Sri Lanka to ban paraquat, Chile bans lindane; Pesticides cut crop yield; China hits pesticides; Uganda and DDT; more...

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Sri Lanka to ban paraquat, Chile bans lindane; Pesticides cut crop yield; China hits pesticides; Uganda and DDT; more...

January 3, 2008

Sri Lanka to phase-out paraquat: Sri Lanka's Daily News reports that Sri Lanka plans to phase-out use of the herbicide paraquat within the next three years. Assistant Director of Agriculture K.B. Gunarathne explained the decision was a response to "the high rate of deaths due to paraquat poisoning caused by its inherent toxic properties." There are 400-500 deaths each year in Sri Lanka from paraquat poisoning. In October 2006, the Pesticide Registrar mandated a reduction in paraquat concentration from 20% to 6.5% and restricted the bottle size, but preliminary reports on the new formulation suggested that the number of poisonings would remain "well over 50%." The first steps of the phase-out began on January 1 and the final phase-out scheme is to be completed by the end of the year. In the meantime, officials have ruled that the annual quantity of paraquat manufactured in 2008 "shall not exceed the present [2007] level." PAN North America Executive Director Kathryn Gilje noted that "there was active presence at the Dec. 2007 PAN International meeting from a Sri Lankan Women's Federation and peasant farmers association that had been working on this issue. This is wonderful news!"

Lindane banned in Chile: After a grassroots struggle lasting more than a decade, environmentalists are claiming victory with the announcement that Chile plans to ban lindane, a neurotoxic, persistent organic pollutant (POP). "The International POPs Elimination Network and Pesticide Action Network provided important foundations for our campaign," reports RAP-Chile (PAN Chile). Chile, like the U.S., has banned lindane for agricultural applications but still permits its use for "public health" Applications. According to RAP-Chile, "this successful crusade closes a huge contradiction in legal regulations." The good news came in the form of a letter from Chilean Health Secretary Maria Soledad Barria to four members of the Alliance for a Better Quality of Life -- Maria Elena Rozas (Pesticide Action Network/Southern Cone), Alicia Muñoz (Association of Rural and Indiginous Women), Elizabeth Maturana (Research on Organic Agriculture) and Lucia Cuenca (Latin American Environmental Conflicts Watch). The Health Secretary also promised to act on the Alliance's proposal to monitor foods for pesticide residues and implement a Pesticide Residues Control Program to prevent "adverse effects on public health."

Pesticides sicken soils: Scientists have documented that pesticides are harming nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria, resulting in stunted growth and lower crop yields for alfalfa, soybeans and peas. University of Oregon researcher Jennifer Fox told Environmental Health Perspectives that"people assume that endocrine disruption by pesticides occurs only in humans and animals with estrogen receptors,but we find thatnontraditional targets are affected by pesticides." Fox explains that plants create flavonoid molecules (which are similar to phytoestrogens) that help attract nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria to their roots. Experiments have shown that farm-levelconcentrations of pentachlorophenol (PCP)and methyl parathion inhibited flavonoid "signalling" by 90%. When Fox and Tulane University colleagues exposed alfalfa seeds to PCP, they found that the plants produced no nitrogen-forming nodules and yields fell by more than 80%. Methyl parathion and DDT exposures reduced yields by about half. The researchers estimate this "could translate in real-world conditions to a one-third loss of plant yield." Ironically, soils poisoned by synthetic pesticides require added inputs of synthetic fertilizers.

China cracks down on pesticides: With 23,000 chemical pesticide products being sold under 16,000 different names, Chinese farmers have little certainty about the chemicals they are using or the risks involved. On December 19, China's Agriculture Ministry announced that it would begin removing thousands of pesticide products from store shelves. "There are more than 1,700 in common use," Deputy Director Wang Shoucong told a press conference, "We must control remaining pesticides to safeguard our exports of agricultural products." Wang promised that the Ministry would reduce the number of pesticide products on sale, would tighten registration procedures, standardize labeling and assure that ingredients and warnings were legible and understandable by China's millions of small farmers, who are most at risk from chemical exposure.

Local groups oppose DDT spraying in Uganda: Uganda's Ministry of Health is planning to begin DDT spraying to combat malaria in January, despite strong opposition from the Uganda Network on Toxic-Free Malaria Control. "While we are all more than willing to support a program to help us get rid of malaria," Ellady Muyambi, General Secretary of the Network, wrote in an open letter to the The Monitor, "spraying our homes with...DDT will destroy the delicate ecology of our poverty-torn country." Muyambi pointed out that "many of us do not have ceilings and windows to prevent the DDT spray from escaping out to the plants and animals." Muyambi wonders why Uganda's underfunded Health Ministry is spending so much energy promoting DDT as a "quick fix." Instead of using a toxic pesticide, Muyambi recommends safer approaches such as planting neem and other indigenous trees that are known to repel mosquitoes. When it comes to malaria, Muyambi argues, a "quick fix" is like "fast food." While fast food "may temporarily satisfy hunger, it causes sicknesses from obesity to heart disease." Similarly, DDT "will bring destruction to our environment and our bodies."

Farmwomen, pesticides and asthma: "Farm women are an understudied occupational group," says National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences scientist Dr. Jane Hoppin. Hoppin is the lead author of a January report in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that investigated the effects of pesticide exposure on more than 25,000 women farmworkers in Iowa and North Carolina -- the first study of its kind. According to the American Thoracic Society, the study found "an increase of 50 percent in the prevalence of allergic asthma in all farm women who applied or mixed pesticides." Parathion was associated with a three-fold increase in allergic asthma while malation exposure was linked to a 60% increase. Permethrin, "a commonly used insecticide that is used in consumer items such as insect-resistant clothing [and] anti-malaria bed-nets, was associated with both allergic and non-allergic asthma." One surprising finding: "Women who grew up on farms...had a lower overall risk of having allergic asthma." This unexpected discovery moved Hoppin to speculate that "growing up on a farm" may have "a huge protective effect" but, she cautioned, "whether it is causal or not remains to be seen." Hoppin plans a larger study in 2008.

Bravo Bové: Jose Bové, the mustachioed farmer who vaulted to world fame when he attacked a McDonald's restaurant in France, is set to embark today on an "unlimited hunger strike" to draw attention to a campaign to ban genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from French fields. Bové's Big Mac Attack came after the US targeted French foods with tariffs as punishment for the country's refusal to import hormone-treated U.S. beef. Bové was also threatened with a four-month jail term after destroying a field of GMO crops in 2004. While GMOs are commonplace in the U.S., most French citizens fear these experimental creations could harm human health and unleash an uncontrollable spill of GMO traits into the natural world. In December, France suspended the commercial use of GMO seeds until February 9 while biotech safety studies are carried out. This two-month suspension isn't good enough for Bové and the other activists who plan to join the January 3 hunger strike. "It must be a year without GMOs," Bove insists, "We are starting this hunger strike to show our determination."

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