Almond growers fume; Pesticides in groundwater; Pesticides can make you fat; Food, Inc., and more...

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September 18, 2008

Almond growers fuming over fumigation

Almond growers lawsuitOn September 9, 15 almond growers and wholesale nut handlers filed a federal court suit to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to repeal its 2007 rule requiring mandatory fumigation of almonds with toxic propylene oxide (an EPA-listed carcinogen). Because the USDA doesn't require fumigation for imported almonds, US growers have been losing sales to nuts imported from Europe. Natural News Editor Mike Adams reports some farmers believe the USDA's goal is to "put small organic farmers out of business." Will Fantle of the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, has called the ruling "economically devastating to many family-scale and organic almond farmers in California." The raw food community, which relies on organic almonds to make nutritious food and drinks, was angered by the USDA's decision that nuts could still be labeled as "raw" after fumigation and heat treatments had altered their nutritional value and disease-fighting phytonutrients. The lawsuit charges that the USDA exceeded its regulatory authority and failed to hold full public hearings. "Almond growers were not permitted to fully participate in developing and approving the rule," said attorney Ryan Miltner. The Cornucopia Institute has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the USDA's studies on how fumigation and heat treatment changes the nutritional content of raw nuts.

Lawsuits over pesticides that pollute groundwater

In the last year and a half, the public interest law firm Earthjustice, representing PAN and other groups, has filed four federal lawsuits against the EPA concerning the use of endosulfan, diazinon and other toxic pesticides. Earthjustice attorney Joshua Osborne-Klein told ABC News that while these pesticides "pose extreme risks to human health… the EPA has not fully assessed these risks.” The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that about one billion pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. each year and the EPA’s own Web site acknowledges that groundwater is “highly susceptible to contamination.” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch told ABC “we should be doing a lot more to protect our groundwater” and decried the influence the pesticide industry has exerted over the EPA during the Bush years. ”Pesticides [have] become very politicized," Hauter charged, "EPA hasn’t been doing what they need to do.” Janet Fults with the pesticide division of the Oregon Department of Agriculture reports that state water samples have detected azinphos-methyl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, endosulfan, dacthal, ethoprop and simazine. Oregon used more than 40 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides in 2007. “There are so many pesticides that do not have [safety] benchmarks,” Fults said, yet “the EPA expects states to address water quality issues without benchmarks.” Oregon, California and New York are the only states with comprehensive pesticide reporting programs.

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Call to ban endosulfan in Philippines

On September 10, Dr. Romeo Quijano, the president of the Pesticide Action Network Philippines, joined Sagay Mayor Alfredo Marañon Jr, to call for a nationwide ban on the deadly pesticide endosulfan. “Pesticides are wreaking havoc on our health and environment,” Quijano (who is also on the board of PAN-Asia Pacific) told the press. “Unfortunately," he added, "many governments, including the Philippines, do not seem to recognize the seriousness of the problem.” Mayor Marañon, chair of the local Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Foundation, joined Quijano and the Negros Organic Agriculture Movement in calling on farmers to switch to organic farming practices. The Cebu Daily News reports that “with the rising prices of chemical fertilizers, more and more Negros small farmers have started using organic fertilizer.”

Twisting Nature's 'enzymatic knobs'

Pesticides Damage DNA According to a EurekAlert, "plants produce their own natural chemical cocktails, each set uniquely adapted to the individual plant's specific habitat." While studying anti-fungal agents produced by closely related tobacco and henbane plants, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies were surprised to discover how "a few mutations in a key enzyme are enough to shift the whole output to an entirely new product." They claim these findings could be used to "fine-tune the production of natural and environmentally friendly fungicides and pesticides." Joseph P. Noel, PhD, the study's lead investigator, observed: "Most people are familiar with the word biodiversity but 'chemodiversity' -- the extraordinary tapestry of natural chemicals found in plants -- is just as important for life." The findings, reported in the September 7 online edition of Nature Chemical Biology, notes that changing only nine of the 550 aminoacids found in tobacco plants can turn a tobacco-specific fungus-fighting phytoalexin into the henbane version. Scientists likened the finding to the discovery of "enzymatic knobs" that could be manipulated to produce new plants capable of dealing with the stress of climate change. However, PAN's Marcia Ishii-Eiteman wonders whether the research will contribute to sustainable agriculture or simply increase patenting of life and corporate profit. "The scientists' glee at having knobs to manipulate and new 'lab-built plants' to create is worrying," Ishii-Eiteman says. “The best science on how agriculture should respond to climate change points to the need for greater ecological resilience and increased crop diversity in our farming systems. This enables farmers to cope with ever-changing environmental stresses and unexpected events. You won’t get this by spinning a knob or engineering a new plant.”

