Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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Pesticide spill in W. VA; Global warming boosts pesticides; poisoned Spaniards; GE 'Coup' in Thailand; and more...
January 17, 2008
GMO Ban Victory for French hunger strikers: On January 12, the international peasants' movement, La Via Campesina, announced that José Bové and 15 other hunger strikers won a major victory when the French government announced it's decision to ban Monsanto's "MON 810" maize. France acted because of the environmental risks this genetically modified organism (GMO) poses. The 16 activists launched their demonstration Jan. 3 to promote adoption of the European "cautionary principle," which allows an EU country halt the commercialization of GMO seed if scientific evidence shows that it might threaten the environment. Biotechnology industry groups have condemned the government's decision but La Via Campesina calls the action "a strong signal to reconsider a total ban on GMO crops in Europe and in the world."
Thiodicarb spill in West Virginia: On December 28, Bayer's plant in Institute, West Virginia released a cloud of thiodicarb. The Charleston Gazette reported that "hundreds of people in the Kanawha Valley woke up Friday morning to a strong odor coming from the Bayer CropScience chemical plant. At least one man in St. Albans was hospitalized." Bayer officials assured the press that the leak posed "no health hazards" but local officials criticized Bayer's handling of the spill, calling the company's response "absolutely abysmal." As the German-based Coalition against Bayer Dangers (CBG) points out, thiodicarb is a Class I (highly toxic) pesticide -- something that neither Bayer nor the local media mentioned. CBG checked the Toxic Release Index for 2005 and found this plant was responsible for leaking 80 pounds of phosgene gas, more than 100 pounds of thiodicarb and 400 pounds of methyl isocyanate (the same gas that killed thousands in Bhopal, India). The Berne Declaration, Friends of the Earth Switzerland and other NGOs have nominated Bayer for the 2008 "Public Eye Award." People around the world can vote on whether to "name and shame" Bayer as the year's worst toxic player. To vote, visit the Public Eye Web site and click on the words "Gib Deine Stimme ab." Voting continues through January 22.
Global warming: good news for GMOs: Some of the same companies responsible for generating greenhouse gases are now positioning themselves to profit off climate change. Monsanto, BASF and the DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International are working to genetically engineer drought-tolerant crops. For the past two years, Monsanto has been testing drought-tolerant genes in South America. Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer, Rob Fraley, reports that 80% of the 1,000 genes evaluated proved to be drought-tolerant -- "more than we would have thought." Monsanto's drought-tolerant maize "has achieved yield benefits of up to 12 bushels/acre" which promises to make it a "blockbuster" product. Not to be outdone, Pioneer and the Israeli company, Evogene (Rehovat) are collaborating on engineering drought-tolerant maize and soybeans. Evogene's new "gene discovery technology," ATHLETE (Agro Traits Harvest LEads TEchnology), has accelerated the gene-mining business. Evogene President Ofer Haviv predicts the collaboration with DuPont will "help us determine the utility of our candidate genes." Meanwhile, Syngenta is developing hybrid maize "designed to prosper in both excessive and limited rainfall conditions."
Pesticides found in Spanish population: According to a EurActiv.com report, "new research shows that all Spaniards are affected by at least one type of pesticide, fungicide or insecticide classified internationally as potentially harmful to human health." The University of Granada study took samples of fatty tissue from 387 adult volunteers and reported finding traces of fungicides, insecticides and PCBs. EurActiv reports that 100% of Spaniards carry "at least one type of harmful chemical in their bodies." Tests detected the highest levels of "potentially harmful substances" in women. Euractiv highlights the importance of this data to pesticide policy discussions as the EU's legislative package on pesticides "moves into the final stages of adoption." The World Health Statistics Quarterly estimates that up to 25 million workers in developing countries experience at least mild pesticide poisoning in a given year while, in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control finds pesticides in 100% of the people tested in biennial body burden assessments. PANNA's 2004 report analyzing CDC data, Chemical Trespass, found the U.S. "pesticide body burden" is mainly bourn by "children, women and Mexican Americans."
Thai activists sue over GE "coup": Two days after the December 23 elections swept a tide of People Power Party members into Thailand's parliament, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont's military-backed government hastened to approve the field testing of genetically engineered (GE) crops, sabotaging attempts to develop a bio-safety law to protect farmers and consumers. "The ban should have been taken up by a government elected by the people," Greenpeace GE campaigner Natwipha Ewasakul told InterPress Service."We now know who won," declared Biothai Foundation director Witoon Lianchamroon: "The powerful lobby from the multinational companies that want [GE] crops here." In April 2001, the newly elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra banned field trials pending the creation of legal safeguards to protect farms and consumers. Thaksin was ousted by the military in 2005. Greenpeace revealed that Thailand's Agriculture Ministry ignored public concerns and distributed "GE contaminated papaya seeds" to as many as 2,600 farmers in 34 provinces. The contaminated exports were rejected by European markets, causing a 66% loss in papaya sales in 2005. "What the military-appointed government did is unacceptable," said Witoon, "That is why we have decided to take this issue to the courts." According to InterPress Service, Thai activists believe that "a court battle is the only way to keep the country free from being contaminated by [GE] crops."
Purging molluscs of pesticides: Mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and other bivalve molluscs feed by filtering organic particles from sea water that may also contain organic pollutants that pose a danger to humans who dine on contaminated molluscs. Molluscs grown in shallow waters near cities, factories and farms are particularly likely to accumulate residues of pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, furans and endocrine disruptors. Because chronic pesticide exposure is linked to increased risks of developing cancer and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease, it is essential to detoxify molluscs destined for market. Traditional decontamination involves high-pressure, high-temperature filtering over a period of 48 hours. Now Fish Farmer Magazine reports that researchers at the Universitat Jaume I and the Spanish Research Council have patented an improved method to remove pesticide residues. According to Roque Serrano, a scientist at UJI's Institute of Pesticides and Waters, this new approach "means that pesticides can be removed from the tissues of molluscs twice or even four times as quickly, depending on the type of pollutant."
A Chinese farmer bucks the trend: When An Jinlei and his wife first announced plans to farm their 3.4-hectare plot in Hebei Province without tractors, synthetic fertilizers and insecticides, "fellow villages thought the couple were strange and stupid." China View reports that after a few years of low yields, An's maize and cotton harvests are outdoing his neighbors. An works the land with pick and shovel and scorns the practice of using tractors. "With pesticide, crops may survive insects but when all the insects die, the natural system in the soil is dead, too," An states. Believing that "our land belongs to nature, it is not supposed to serve us only," he relies on earthworms instead of herbicides and has planted part of his land with millet to feed local birds. An says he has grown weary of international visitors who flock to his farm because "they fly here and there in planes. It's a waste of resources." An Jinlei offers a simple prescription for survival: "If only there were no factories and everyone worked on his own piece of land, our life would be healthy, our Earth would be healthy."
Senator backs subsidies for organic farms: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) is one of only two farmers in the U.S. Senate and the only organic farmer. During the contentious debate over the Farm Bill, Tester came up with a radical proposal to help farmers make the transition to organic practices. "Making the switch to organics shouldn't be a make-or-break decision for family farmers," Tester argued, noting that it typically requires three years in transition before winning organic certification. The Organic Consumers Association explains that Tester's bill would provide "up to four $20,000 annual payments to farmers whose land has not been previously certified as organic." Tester switched to organic practices on his 1,800-acre wheat farm in the mid-1980s after he realized farm chemicals were making his wife sick. "Organic farming is a good deal for Montana's farmers and ranchers," Tester insists. "It's a win-win for agriculture in our state. It's good for the land and it's good for folks who want to sell their crops for higher premiums."