As we head into the warm summer months, I often hear this question from neighbors, friends and fellow moms: how can I best avoid pesticides?
McDonald’s held its annual general meeting (AGM) last Thursday. If shareholders wanted a quiet meeting, they sure didn't get it! The company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, was packed: 2,000 fast-food workers, clergy, parents and food system activists poured into town with a thing or two to say to McDonald’s.
The Minnesota-based Toxic Taters Coalition — a longtime partner of PAN — was one of several groups with a message to deliver to the fast-food giant. Toxic Taters delivered a petition with more than 20,000 signatures, calling on McDonald’s to cut pesticide use on potatoes, work with a third party certifier to transition to sustainable practices, increase transparency about pesticide use and fund a public health study in areas impacted by potato production.
Announced this month and taking effect in 2017, this ban is great news since triclosan can cause hormone disruption in people — including interfering with thyroid gland function, sperm production in males and immune system health. And its use is unnecessary since using plain soap and water is no less effective in preventing disease.
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.
“This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water… Drift or runoff may be hazardous….The use of this chemical…may result in groundwater contamination.” Does this sound like a green chemical of the future, something that you’d want drifting over fields, rivers, streams, schools and homes? Not so much. But our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may disagree.
EPA has been stumbling hard and making some bad decisions lately, including this latest announcement: the agency intends to approve Dow AgroScience’s new formulation of the highly toxic herbicide, 2,4-D — to be used with the corporation’s genetically engineered (GE) 2,4-D resistant corn, cotton and soybean seeds.
Last week the French group Generations Futures announced findings from a small biomonitoring study of children living and learning near agricultural fields. Eighty percent of the children tested had been exposed to agricultural pesticides in the previous three months.
Researchers took hair samples from 30 children living or attending school within a 1/10 of a mile of agricultural areas. Analysis of the samples found “traces of 53 pesticides believed to affect the hormone system of mammals, leading to cancerous tumors, birth defects, developmental disorders and learning disabilities in humans.”
Pesticides are an everyday part life in our town. Sometimes we can see or smell the drifting chemicals, sometimes they are invisible. But we know they are there — especially in the fall when fields are fumigated, and this time of year when new plants are sprayed.
So I wasn't surprised when health officials released a report last week showing that children in our part of California — the Central Valley — are most likely to be in schools near pesticide-sprayed fields. We've been telling our stories for years, and unfortunately policymakers haven't heard us. As a mom, I'm very much hoping that maybe now we will see some change.
A few weeks ago I heard Dr. Marla Spivak give a “State of the Bees” address to a packed auditorium in Minneapolis. At the end of her presentation, an audience member raised his hand and asked: “What state is doing the most to protect bees?” Dr. Spivak only paused for a moment before answering, “Well, I’d have to say Minnesota.”
Dr. Spivak may be biased, since her Bee Lab is based at the University of Minnesota (and I guess I could be too). But I think she’s onto something: Minnesota is getting a move on protecting its pollinators.
It's no surprise: pesticide corporations go to great lengths to protect the public image of their products. We've been highlighting their PR hijinks for years, and their attempts to spin facts to suit their agenda have only gotten more blatant.
Bees and pesticides provide the latest example. Corporate attempts to reframe the conversation, and subvert independent science, have gone into hyperdrive. Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto in particular are positioning themselves as "bee friendly" — no matter that several top selling pesticide products are directly linked to bee deaths.
At a funder conference I’m attending this week, we began by singing the venerable labor song, “Which side are you on?” I thought it was an especially appropriate choice because at PAN, we’re joining our allies around the world in reflecting on the intersections between worker’s rights, safety and public health.
This week, as we note both International Workers Memorial Day and May Day (International Workers Day across much of the world), I’m reminded of how important it is for all of us who care about the food system to take sides with the system’s workers.