Hope for the New Year - 2008 Highlights

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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December 31, 2008

Hope for the new year

Pesticide Action Network North America produces the weekly PAN Updates Service (PANUPS) to keep hearty activists and thoughtful citizens informed on the latest developments related to health, pesticides and alternatives. We’re pleased that thousands of people rely upon the service – and were heartened by recent feedback. One subscriber wrote, “As we draw near to the end of 2008, I’d like to focus on hope.” We agree.

Below is a quick digest of some of the more hopeful PANUPS stories of the last year.

I’d like to thank you for subscribing and ask you to consider a donation to keep PANUPS coming. Joining PAN links you with activists around the world. Together we're winning just and healthy solutions to the problems of hazardous pesticides, industrialized farming, hunger and climate change. You may download our most recent annual report (PDF 460k) to see the impact your donations make possible.

Warm wishes for the new year from PAN North America,

Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director

Some 2008 good news highlights


A new path for global agriculture

In April, after six years of work, the UN-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) concluded that "modern" agriculture is not sustainable. According to the UN News Service, "Modern agricultural practices have exhausted land and water resources, squelched diversity and left poor people vulnerable to high food prices." The verdict of 400 scientists, government agencies and civil society participants was clear: "Business as usual is no longer an option." Reporting from Johannesburg, PAN North America Senior Scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman observed: "This is a wake-up call for governments and international agencies. The survival of the planet's food systems demands global action to support agroecological farming and fair and equitable trade." The IAASTD calls for replacing dependence on petrochemical fuels and pesticides with "resilient, sustainable agricultural systems, grounded in agroecological science and drawing on local, indigenous and community knowledge." 

UN: Organic farming can feed Africa

The UN Conference on Trade and Development and UNEP released a report on "Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa" that concludes a transition to organic farming offers the best path to securing food stability in Africa. London's The Independent reports that farmers who have already made the shift to organic agriculture are seeing yields increase as much as 128%. The farm land also benefits from healthier top soil that allows plants to set deeper roots which, in turn, guarantees greater resilience in conditions of extreme drought. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) reports the benefits to organic agriculture "were linked to enhancement of five capital assets critical in promoting food security — natural, social, human, physical, and financial. Multiple studies have shown that yields remain stable, and often rise after conversion to organic agriculture," an outcome that "challenges the popular myth that organic agriculture cannot increase agricultural productivity."

New Zealand bans endosulfan

On December 15, New Zealand announced a total ban on the insecticide endosulfan, effective  January 16, 2009. “That means that all import or use of endosulfan is illegal,” Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand (PAN ANZ) coordinator Dr. Meriel Watts announced. In announcing the ban, New Zealand’s Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) explained that it had determined “the level of adverse effect to the environment, human health, the relationship of Maori to the environment, and to New Zealand's international relationships outweighed any positive effects associated with the availability of endosulfan in New Zealand.” Endosulfan, already banned in 55 countries (including the European Union, but not yet the United States), is used on a wide range of fruit and vegetables.

EPA unveils new rules for fumigant pesticides

After three years of deliberation, on July 10 US EPA proposed new rules for five highly toxic fumigant pesticides. The rules, which are still undergoing finalization, require farmers to leave from 25 feet to half a mile between the fumigated field and homes, schools, and other places where people might be; posting warnings at the buffers; and monitoring after fumigation. “Fumigation is an antiquated technology,” said PAN senior scientist Dr. Susan Kegley. “EPA has made some real progress with buffer zones, posting and monitoring –-- they heard some of what we and rural communities, environmental health scientists and farmworkers have been telling them, and they've put the burden back on manufacturers for responsible handling of these highly toxic chemicals. But it’s time to help farmers move beyond this ‘scorched earth’ approach. The new rules are a small start.”

Bhopal victory as India vows to pursue Dow

Bhopal CelebrationOn August 8, the Indian government announced it would meet many of the demands of the survivors of the 1984 pesticide plant explosion in Bhopal: it will take legal action on the civil and criminal liabilities of Union Carbide and its owner, Dow Chemical Company, and will establish an "Empowered Commission" to address the health and welfare needs of the Bhopal survivors as well as environmental, social, economic and medical rehabilitation. PAN Executive Director Kathryn Gilje called the news "a great, hard-won and long overdue victory." The success came only after a 172-day demonstration: survivors walked 500 miles from Bhopal to New Delhi, camped at a protest site at the historic Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi, suffered arrests and police beatings, and finally launched a 60-day hunger fast that was joined by more than 800 people around the world. PAN Action Center members participated in a global action that flooded the Prime Minister's office with nearly 6,000 faxes. The U.S.-based chemical giant has long-maintained that it bears no responsibility for the disaster that killed more than 22,000, left many of the 150,000 survivors with serious ailments, and continues to poison the drinking water for 25,000.

