World agriculture report; EPA sued; Rice activists arrest; Congress probes EPA; Pesticides and fish; "Candle Scandal"; 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.

April 10, 2008

UN Assessment of Agriculture culminates in Johannesburg: A week-long (April 7-12) final plenary of the UN's International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is wrapping up in South Africa. Scientists, food activists, corporate and government representatives are debating key findings developed by more than 400 experts over three years, seeking solutions to the thorny, intertwined problems of global agriculture, climate, hunger, poverty, power and influence. The IAASTD is an unprecedented attempt by the UN to bring multiple stakeholders together in the hope of mapping out a strategy toward a sustainable agricultural model worldwide. Controversy surfaced publicly in January when Syngenta and other biotech industry participants announced they were dropping out in protest over the report's critical review of GMO-based "solutions." The official report release, including news of governments' responses, is planned for April 15 at events in London, Nairobi, New Delhi, Paris and Washington, DC. For background and latest news, see PAN's IAASTD page.

Rice activists arrested in Indonesia -- UPDATE APRIL 11, 2008:

Anti-GE International Activists in Indonesia Freed Unconditionally

11 April 2008 : Three harrowing days after they were hijacked by the police, and with their passports confiscated, the 15 international activists attending the WORA events in Jakarta, Indonesia to highlight the threats of genetically engineered (GE) rice, were today freed unconditionally.

Speaking over the phone, Sarojeni Rengam (PAN AP, Malaysia) who was one of the detainees, said that “the unconditional release was possible due to the tremendous support from the People’s Food Sovereignty Coalition (KRKP), Women’s Solidarity (Solidaritas Perempuam), Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement (AGRA), the Indonesian Human Rights Commission for Social Justice, Gita Pertiwi and other Indonesian NGOs. We wish to thank them for their whole-hearted support throughout, and particularly the members of the Human Rights Commission and a Member of Parliament for their unstinted support and understanding.”
 
Sharing details of this turn of events, Sarojeni also explained how upon witnessing and being encouraged by the fairly swift response and support from the officials of the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta towards the Filipino delegates, the Malaysian delegates also called on the Malaysian Embassy for assistance. However, the Malaysians were not provided any help and informed that they would have to sort out the situation themselves. The official she spoke to stated that he would only read the report on the incident once it was released. Ironically, the Malaysian Embassy is located in close proximity to the Indonesian Immigration office.
 
It may be recalled that the 15 detained foreign delegates from Malaysia, Philippines, Korea, Thailand, India and Pakistan were in Indonesia to celebrate the annual Week of Rice Action (WORA) 2008 which brought together farmers, rural communities and activists. This year, WORA 2008 carried the theme “No to GE Rice in Asia” to inform people of the threats to Asia's most vital staple food crop, rice.
 
Attending a rally outside the palace and then in front of the Ministry of Agriculture, to protest the promotion of GE rice and call for conserving the diverse local rice varieties to ensure people’s food security and sovereignty, the delegates were just about to leave for a meeting with ASEAN officials, when the Jakarta Police effectively hijacked their bus to the police station.
 
The delegates were subjected to intense interrogation for about 14 hours, first at the police station and then at the Immigration Office. They were then allowed to return to their hotel rooms at 3 a.m., but without their passports which were confiscated by the Immigration Office. A day later they were told that they would receive their passports at the airport before their departure, but in a turn of events, these were returned to them last evening, with no comment, query or penalty.
 
The detention had caused widespread concern among the local organizers of the anti-GE rally and other NGOs, and it was their solidarity which stayed the hand of the Immigration Office which had threatened the foreign delegates with imprisonment or a hefty fine along with deportation.
 
The freed foreign activists are expected to return to their countries today.
* * *
Reference: Biju Negi, PAN AP Email:panap@panap.net  Tel: 0060-46570271/124949680

Original PANUPS story, April 10: Fifteen people from six countries were arrested April 8 in Jakarta by territorial police "for participating in a peaceful people's gathering" to protest genetically engineered rice and calling for "saving the diversity of local rice to ensure people's food security," according to AliranOnline. The demonstration was part of the Week of Rice Action celebrating Asian rice culture organized by several progressive peoples groups. "Those arrested," Aliran reports, "include Sarojeni Rengam (PAN AP, Malaysia), Rhoda Gueta (Asian Peasants' Coalition) and 13 others, all non-Indonesians from India, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand. After nine hours of interrogation, they were released at 3 am, April 9, but their passports were held. According to PAN Asia & the Pacific, they were asked to present themselves at the Immigration Office the next morning (April 10) for the "conclusion of the investigation". It is anticipated that the activists may be deported. A local organizer said, "this is an over-reaction by the police who had been duly informed of the rally and the presence of international delegates in it."

