August 07, 2008
- Californians ACT to protect farmers from Monsanto
- Food crisis threatens environment in Europe
- South Africans get GMOs for breakfast
- Oregon releases first pesticide report
- Study confirms pesticides persist in groundwater
- County official blocks popular pesticide guide
- Bush's push to derail worker protection
- EU upholds pesticide ban
In 1999, a Canadian farmer named Percy Schmeiser discovered his organic canola crop had been contaminated by seed sgenetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Adding insult to injury, Monsanto’s lawyers sued Schmeiser for the unauthorized use of their patented seeds. Farmers across the U.S. are being intimidated, harassed and sued by Monsanto in its quest to control corn and soy production by protecting the corporation's patents on genetically engineered seeds. California farmers would have a measure of protection from such attacks if the Senate passes and the governor signs a new bill to protect growers against similar harassment by biotech seed companies. The Genetic Policy Alliance notes that AB541, which was passed by the State Assembly in January, is up for a vote in the Senate the week of August 11. Californians are urged to act today to urge their Senators to support this bill to protect farmers from corporate intimidation.
The BBC reports the global food crisis has triggered "a quiet revolution in European farming" as land previously set aside for protected habitat is being plowed under to meet growing demand for food crops. Over the past year,the amount of land farmed in the European Union (EU) jumped 5% — to 1.3million new acres. "Fields tend to be ploughed right up to the edge of roads, woods and rivers. It is very rare to see anything resembling a meadow," says the BBC. Ariel Brunner of Birdlife International warns that this "drive towards intensification… will put huge strains on the environment." Conservation "set-asides" that previously protected plant and animal biodiversity also prevented pesticides and fertilizers from degrading groundwater. Now, Brunner says, these areas "have been abolished with hardly any thought to the implications" and, as a result, "we are already facing very severe groundwater and river pollution problems in Europe's most heavily cultivated regions." Roger Waite, the editor of the AgraFacts newsletter, sees "a fundamental change" coming as farmers "concentrate less on their role as custodians of the countryside and more on providers of food. The return a farmer gets from the market will always come first." Ironically, the rush to intensify production flies in the face of recent UN recommendations to prioritize agroecological farming.
Maize is a key ingredient in packaged cereals sold in South Africa but South Africa's The Times reports that "more than half of the maize used in some of the country's top breakfast brands is genetically modified." Lab tests commissioned by the watchdog group SafeAge found maize engineered to contain bacteria genes was present in many popular cereals including ProNutro Toddlers Instant Apple and Banana Flavour, Iwisa Maize Meal, and Purity Cream of Maize Baby Soft Porridge. "Labeling GM foods in Europe did not result in increased food prices but did result in an almost total rejection of them," said SafeAge's Andrew Taynton. With 1.6 million hectares -- 57 percent -- of South Africa's maize now GM, The Times reports "the days of GM-free cereal [appear] to be over." South Africa is the "only sub-Saharan country to commercialize GM food crops," according to The Times, and activists are demanding labeling of GM foods. Meanwhile, Biowatch Director Leslie Liddell warns that, because of the global food crisis "our food production system is increasingly being placed in the hands of GM seed companies, thus undermining not only household food security but also food sovereignty."
On July 30, Oregon released its first-ever accounting of pesticide use. The report came in response to a citizens' campaign that prompted the legislature to authorize the review back in 1999. The Oregonian reports the 27-page survey lists "more than 40 million pounds of 551 fumigants, herbicides and insecticides applied to the state's lands and waters in 2007." The most heavily used chemicals were the fumigants metam-sodium and 1,3-dichloropropene (listed as cancer-causing agents in California). The most commonly used pesticide was bifenthrin, a possible human carcinogen. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, was another widely used product. Pesticides were applied to 17 million acres of farms, orchards, and nurseries. While California's pesticide reporting is fine-tuned to each square mile, Oregon's report considers 15 large "basins." The Oregonian explains legislators used this broader approach "amid concerns about regulators or anti-pesticide activists using the data to target farmers and foresters." Beyond Pesticides notes that the report does not "detail pesticides used on specific crops, or note carcinogenic and reproductive effects of certain chemicals." Aimee Code of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides said: "I would like more detailed information, but politically, that's going to be a hard battle." With the authorizing legislation set to expire in 2009, environmentalists now must lobby to extend the reporting law. The Oregon Environmental Council wants to improve the law to include use by watersheds rather than "basins" and to require reports on "specific use at schools and in parks" but, according to The Oregonian, "the Department of Agriculture believes that would violate the Legislature's instructions to keep all the reporting confidential."
