Bhopal breakthrough; EU on carcinogenic pesticides; Bayer pesticides kill bees; Burger King bows; and more...

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May 29, 2008

Victory for Bhopal Victims

Prime Minister announces Bhopal commission

New Delhi, May 29: "Smiles and hugs, signifying a part of the battle won, were exchanged Thursday among the Bhopal gas tragedy victims," according to The Indian News, as demonstrators in the capitol were read a statement from the Prime Minister announcing a commission "to carry out medical, economic, social and environmental rehabilitation of the Bhopal gas victims." The PM's office also said India would pressure Dow Chemical to clean up the explosion site, and that clean water would be supplied to all residents. Campaign leaders responded that, "The Bhopal organizations are particularly happy that the Prime Minister has affirmed his government’s support on the issue of Dow Chemical’s liabilities for the toxic waste and ground water contamination in and around Union Carbide’s abandoned factory. They hope that the government will summon the political will to take appropriate legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical for their crimes in India."

Meanwhile, Business Week reports that, "The latest headache for Dow is a May 14 letter by shareholders to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. Signed by nine investors, the letter says… 'Up to $1 billion in Dow Chemical investment in India may be impeded'…. They're worried about a $22 million deposit that India's Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers wants from Dow to cover the cleanup pending a final determination of costs, which could be many times that amount. This follows a December, 2007, resolution by heavyweight shareholders, such as TIAA-CREF and the New York City Pension Funds, asking the company to address issues concerning Bhopal." Satinath Sarangi, founder of the Sambhavna Trust Clinic, providing free health care to Bhopal victims, declared: "'Our victory will be against Dow…. And we will win.'"

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Call to ban carcinogenic pesticides in Europe

Call to ban carcenogenic pesticide On May 19, European Union (EU) Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou called for a ban on all potentially cancer-causing pesticides. Vassiliou appealed to EU agriculture ministers to adopt tougher rules on pesticide use "to protect the health of citizens and the environment.” The plan being considered includes a ban on pesticides that are known to cause cancer and reproductive harm. If approved by member governments and the European Parliament, the plan would tighten rules for authorizing new pesticides entering the EU market, force manufacturers to reduce animal testing, restrict the use of crop-dusters and ban pesticides in sensitive areas near nature reserves and parks. Vassiliou said the measures must include incentives for adopting safer, affordable alternatives. Some 300,000 tons of pesticide substances were sold in Europe in 2003. Pesticide contamination of rivers, streams and waterbeds used as sources of drinking water has become an acute problem throughout Europe. "It is excellent to see the Commission fighting for better legislation on pesticides – despite pressure from pesticides manufacturers. Public health must come before corporate profits," observed Elliott Cannell, PAN Europe's coordinator.

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FAO meeting draws protests

FAO meeting draws protests The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is convening a Conference on Food Security and Global Warming, May 30-June 5 in Rome. The meeting will be closely watched by global activists attending a parallel Forum on the Food Crisis, Climate Change, Agrofuels and Food Sovereignty. Civil Society representatives from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe plan a "people's march" from the Bocca della Veritá (site of an ancient temple honoring Ceres, the goddess of grain) to the site of the 1996 FAO Summit, at which the institution vowed to halve the world's 830 million hungry by 2015. Twelve years later, the number of hungry humans is estimated to have swelled to 1.2 billion -- due, in part, to climate change and the pressures to grow food for fuel. Via Campesina, the international peasant's union, claims Western food and trade policies have "undermined the agricultural sector and destroyed food sovereignty." The fishers, small farmers, pastoralists, women, youth, unions and NGOs gathered in Rome are presenting a simple message for the FAO and the world's governments: "Defend people's right to eat and to feed themselves in a sustainable way; reject industrial agriculture and genetic engineering; defend sustainable family farming and food production."