Pesticides can make you fat

Scientists at Barcelona's Municipal Institute of Medical Research have published evidence that links chemical contamination in the womb with childhood obesity. According to a report in Acta Paediatrica, when the umbilical cords of 403 children born on the island of Menorca were examined, they all showed high levels of hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and other organochlorine pesticides. Banned globally under the Stockholm Convention, HCB continues to persist in the environment. The Independent reports that children with the highest HCB levels were "twice as likely to be obese when they reached the age of six and a half." Many animal studies have shown that bisphenol A (used in baby bottles) and phthalates (found in plastic food wrappers) can trigger obesity. These pollutants, dubbed "obesogens," are able to influence genes in the womb, turning stem cells into fat cells -- and they are found almost universally in the bodies of children and adults. Obesogen expert Dr. Peter Myers told The Independent that the Spanish study "firmly links such chemicals to the biggest challenge facing public health today." Since the introduction of these pesticides, obesity in Britain has quadrupled. As Myers observes, we need to "reduce exposures to these chemicals so that changing diet and lifestyle has a chance to work" for the 300 million obese people in the world today.

Pesticide preservatives deadly to shrimp

Insecticides and fungicides are commonly used as wood preservatives. A new study in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety assessed the ecotoxicity of a widely used preservative containing three fungicides – propiconazole, tebuconazole, IPBC – and cypermethrin, a pyrethroid insecticide. When researchers exposed freshwater shrimp (Gammarus pulex) to each of the chemicals independently, they found the first two fungicides were ”not toxic,” while IPBS was “moderately toxic” and cypermethrin “was extremely toxic." But the study also found that the toxicity of commercial mixtures "containing pesticides, solvents and additives” was “markedly higher" than expected based on the toxicity of the individual pesticides. Even more surprising, when the level of cypermethrin was reduced to only 0.002%, the mixture “showed lethality 2.5-18-fold higher than those predicted by the commonly used models.” The researchers concluded that “toxicity of wood preservative mixtures cannot be assessed starting only from the toxicities of each single component.” Because chemicals react differently when combined, the study concluded, “the environmental impacts of wood preservative mixtures might be frequently underestimated.”

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Pesticides lurk in city power poles

While toxic agricultural chemicals receive a lot of attention, Beyond Pesticides (BP) notes that 34% of all pesticides (excluding chlorine and hypochlorine products) are used as wood preservatives to treat utility poles and railroad ties. In 2000, the EPA estimated that 809 million pounds of pesticides -- including pentachlorophenol (PCP), chromated copper arsenate (CCA) and creosote -- were used in 90% of the country's 130-135 million utility poles. According to BP, a typical utility pole can contain 40 pounds of PCP. In a June 16 letter to the EPA, a coalition of 60 environmental groups -- including BP and PAN -- argued that the agency "has allowed flawed industry science to provide it with exposure data that potentially and significantly underestimates exposures and therefore risks." While EPA maintains that pesticide preservatives pose "no significant danger," BP contends that chemically treated wood can pose a threat to children who "use treated utility poles as 'home base' [and] as basketball posts." The EPA's own research notes that PCP in wood can "volatize or leach" into the surrounding environment. When poles and ties are retired, the wood is frequently recycled for use in residential settings -- without any labeling to warn of the danger. Under federal regulations, the coalition’s letter notes, “once a pesticide has been impregnated into wood it is no longer characterized as a pesticide" and becomes "exempt from safe storage practices." EPA has argued that halting the practice would be too costly but affordable alternatives to wooden poles and ties are now available in the form of longer-lasting replacements made from concrete, steel and recycled car tires.

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Eat, Drink and Be Wary

Food IncFood Inc., a forthcoming documentary from Participant Films — the company that produced "An Inconvenient Truth," "The Kite Runnder," and "Charlie Wilson's War" — deals with Monsanto's strong-arming of farmers who save seed rather than buy the corporation's genetically engineered soy and corn and "the mechanized underbelly" of the U.S. food industry. Featuring leading critics Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and Eric Schlossser (Fast Food Nation), Food Inc. offers a stunning exposé of the industrialized food system and shows why it must be replaced by sustainable alternatives. The film, which is set for release in early 2009, received a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival Sept. 8. The LA Times hailed it as "a riveting cautionary tale" and Entertainment Weekly called it "more than a terrific movie -- it's an important movie, one that nourishes your knowledge of how the world works." The film was also a hit in San Francisco when it was screened as part of the three-day "Slow Food Nation" celebration Aug. 30-Sept 1. There's a reason they call it Participant Media. The company's progressive, social-change films are only the most visible tip of a larger program that includes public education and promotes civic action to address the issues raised on screen and put people to work solving problems in real-life situations. PAN is honored to have been invited to partner with the filmmakers in their campaign to transform public opinion about the need to confront and transform the corporatized food system.

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Correction:
In last week's PANUPS ("Buried pesticides threaten Japan"), the insecticides aldrin, endrin, dieldrin and BHC were incorrectly identified as herbicides.

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