California votes on GE bill; City nixes spray plan; NRDC vs. EPA; Farmer sues Monsanto; Carbofuran ban; and more...

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives

See PANUPS updates service, for complete information.

January 24, 2008

California GE bill goes to vote: On January 16, AB 541 -- a bill designed to protect farmers from the hazards of genetically engineered (GE) crops -- was approved by a 5-0 vote of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. AB 541 would protect farmers from "infringement lawsuits" if their fields are contaminated by corporate-owned GE pollen. (In the past, farmers have been sued for "theft" by corporations responsible for the genetic contamination of their fields.) The original bill would have also created the country's first database of GE crop locations, confined "experimental pharmaceutical-producing crops" to greenhouses, and held GE crop manufacturers (not farmers) liable for genetic contamination. Renata Brillinger, Director of Californians for GE Free Agriculture, admits the amended bill "represents only a small piece of what our stakeholders identify as issues to be addressed" but she agrees with AB 541's sponsor, Jared Huffman, that the bill marks "an important step in establishing basic protections for California's farmers." The bill goes to a vote of the full Assembly on January 28. Action Alert: Emails supporting AB 541 are needed by January 25.

City opposes California moth-spray plan: On January 22, the city council in the San Francisco East Bay city of Albany voted 5-0 to oppose the California Food and Drug Administration's (CFDA) plan to use aerial spraying to combat the omniverous Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM). The vote came despite appeals from a team of CFDA officials who testified that the microcapsules of synthetic pheromones designed to disrupt male moth-mating patterns posed no health hazard. But the capsules also can contain "inert" ingredients like formaldehydes and isocynates, leading Albany Mayor Robert Lieber (who is also a registered nurse) to call the CFDA plan "a public health issue." The state had planned to begin spraying around the San Francisco Bay Area in the spring but, shortly before the council meeting, the CDFA released a statement announcing a delay. Its January 22 press release revealed that CDFA now was considering a host of alternative LBAM strategies, including traps, "twist-ties," and ground applications of Bt (a naturally occurring bacterium). But the statement emphasized that these options were only "intended to complement and not replace aerial pheromone treatment."

EPA's human pesticides tests challenged in court: The pesticide industry's use of human testing to show that its products are safe was halted by Congress in 1998. A moratorium was imposed after it was revealed that poor women, children and minority Americans were being paid to swallow pesticides. In some cases, volunteers were told they were taking "vitamins." The chemical industry successfully sued to overturn the moratorium in 2003. In 2005, Congress made it illegal to test pesticides on children and pregnant women but an EPA loophole allowed the practice to continue. So, in 2006, a coalition of environmental, farmworker and health groups challenged human testing as a violation of the 1947 Nuremburg Code. The case, NRDC vs. EPA, went before a Federal Appellate Court on January 17. "Testing poisons on people is unethical," says Shelley Davis, deputy director of Farmworker Justice. "The only people who get what they want out of these immoral tests are the chemical companies," argues Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney Aaron Colangelo. The only purpose of the tests, he says, "is to weaken pesticide safety standards." In addition to NRDC, plaintiffs include Beyond Pesticides, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pesticide Action Network North America, Physicians for Social Responsibility (SF chapter), and Pineros y Campesinos del Noreste. Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice serve as attorneys along with NRDC.

Schmeiser v. Monsanto: Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser became an international hero when he stood up to Monsanto. After the company's genetically engineered (GE) seeds blew onto Schmeiser's canola farm and contaminated his fields, the multinational sued the farmer for growing their patented seeds without permission. As Schmeiser saw it, Monsanto's stray plants were "pollution and the polluter should pay." But Monsanto prevailed in a Canadian court trial that was "overshadowed by accusations of aggressive tactics and corporate bullying," according to the Guardian of London. This week, Schmeiser filed suit against the corporation asking to be reimbursed for the $600 (Canadian) it cost to dig up and destroy Monsanto's GE canola seedlings on his land in 2005. The trial was set to begin on January 23. Monsanto admitted their GE seeds had contaminated his field but the company refused to pay unless Schemeiser signed a non-disclosure statement. "No way would we ever give that away to a corporation," Schmeiser replied. Although the case involves only one small farm in Saskatchewan, it could set a precedent that could cost Monsanto millions in legal settlements around the world.

Mosquito nets for Zimbabwe: A $1.9 million grant from Japan will make 200,000 Long -Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets (LLINs) available to more than 50,000 pregnant women and 150,000 children under the age of five. The mosquito nets will be distributed in seven regions where malaria is endemic. Japan's Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Takeo Yashikawa, said the overall goal is to reduce "under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2010 [by] combating HIV and AIDs, malaria and other infectious diseases." Japan has distributed 400,000 LLINs since 2006. Zimbabwe's The Herald, quoting a United Nations study, reports that "cases of malaria have dropped by 40 percent from three million to 1.8 million last year" and concludes that "treated nets have been proven to be the most effective way to prevent malaria."

Carbofuran ban nears completion: On January 8, the U.S. EPA confirmed its determination "that all products containing carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment" and announced plans "to obtain cancellation, voluntary or otherwise, of all pesticide products containing carbofuran." In August 2006, the EPA ruled that carbofuran -- an N-meythyl carbamate insecticide and nematicide used to control soil and leaf pests -- "presents significant risks to workers and wildlife" and proposed the "immediate cancellation of most uses." The EPA's decision was challenged by the registrant, FMC Corporation. After reviewing the new submissions, the EPA ruled that carbofuran "provide(s) minimal, if any, benefits either to the individual grower or at a national level" and called for existing stockpiles to be phased out over three years. EPA determined that "carbofuran's occupational and ecological risks substantially exceed EPA's levels of concern," warning that, "because it is extremely toxic, exposure to even small amounts...creates a substantial risk..., especially for children age 1-2-years old." Carbofuran has also been linked to millions of bird deaths. Public comments on carbofuran's future are now being taken in advance of a February 5-8 hearing at the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs in Arlington, Virginia. The 2006 carbofuran cancellation decision was the result of a long campaign led by the American Bird Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife and including PAN and other activist groups.

Facing up to toxics: The Third Annual Teens for Safe Cosmetics Summit demonstrates how far the campaign has come in raising concerns over the safety of facial lotions and cosmetic chemicals. The two-day summit, which starts Feb. 1 at the Marin Art & Garden Center north of San Francisco, features a host of authors, educators, scientists and politicians. Keynote speakers include National Campaign for Safe Cosmetics founder Stacy Malkan (author of Not Just a Pretty Face) and California State Senator Carole Migden. At the Saturday workshops, a panel of four women health professionals will consider "The Question of Science," reporters, authors and Web honchos will discuss "Spreading the Word," and four leading eco-entrepreneurs will reflect on what it takes to be "Tuned Green." Also on the agenda: roundtable discussions between teens and experts, a Green Spa with safe beauty samples, and professional makeup sessions with non-toxic cosmetics.

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