India's conflict of interest on endosulfan; Make your vote count; Pesticides and brain damage; more

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October 30, 2008

India attempts to block endosulfan addition to trade watchlist

Farmworker spraying endosulfanThis week in Rome, a handful of countries are attempting to derail addition of the pesticide endosulfan to the Rotterdam Convention's watchlist for international trade. Canada's CNW Group reports that, despite years of study by the Convention's chemical review committee, India is raising objections to the listing of endosulfan under the treaty's Prior Informed Consent Procedure. PAN Staff Scientist Karl Tupper declared in Rome that, "the Convention should not be compromised by countries which have a conflict of interest such as India, which owns a pesticide company that produces and exports endosulfan." Pakistan and Sudan are the other two countries opposing the addition of endosulfan under the treaty. Because endosulfan is a persistent organochlorine, two weeks ago it was forwarded for consideration as a pollutant to be phased out under another treaty, the Stockholm Convention. Already banned in 57 countries, this toxin is still used in the U.S. -- especially on tomatoes in Florida -- and it is widely applied in cotton farming in some African nations. Remy Jonas Ahoyo, president of the NGO GAPROFFA of Benin, explains that endosulfan "kills two cotton producers each month in Benin during [the] application period. It increases poverty, causes birth defects and reproductive harm, and degrades the environment." Benin banned endosulfan in early 2008, notes Ahoyo, "but many other African countries have not, and they should at least be able to use the Rotterdam Convention to be informed about imports from India, China and the European Union (Germany)."

Update: Oct. 31, 2008

The Plenary of the Rotterdam Convention Council of the Parties 4 agreed to include tributyltin compounds in the Prior Informed Consent list, but could not agree on the inclusion of endosulfan or chrysotile asbestos. For details see PANUPS for Nov. 6

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Dole and Del Monte give up endosulfan in the Phillipines

Dole and Del Monte, the two remaining companies allowed to apply endosulfan in the Philippines, announced they will no longer use the pesticide beginning in 2009, and have instead submitted a list of less toxic alternatives. The Philippines has required annual registration of endosulfan since 1995, and it's use has been limited to use on pineapples by these two multinationals. According to the Philippines GMAnews, the pineapple companies say they have been importing 20 metric tons of endosulfan each year, and that their decision to move to a safer alternative was pushed by publicity "of the hazards of endosulfan due to the mishap of the M/V Princess of the Stars," a ferry boat that capsized in a typhoon on June 2. Salvage and recovery of more than 500 victims was halted for months because the cargo included 10 tons of endosulfan, release of which might have poisoned a large area of the surrounding sea. "[The alternatives] are comparable in efficacy but not as toxic as endosulfan," according to Luis F. Alejandro, CEO of Del Monte. There is concern, however, that the companies may hold a reserve of endosulfan in case pests are not controlled by the alternatives that will be used. 

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Making Votes count on election day

Vote!Heading into one of the U.S.’s most closely watched presidential elections in decades, would-be voters face new challenges. New “exact match” voter ID laws in a number of states have raised barriers to full electoral participation that disproportionately affect new voters, the elderly, people of color and the poor. And in defiance of a federal law prohibiting voter roll purges within 90 days of a federal election, many states have systematically purged voter rolls in the last few months, including swing states Colorado, Nevada and Ohio. To counteract these and other disenfranchisement schemes, civic engagement tools like GoVote.org (for Spanish speakers VeaVotar.com) are encouraging voters in every state to vote early where possible, and to double check their registration status, identification requirements, and voting location in advance of the November 4th election.

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Study links pesticides to brain damage

A recent study in the Journal of Environmental Health concluded that many pesticides registered for use in the EU may damage the human brain, and urged the EU to tighten pesticide restrictions. "Because many [pesticides] are by design toxic to the brain of insects, it is very likely that they are also toxic to human brains," Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Southern Denmark told Reuters. Laboratory studies conducted by Grandjean suggest that pesticides commonly used in the EU can cause neuro-developmental toxicity and concluded that the developing brains of young children are far more at risk from chemical exposure. Organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids were listed amongst the potentially damaging chemicals. More than 25 percent of fruits, vegetables and cereals contain detectable residues of at least two pesticides, and according to a recent PAN Europe study, nearly 5% of fruits, vegetables and cereals were found to contain dangerous levels of pesticides and more than 10% of the foods sampled contained four different pesticide residues.