The U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Quality Assessment Program (NWQAP) has tested groundwater at research sites in California, Maryland and Washington for the presence of 45 pesticides and 40 pesticide degradation products and the NWQAP's studies confirm that "pesticides remain in groundwater long after initial applications." Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides were found to "move downward to reach the earth's water table at significant concentrations" and, once there, "they can remain in that water for years." The most commonly detected contaminants were triazines (including atrazine, produced by Syngenta) and chloroacetanilides (such as alachlor). NewsInferno reports that "pesticide degradation product concentrations greatly exceeded the concentrations from the originating compounds."
Under pressure from the agricultural industry, Washington’s King County has spiked a wallet-sized consumer guide that identifies which fruits and vegetables contain the most and least amount of pesticides. On July 8, the guide was pulled from the Web site of the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program after LHWMP’s new administrator, Jay Watson, called the guide "oversimplified." Ivy Sager-Rosenthal of the Washington Toxics Coalition called it "outrageous” for the pesticide industry to try to “prevent people from getting information that will help them make healthier choices about their food." The guide lists 13 "high pesticide risk" items, including apples, carrots and celery and "low pesticide risk" alternatives including asparagus, avocados and bananas. The rankings are based on U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration data. Heather Hanson, executive director of the pro-industry Washington Friends of Farms and Forest, called the guide "misleading" because "it says, 'Don't eat locally grown stuff. Eat mangos and bananas.'" When a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter asked where that was printed on the guide, Hansen replied: "OK, so it doesn't actually say that.” The newspaper noted that the card promotes a Web site -- pugetsoundfresh.org -- that provides “maps and directions to farms and farmers markets in 12 surrounding counties.” Asked if her group received industry money, Hanson replied: "It depends what you consider to be industry." The organization's board includes representatives from the wheat and timber industry and some directors are employed by pesticide and fertilizer producers. Watson says the LHWMP has no plans to distribute more guides until he receives input including “comment from the ag community."
The Washington Post reports "political appointees at the Department of Labor are moving with unusual speed to push through… a rule making it tougher to regulate workers' on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins." This fast-tracking of a secret rule stands in stark contrast to the department's nearly eight-year record of foot-dragging on worker protections. During George W. Bush's two terms, The Post reports, "the department adopted only one major health rule for a chemical in the workplace" and only did so "under a court order." Rep. George Miller (D-CA) said this "secret rulemaking makes me highly suspicious that some high-level political appointees are up to no good." Asked about the mysterious ruling, a Labor Department spokesperson told The Post he was not at liberty to say "how it was written and by whom." AFL-CIO spokesperson Peg Seminario accused the administration of trying to "reduce required workplace protections through a midnight regulation." A draft leaked to The Post, reveals the new rule would lower the bar for assessing chemical exposure risks and create new barriers to protecting workers. David Michaels, a professor of workplace safety at George Washington University, told The Post: "This is being done in secrecy, to be sprung before President Bush leaves office, to cripple the next administration."
ENDS Europe Daily reports that the European Court of Justice "has rebuffed a chemical company's bid to get the pesticide azinphos-methyl (Guthion) reinstated on the EU market." Azinphos-methyl is a dangerous neurotoxin derived from nerve agents developed during World War II. The European Commission's attempt to permit use of the chemical was blocked by the EU governments in 2006 but the manufacturer, Makhteshim-Agan, appealed the ban. On July 28, the court dismissed the appeal as "inadmissible" and upheld the ban on the sale of azinphos-methyl.