Organic farm wins $1 million pesticide drift suit

In September, a jury in Santa Cruz, California  awarded $1 million to an organic farmer whose crops were contaminated by pesticides drifting from nearby fields. Trace levels of pesticides were detected on the organic crops at Jacobs Farm in October 2006, and PAN's Drift Catcher was used to identify several organophosphate chemicals -- chlorpyrifos, diazinon and dimethoate -- that had been applied on Brussels sprouts at a nearby farm. Over the course of several days following application, the pesticides evaporated and coastal fogs carried the chemicals over neighboring property, wiping out a year's produce at Jacobs Farm Del Cabo. Although organophosphates are known to persist and are prone to drift, the San Francisco Chronicle reports notes that "neither federal nor state regulations account for it or provide any protection for organic farmers." Western Farm Service -- the company that applied the pesticides and was found liable complained that the verdict "raises concerns about (the) future use of organophosphates in California." Nathan Benjamin, an attorney for the organic farm concluded: "The message from the jury is pretty clear.... It's not acceptable to apply these poisonous chemicals and turn your back on the consequences."

California enacts laws to protect farmers; halts LBAM spray

On September 27, Governor Schwarzenegger signed several new laws to protect farmers and residents. AB 541 is a landmark law that, for the first time in the country, protects farmers from agribusiness and chemical giants like Monsanto that have harassed and sued farmers for "theft" of the company's patented genes when their crops are contaminated by GM seeds or pollen. Genetic Engineering Policy Project Director Renata Brillinger praised the new law as "a good first step towards establishing that Monsanto … is legally responsible for the economic, environmental and health harms caused by their patented and uncontrollable products." The governor signed two other laws to address public concern about California’s plan to use aerial spraying to control the light brown apple moth: AB 2763 and AB 2765 require the Department of Food and Agriculture to hold meetings to assure community input on any plans to deal with "high priority" insect, plant or animal pests, to consider alternatives and evaluate the public health risks, and reveal each ingredient in the pesticide to be sprayed.

On June 19, the State of California announced that it would abandon aerial spraying over urban areas in its program to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM). In its place, a program of sterile moth release will be launched in early 2009. PAN and many other groups have been urging the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to replace unnecessary spraying with ecologically-sound and safer ground-level biocontrol programs. "We're pleased that the State heard the voices of so many Californians," said senior scientist Margaret Reeves, head of PAN's LBAM team. PAN joined CDFA in calling on the U.S. Homeland Security to  increase investment in preventing entry of invasive species and, with several other groups, PAN, is calling on USDA to reclassify LBAM so as to remove the requirement for emergency "eradication". 

Washington State investigates drift

Two years after PAN and the Washington state group Farm Worker Pesticide Project (FWPP) published "Poisons on the Wind," a study that used PAN's Drift Catchers to show how insecticides drift from apple orchards to nearby homes, the Yakima Herald-Republic reports that the Washington State Department of Health is now conducting its own air monitoring "at secret locations near orchards in the Yakima Valley." Chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), the main insecticide used to kill cutworms and leafrollers, has been linked to "developmental problems in babies and toddlers" and has been shown to have "adverse effects on prenatal and children's health." The air monitoring project showed levels of chlorpyrifos in the air that have the potential to cause adverse effects in children. The industry's use of chemicals has dropped 50% since the 1990s and the state has appropriated $550,000 to help farms adopt Integrated Pest Management practices.

Canadian provinces ban landscape chemicals

In a May 2008 poll, 87% of Alberta's residents backed a ban on the use of pesticides that are typically applied to lawns and gardens for cosmetic purposes, and on November 12, Alberta outlawed the use of herbicide-fertilizer mixtures for such aesthetic purposes. The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) praised the action as an "appropriate first step to limit the risk to human health and the environment." According to Canada Newswire, "Alberta joins Ontario and Quebec, in addition to more than 100 municipalities across Canada, which have already enacted similar restrictions." Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail reports, the CCS is considering broadening its concerns to include farmlands. The CCS believes there is a link between agricultural pesticide exposures and increased rates of cancer among farmworkers. On November 12, the CCS assembled a panel of experts to offer advice on expanding its advocacy. "It's very hard to argue that the cosmetic use of pesticides poses a public-health risk, including cancer risk, and not examine what is going on in the rural and agricultural communities," James Brophy of the University of Windsor told the Globe and Mail.

Bees thrive in pesticide-free Paris

At the same time bees are in serious decline across French farmlands, more than 300 colonies are thriving in the French capital says the International Herald Tribune. Corinne Moncelli, the owner of the Eiffel Park Hotel, believes the reason is simple: "There aren't pesticides." Moncelli's three hives produce 331 pounds of honey each year for the hotel's guests. In 2005, France began the world's largest program to encourage urban apiaries and now hives are buzzing on hotel rooftops, above home balconies and in parks. With $214 billion in global agriculture dependent on pollination, the fate of the bee is linked to the fate of human society. Parisian bees are healthier than their country cousins says Jean Paucton whose hives atop the Paris Opera House seldom show any colony loss while loses in his rural hives can hit 50%. "There aren't farmers anymore," Paucton says, "There are only agricultural companies and they use pesticides." Beekeeper Olivier Darne agrees. "Bees are dying everywhere but in the cities. The bees are speaking to us."

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