PAN's Drift Catcher honored; UK vs. EU over pesticides; Greens vs. EU on residues; Japan's buried toxins; and more...
- Bayer loses EU endosulfan ban appeal
- PAN's Drift Catcher wins 2008 Tech Award
- Fumigant phaseout battle continues in California
- Britain targets EU's proposed pesticide ban
- PAN and greens challenge EU's new residue rules
- Buried pesticides threaten Japan
- 'Green farms' out-perform 'Gene farms'
- Australian pesticides taint NZ produce
- Tighter spraying laws mean fewer complaints
"A group of firms led by Bayer CropScience has lost a legal bid to overturn an EU ban on the pesticide endosulfan," reports ENDS Europe Daily. In the ruling on September 9, the European Court of Justice dismissed all arguments brought by the plaintiffs against the European Commission's December 2005 decision to end marketing of endosulfan. "The firms had cited 'procedural flaws and unfairness of the evaluation procedure' among their reasons for challenging the decision." Endosulfan is a highly toxic nerve poison, one of the antiquated persistent organochlorine pesticides nominated for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention. It is currently under review by the U.S. EPA.
On September 9, 2008, The Tech Museum of Innovation announced that PAN's Drift Catcher was named a 2008 Tech Awards Laureate, one of 25 global innovations recognized each year for "applying technology to benefit humanity and spark global change." The Drift Catcher, invented by PAN Senior Scientist Susan Kegley, PhD, was selected from among hundreds of nominations from 68 countries. The Drift Catcher is a user-friendly and affordable air-monitoring device that has been used by rural and farm communities around the U.S. to measure the concentrations of hazardous pesticides in the air.
On August 21, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a federal judge’s ruling to restrict the use of fumigants on fields in California’s Ventura County. The president of the Ventura County Agricultural Association (VCAA) hailed the decision as a “total vindication for our claim that the… regulations were unnecessary and without merit.” The VCAA also filed a suit to block restrictions on fumigants by arguing that this could raise the cost of farming and force strawberry growers to sell their land to developers. This could cause “unintended impacts” that would require a new environmental review. This week, a judge in Sacramento, California, dismissed the suit. The imminent reductions were a direct result of DPR inaction on air quality measures that were originally agreed upon in 1994. As the deadline for attainment of the goals approached, DPR allowed fumigant use to increase instead of decrease. The legal battle to limit fumigants has been going on since 2006 when environmental groups sued the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) to enforce clean air standards (see PANUPS for Dec. 13, 2007). "The battle might be nearing an end,” the Ventura County Star reports, since both the VCAA and the CDPR have signaled “they are content with a gradual phase-out of fumigants over four years.” The phase-out would cut fumigant emissions to 20 percent below 1991 levels.
A proposed European Union directive would move toward a ban on pesticides linked to cancer, DNA mutation, reproductive toxicity and hormonal disruption, albeit with clauses that let some chemicals off the hook. The Yorkshire Post reports British politicians are digging-in to block these plans, arguing that the loss of these toxic treatments would have a "significant adverse impact on crop protection." UK Environment Secretary Hilary Bennhas called the proposal "barmy" and suggests a ban would lower yields, increase food costs and put families out of work. "The UK Government's approach to pesticide legislation is extremely disappointing," said Elliott Cannell, a spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network Europe. "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 the proposal set for a second reading before the year's end, UK Pesticides Campaign spokesperson Georgina Downs insists that the regulations "must not be watered down by industry lobbying."
On September 1, the European Union (EU) imposed new regulations on the amount of pesticide residues permitted on food sold in the EU. Four days before the rules went into effect, PAN Europe and the Dutch group, Natuur en Millieu, filed a legal challenge, arguing that, under the new standard, "dietary exposure to pesticides is set to rise while many residue limits will become unsafe for consumers." The lawsuit was filed after a joint study by Greenpeace Germany, Austria's Global 2000 and Friends of the Earth Austria [see shareMORE] concluded "almost 700 of the maximum amounts of pesticides in fruit and vegetables allowed throughout the EU are too high." According to EurActive, PAN Europe Coordinator Elliott Cannell noted that "for each pesticide, the [European] Commission identified the country with the worst safety limit and then sought to adopt this level as the new EU-wide standard." The Greenpeace study warned that, under the new MRL rules, apples, pears, grapes, tomatoes and sweet peppers would "threaten acute and chronic damage to health, especially that of children." PAN Europe expects a ruling on the lawsuit in early 2009.
