Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Legal petition calls on EPA to rethink methyl iodide
- Siddiqui installed in recess appointment
- California & USDA admit LBAM eradication impossible
- Foreign aid bill mandates genetic engineering
- Grower agrees to pay poisoned farmworkers $135,000
- Call-in to protest Major League Baseball/Miracle-Gro alliance
Organizations across the country filed a legal petition on March 31, asking U.S. EPA to rescind its recent approval of the highly toxic pesticide methyl iodide. Keyed to the birthday of famed farmworker leader Cesar Chavez, who drew national attention to the harms of pesticides in the 1980s, the petition presents legal arguments for why EPA should cancel a pesticide that poses grave risks to farmworker health. Scientists across the country find methyl iodide toxic, harmful and "difficult, if not impossible" to control (PDF). Methyl iodide is a water contaminant, nervous system poison, thyroid toxicant and carcinogen. “A chemical used to create cancer cells in laboratories has no place being broadcast into the environment near where people live, work and play,” said Ed Zuroweste, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Migrant Clinicians Network. “Our communities are not lab rats.”
The proposal to use methyl iodide in agriculture has repeatedly raised concern from scientists and health professionals, including five Nobel Laureates in chemistry, who were “astonished” (PDF) that a chemical posing such high risks to human health would be considered for use in agriculture. Despite this, the Bush Administration’s EPA registered methyl iodide nationally in 2007, automatically registering it in a number of states. However, Washington state and California-- the largest markets for the pesticide -- are still considering whether to allow it. Recent data gathered during an independent scientific review convened by the state of California raised serious questions about the scientific accuracy of the federal review, and left no doubt that any agricultural use of methyl iodide “would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health.” Dr. Susan Kegley, Consulting Scientist with Pesticide Action Network, commented, “The science is in. An immediate withdrawal of methyl iodide from the market is the best strategy for preventing adverse effects from this highly toxic pesticide.... Unless EPA wants to see more groundwater contamination, increased numbers of late-term miscarriages in women who live or work near methyl iodide applications, more thyroid disease, and more cancers, this is the step they need to take.”
Overriding unprecedented public opposition to an agricultural trade nominee, President Obama “recess-appointed” Islam Siddiqui as Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the U.S. Trade Office last Saturday, thereby avoiding a Senate vote. Siddiqui is a former pesticide lobbyist and vice president of regulatory affairs for CropLife America, the pesticide and ag biotech industry’s main trade association. The appointment came less than a month after more than 100 groups representing family farmers, farmworkers, sustainable agriculture, environment, anti-hunger and other advocacy groups joined Pesticide Action Network in sending a letter (PDF) to their Senators, urging them to vote against the nomination. The letter outlined both Siddiqui's and CropLife’s record (PDF) of aggressively promoting the interests of the pesticide/GE crop industry over that of farmers, consumers and children’s health.
“When 90,000 people petition their public servants to say that a nomination is unacceptable and these revolving door appointments have to stop—and yet the President proceeds regardless, I see a dereliction of duty,” says Dr. Marcia Ishiii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Expediency trumping democracy is how we end up with industry lobbyists running our regulatory agencies. But Siddiqui now faces a well-informed and outraged public. We will be closely monitoring him at his new job, and evaluating whether his actions will, as promised, truly benefit small-scale family farmers in the U.S. and abroad, workers, consumers and the environment—or whether they will benefit large corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill.”
“After 3 years of developing a $89.5 million program to eradicate the invasive light brown apple moth (LBAM) from California, agriculture agencies have admitted that it is no longer possible to eliminate the widespread moth,” reports the journal Science. "The main goal now is to “contain, control and suppress" the pest, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced in a report (PDF) last week
On March 15, USDA came to the same conclusion in a response (PDF) to petitions filed by Pesticide Action Network and a group of scientists and activists. USDA denied the groups' petitions to reclassify the LBAM as a "non-actionable pest" (and thus relax the severe quarantines that are hurting California farmers and nurseries). On the feasibility of eradication, however — which was a central concern of PAN and California residents — both agencies have relented. In the words of USDA: "given the increases in LBAM population densities and the extent of contiguous spread of LBAM observed over the past two years . . . eradication is no longer feasible in California."
The same approaches planned for eradicating the pest can still be applied for suppressing it, CDFA says, but a controversial aerial pheromone spraying strategy is off the table. "It's ironic and contradictory," observes PAN senior scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves, "that the agencies have done an about-face on eradication but still won't consider safer, ecological pest management because these longer-term control approaches 'don't meet the program goal' of eradication."
