Endosulfan ban campaign; Carbofuran ban in Kenya; Irish organic farming surges; 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.

June 4, 2009

Renewed push to ban endosulfan in the U.S.

Inspecting DrumsThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been reviewing the pesticide endosulfan since 2007, and on April 29 re-opened a 60-day docket for public comment. Endosulfan is a neurotoxic organochlorine pesticide -- the same chemical class as DDT and other insecticides that were banned in the U.S. decades ago. Organochlorines persist for years in the environment, traveling great distances and accumulating in the food chain as they move about the planet, impacting communities and ecosystems far from where they are used. That’s why endosulfan has been nominated for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and why it has been banned already in 60 countries -- from the European Union to Sri Lanka to Senegal. Pesticide Action Network and other groups are calling on the U.S. to finally do the same. EPA’s own analysis concluded that endosulfan poses unacceptable risks to the health and safety of farmers and fieldworkers who use it, and that it poisons the environment down stream from where it’s sprayed. This antiquated pesticide harms the hormone system, and low levels of exposure in the womb have been linked to male reproductive harm, autism, and other birth defects. Acute poisoning can cause headaches, vomiting, convulsions, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and death. PAN helped spur EPA’s latest review of endosulfan by submitting technical comments backed by 25,000 signatures, and is now working with our allies to double those numbers on a new petition to deliver to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on June 24th. Click here to sign the petition.

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Kenya considers carbofuran ban

The Kenyan parliament is being asked to ban carbofuran, a pesticide "that's been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of animals, including many lions," reports Voice of America News. "Kenyan MP John Matutho is introducing legislation to prohibit the use of Furadan [best-known brand of carbofuran] – a cheap but lethal chemical originally manufactured by the US-based FMC Corporation. The [Kenya-based international] conservation group WildlifeDirect supports the ban, which would replace a buy-back program for Furadan." A March 29 60 Minutes program told the story of how Furadan is used illegally by herders to kill lions in Kenya. WildlifeDirect executive director Dr. Paula Kahumbu stated: "This is a pesticide that has recently been banned in the United States. It's also banned in Europe because it's been found to be unsafe to be used even if we follow the label instructions.… It's one of the most dangerous pesticides actually available at the moment." "The chemical attacks the nervous system and only small amounts can kill an animal. It can also be fatal to humans if ingested. 'It takes only a quarter of a teaspoon to kill people,' says Kahumbu. She says lower concentrations can cause neurological problems, such as paralysis and breathing problems." Yet in Africa it is very cheap and can be bought over the counter. Though FMC's buy-back program is getting Furadan off shelves, FMC 's patents have expired, and other companies are now producing carbofuran products. The problem is the same as that with endosulfan, paraquat and many other older pesticides: carbofuran is readily available from Chinese, Indian and Pakistani producers. So only strictly-enforced bans will be effective.

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Omnivore's Dilemma back on WSU reading list

Omnivore's DilemmaOver the last two weeks, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma -- the best-selling exploration of hard choices today's conscientious eater must make in the face of our industrialized food system -- sparked a debate over academic freedom and, it is alleged, political influence at Washington State University. Blogs from Grist, TakePart.com, and Pollan's own statements in the New York Times, explored plot twists in the drama. The book was WSU's selection for the fall 2009 freshman Common Reading Program when the university's president, citing the institution's financial crisis, pulled it. However, according to Spokane's newspaper, the Spokesman-Review, “a member of the Board of Regents raised concerns about the work’s focus on problems associated with agribusiness.” Amidst protests from faculty and students, an honored alum, Bill Maler, who is a food safety personal injury lawyer and himself a former WSU regent, stepped in with a gift: he'll pay for the 4,000 books (though the university had already purchased them), and for a lecture visit by Pollan. A call-in campaign instigated by Food Democracy Now! and other food justice groups seem to have helped as well, and WSU has decided to reinstate the fall program and the selected book. Pollan told the NY Times "he was doubtful that money was the issue. 'The last I’d agreed to was a video conference, if they wanted to save money'.... In any case, he is pleased that the program is back on. Holding a common reading program 'at a land-grant university is especially important...because we are in the midst of this national conversation about the future of food and agriculture, and land grant universities have a critical role to play.'” Several sources note the irony that more students will likely read Omnivore's Dilemma due to the fracas it started. Michael Pollan is featured in the upcoming film, "Food Inc.," being released in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles June 12th, and across the country this summer. 

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Ontario's Toxics Reduction Act only a first step

On June 3, the Ontario Legislature heard the third reading of a Toxics Reduction Act, clearing the way to become the first Canadian province to adopt such a measure, reports the government's website. The coalition "Blue Green Canada," a joint project of Environmental Defense and United Steelworkers, applauded passage of the Act, while raising concerns that stronger legislation is needed. “'We look forward to the government creating regulations quickly to strengthen the Act's health and environmental protections, and contribute to the creation of green jobs,'” said Dr. Rick Smith, Environmental Defense's executive director. "A key commitment under the Act is to reduce Ontarians' exposures to toxic substances by requiring businesses that employ 10 or more people and involve 10,000 kg or more of specific substances to report and track harmful chemicals and develop pollution prevention plans." Similar to a Massachusetts law, implementation of these practices is, however, voluntary. "We were expecting far more up-front to deal seriously with the huge quantities of toxic substances companies use, create and release in their manufacturing processes,'" said Wendy Fucile, president of Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario. "'At this point, the bill remains all promise when that's needed is urgent action.'" "'This Act is a huge step forward,'” maintained Smith, adding “'We're hopeful the regulations will address critical issues that will really make Ontario a leader in toxics reduction.'"

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Banned pesticides from China used widely in Viet Nam

rice paddyIllegal pesticides are a major health threat in Viet Nam, Bui Sy Doanh, deputy head of the Agriculture Ministry's Bureau for Plant Protection, told the Thanh Nien News. As is true across the developing world, banned pesticides are easily obtained where resources for enforcement are inadequate. In Viet Nam most of the illegal chemicals originate in China, both fully-formulated labeled products and active ingredients that are remixed and resold, often with little or no information about dangers or proper use. What labels do appear are in Chinese, rendering them useless to Vietnamese farmers (a common problem in other countries with warnings in English or other foreign languages). Doanh said that “'The banned chemicals can damage the plants, farmers and consumers as well as destroy helpful bacteria in the soil, apart from causing other environmental harm.” A recent survey found 30-70 percent of the pesticides sold at more than 20,000 small shops were imported from China, including many fakes that were popular among farmers because they are so cheap. "In 2008, nearly seven tons and 2,600 liters of banned [pesticides] were seized by authorities in the southern region."

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Organic farming applications up almost 80% in Ireland

Ireland's Department of Agriculture reports a 79 percent increase in farmers' applications to convert farms to organic production, the Irish Independent reports. In 2008, 130 applications were received, leaping to 230 in 2009. The jump follows on a 67 percent increase (from 90 to 150) in farms that had their conversion plans approved by the Irish Organic Farmers' and Growers' Association (IOFGA) after the mandatory two-year transition period. The Ag Department, IOFGA and Organic Trust conduct annual "organic farm walks" to introduce farmers to successful production alternatives, and the walks have had high participation in the last two years. "'Farmers can see that there is a market for organic produce and they can get a premium price for it,' said Angela Clarke, certification manager with IOFGA. 'Some farmers are already using very little fertilizer or pesticides, so it is not a big step to go organic for them,' she explained."

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