'What's On My Food?' website; Pesticides & leukemia; Fumigant rules unjust; 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 18, 2009

'What's On My Food?' website launched

What's on my foodOn June 17, Pesticide Action Network launched a new online tool: the What’sOnMyFood? website. The searchable database uses USDA data to show what pesticides are found on different foods, in what amount, and -- for the first time -- links those residues to the health effects associated with exposure to each of the chemicals. “Nearly 900 million pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. every year, yet regulators base their decisions on toxicology studies that are almost all done by industry,” explains Dr. Brian Hill, PAN senior scientist and the primary developer of the What’sOnMyFood? database. “We hope this kind of public visibility around pesticides will help fix our flawed regulatory system.” In addition to highlighting the potential direct health effects of pesticide residues, What’sOnMyFood? points to the many problems associated with pesticide use before food reaches the kitchen table. In the Get Involved section of the site, PAN calls on consumers not only to vote with their dollars by choosing organic foods whenever possible, but also to become politically engaged as “food citizens” demanding a clean, green and fair food production system. 

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Mother's pesticide exposure doubles child leukemia risk

For childhood leukemia known risk factors include ionizing radiation, sex, race, Down Syndrome, and other genetic syndromes—yet together they account for less than 10% of all childhood leukemia cases. But "children whose mothers were exposed to pesticides at work while pregnant are at double the risk of developing childhood leukemia," conclude scientists who review the latest research for Environmental Health News. A study published last month in Environmental Health Perspectives (PDF) reviews recent epidemiological studies and concludes that childhood leukemia was associated with prenatal maternal occupational pesticide exposure. Associations with paternal exposure were weaker and less consistent. Occupational exposures of reproductive-age adults to pesticides may substantially exceed pesticide exposures from other sources as risk factors for childhood leukemia. For example, pregnant women employed as farm fieldworkers in California had significantly higher prenatal urinary organophosphate insecticide metabolite levels compared to pregnant women in the general U.S. population. A separate related report addresses childhood leukemia and parental or childhood residential pesticide exposure. On June 16, Xinhua News reported that women "agricultural workers have the highest incidence of leukemia of all New Zealand occupation groups, probably because of their exposure to chemicals." Women's risk was found to be 3.4 times that of the men studied. The findings come from Massey University’s Centre for Public Health Research. Researchers "found elevated leukemia risk four or five times greater among market gardeners and nursery growers compared to the general population. Market farmers and crop growers, and field crop and vegetable growers, also all experienced varying degrees of elevated risk." Massey's lead researcher, David Lean, said it wasn't clear why more women are afflicted, "but it has been hypothesized that it may be due either to the different tasks (and therefore potential for exposure) traditionally performed by men and women in horticultural occupations, or to the fact that some of the chemicals are endocrine disrupters that affect women in a different way than they do men."

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Chipotle challenged to enforce worker agreement

Farm workers pick tomatoes under watchful eyeThe Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has campaigned since the early 1990s to improve wages as well as working and living conditions for tomato farmworkers in Florida. A major effort is aimed at getting fast food corporations and large food purchasers to contract with farmers who will pay workers an extra penny a pound for picking tomatoes. To date, the campaign has won over McDonalds, Yum Brands, Whole Foods, Subway and, in a widely publicized struggle, even Burger King. Last month the multi-state institutional caterer, Bon Apetit, committed to an even broader program supporting a minimum fair wage, worker empowerment and worker safety. But, CIW says, "the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has acted to block the penny-per-pound raise...by threatening to fine any grower who cooperates with the buyers and the CIW." Now the focus is on Chipotle, the nationwide restaurant chain that is already sourcing regional and organic produce and humanely-produced meat, and has agreed to the penny-a-pound standard for tomatoes, but has not signed an agreement to work with CIW. "If Chipotle is sincere in its wishes to reform its supply chain, the time has come to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a true partner in the protection of farmworkers rights," says a June 15 letter to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells from a coalition of food justice groups. CIW urges Chipotle to join in helping break the Growers Exchange blockade. "If you love tomatoes, this is your issue. And Chipotle loves tomatoes," said Kathryn Gilje, executive director of Pesticide Action Network North America, one of 31 signers to the CIW letter. "Chipotle's stubborn commitment to sustainability makes them an excellent partner to proactively shape a fair and humane future for Florida farmworkers."

