Malyasian activist acquitted; Farmworkers at risk for Parkinson's; Pesticides and public housing; and more...
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS updates service for complete information.
November 27, 2008
- PAN human rights activist acquitted in Malaysia
- Salmon win pesticide buffer zones
- Pesticide linked to Parkinson's in farmworkers
- White House blocks plan to recycle pesticide containers
- Reducing pesticide risks in public housing
- Research on GM ayurvedic herbs in India
- Barack Obama digs Michael Pollan
In 1993, Irene Fernandez, a PAN Asia and the Pacific Steering Committee member, was arrested under Malaysia’s draconian Printing Presses and Publications Act. Fernandez was charged with “maliciously publishing false news” following the release of a report by Tenaganita, the women's rights and migrant worker advocacy group she directs, documenting the ill-treatment of agriculture workers. On November 24, Fernandez’ 13-year court battle ended in a sudden victory when the presiding judge at Kuala Lumpur’s Criminal High Court announced that, “in the interest of justice,” he would “reverse the conviction and sentencing.” Irene’s case became the longest-running trial in Malaysian history with court documents totaling 3,648 pages. Fernandez was originally found guilty on October 16, 2003 -- after a trial lasting more than seven years -- and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Freed on bail pending appeal, her passport was seized by the courts and she was barred from running for parliament in 2004 and 2008. Earlier this year, the retrial was postponed when critical prosecution papers vanished. The earlier trial and conviction has had a chilling effect on other social critics and environmental activists. “The trial is about freedom of expression and the need to protect whistleblowers,” Tenaganita declared. On hearing the judge’s surprise ruling, the courtroom erupted in loud cheers. As friends and colleagues rushed to embrace her, Fernandez declared: “I am free! At last I am free!” Reflecting on the victory, Fernandez noted: “The rights of defenders must be upheld. Ultimately, it is the people that we work with –- migrants and refugees –- that have been handed this victory.”
Salmon have won buffer-zone protections from three deadly pesticides. The step is applauded by salmon protection advocates and follows a recent University of California study warning that 20 of California's 31 salmon species are in "sharp decline" and headed for extinction. Lawsuits by Earthjustice, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and fish habitat advocates spurred the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to call for new restrictions on three pesticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — to protect salmon in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The Oregonian reports that even at low levels, these compounds have contributed to declines of Northwest salmon by interfering with the fishes' ability to find food and locate spawning grounds. In a November 18 letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the NMFS warned these compounds could "jeopardize the continued existence" of 27 Pacific salmon species. Oregon's KUOW News notes that "chlorpyrifos is one of the most commonly used pesticides in the world" and these restrictions will have a significant impact on users of this organophosphate pesticide. NMFS biologists have proposed expanding buffer-zones for spraying near streams to 500-feet for ground-spraying and 1,000 feet for aerial spraying. In addition to no-spray buffer zones, the NMFS recommends banning spraying when winds exceed 10 mph, and planting 20-foot non-crop barriers between fields and streams. The EPA has a year to develop final rules to implement these recommendations. NMFS has 3-1/2 years to assess the risks for 37 additional pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
A study by the Movement Disorder Center of the University of California, Los Angeles reports finding evidence that the fungicide ziram is linked to a common neurological disorder that now afflicts thousands of California's agricultural workers. "People exposed over a 25-year period to ziram have about a threefold increased risk of developing Parkinson's [disease]," UCLA neurology professor Jeff Bronstein told the Fresno Bee. In 2006, California sprayed about 1.3 million pounds of ziram on almonds and other crops. "The research showed the fungicide kills certain brain cells and their death has been associated with Parkinson's," the Bee reports, adding that this association "could help explain why the disease appears to be more common among people in the agriculture-rich [San Joaquin] Valley." Another UCLA study of California death certificates showed higher rates of Parkinson's-related mortalities in areas with higher pesticide use.
Congress wants the EPA to require mandatory recovery and safe recycling of used pesticide containers. The plan even has the support of pesticide manufactures. Still, earlier this month, the EPA's draft ruling was rejected by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which argued that the program would be too costly. But The Capital Press reports the real reason for the rejection was the fear this could set "a mandatory recycling precedent for other industries." OMB conceded abandoned pesticide containers "may create hazards" but said it was "unclear" that recovery and recycling would lead to "meaningful reduction in the improper disposal of these containers." Even Jay Vroom, CEO of CropLife America (a pesticide-makers' trade group that lobbied for the program) called the OMB's argument "fatally flawed." CropLife now plans to focus on encouraging recycling at the state level. The pesticide industry-sponsored Ag Container Recycling Council (ACRC) claims that, since 1992, nearly 100 million pounds of pesticide containers have been successfully recycled. Capital Press notes that "farmers support container recycling because it saves money on landfill disposal fees," while recycling "reduces agricultural container burning, which has been blamed for releasing cancer-causing compounds."
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture have joined forces to introduce Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies in public housing projects across the U.S. A 2006 study found 12 percent of U.S. children suffered from asthma but that number jumped to 30% for children living in Harlem. Environmental News Network reports "at least six pesticide products were found in the majority of [housing projects] studied — including banned and restricted-use products." Northeastern IPM Center coordinator Allison Taisey notes "there is a correlation between public housing and asthma" and childhood asthma results in "missed school, medical expenses and lost time at work for the caregiver." Fortunately, IPM offers a means "to take these burdens off already struggling families" by teaching building managers and tenants low-risk, effective ways to reduce pests and pesticide use. Educational packets, DVDs and on-site, hands-on training show how to use sticky traps and sealants to block cracks that shelter pests.
Concerns over genetically modified (GM) plants have turned to Indian bioengineering of ayurvedic herbs. According to the Business Standard, Kerala Agricultural University researchers are "trying to genetically modify medicinal herbs Jivanti and Ashwagandha" while scientists at Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology are "conducting studies on metabolic engineering of Brahmi and Creat." All of these plants are medicinals used in traditional ayurvedic healing. The Standard reports that Brahmi is "known to cure neurological, cardiac, cognitive and respiratory disorders." Greenpeace claims transgenic Brahmi has already been grown in greenhouses and will be planted "under field conditions" as soon as approval is granted. Kerala scientists told the Standard they "did not conduct transgenic research," claiming "this is not conventional genetic modification and is meant only for lab-level testing." Jacob Titus, a former Kerala drug controller, insists "introducing ayurvedic medicines manufactured from GM plants is still at a conceptual level." GM advocates say transgenic plants are needed to boost supplies to meet the growing demand for ayurvedic plants but the Standard reports that "anti-genetic modification groups feel the move is against the principle of ayurveda and could affect India's plans to take ayurveda global."
On October 12, food systems investigator and author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) published a 16-page open letter to the President-elect and "Farmer-in-Chief" in the New York Times, calling for a nationwide return to sun-based farming. The end of the era of cheap oil means the end of cheap food, Pollan warned, noting that "the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems the President will have to change" — i.e., "the health care crisis, energy independence, and climate change." In a Time magazine interview, Obama agreed with Pollan's analysis. "Our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation," Obama told Time, noting the U.S. diet is fueling diabetes, stroke, obesity and heart disease — "all the things that are driving our huge explosion in health-care costs." Pollan suggested a number of actions Obama could take including appointing a "slow-food" activist as White House Chef and turning three acres of White House lawn into an organic fruit and vegetable garden. And, Pollan noted, if the First Family could encourage all Americans to forgo meat dishes once a week, the reduction in carbon emissions would be the same as leaving 20 million cars parked in the garage.