GE crop research funding; World Malaria Day; Bayer explosion; Atrazine; and more...

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.

April 23, 2009


Alert - Tell Congress: Get GE research out of foreign aid

A new bill before the U.S. Senate stands to completely overhaul the way the U.S. offers food aid and agricultural development assistance to the developing world. The Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act (Senate bill 384) aims to reform aid programs to include a stronger focus on long-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises. The Lugar-Casey bill also mandates funding for genetically modified crop research as a major component of its food security strategy. “However laudable the intentions of the bill," Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network Senior Scientist, notes, "its GMO provision is more likely to boost profits for US biotech companies, while doing nothing to reduce the hunger, poverty and vulnerability of small farmers around the world.” Food First argues that this bill is part of a coordinated roll-out of the “new Green Revolution”—a project driven largely by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA is one of the Gates Foundation's multi-billion-dollar flagship grantees known for its aggressive promotion of GMOs. In response to Gates and AGRA, African farmers are mobilizing to reject GMOs; their views are presented in The Oakland Institute’s Voices From Africa. The science backing civil society concerns continues to grow: in addition to a series of recent landmark UN reports concluding that agroecological farming practices are better equipped to feed the world than industrial farming and GMO technologies, a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists documents the failure of genetic engineering to increase U.S. crop yields. Meanwhile, in his G8 speech in Italy over the weekend, U.S. Ag Secretary Vilsack persisted in calling for more biotechnology to feed the world.

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Experts brief Congress on safe malaria solutions

In an April 22 Capitol Hill briefing marking World Malaria Day (April 25th), experts called for increased U.S. support for safe and sustainable malaria control solutions in Africa and around the world. The briefing, co-sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, the American Public Health Association, Pesticide Action Network North America and other organizations, highlighted malaria control programs that are winning the battle against the deadly disease in Africa and Latin America. “Safer strategies that don't involve spraying the inside of people’s homes with pesticides exist, and are already being used in communities throughout Africa to combat this terrible disease,” said John Githure, Head of the Human Health Division at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya. Dr. Githure, who traveled to Washington for the briefing, presented examples of successful community-based approaches including larval control, use of bednets, environmental management and other integrated vector management techniques. Also presented at the briefing was a declaration produced by a gathering of researchers and NGO experts from eleven African countries in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania earlier this month. The African experts expressed “serious concern” about the growing use of DDT for malaria control in Africa, despite a specific mandate from the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to reduce reliance on DDT and work toward its ultimate elimination. They outlined steps African governments must take to meet this goal, and how the global community can help. As a persistent pesticide, DDT is targeted for a global ban by the 163 governments that have ratified the Stockholm Convention because it is toxic, accumulates in the bodies of humans and other animals, and lasts for decades in the environment (see PAN Germany's new report: DDT and the Stockholm Convention - PDF). The treaty allows short-term use of DDT for malaria control, and urges the international community to help countries battling malaria quickly find and adopt safer alternatives.

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Bayer's 2008 West Virginia explosion 'could have eclipsed Bhopal'

In August 2008, an explosion killed two workers and injured eight other people at the sister plant to the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. The Institute, West Virginia plant, now owned by Bayer CropScience, manufactures methomyl to produce the carcinogenic insecticide thiodicarb (Larvin). The explosion occurred close to a tank that held up to 40,000 pounds of methyl isocyanate (MIC), the same gas that leaked in Bhopal. Local citizens have been fighting for public disclosure about the explosion and the potential threat to their community. At an April 21 hearing, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce heard a staff report suggesting that, if the 5,000 pound chemical vessel the explosion threw into the air had landed on the MIC tank, "'the consequences…could have eclipsed the 1984 disaster in India,'" according to The Charleston Gazette. "Evidence obtained by the committee demonstrates that Bayer engaged in a campaign of secrecy by withholding critical information from local, county and state emergency responders; by restricting the use of information provided to federal investigators; by undermining news outlets and citizen groups concerned about the dangers posed by Bayer's activities; and by providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public," the report also says. "'I think it’s finally time to ask whether it makes sense to allow Bayer to continue producing and storing such massive amounts of this highly toxic chemical," Congress member Henry Waxman said. On April 23, the Chemical Security Board will be holding a public meeting in Institute about the incident. The Gazette recovered documents showing that Bayer had been worried that such a meeting would generate bad press for the company, and used obscure maritime laws in the name of “public security” to postpone the meeting from it’s original date months ago. "'Our goal with People Concerned About MIC [a local group] should be to marginalize them,'" wrote a Bayer public relations consultant: "'Take a similar approach to The Charleston Gazette.'"