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CA proposes carbaryl and herbicides for warning list

"In a move that would trigger state product-labeling requirements, California last week proposed to list 30 more chemicals under Proposition 65...[the] law requires warnings on consumer products containing substances that the state determines can cause cancer or developmental or reproductive harm," reports Chemical & Engineering News. The decision is the latest by California EPA's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the stalwart agency that Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating for budgetary reasons. Included in the additions are chlorophenoxy herbicides (such as 2,4-D) and carbaryl -- a carcinogen, cholinesterase inhibitor and toxic insecticide that is on PAN's Bad Actor Pesticides list. Sevin is an infamous brand of carbaryl. The action is a response to an April 30 court ruling that OEHHA must list "any chemicals that are subject to workplace warning requirements because of potential cancer or reproductive risks." Pesticide Action Network senior scientist Margaret Reeves responded: "We're of course pleased with the addition of carbaryl and the herbicides, but very disappointed that they did not add chlorpyrifos. Ample scientific data demonstrate that chlorpyrifos is a developmental neurotoxin and it is clearly a hazard for farmworkers and their families. PAN has documented substantial drift off orchards and absorption into the bodies of nearby residents at levels that should move OEHHA to list chlorpyrifos as well." The public has until July 13 to comment on OEHHA's proposal to add the chemicals.

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Farmworkers to EPA: uphold environmental justice, revisit fumigant rules

Tarp over field during fumigationOn June 18, farmworkers and allies urged U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to stop the pesticide poisoning of farmworker communities and uphold the Obama administration’s commitment to environmental justice. Citing a long EPA history of “inhumane neglect of toxic pesticide effects on farmworker community health,” the groups asked Jackson to revisit a recent decision that allows continued use of hazardous soil fumigant pesticides. When used to grow food -- including tomatoes, carrots, strawberries and nuts -- fumigant pesticides escape into the environment and drift into communities where the families and children of farmworkers live and play. A letter (PDF) signed by 28 groups from across the country (including California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Farmworker Association of Florida, Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network and United Farm Workers), says that the revised fumigants policy “seriously misses the mark in protecting farmworker communities, and specifically pregnant farmworker women and farmworker children. The policy continues an outdated EPA approach to pesticide regulation that adopts unrealistic and unenforceable standards as risk mitigation measures, in an age of safer, greener approaches to agricultural pest management.” In response to agrichemical industry pressure, EPA announced a May 27, 2009 amendment that weakened new safety measures promulgated in July 2008. Pesticides affected by the decision include chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium/potassium (including methyl isothiocyanate or MITC) and methyl bromide.

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Congressmembers tell Dow: Clean up Bhopal!

Survivors of the ongoing chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, secured a major victory Tuesday, as 27 members of Congress wrote to Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris and Dow’s Board of Directors, urging the company to face their criminal and civil liabilities for the tragedy that occurred at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in December 1984. The letter endorsed the survivors’ demands for remediation—as put forth by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB)—chiefly that Dow provide medical and economic rehabilitation and clean up the factory and groundwater contamination. Representative Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) led the effort to support the ICJB demands. A coalition of Bhopal survivors and their supporters worldwide, ICJB is working to force Dow to face trial in India and to pay for the disaster cleanup. Nearly a quarter-century after the initial disaster, the factory sits in ruins, with toxic chemicals strewn about the grounds, just yards from the homes of thousands of Bhopali families. "After 25 years, the human and environmental tragedy of the Bhopal chemical disaster remains with us,” Pallone said. “While thousands continue to suffer, Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, have yet to be brought to justice.  I appreciate the efforts of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal to raise awareness of the plight of the people of Bhopal. Members of Congress will continue to fight against companies that evade civil and criminal liability by exploiting international borders and legal jurisdictions."

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