In 1971, Japan banned the use of five farm chemicals that posed a risk to human health but, because Japan lacked the means to safely dispose of the hazardous material, the government opted to bury the chemicals in plastic containers sealed in concrete. The government buried 4,660 tons of banned agrochemicals —including DDT and the insecticides aldrin, endrin, dieldrin and BHC -- in 30 prefectures. Because of concerns that an earthquake could release these buried wastes into the soil and water supplies, a cleanup has been underway but, four decades after the chemicals were placed in "temporary" entombment, 2,083 tons still remain underground in 10 prefectures. After ratifying the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in 2002, Japan hoped to safely dispose of the remaining wastes by 2009. Unfortunately, the Asahi Shimbun reports, the cleanup remains stalled "because of bureaucratic inertia and funding shortages." Meanwhile, these toxic time-bombs lie buried in 120 locations that the government refuses to identify, citing "public safety and crime prevention" concerns. Hokkaido, along with Niigata, Tottori, Shiga, Okayama prefectures are home to most of the entombed toxics.
Francis Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet and founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, is frustrated that the mainstream media continue to beat the drum for pesticides and genetic engineering as the solutions to world hunger. Lappe lambastes the media for ignoring the findings of 400 world experts whose April 2008 United Nations' "Agricultural Assessment" concluded that chemical-free agriculture offers a better path to sustainable farming. PANNA Scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman was among the lead authors of the United Nations' report. "On every continent," Lappé writes, "one can find empowered rural communities developing GM-free, agro-ecological farming systems. They're succeeding. The largest overview study, looking at farmers transitioning to sustainable practices in 57 countries, involving almost 13 million small farmers on almost 100 million acres, found after four years that average yields were up 79 percent." In India's Andra Pradesh, "the pesticide capital of the world," insects have become resistant to Monsanto insecticides and GM-cotton. The London Guardian reports nearly 2,000 villages in Andhra Pradesh have adopted Non-Pesticide Management practices, having discovered that NPM "is clearly more profitable, not because yields are higher but because expenditure is so much lower."
The Soil & Health Association (SHA) has called for food sold in New Zealand to carry mandatory "country of origin" labels (CoOL) after a joint-investigation by PAN and Organic NZ magazine discovered pesticide residues in 75% of produce samples purchased in local stores. Dimethoate (an organophosphate insecticide) was detected in shipments of tomatoes, zucchini and sweet peppers that were simply labeled "imported" when the produce actually came from Australia. "NZ tomato growers do not use dimethoate or omethoate (also found in Australian produce) and New Zealanders must be able to choose the origin of their products as part of their own health choices," SHA's Steffan Browning told FoodWeek Online. In this case, Browning said, "the NZ name was dominant on the packaging, with a tiny 'Produce of Australia' label needing a lens to find." CoOL is currently a voluntary program but, according to Browning, the discovery of Australian zucchinis bearing more than twice the Maximum Residue Level of pesticides shows "voluntary labeling is not working. These results support our call for mandatory labeling." Australia's Green Party has submitted a petition with 39,000 names calling on Parliament to support mandatory labeling.
In 2004, Canada introduced stiffer regulations for the spraying of agricultural pesticides and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports "complaints about pesticides drifting off farmers' fields on [Prince Edwards Island] are down this year." In Canada, it is illegal to spray pesticides when the wind is blowing harder than 20 km/hour (12 miles-per-hour). There were 83 complaints in 2007 but, as of September 5, only 41 complaints had been recorded. Environment Minister George Webster told CBC News "Whether the growers are more diligent than they have been in the past, I don't know…. I can't say why the decline." CBC News reports that, the understaffed provincial conservation departments have "bought three ambient air-monitoring machines that watch for drifting pesticides, something like a surveillance camera." But in order to press charges, officers actually have to "witness that the spraying was happening."