers abuzz, and prompted at least one counter from a journalist for CNN Money. Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, is the name given to the mysterious decline of honeybee populations around the world beginning around 2006. Each winter since, one-third of the U.S. honeybee population has died off or disappeared (more than twice what is normal). Scientists have been investigating the decline, and while CCD appears to have multiple interacting causes, a range of evidence points to sub-lethal pesticide exposures. Neonicotinoids are a particularly suspect class of insecticides; so much so that Italy and France have banned or restricted their use to protect their honeybee populations. This class of insecticides is highly neurotoxic to bees, and works by disabling insects’ immune and nervous systems. Also notable is the fact that these systemic pesticides, which are applied at the root or seed and then taken up by the plant’s vascular system, have seen a manifold increase in use since around 2005.
Strawberries garnered special attention this year as Arysta LifeScience, a global pesticide corporation, aggressively promoted the chemical methyl iodide for use in California’s strawberry industry. It was dubbed “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by Dr. Join Froines, chair of the state's Scientific Review Committee for the pesticide. Pesticide Action Network, partners and tens of thousands of Californians rallied to keep methyl iodide out of agriculture.
A September 17th announcement that $180,000 in federal funds have been granted to back a PR campaign to "correct misconceptions about pesticide residues on food" caught the attention of farmers and organic food advocates across the country, according to the Associated Press. The federal Specialty Crop Block Grants from which the grant will come are one of the only sources of funding to support the production and marketing of crops such as fruits, nuts and vegetables in California. Critics charge that awarding taxpayer dollars from this fund to a project that effectively advocates against the value of organic produce is therefore an inappropriate use of public funds.
A study of links between Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup and human birth defects is stirring scientific debate. While it has been well established that very low concentrations of the herbicide are lethal to frogs, evidence of impacts on humans is still preliminary. The new research published by a team from Argentina, Brazil, the UK and US, headed by Andrés Carrasco of the University of Buenos Aires Medical School, suggests that Roundup may be linked to birth defects even at concentrations lower than those used in farm fields. “The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy,” Carrasco reported.
Last week, the UK Guardian posted an investigative article and accompanying short film, “Pineapples: Luxury fruit, at what price?”. Focusing on the human health and environmental impacts of pesticide-dependent pineapple plantations in Costa Rica, the film links what happens to workers and communities with what consumers have come to expect — artificially inexpensive produce flown in from across the globe year-round. To meet market demand for cheap pineapples, field workers are exposed to cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting herbicides like endosulfan and bromocil while receiving only four percent of what consumers pay for the fruit of their labors.
On September 30th, a congressional oversight committee conducted the second of two hearings on the issue of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” created by unregulated cultivation of genetically engineered, Roundup Ready crops. The focus of the hearing is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s failure to take action against the rapid evolution of weeds resistant to Roundup (glyphosate), which now infest over 10 million acres of U.S. cropland.
On September 25 Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the Farmworker Health Act (AB 1963). Pesticide Action Network was a co-sponsor of the bill, which took four years and multiple attempts to pass through California's legislative process.
For the first time since the state’s medical monitoring program was established in 1974, we will be able to evaluate whether or not farmworkers are actually being protected from poisoning by the organophosphate and carbamate insecticides they handle.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finally announced plans to eliminate the five percent surcharge imposed on organic producers for certain tree crops. This partial elimination of the crop insurance surcharge was, at least in part, the result of a hard-won provision in the 2008 Farm Bill in which Congress directed the USDA to evaluate available data on risk of loss between organic and conventional systems and to determine whether the surcharge was justified. The crops for which the surcharge is now being removed are figs, pears, peppers, prunes, macadamia trees, Florida citrus fruit, Texas citrus fruit, Florida fruit trees, and Texas citrus trees. The surcharge will continue for now on all other crops.
On the 20th anniversary of the Organic Foods Production Act, organic farmers joined Micheal Sligh of Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) in testifying before the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sligh, representing the National Organic Coalition (NOC) and founding Chair of the National Organic Standards Board, explained, "We are seizing the moment of commemorating two decades of certified organic food and farming in America to publicly acknowledge the many environmental and health benefits and to call for more government funding and participation in increasing the amount of organic food produced and consumed in the U.S."
On Wednesday, Sept. 22, a panel convened by the FDA deferred recommending approval of the first genetically engineered animal for sale as food in the U.S. The agency agreed to publish an environmental assessment and open a 30-day comment period before approving "AquAdvantage" salmon, a fish engineered to grow faster on less feed. FDA had already accepted industry-supplied studies that the fish will not be "materially" different from other salmon, and thus is safe to eat. The research was submitted by AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts company that's developed the animal. Still at issue is whether the fish must be labeled as genetically engineered.