June 26, 2008
- EU Ag Ministers move to ban hazardous pesticides
- Urban moth spraying cancelled in California
- Diane Wilson arrested for Bhopal protest
- Greens push pesticide reforms in Cyprus
- India's cotton belt rife with cancers, deformities, infertility
- Croatian president links food crisis to trade and finance policies
On June 23, the agriculture ministers of European Union nations agreed to target pesticides linked with cancer, mutation, reproductive toxicity, and hormonal disruption. If the EU Parliament agrees, around 5% of pesticides will be removed from the market. The stage was set by major supermarket chains that have already committed to removing produce with residues from a list of hazardous pesticides from their stores. Environmental organizations have been dogging supermarket chains to adopt green practices and this is among the successes they have achieved. However, Monday's agreement includes two major compromises. First, as PAN Europe Coordinator Elliott Cannell describes it, "Politicians agreed to a series of clauses which could keep some hazardous pesticides on the menu where alternative pest management strategies are deemed unavailable." Second, the compelling case for broader criteria did not prevail. Greenpeace Germany's Manfred Krautter argued that, "pesticides that harm bees or life in aquatic environments must be banned from the market," however they were not targeted. Progress in the face of rapidly rising commodity prices is remarkable despite these compromises. Organizations opposing the move such as the European Crop Protection Association capitalized on production and price fears and argued that taking these pesticides off the market would lead to declines in crop yields, further increases in prices, and job losses. They also objected to bans on whole categories of pesticides, arguing that despite hazardous properties, they can and have been used safely.
On June 19, the State of California announced that it will abandon aerial spraying over urban areas in its program to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM). In its place, a program of sterile moth release will be launched in early 2009. PAN and many other groups have been urging the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to replace unnecessary spraying with ecologically-sound and safer ground-level biocontrol programs. "Sterile moths are a very good idea for long-term management of a pest like the LBAM," declared Margaret Reeves, senior scientist and head of PAN's LBAM team. "We're pleased that the State heard the voices of so many Californians." The LBAM controversy continues, however, over other elements of CDFA's LBAM action plan, including use of the neurotoxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, in nurseries, and the lack of cancellation of aerial application of pesticides in rural areas. PAN joins CDFA in calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to substantially increase investment in preventing future entry of invasive species into the country, beginning by filling vacancies in Agricultural Inspection Stations. Several groups, including PAN, are calling on USDA to reclassify LBAM so as to remove the requirement for emergency "eradication," and on the federal government to reconsider trade policies that have contributed to the LBAM "crisis".
On June 23, police arrested activist Diane Wilson at the Indian Consulate in Houston, where she'd been fasting for 12 days in solidarity with a hunger strike begun in New Delhi on June 10 by nine survivors of the Union Carbide Gas Disaster in Bhopal. Wilson, a fourth generation Texas fisherwoman, has urged the Government of India to fulfill the survivor's demands for clean water, health care and justice. The Texas Civil Rights Review reports that Wilson calls the survivors "my sisters and brothers," as she is also from a community polluted by Dow/Carbide -- Seadrift, Texas. More than 400 concerned people in the US, Britain, Canada, France and India are fasting in solidarity with the Delhi strikers. Protests and rolling solidarity fasts have occurred in Boston, Toronto, San Francisco and other cities, and a Bhopal Global Day of Action is being organized for June 28, with public fasts in major cities -- go to boston4bhopal.org to participate or lend support. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal is also urging concerned people to place calls to the Indian Prime Minister, urging him to meet with the strikers and commit to justice in Bhopal. Click to download instructions for making calls (PDF).
The Green Party of Cyprus is calling for stricter legislation regarding the sale and use of pesticides that have "created a buildup of dangerous substances in the Cypriot countryside causing pollution and worsening desertification.” According to the Cyprus Mail, the Green members of Parliament proposed that pesticides only be sold at specialized shops and only after presenting a prescription issued by a licensed horticulturist (the same standard that applies at medical and veterinary pharmacies.) The party also suggested that pesticides only be applied by certified professionals who have passed safety courses and whose licenses would need to be renewed by the Agriculture Ministry every three years. Although the plan failed to win parliamentary support, the proposals were followed up on June 20 when members of the Horticulturalists’ Union met with Cyprus' Agriculture Minister. The union demanded stronger laws to control the sale and use of pesticides and that a certified horticulturalist be employed at all pesticide shops. The Green Parliamentarians criticized current laws that allow the sales of existing stocks of banned pesticides. “One such example is lanate, which is still on traders’ shelves despite its ban by the EU,” the Party stated. The Greens want Cyprus to move towards environmental farming methods, claiming that "only… local organic farming can guarantee food safety.”
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In the cotton region of southwestern Punjab, couples are childless, babies are born deformed, and cancer kills both young and old. Nadar Singh recalls how 20 people in his village of 3,200 suffered cancer-related deaths during the last five years. "Such news has stopped shocking us," Singh says. "Here even kids have cancer." In May, a government study found chemical fertilizers and pesticides had seeped into Punjab's groundwater causing cancers and mental retardation. The Centre for Science and Environment found residues of as many as 13 pesticides in villagers' blood. Other researchers have found evidence of DNA damage among local cotton farmers. Punjab's problems started with the Green Revolution of the 1960s after the newly introduced high-yield cotton proved susceptible to pests. As the pests grew resistant to chemicals, farmers increased spraying. "Earlier, we used less water, traditional crops and organic manure. Now, it's all chemicals," recalls 93-year-old Sarmukh Singh. "We've got our land addicted, but we don't know how to fight this addiction." The government has started promoting herbal pesticides and some farmers are taking up organic farming while scientists are calling for restoring soil biodiversity by planting pulses, cereals and maize -- crops more suited to the local landscape.
Speaking on June 3 in Rome at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Stjepan Mesić, president of Croatia, declared at the global Food Summit that, "The triple global crisis which has affected us -- the financial crisis, the energy crisis and the food crisis -- is the red light flashing a clear warning: something is rotten in the global economy. It is warning us that the structural upsets due to past trade and financial practices are too serious and too deep for sustaining the current state for a long time." Underscoring findings of the recent report from the UN's International Agriculture Assessment, that "business as usual" is unacceptable, he pointed to failed policies of international finance and development institutions, and some governments, that are at the root of the current and longer term food crisis. "We must reject all false convictions that we are victims of... circumstances beyond our control.... We are where we are because of the chronic lack of international justice and solidarity, which has finally and on a global scale affected the only material item which makes us all equal and all vulnerable -- and that is food."