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Ban Bayer's bee-killing pesticides

Ban Bayer's bee-killing pesticides Following the mass deaths of bees and other insects in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany's Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) suspended use of eight seed-treatment pesticides. Germany's Professional Beekeeper's Association reported "50 to 60% of the bees have died, on average, and some beekeepers have lost all their hives." Business Week reports “many suspect one of Germany's biggest chemical companies is to blame.” Germany's Research Center for Cultivated Plants determined that "29 out of 30" of the dead bees tested were killed by exposure to clothianidin, the active ingredient in Bayer's Eldado and Poncho pesticides. BVL also suspended use of Bayer's Antarc, Chinook, Faibel and Gaucho pesticides (based on imidacloprid). The Coalition against Bayer Dangers (CBG) has "been pointing on the risks of neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid and clothianidin for almost 10 years now," but because these two products account for much of Bayer's annual profits, the company continues to fight prohibitions. France banned most uses of imidacloprid in 1999 and in 2003 the Comité Scientifuque et Technique declared the chemical a "significant risk" to bees. Earlier this year, France rejected Bayer's application to sell clothianidin in France. Because of the accumulated evidence of harm, CBG is calling for a worldwide ban on these products.

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Burger King bows to workers

When Burger King refused to follow McDonald's and Taco Bell by paying its tomato pickers an additional penny-per-pound, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and TrueMajority delivered more than 80,000 petitions to Burger King's Miami Headquarters and generated Congressional hearings as part of a broad campaign for farmworker justice. It worked. At a May 23 news conference on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C., CIW's Lucas Benitez and Burger King Senior Vice President Amy Wagner signed an agreement "to work together to improve farmworker wages and working conditions." The New York Times reports that the one-cent increase means that "for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, the workers will earn 77 cents, instead of 45 cents. That is a 71 percent increase" for workers who typically earn less than $12,000 a year. "The victory of the Immokalee workers is a significant step towards the advancement of human rights for farmworkers in the U.S," said Chela Vazquez, PAN campaign coordinator. "It brings attention to the reality of most farmworkers who earn wages below the poverty line, lack health benefits and are the first to be exposed to highly toxic pesticides."

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Need for fungicides questioned

Many farmers believe that using fungicides on drought-stressed corn can boost yields but a study of more than 100 corn plots suggests "the jury is still out." Scientists from Ohio State's Agricultural Research and Development Center discovered that "in some cases, an untreated plot out-yielded a treated plot by as many as 30 bushels per acre." At the end of their two-year study, the Ohio State researchers concluded that differences in yields had nothing to do with the fungicide but were most likely "due to differences in soil properties between two strips" that may have been "confused with fungicide performance."

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Clubbing the environment

Pesticides applied to golf courses in central Ontario "may have an impact on aquatic organisms in adjacent watersheds," according to Canada's Water Information Center. Watersheds are particularly at risk in the Precambrian Shield region where golf course turf has been laid atop a local sandy base that "allows chemicals… to migrate into surrounding bodies of water." The May 2 issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reports that when semi-permeable membrane devices (SPMDs) were used to test for chemical contamination near two golf courses, they detected "a range of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides." Subsequent lab studies with medaka fish showed the combined concentrations were "toxic to early life stages of the fish." Moreover, "elevated toxicity occurred… during periods of maximum fungicide application." The scientists offered a blunt recommendation: "educating golfers to lower their cosmetic standards may be the best management strategy."

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Liquor goes organic

Liquor goes organic Organic wines have earned a niche in the kitchen cabinets of the “ecoscenti” but now it’s time to make room for the first generation of “green” spirits -- Rain Organic Vodka (from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky), Square One Organic (from Novato, California), 4 Copas tequila (in Nova Scotia) and Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin (from England). "While organic wines have been available for decades, distillers have been slow to jump on the pesticide- and fungicide-free bandwagon," explains Beppi Crosariol of Canada's Globe and Mail. "A big reason is that the wine industry is still dominated by small producers, many of whom have made personal choices not to work with chemicals. In contrast, the spirits world is dominated by multinationals, which tend to rely on vast swaths of factory-farmed grains such as wheat, corn and rye." Square One makes its elixir at a certified-organic facility in Idaho using organic rye from North Dakota and natural fermentation (instead of faster-acting non-organic enzymes) to break down proteins and fibers in the rye. The bad news? Crosariol checked with the Toronto Headache and Pain Clinic and was told: "Don't expect pesticide-free vodka to cure booze-related headaches." It won't.

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