EPA sued for approving four pesticides: On April 4, a coalition of farmworker advocates and environmental groups including Earthjustice, Pesticide Action Network, Farmworker Justice and Beyond Pesticides, filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to stop the continued use of four deadly organophosphate pesticides. Derived from nerve gas developed during World War II, some of these pesticides have been detected in California's rural schoolyards and homes, Sequoia National Park, and Monterey Bay. The four organophosphates are methidathion, oxydemeton-methyl, methamidophos, and ethoprop. They are used primarily in California on a wide variety of fruit, vegetable and nut crops. "These four pesticides put thousands of farmworkers and their families at risk of serious illness every year," attorney Patti Goldman of Earthjustice told the San Francisco Chronicle. The suit argues that the EPA failed to address the danger these pesticides pose to children and has not addressed the potential harm to birds, fish and farmworkers. See the groups' press release.

Congress probes chem industry's influence at EPA: Congressional investigators have demanded documents concerning the role the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has played in influencing the U.S. EPA's decisions on setting safety levels for chemicals. The Washington Post reports House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich) is looking into "the roles of nine scientists who are serving on EPA panels or have done so in the past." "I don't remember the last time Congress investigated a trade association," Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group told the Post. "It's a landmark investigation [that] has called into question the ethics of the entire industry." A press release from Dingell's committee notes the scientific journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology is partially funded by the ACC, which raises questions of "bias in the journal." Dingell has asked ACC CEO Jack Gerard to explain industry's role in the dismissal of Dr. Deborah Rice who was reportedly removed from her post on an EPA peer review panel at the industry's request. This came after Rice questioned the safety of decabromobiphenyl, a widely used flame retardant. For an industry view, see Chemical and Engineering News.

Eel River herbicide plan blocked by court: A plan by California's Humboldt County Agricultural Department and the CA Department of Parks and Recreation to eradicate purple loosestrife by spraying imazapyr herbicide along northern California's Eel River was halted on April 7 by Humboldt County Superior Court following a suit by Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, claiming the California Environmental Quality Act was violated when the public was excluded from the decision-making process. Experts have warned that the effort "will fail" and have "significant environmental effect." In 2007, herbicide was sprayed at more than 200 sites along 25 miles of the river as part of a program that could last up to ten years. Cornell University professor Dr. Bernd Blossey, a purple loosestrife expert, warned that herbicide treatments can "accelerate decline of native species and further favor purple loosestrife." Blossey advised using insects known to have controlled loosestrife in other areas but his advice was ignored. PAN Senior Scientist Dr. Susan Kegley also expressed concern. "Because imazapyr is a non-selective, broad-sprectrum herbicide," Kegley said, "drift and/or runoff to non-target plants will cause damage near application sites." Moreover, spraying "for 2-10 years will likely result in widespread collateral damage" downhill from the treated area. Kegley cited research suggesting a "substantial probability" that purple loosestrife may develop herbicide resistance, "rendering the proposed eradication plan ineffective, while still presenting risks to non-target plants."

Fish in hot water with pesticides: A research study published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reports that global warming may make fish more susceptible to dying from pesticide-contaminated water. At the same time, pesticides may make fish more prone to dying from rising water temperatures. A team of Australian scientists ran Critical Thermal Maximum tests on silver perch, eastern rainbowfish, western carp gudgeon and rainbow trout. Fish exposed to sub-lethal concentrations of endosulfan and chlorpyrifos (two pesticides still widely used on Australia's cotton fields) showed "significant reductions" in the ability to survive in warmer waters. In some cases, the temperature at which "locomotive activity becomes disorganized and the animal loses its ability to escape from conditions that will promptly lead to its death" was lowered by as much as 5.9°C. The affected fish displayed "erratic swimming..., uncoordinated movement with body quivering, rolling over on sides or back" and loss of the ability to swim upright.

Stop the chemical industry's "candle scandal": The manufacturers of brominated fire retardants (BFRs) and chlorinated fire retardants (CFRs) are attempting to convince the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to require adding hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to computers and other electronic gear as a defense against "candle fires." (The BFR manufacturers - Albermarle and Chemura - are the same companies working to delay the global phaseout of methyl bromide.) The National Fire Protection Association says there is no evidence that candles pose a significant threat of setting TVs or computers ablaze. "Electronic manufacturers ... are being pressured by the chemical industry to include these chemicals even though the fire data do not show a benefit," says Friends of the Earth's (FoE) Sara Schedler. Adding BFRs and CFRs to home and office appliances would expose families and workers to chemicals that have already been restricted because they migrate into human tissues, body fat and breast milk. Used equipment containing BFRs and CFRs could no longer be recycled and incinerating BFRs and CFRs releases toxic furans and dioxins. The IEC is set to vote on industry's request on April 25. FoE and Green Science Policy are urging people to send letters asking that these unnecessary chemicals be kept out of consumer electronics. California is currently considering a bill (AB706) to regulate the use of BFRs and CFRs in furniture.

War on Bugs: The book tour: Will Allen has just published his long-awaited book, The War on Bugs. Using hundreds of examples collected from over a half-century of chemical company advertising, Allen's research shows "how farmers and consumers have been conned by government, industry, and war-mongering jargon into choosing toxic food." For a list of the author's upcoming Northern California appearances, click here.

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