U.S. shift on lindane; EPA endocrine disruptor tests 'outdated'; No to GM alfalfa in Canada; and more...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 30, 2009

 

Shift on lindane may signal change in US leadership on chemicals

Hundreds of government officials and observers will gather next week in Geneva to assess global progress on phasing out persistent chemicals under the Stockholm Convention, and many are looking to the Obama Administration to demonstrate renewed leadership in this international policy arena. A key focus of the Geneva meeting will be adding new pollutants to the original list of 12 chemicals targeted for global elimination. An international scientific review panel has recommended nine new chemicals for addition – including the pesticide lindane, nominated by Mexico. Agricultural uses of lindane were withdrawn in the U.S. in 2006, but pharmaceutical use of lindane in shampoos and lotions to control lice and scabies continues. Under the Bush Administration, the U.S. was one of the few countries pressing to exempt these uses under the treaty. “We’ve heard the U.S. position on lindane is shifting under the new Administration to support phaseout of all uses,” says Kristin Schafer of Pesticide Action Network, "This is very good news.” California phased out pharmaceutical uses of lindane in 2001, and Michigan is considering similar restrictions. Although the U.S. is expected to support listing of all uses of lindane in the Stockholm Convention, the Food and Drug Administration still plans to continue allowing products containing lindane on the U.S. market.

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EPA tests for endocrine disruption 'outdated' and 'crude'

On April 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced (PDF) it would "order the manufacturers of 67 pesticides to test whether their products disrupt the hormonal system of humans or animals," reports the New York Times. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interact with and possibly disrupt the hormones produced or secreted by the human or animal endocrine system, which regulates growth, metabolism and reproduction. EPA states that the testing, conducted through the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, will eventually be expanded to cover all pesticide chemicals; the pesticides selected for initial testing are those presenting the most frequent exposure. "But the testing program the agency plans to use is only a pitiful skeleton of what it needs to be," writes Dr. Theo Colbourn in Environmental Health News. "This battery of tests, first recommended in 1998, is outdated, insensitive, crude, and narrowly limited." "Congress passed a bill mandating such tests in 1996," the Times notes, "but the agency took years to develop them and ensure their validity." Colbourn, a leading scientist arguing since the early 1990s for serious attention to endocrine disruptors, claims that "Each [EPA] test and assay was designed under the surveillance of corporate lawyers who had bottom lines to protect and assorted toxicologists who were not trained in endocrinology and developmental biology.... because of the limited scope of its test battery, EPA is not in a position to address the pandemics of endocrine-related disorders that pose a threat to every child born today."

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Canadians say 'No to GM alfalfa'

Alfalfa field
On April 28, some 80 farm, food and environmental groups across Canada launched a campaign "to stop the introduction and field-testing of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa". The specific product is Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" alfalfa, designed to withstand heavy applications of the corporation's flagship glyphosate-based herbicide. “The contamination of alfalfa would be inevitable and irreversible. We’ve already seen an end to organic canola due to GM contamination and we can’t afford to lose alfalfa,” said Arnold Taylor of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate. “Because it’s pollinated by bees, genes from Monsanto’s GM alfalfa would spread out of control.” The Roundup Ready alfalfa was approved by the Canadian government in 2005, "but cannot be commercialized until Monsanto and Forage Genetics International seek and meet registration requirements for the variety. In the U.S., a Federal court revoked approval for GM alfalfa, ruling that a full environmental assessment was needed, citing risks to farmers and the environment." The organizations opposing sale, trade and production of GM alfalfa are asking the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to reassess its approval of GM alfalfa. Similar concerns about the unreliable and adverse effects of GMOs have led Pesticide Action Network and a broad coalition of groups to oppose U.S. Senate bill 384 that would finance GMO research in an effort to meet the food security needs of developing country farmers. They also urged the G8 countries to reject a GM-based "new Green Revolution". According to PAN's Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, "GMOs are not the answer to farmers' needs, whether in Canada, the U.S. or elsewhere. As numerous scientific reports from the UN have confirmed, farm productivity and resilience can be significantly improved through investment in organic and agroecological farming."
 

FDA 'desperately needs fixing'

In a recent San Francisco Chronicle column, nutrition and public policy expert Dr. Marion Nestle discussed the nomination of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as the next Food and Drug administrator. Nestle writes that the FDA desperately needs fixing, and that the industries it is charged with regulating have too much influence due to a powerful lobbyists. Case in point, when FDA regulators attempted to tighten controls on cigarettes in the 1990s, Congress squashed the movement. Congress then passed laws requiring the FDA to take on dozens of new oversight responsibilities while providing no additional funding, resulting in loss of credibility and staff. "The FDA's own science board says it needs more money, better morale, stronger leadership, and greater scientific capacity. Dr. Hamburg will have to persuade Congress to empower her agency to do its job, starting with better inspection capacity." Furthermore, "FDA has no right to order companies producing unsafe food to recall their products. Food recalls are voluntary." Dr. Hamburg must convince Congress to give FDA recall authority; then it must create a single food regulatory agency, combining the now divided authority of the USDA and FDA. "It is clear that strengthening the FDA - or the system - would help restore confidence in the food supply and in government's ability to protect the public, and would be good for business as well as public health," Nestle concludes.

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Pesticide exposure and miscarriages at Florida farm 

Florida FarmwokerThe Fort Meyers News Press reports that a pair of Florida state agencies are investigating an allegation that two pregnant Immokalee farmworkers miscarried after exposure to pesticides. An anonymous complaint made to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (ACS) also alleges that other workers experienced respiratory problems and itching after being allowed to enter a pesticide-treated area before the required waiting time had expired. "'We will go through all of the records and will talk to any worker at the farm who is willing to talk,'" said Andy Rackley, director for agricultural environmental services for the Department. He added that "such exposure complaints are uncommon because workers are hesitant to speak up." Adan Labra, an Immokalee organizer with The Farmworker Association of Florida, had contacted ACS reporting that "three workers he had spoken to had experienced nausea, coughing, headaches, and nosebleeds. Health officials said signs of acute pesticide exposure can include headache, fatigue, and nausea. According to Labra, one of the women was rushed to the hospital April 17 and had surgery to have her child removed." "'Many companies are not complying with the mandated pesticide regulations,'" he noted. "'We have documented many complaints. Thank goodness this one was recent, but we have received many others from years past.'"

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Double your impact between now and May 4

PAN has been working for over two decades to safeguard our children and our planet by eliminating the most hazardous pesticides, protecting communities from exposure and promoting alternatives. We invite you to stand with us by making a donation as part of a special opportunity. Mountain Rose Herbs will match every dollar we receive between now and May 4th. Double your impact and give today! A few words from our inspiring friends at Mountain Rose: "Mountain Rose Herbs is a regular contributor for this active organization at the forefront of the pesticide reform movement! Anyone concerned about the excessive use of pesticides must give this group a moment of their time.” Please consider a donation to PAN today! Your tax-deductible gift will be matched by Mountain Rose Herbs, but only through Monday, May 4.

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