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Say 'No' to GE papayas

PapayaThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting public comments until November 3 on a plan to allow the first genetically engineered (GE) papaya trees to be grown on mainland US soil. Approval would remove all regulatory oversight of the Ring Spot Virus Resistant Papaya even though the USDA admits that pollen from this GE papaya will contaminate both organic and conventional non-genetically engineered papaya groves. In Hawaii, a previously-approved GE papaya caused extensive genetic contamination of organic, conventional and wild papaya groves in just a few years. The contamination spread faster than the USDA predicted. Once seeds from natural papayas that have been contaminated with transgenic pollen are planted, there is no turning back. GE papaya trees are capable of contaminating orchards and native tree populations for several decades. One GE papaya tree can produce thousands of GE seeds and send extensive quantities of pollen into the environment for many years. Despite concerns that GE papaya pollen could produce unintended effects such as allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, the USDA has not fully evaluated the potential for allergic reactions.

Malaysia prepares to re-try PAN activist

The 13-year court battle of migrant worker and PAN activist Irene Fernandez was set to resume on Oct 28 at the Criminal High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Irene Fernandez is co-founder of Tenaganita, an NGO that promotes the rights of migrant workers in Malaysia, and she sits on the Steering Council of PAN Asia and the Pacific. She was arrested in 1996 under the draconian Printing Presses and Publications Act and charged with “maliciously publishing false news” following the release of a Tenaganita report recording allegations of ill-treatment of undocumented migrant workers in detention centers. Irene’s case has become the longest running trial in Malaysian legal history with court documents running to 3,648 pages. After a trial lasting more than seven years, she was found guilty on October 16, 2003 and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Free on bail pending an appeal, her civil rights remain restricted: her passport is held by the courts and she was barred from running for parliament in the 2004 and 2008 Malaysian elections. Earlier this year, Irene’s trial was postponed when papers with statements of important prosecution witnesses went missing. The prosecution of Irene Fernandez has had a chilling effect on other social commentators seeking to monitor and critique issues of legitimate public interest and concern in Malaysia. “This trial and the appeal are issues of fundamental rights and liberties,” says Tenaganita. “The trial is about freedom of expression and the need to protect whistleblowers. It is today the nation’s struggle.”

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Surprising findings on malathion and frogs

By definition, "sublethal" concentrations of pesticides do not cause death, but a sophisticated experiment by University of Pittsburgh researchers has shown that "sublethal concentrations of malathion can indirectly hurt frog populations." Most toxicity studies look for the effect of a single toxicant on a single target species in the isolation of a laboratory. The October issue of the journal Ecological Applications reports how Rick Relyea and Nicole Diecks created complex pond ecosystems inside 300-gallon tanks stocked with two floating organisms -- phytoplankton and zooplankton -- and periphyton, a bottom-dwelling algae. When wood frogs and leopard frogs were placed in the ponds and exposed to small concentrations of malathion over a period of 80 days, the researchers noted that "nearly 40% of the leopard frog tadpoles… failed to mature… and died." Environmental Science and Technology reports "although the concentrations did not kill the tadpoles directly, they killed most of the zooplankton." This caused a phytoplankton bloom that blocked sunlight to the pond bottom, causing a drop in the number of periphyton. Because the tadpoles feed on the periphyton, tadpole numbers also plummeted. Reylea said the results show "how seemingly harmless levels of a widely used pesticide can kill organisms by affecting interactions within food chains." Environment Canada ecotoxicologist Christin Bishop said the results establish the need "to examine the impacts of pesticides on communities rather than on individual species."

Pesticides in Chinese beans alarm Japan

On October 15, Japanese health officials warned the public to avoid frozen green beans imported from China. CNN reports that 30,000 packages of the beans were sold before "extremely high concentrations" of a pesticide showed up in tests after several consumers were sickened. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported levels of dichlorvos, a restricted-use pesticide, were detected at 34,500 times higher than the acceptable safety limit. The Epoch Times reports that "there was no sign indicating that the poisoning… was deliberate, as the plastic packing bags were intact." The mystery deepened when the Chinese company that shipped the beans claimed they do not use dichlorvos in their fields. A Chinese Foreign Ministery spokesperson insisted the produce "had been checked and no pesticide had ever been found." Further tests show "no evidence of pesticide residue" in other samples of the imported beans and Agence France-Press reported that Japan's police now suspect "the pesticide deliberately was inserted but hadn't concluded where." A spokesperson for Nichirei Foods, the company that imported the beans, also stated "we don't know yet when and where the pesticide slipped into the produce." A police investigation continues.

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