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US adds carbamates to list of pesticides that endanger salmon

For the second time in six months, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has responded to lawsuits brought in 2001 by Earthjustice, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) calling for mitigation to salmon poisoning from 38 pesticides. In an April 20 announcement, NMFS added three carbamate pesticides -- carbaryl, carbofuran and methomyl -- to a list that already includes three organophosphorus pesticides -- malathion, diazinon and chlorpyrifos. Carbamates "can kill fish outright in certain concentrations and impair the ability of fish to smell, swim, avoid predators and grow," the Associated Press reports. "But the biggest effect is the harm to aquatic insects that salmon rely on for food, said Angela Somma, who heads the service's endangered species division." The agricultural pesticides are threatening the survival of 22 species of endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead, and appear to cause damage as well form synergistic effects with other chemicals. "'Overall, we think this is a huge step forward in ensuring that salmon and steelhead are protected from these poisons,' said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney with Earthjustice....But 'we don't think it goes quite far enough.'" While NMFA recommends spray buffer zones of 600 to 1,000 feet for aerial spraying around salmon waters, "the agency didn't call for 20-foot vegetative strips near streams, which help filter out the pesticides as they near the water. 'That's the only thing we have to catch the pollutants from moving into our waters,'" said Aimee Code of NCAP. The vegetative buffer was recommended in November when findings on the three organophosphates were issued. The U.S. EPA has a year to implement the recommendations; 31 more pesticides are under review as a result of the 2001 litigation.

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Atrazine lawsuit goes public

On April 21, Steve Tillery of the St. Louis, Missouri law firm of Korein Tillery, announced (PDF) that "the threat of the herbicide atrazine to our environment and the health of every citizen of America.... 'is much bigger than a case in a court of law. This issue belongs in the court of Public Opinion; the people deserve and have a right to demand clean and uncontaminated water.'" In August 2004, Korein Tillery filed a complaint against six manufacturers of atrazine on behalf of Holiday Shores Sanitary District (west of Edwardsville, Illinois). The grounds were that the weedkiller "is harmful to humans as consumed through dietary water...at a level of less than three parts per billion." "It is important to note," Tillery says, that the Maximum Contaminant Level goals for atrazine have "been set at 3 parts per billion (ppb) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who believes that this level of protection does not cause health risks to public water systems." The defendants, led by Swiss agrichemical giant Syngenta which manufactures some 90 percent of atrazine worldwide, moved to dismiss the case, "in part because Plaintiffs sought damages for water contamination falling below EPA contamination guidelines." In July 2008, the Illinois Circuit Court denied the companies' motions and ruled the plaintiffs could proceed. The cases are currently pending in the Third Judicial Circuit of Illinois. In announcing the public campaign, Tillery added: "'We’re calling on the manufacturers of atrazine to protect the public and clean-up their mess.'” A 2007 article in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health challenged claims of 6% yield increases from the use of atrazine and cites findings of "only a 1% yield effect." Despite this evidence, says Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network North America, "Syngenta has been very aggressive about keeping this chemical on the market in the U.S., even as the European Union, including Syngenta's home country, effectively banned its use due to ubiquitous and unpreventable water contamination."

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Endosulfan spill in Uruguay kills cattle

On April 9, 2009 in Guichon, Uruguay, a crop duster experienced mechanical problems and spilled an unknown quantity of endosulfan onto a pasture where cattle were grazing. According to La Republica, by the next day already more than 50 cattle were dead after ingesting contaminated grass. Hundreds of fish, birds, and reptiles have also died, and residents are afraid that the reservoir that provides drinking water to the town may also be contaminated. "This is just the latest in a long series of tragedies that this pesticide has caused around the world. Fortunately, momentum is growing for a global ban, so that incidents like this will soon be a thing of the past," said Karl Tupper, a scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. Endosulfan is now banned in 60 countries, including the E.U. and neighboring Colombia, and has been nominated for listing under the Stockholm Convention as a persistent organic pollutant that would be banned globally. The pesticide is still used in the U.S where the Environmental Protection Agency is currently reevaluating its registration.

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