Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- California considers methyl iodide's dangers
- Why bother with GM crops?
- New research on DEET health risks
- "Big Food" plans to go after climate bill
- Roundup "inerts" found more toxic, again
Yesterday, the California legislature called a special committee hearing to consider the public health and worker safety hazards associated with the proposed use of methyl iodide as a soil fumigant in the state’s strawberry fields. In January of this year, New York declined to register methyl iodide. With California poised to be one of the new pesticide’s largest markets, all eyes are on the battle unfolding in Sacramento. In an advance press conference, Pesticide Action Network consulting scientist, Dr. Susan Kegley, joined other scientists, community activists, farmers and partners including Pesticide Watch, Californians for Pesticide Reform and Center for Rural Legal Assistance in testifying to methyl iodide’s extraordinary dangers. “It is difficult to over-state how hazardous this chemical is, and how inappropriate it is for agricultural uses,” states Dr. Kegley. “Methyl iodide is a highly reactive chemical, and it cannot be contained once it is released into the environment. For those who spend time near fields where this pesticide is applied, this will likely translate into more miscarriages, more cancer, more thyroid disease, and more nervous system disorders. Workers involved in the application of methyl iodide will have the highest exposures and the most significant health problems.”
Methyl iodide is so reliably carcinogenic that it’s used to cause cancer in the lab. Yet California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is currently considering the chemical for use as a new fumigant pesticide, where it would be applied at rates of up to 175 lbs per acre. If methyl iodide is approved, Californians living and working near and in treated fields will have a nine to 90 times greater risk of getting cancer over their lifetime compared to someone who is not exposed at all. For comparison, a person smoking one pack of cigarettes per day is nine times more likely to get lung cancer compared to a non-smoker. Smoking more than 25 cigarettes per day increases risk by 16 times.
Tim LaSalle, CEO of the Rodale Institute, has been writing recently about the pressure on the organic agriculture movement "to abandon one of its foundational principles and accept genetically modified crops." In a recent article on TreeHugger he explained "why genetically modified, drought-resistant seeds are a waste of time and money" (because they are too expensive for poor farmers who most need help; they've never improved overall crop resiliency; and they don't do the essential things organic farming does: build soil that retains water and nutrients and helps regenerate aquifers). Writing in the Huffington Post on August 17, LaSalle expanded the case against GMOs: "Why bother?" he asks. "Why spend the time, money and scientific ingenuity manipulating a handful of genetic materials to end up with a specific new attribute when we should, and could, be rigorously advancing regionally adapted varieties and building up soils organically to achieve enduring nutrient content cycling and resistance to drought, flood and disease?" He notes that the only beneficiaries of "single planting" patented GMO seeds are the corporations (like Monsanto) that own them. Further, who knows whether these engineered foods are safe? Researchers have been blocked from studying the question and attacked when they do. As the editors of Scientific American put it earlier this month: "Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers." LaSalle concludes: "Given how much we are not being allowed to know, our scientific, agricultural and food safety leaders need to take the reasonable step of following the precautionary principle until we have the knowledge we need. Organic agriculture proponents are eager for more high-quality research on biological systems, because the promise for improving soils, sequestering carbon and feeding more people with healthier diets is so great all around the world."
DEET, the active ingredient in many insect repellents used by some 200 million people every year, appears to affect proteins in mammals as well as mosquitoes and other target insects. Some previous studies have implicated DEET in seizures among children. A new study (PDF) by an international group of scientists, supported by Agence Nationale pour la Recherche in France, published August 5 at BioMedicalCentral.com (BMCBiology), reports that DEET "is not simply a behaviour-modifying chemical but that it also inhibits cholinesterase activity, in both insect and mammalian neuronal preparations." Symptoms of lowered levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme essential to proper nervous system function, can include nausea, headaches, convulsions and, in extreme cases, death. Health risks increase when DEET and other pesticides are used together. The researchers concluded that "DEET is commonly used in combination with insecticides and we show that deet has the capacity to strengthen the toxicity of carbamates, a class of insecticides known to block acetylcholinesterase." The new findings are "consistent with previous studies, says Bahie Abou-Donia of the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC," speaking to Science News. Abou-Donia's research found increased toxicity when DEET and chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide hazardous by itself, were used together. "These effects should be clearly labeled on products containing DEET, or N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide," says Abou-Donia. In Canada, he noted, "insect repellents can contain no more than 30 percent DEET. The United States — where 100 percent DEET repellents are available — should consider such restrictions."
A new and as-yet unnamed coalition of “Big Food” players -- including Cargill, Tyson and General Mills -- is planning a PR campaign that links the proposed climate legislation to higher food prices. According to a memo reported on by the Wall Street Journal, the campaign will take the form of a flurry of reports due to be publicized around late August. The new coalition came together informally about two months ago to lobby on the Waxman-Markey bill, and has recently become more active after concluding that the industry did not win enough concessions in the House bill. Also made up of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and the American Meat Institute, this group is concerned that industrial food chain players will be charged for greenhouse gas emissions associated with huge food production operations without also getting sufficient offset credits for things like capturing methane (a greenhouse gas) emissions from manure lagoons adjacent to confined animal feeding operations (CAFOS). In short, they don't want to pay for their greenhouse gas emissions. In the global food crisis of 2005 - 2008, when food prices shot up by 83%, Cargill’s profits increased by 138%. "The behavior of these corporations is unconscionable," said Pesticide Action Network's Senior Scientist, Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman. "Not only have they been making a killing from global hunger, they are now trying to trade in the future of the planet's life support systems, simply to guarantee more of the massive profits to which they've become accustomed."
Reinforcing a similar study which found that a Roundup “inert” ingredient was more toxic to human embryo cells than the product’s listed active ingredient (glyphosate), Environmental Health News reports a new set of findings that links low level exposure to Roundup “inerts” with endocrine disruption and liver cell toxicity. In both studies, glyphosate concentrations did not correlate to toxicity effects as would be anticipated, while “inerts” did. According to the EPA, about 100 million pounds of Roundup are applied as weed killer to U.S. lawns and farms each year. Glyphosate -- Roundup’s listed active ingredient -- has been tested by regulators and is considered relatively safe, however Roundup’s “inerts” remain guarded proprietary secrets and as such, have been difficult to identify for testing. Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world; 75% of all genetically modified (GM) seeds are engineered to withstand the herbicide, allowing higher application rates. Monsanto owns both Roundup and “Roundup Ready” (i.e., resistant) seed lines. The St. Louis-based agrochemical giant mines phosphate in southeast Idaho in order to manufacture Roundup: with current mines running low, and in the wake of years of pollution scandals around its dirty mining practices, Monsanto faces an array of fresh PR challenges.