The “Global Food Security” bill is back. After its introduction in the Senate a year ago, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton have been quietly pressing for this piece of legislation that aims to fight global hunger with one hand while orchestrating a giant taxpayer subsidy to pesticide and ag biotech companies with the other. The bill, also known as the Lugar-Casey Act -- for Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Robert Casey (D-PA) -- would refocus aid programs on agricultural development, with a caveat: public funding of genetically engineered (GE) seeds is what this bill means by “agricultural development.”
Last spring Pesticide Action Network joined Food First, Union of Concerned Scientists and other partners in commending the overall intention of the bill, while calling for the removal of the corporate give-away clause buried in its language. The Lugar-Casey Act directs some $7.7 billion to agricultural research and development, much of which could go directly into the coffers of corporations like Monsanto because of one clause mandating that research funds “shall” go towards GE crop research. Monsanto (the world’s largest purveyor of GM seeds) has done more lobbying on the Lugar-Casey Act than any other interest.
USAID would be responsible for implementing the bill. Over the last two decades, this agency has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on developing GE crops, with not one success story to show for it. A highly touted partnership between USAID and Monsanto to develop a virus-resistant sweet potato in Kenya failed to deliver anything useful for farmers. After fourteen years and $6 million, local varieties vastly outperformed their genetically modified cousins in field trials.
“At the end of the day, GE crops don’t have much to offer — especially to farmers in the developing world,” notes PAN senior scientist Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman. The bill’s single-minded focus on promoting GMOs runs directly counter to the scientific findings from the most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date, the IAASTD. This landmark report highlights the need to strengthen agroecological research to support small-scale farmers, while decreasing corporate control of seeds and the food system. “We will be working with partners in the coming weeks to mobilizing a strong message to the Senate reiterating our call to strip the GM clause from the bill,” adds Ishii-Eiteman.
A Delano, California area orchardist has agreed to pay $135,000 in damages to settle a lawsuit brought by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and the lawyer Michael Freund on behalf of ten farmworkers. On a July morning in 2007, the orchard owner applied the neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos to his orchard while about 30 laborers tended to grapes in an adjacent field. The spraying took place "ignoring wind conditions and the proximity of the unprotected farm workers," according to CRLA's press release (PDF). Predictably, the chemical drifted into the neighboring field, where many workers experienced symptoms characteristic of acute pesticide poisoning, including nausea and vomiting, labored breathing and skin irritation.
The incident highlights the threat that pesticide drift poses to people who work, live, or go to school adjacent to industrial agricultural operations. While in this case the victims were eventually awarded compensation for their injuries, most pesticide poisoning incidents go unrecognized and unreported. Often even when incidents are reported, victims are not compensated and perpetrators go unpunished.
Primarily due to risks to children, residential uses of chlorpyrifos — the pesticide involved in the incident — were banned almost ten years ago. Yet it remains one the highest use insecticides in agriculture, with 1.3 million lbs used in California (PDF) in 2008. As this incident demonstrates, the pesticide's tendency to drift means that its continued use in fields and orchards puts both children and adults in harm's way. Pesticide Action Network and partners around the country are calling for an immediate phaseout of chlorpyrifos in agriculture.
As reported in PANUPS on March 19, Major League Baseball (MLB) has formed a new partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro, promoting seed and lawn treatment products that are unnecessarily chemical-intensive and undermine sound environmental principles. A coalition of 28 environmental groups sent a letter to MLB chastising it for allying with Scotts' newly-branded "weed and feed" and insecticide products, to be promoted alongside the logo of Major League Baseball under the deal. Weed and feed products contain herbicides and synthetic fertilizers that are tied to multiple adverse health and environmental effects. In its letter to MLB, the coalition told officials that associating the organization with Scotts Miracle-Gro and allowing the company to use the MLB name to promote a chemical-intensive philosophy to homeowners promotes the misguided message that toxic chemicals are necessary to have a beautiful green lawn. In fact, the coalition says, homeowners are learning that turf can be managed effectively utilizing organic methods that are safer for children, families, pets and the environment.
The coalition is asking people concerned about the alliance between MLB and Miracle-Gro products to call or email Tim Brosnan, Executive Vice President for Business, Major League Baseball. Calls are being organized for the coming week to mark the opening of the 2010 baseball season.