August 21, 2008
- EPA sued over pesticide data and bee deaths
- Heat kills another California farmworker
- 50-year-old pesticide coverup in UK
- PAN protests Manila's toxic trade pact
- Medflies controlled without pesticides
- Malawi's million mosquito nets
- Prince Charles on the food crisis
In the last two years, beekeepers have seen perhaps a third of the U.S. honeybee population wiped out by "colony collapse disorder." France and Germany halted the use of the product clothianidin, a neonicotinoid pesticide manufactured by Bayer CropsScience, when it turned up in the bodies of dead bees. A 2003 EPA fact sheet said clothianidin poses a risk of toxic chronic exposure to all pollinators. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that prior to receiving "conditional registration" for clothianidin, Bayer was required to "submit studies on chronic exposure to honeybees." On July 17, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) filed a Freedom of Information Request to obtain these documents. When the EPA failed to respond, the NRDC filed suit asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC to compel the EPA to release the documents. "The public has no idea whether those studies have been submitted to the EPA or not and, if so, what they show," NRDC lawyer Aaron Colangelo told the Chronicle. A sticky coating is applied to treated seeds to prevent the pesticide from spreading but, in Germany, the coating failed to prevent the pesticide from blowing into nearby fields. EPA spokesperson Dale Kemery said the agency is "reasonably confident" that this couldn't happen in the U.S. because commercial applicators use stickier coatings. But, when pressed, Kemery admitted that stickier coatings "aren't required" and told the Chronicle the EPA would "review its policies." "We want this information now," says NRDC entomologist Gabriela Chavarria. "Bees are disappearing. Our whole existence depends on them because… flowers need to be pollinated."
In the years since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took office, 15 farmworkers have died in the sweltering heat of California's fields. Despite the Governor's recent renewed pledge to protect farmworkers, 40% of the deaths have occurred in the last three months. The United Farm Workers (UFW) says the latest death of Maria de Jesus Alvarez, a 63-year-old mother of three, shows that "the state does not have the capacity to protect farm workers." Alvarez died on August 2 after working in 111-degree weather picking grapes. Neither Alvarez nor the other 150 workers were provided with shade or training in avoiding heat stroke, as required by state law. Doroteo Jimenez, the uncle of a farmworker killed by the heat in May, says: "My niece Maria Isabel died because growers treat us like tools instead of like people. I spoke up and I was unjustly fired. This needs to change." On August 18, hundreds of farmworkers traveled to Sacramento to urge the passage of AB 2386, which would protect farm laborers' right to organize and form unions "to enforce the laws the state cannot enforce." On August 19, Senate Democrats voted to approve the "right to organize" bill. The Associated Press reports the bill now "faces a possible veto by republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger."
In the late 1940's the British government asked leading scientists to explore the risks of using organophosphate (OP) chemicals in agriculture. The so-called Zuckerman Report was finished in 1951 but, instead of being released to the public, the Rochdale Observer reveals, the "damning government report" was "filed away in the House of Commons library." The recently discovered document clearly warned that OP exposure "could lead to more than 30 symptoms, including giddiness, tinnitus, loss of memory, depression and schizophrenia." Drawing attention to the link with WWII nerve agents, the scientists strongly advised the government to label products containing OPs as a "deadly poison" and to warn users that death could result from a single exposure. The secret report also recommended weekly medical exams for anyone using OP products and training doctors to diagnose and treat OP poisoning. British livestock rancher Brenda Sutcliffe began to question the safety of OP-laden "sheep dip" treatments after her family was poisoned 15 years ago at their Sheep Bank Farm. Sutcliffe told the Observer: "I can't believe that any government, let alone our government, would continue to encourage people to use these chemicals after discovering the danger.... I am absolutely furious."
Pesticide Action Network and 65 other global nongovernmental groups (NGOs) have written a letter asking the Philippine Senate to reject the proposed Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports JPEPA would approve the import of "toxic materials and wastes… including persistent organic pollutant wastes, nuclear wastes [and] ozone-depleting substances." Calling the JPEPA a "flawed treaty," the NGO leaders warned "the trade in toxic wastes is promoted under the pact." The letter to Senate President Manuel Villar was faxed from Trivanduum, India, where the NGOs had gathered for a conference on chemical safety. Marian Lloyd-Smith, co-chair of the International Persistent Organic Elimination Network (IPEN) called on the Senate to "be proactive in protecting the Filipino people and the environment from chemical trespass," but Senator Miriam Defenso Santiago told the press that the agreement was "virtually assured," since it was just one vote shy of the number needed for ratification.
The Associated Press reports that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has "gotten Mediterranean fruit flies to bug out of three counties where infestations led to a year-long quarantine of local produce." More recently, the CDFA was in the news for plans to "eradicate" the light brown apple moth (LBAM) using aerial spraying over several northern California cities. Like the Medfly, the LBAM was described as a voracious threat capable of causing millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state's agricultural sector. The LBAM aerial spraying plan was derailed following massive public resistance. Those who support biocontrol approaches to invasive pests can take heart from the CDFA's announcement that it was able to control the Medfly in Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Solano counties without the use of chemical pesticides. "To get rid of the insects," the Associated Press explains, "the state blankets affected areas with sterile male flies. That gradually wipes out the [insect] population." As a result of the heated LBAM campaign, activists now are petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reclassify the LBAM as a less-threatening "actionable" pest. The CDFA is taking comments on its LBAM control options through August 22 and a bill has been submitted to allow local jurisdictions to impose more health-protective restrictions on pesticide use than those maintained by the state.
According to the World Health Organization, combating malaria costs African nations $12 billion per year. So it comes as good news that Malawi, "one of Africa's poorest nations," has managed to distribute "one million free nets to children aged under five and pregnant mothers." The nets, treated with insecticides, are placed over beds to prevent mosquitoes from biting. Agence France-Presse reports that Malawi spends around $7 million to treat 8 million malaria cases each year. In 2007, Malawi recorded 7,000 malaria deaths. The Malaria Global Fund and the US Malaria Initiative share the costs of the $6.3 million bed-net program. (Each bed-net costs a mere 20 cents to produce.) In 2000, only six percent of the population was protected by bed-nets. Today, an estimated 65% of the population is covered. While concerns remain around treating bed-nets with even relatively less-hazardous insecticides, the approach is seen clearly preferable to spraying DDT inside homes, due to DDT's persistence in the environment and long-term health impacts both locally and as far away as the Arctic.
HRH the Prince of Wales, a devoted organic farmer, calls for food security rather than a continued emphasis on increasing food production, and rails at industrial farming and the genetic engineering of seeds and crops. "If that is the future," says Prince Charles, "count me out!"