PANNA: Farmworker birth defects; Oregon farmers request increased pesticide fines; Senator advocates more funds for organics; mo

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Farmworker birth defects; Oregon farmers request increased pesticide fines; Senator advocates more funds for organics; more

March 1, 2007

Farmworker babies born with birth defects: A forthcoming study in Environmental Health Perspectives details investigation of a "cluster" of three babies born with birth defects to farmworkers in Florida and North Carolina. The study includes authors from many institutions, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Florida Department of Health, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, and Office of Pesticide Programs of the US EPA. Citing difficulty in obtaining records from growers, and lack of government agencies keeping track of data, the authors felt they did not have the evidence to clearly tie the apparently high rate of birth defects to pesticide exposure. Still, they write: "There is evidence to suggest that each mother was exposed to pesticides during the maximal sensitivity period for the organ system/structure that was affected.... ...improved access to medical care among farmworkers appears needed. Finally, needed are improved surveillance programs for pesticide-related illness and birth defects, and increased capacity to investigate future birth defects clusters with suspected workplace etiologies."

Oregon farmers request increased fines for willful pesticide misuse: Farmers themselves have asked Oregon legislators to draft a bill that would allow the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to raise the penalty for using gross misuse of pesticides $10,000 from the current maximum fine of $1000 - $2000. Capitol Press reports, "Some growers believed it was more profitable to apply the product and pay the fine than use an alternative product that would fail to control the pest, according to Terry Witt of Oregonians for Food and Shelter." In a current case, 58 farmers were originally cited for illegally using the carbamate pesticide Furadan, a PAN "Bad Actor" product with high aquatic toxicity, and a known neurotoxin and cholinesterase inhibitor. Exposure to cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides has been linked to impaired neurological development in the fetus and in infants, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Parkinson's disease. ODA now says they only plan to fine 22 of the offending farmers, using the lesser penalty pricing before the new bill can be voted in and implemented. Carbofuran was banned for major crops by U.S. EPA in August 2006, and is being phased out for all other uses over four years.

Two men fined for accidentally poisoning twenty-seven horses with fumigant pesticide: In July of 2006, Brad Raphel, a Texas stable owner, illegally used PhosFume to fumigate a silo of horse feed, charge state investigators, and 27 horses died from a poisonous gas within hours of the fumigation. According to the local Eagle newspaper, "Investigators found that Raphel used the restricted-use pesticide without a license or the direct supervision of a licensed applicator and that he failed to store the chemicals under lock and key." According to the Department of Agriculture, he didn't allow a minimum fumigation period of 72 hours nor did he wait the required 48 hours before feeding the horses. Rafel was fined $4,000, and his friend, a licensed pesticide user, was fined $1,000 for giving Rafel the pesticide. The total fine is the first to exceed a state maximum $4,000 fine for a single incident in 11 years. PhosFume contains aluminum phosphide, a PAN "Bad Actor" chemical with high acute toxicity.

British Columbian grape grower says 2,4-D harms grapes: The Penticton Western News reports that grape grower Rod King of King Family Farms is speaking out about his fears that even relatively "small amounts of the 'extremely toxic' chemical 2,4-D could stunt the growth of grapes and worse--kill them. This could immensely damage the local wine industry and its reputation, especially if the chemical ever appeared in wine." The widely-used herbicide 2,4-D is a rated a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and a suspected endocrine disruptor. King cited a 2004 University of Oregon paper that reported: "Unfortunately, herbicide drift can pose a major threat to the growth and success of commercial grape production adjacent to areas of small grain, hay, grass seed or corn production,' it states. Nor does it take much of the chemical to cause damage. Herbicide concentrations 100 times less than the recommended application can damage grapes from kilometres away." King is on an agricultural advisory committee for the city of Penticton that is considering abandoning of 2,4-D within city limits, including farmlands. Many homeowners use products containing 2,4-D without knowing it.

Small farmers suffer from UN Avian flu policies: Worldwatch Institute has released a study of avian flu policies promoted by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization. Both agencies advocate banning of poultry production, which will unfairly harm small scale farmers, say the researchers. OneWorld news service reports: "[The] researchers denounced the globalized poultry trade and large-scale industrial farms located close to big cities in the developing world as chiefly responsible for the spread of the avian flu virus.... 'They are the culprits,' said Danielle Nierenberg, one of the Institute's research associates, adding that, conversely, the ones who suffer most from the UN restrictions are those who raise crops and animals for food, transportation, and income in back yards and on rooftops." Worldwatch estimates over 800 million small scale farmers could be adversely impacted by the UN Avian flu policies.

Wisconsin Senator to push for organic policies in U.S. Farm Bill: Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, told the 18th annual Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, "I'm a huge fan of the organic movement, I think it's great for America. I think it's good for you." Kohl chairs the Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, and says he will work with Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to make sure their ideas for supporting organic farming are incorporated into the 2007 farm bill. The Winona Daily News reports that Kohl noted, "a farmer's transition to organic farming takes several years. Financial support is needed for that transition." The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), a PAN Affiliate group, sponsor of the conference, identified their priorities for the 2007 Farm Bill: a significant expansion of funding for organic agriculture research, education and information; an increase in cost-share funding for organic certification; and fully funding and implementing the Conservation Security Program. Mark Lipson, of the Organic Farming Research Foundation told reporters: "Sales of organic food have risen to about $15 billion a year and continue to grow about 20 percent a year." Yet organic farming receives just over half of 1% of USDA research, extension and education funding. "We'd like to shoot for 10 percent," Lipson stated.


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