July 17, 2008
- Californians call for local control over pesticides
- Pesticide worries at Wimbledon
- Florida registers methyl iodide
- Heat kills three more California farmworkers
- Farmworker victory in North Carolina
- Bombshell report: agrofuels and food crisis
- GMOs & organics "can't coexist"
- UK lobbies to keep pesticides on the table
San Francisco and other Bay Area cities were frustrated in early 2008 when they realized that resolutions opposing the State’s aerial spraying to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth were impotent. State law in California (and 39 other states) prevents towns, cities and counties from regulating pesticides. Now, California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has introduced AB977 to reclaim local control. After Mendocino County sought to ban aerial spraying of herbicides in 1979, the agrichemical industry and corporate agriculture interests lobbied to change California’s Food and Agriculture Code to prohibit such local regulations. This “preemption” law, adopted in 1984, says that “no ordinance or regulation of local government… may prohibit or in any way attempt to regulate any matter relating to the registration, sale, transportation, or use of pesticides.” It means towns and counties can’t require public notification about pesticide use or decide that certain pesticides are too dangerous for local use. After enacting preemption in California, industry proceeded to win similar laws across the country. In 2007, pesticide preemption was defeated in Maine. PAN, Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR), Pesticide Watch and others are launching a statewide campaign to overturn preemption, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering a supportive resolution on July 23. Contact Tina Cosentino at CPR to get involved.
The tradition of savoring strawberries during Wimbledon's tennis playoffs took a hit after Britain's Pesticide Safety Directorate published a report that 90 percent of strawberries tested positive for pesticide contamination. "Strawberries are synonymous with Wimbledon," reports the Telegraph, noting that "more than 28,000 kilogrammes are consumed in the fortnight." Ruth Beckmann from Pesticide Action Network UK told the Telegraph, "We would expect traces of pesticides in 30 to 40 percent of them, not 90 percent. That is excessive." Beckmann called the concentration levels "extremely high." The good news: organic strawberries tested pesticide-free.
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On July 7, 2008, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services approved a conditional registration for methyl iodide products under the commercial name Midas. More restrictive, Florida-specific labels will be required for Midas pesticides sold in Florida. However, Tirso Moreno, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida, said “the best restrictions in the world are useless if they are ignored or violated.” Methyl iodide, also known as iodomethane, is widely opposed because of its well-known cancer hazards. EPA’s own evaluation indicates that methyl iodide causes thyroid toxicity, permanent neurological damage, and fetal deaths in animals. PAN, Farmworker Justice and other groups have joined Farmworker Association of Florida in advocating that all fumigants be phased out and that methyl iodide, specifically, not be re-registered. If methyl iodide's federal registration is confirmed in the fall, it will likely fall under new rules restricting five other fumigants. The rules were published by US EPA on July 10 and take effect in 2010. See PANUPS for July 10.
On July 10, Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez, a 48-year-old father of two, was stricken by heat exhaustion while working for Sun Valley Packing in Selma, California. He died before an ambulance could take him to a hospital. Earlier in the week, 42-year-old Abdon Felix Garcia died while working in sweltering fields for Sunview Vineyards in Arvin. The UFW reports, "Felix's core body temperature was measured at 108 degrees just 13 minutes before his death." And on June 20, 64-year-old Macarena Hernandez perished while harvesting squash for Sunrise Growers. After the death of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant 17-year-old, California Governor Schwaezenegger promised to "do everything possible to prevent this from happening again." UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez complains that "laws written to protect farmworkers are not enforced. With the recent deaths… it is clear the state does not have the capacity to protect farmworkers." The UFW is calling on people to fax the governor and demand enforcement of worker safety. The UFW also supports legislation now before the State Senate that would "make it easier for farmworkers to get organized and enforce the laws that the state cannot enforce."
On July 9, the North Carolina Senate passed S847, the Prevent Agricultural Pesticide Exposure Act. The bill is now headed to the Governor's desk for his signature. Farmworkers stand to gain important workplace safeguards, including protection against retaliation for reporting pesticide safety problems and improved pesticide record-keeping by employers. The state budget also included $357,055 to improve pesticide safety programs. Toxic Free North Carolina writes: “Please join us in celebrating this accomplishment, thanking leaders, and re-committing to our work together to fight pesticide pollution and protect the rights of farmworkers and their families. This legislation is a great step forward, but there's more to be done to protect farm workers and their families from pesticide exposure hazards at work."
According to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian, "Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% -- far more than previously estimated." It is believed that the report, finished in April, was hushed up "to avoid embarrassing President George Bush." The Guardian notes that the new figure "emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises." The stunning World Bank assessment adds new pressure on the British government's forthcoming Gallagher Report which, according to the Guardian, concludes that agrofuels played a "significant" role in running up global food costs. This report has also been delayed. Oxfam advisor Robert Bailey accused political leaders of "suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor" in the world food crisis. Bush has pointedly blamed the crisis on rising demands from China and India but the secret World Bank report clearly states that this is not the case. "Without the increases in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined" and price increases "would have been moderate." According to the report, "the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices." The Guardian emphasizes that this "damning, unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far."
“Since GM cultivation was introduced in Spain in 1998,” EurekAlert reports, a controversy has stirred "over the concept of coexistence between transgenic and conventional organic agriculture.” “Coexistence” was introduced by the EU in 2002 to deal with concerns about GMO strains contaminating organic produce. “Coexistence” would make it easier to lift existing de facto moratoriums against GMOs in Europe and allow introduction of new transgenic crops. Now a Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics article reports the coexistence concept has “generated new problems instead of solving existing conflicts.” The report’s author, Rosa Binimelis, studied Spain’s Catalonia and Aragon regions, where Bt corn was introduced in 1998. Binimelis found that the “difficulties organic farmers would face in order to claim compensations” for contaminated crops had discouraged organic investments. After GMO corn was introduced in Aragon, the area devoted to organic maize fell by 75% between 2004-2007. The study predicts contamination fears will promote the spread of “genetically modified farming over any other alternative.” The European Commission is planning to evaluate the coexistence policy later this year.
In July, the British government began a media blitz designed to undercut the European Union's new proposal to remove the "most hazardous" pesticides from food grown in the EU. Against all logic, the Pesticides Safety Directorate's principal toxicologist rushed to assure journalists that removing the most carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic pesticides would achieve "no significant health benefit for consumers." PAN Europe spokesperson Elliott Cannell called the government's initiative "extremely disappointing. Cancer is the second biggest cause of death in Europe so it makes real sense to ensure that carcinogenic and mutagenic pesticides are no longer common contaminants in fruits and vegetables." With France, Germany, Spain and Italy supporting the new law, Cannell says, "it's an insult to common sense that the UK should try to hold back progress across the EU."