Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Push to ban endosulfan in the U.S.
- Big Ag-friendly climate bill passes House
- NYC eliminates pesticides to control cockroaches
- Californians call for commitment to reduce pesticide pollution
- Canadian national organic standards launched
- Chiquita swears off paraquat
- Even Colbert is concerned about endocrine disruption
On June 29th, a coalition of 33 environmental and public health groups including Pesticide Action Network (PAN) North America submitted a letter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for the agency to take “long overdue” action on endosulfan. That same day, PAN and United Farm Workers also sent in a petition signed by nearly 10,000 individuals urging a ban, and Defenders of Wildlife submitted a similar petition with more than 37,000 names. These actions were in response to EPA’s recent request for public comment on the fate of endosulfan -- a request sparked by previous petitions and scientific critiques from PAN and Natural Resources Defense Council. The letter and petitions, which are the latest in a series from concerned environmental and social justice groups, highlighted recent developments concerning endosulfan, including: California’s designation of endosulfan as a Toxic Air Contaminant; a series of new studies showing that it is highly toxic to amphibians; data compiled by the EPA showing that few farmers use it anymore and that the economic impacts of a ban would be minimal; and information on readily available alternatives to endosulfan.
On June 26th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the deeply compromised -- and historic -- Waxman-Markey climate change bill, also called the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) climate bill. Collin Peterson (D-Minn), a staunch supporter of industrial agricultural interests, played a central role in weakening the ACES bill by threatening to withhold 50 Democratic votes if agricultural interests were not accommodated in the bill. The end result -- termed the “Waxman-Peterson compromise” by Tom Philpott of Grist -- is that EPA has effectively lost jurisdiction over greenhouse gas emissions resulting from increased agrofuel production, and chemical “no-till” farming will earn carbon credits in the bill's cap-and-trade scheme. Chemical “no-till” farming sequesters very little carbon in the soil, and relies on heavy herbicide use. Sustainable agriculture activists are expectant that organic and agroecological farming practices, which actually sequester carbon in the soil, will also be eligible for credits. The ACES bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. Following passage of the House bill, a broad coalition of 47 environmental, science and faith-based groups sent a letter to President Obama (PDF) urging him to set and pursue a science-based goal of keeping the global average temperature increase at no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The letter, which targets the U.S. administration’s resistance to European calls for industrialized nations to agree on the two degree limit at international climate talks at the G8 meeting in Italy this month, warns that failure to do so "will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable nations and communities and will dramatically increase the need for adaptation in the future."
New York eliminates pesticides to control cockroaches
Researches have established what practitioners across the country have known for some time: pesticides in homes are more dangerous to the people living in them than to cockroaches. Environmental Health Perspectives (PDF) has published "the first study to show how a one-time, low cost visit by professionals can effectively reduce the insects' populations for up to six months," reports Environmental Health News. Sealing cracks and using bait traps — rather than pesticide spraying to control the pests — lowers people's indoor exposures to unhealthy toxic chemicals and allergens linked to asthma. "The authors report that 'traditional pest control had no independent impact over time on objectively determined cockroach levels, and minimal impact on resident sightings, suggesting that the use of pesticides alone is both ineffective and an unnecessary introduction of pesticides into the environment, even without an alternative pest control approach to replace it.'" Similar approaches have been introduced in public housing in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco; this study documents its effectiveness. "The New York City Housing Authority has since trained its entire workforce of pest control professionals in integrated pest management and suspended its use of pesticide sprays in residential units."
In 1994 and 1996, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) promised to meet requirements to reduce emissions from smog-forming pesticides by 20% below 1990 levels in the Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley, Ventura, Southeast Desert and South Coast air basins. DPR subsequently backtracked and only reduced smog-causing volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from pesticides by 12% in the San Joaquin Valley. VOC emissions from pesticides are the third largest contributor to smog in Ventura and the fourth largest contributor to smog in the San Joaquin Valley. Smog-forming pesticides — many of which are gaseous fumigant pesticides — have also been responsible for many mass farmworker and community poisonings. Currently, a state budget “trailer” requires enforcement of the original 20% pesticide-VOC emissions reductions in the San Joaquin Valley — giving advocates an opening. Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR), Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, United Farm Workers and Pesticide Action Network are pressing the Governor to enforce DPR’s original 20% reduction commitment by signing the VOCs budget trailer. Californians can join this statewide coalition in calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to protect public health by enforcing pesticide laws via the budget.
On June 30, a new set of national organic standards, more than a decade in development, took effect across Canada. "Under the new Organic Products Regulations, only products that meet specific requirements set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will qualify for the organic designation. The new rules require that products with multiple ingredients must have 95% organic content in order to be labeled with the new Biologique Canada Organic Logo. If a product doesn't meet that standard, the producer will have to specify on the label the percentage of organic materials that the product includes," reports CTV Toronto. "All produce will have to be completely organic to be stamped with the logo," according to CBC. On June 17, Canada and the U.S. completed an "equivalency" agreement — certified organic products produced in either country retain their status regardless of what side of the border they are on." Both countries prohibit GMOs, growth hormones and sewage sludge in certified organic production. Some 70-80% of organics available in Canada are imported, mostly from the U.S. The new Canada Organic logo will also be used on imported USDA-certified organic products. Until now, Canada provided voluntary participation in national standards. Only the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia had mandatory regulations in place.
Chiquita and Dole have all but abandoned use of the weed-killer paraquat in banana production. It is banned in Europe, and in late 2007 Dole pledged to stop using the dangerous herbicide in all of its farming. Now Chiquita has joined Dole in phasing out paraquat for pineapple production: by the end 2009, 90% of Chiquita’s pineapple supplies will be Rainforest Alliance Certified. While such certification applies standards for environmental and labor protection, and paraquat is on a list of prohibited pesticides, Rainforest Alliance has been criticized for not mandating decent prices for small farmers and living wages for workers. "The rapid expansion of pineapple production in Panama and Costa Rica has led to some serious social and environmental problems.... [including] illegal pesticide use, water contamination, soil erosion and poor labour practices," according to FreshPlaza, a trade publication for the global produce industry. Paraquat, historically one of the most widely used herbicides, is a major agricultural worker hazard in the developing world, frequently used to commit suicide in rural China and India. In the Philippines, Central America and other places sales by its main producer, Syngenta, have been targeted for pineapple and banana production for export, and it is used heavily in industrial palm oil farming across southeast Asia. Paraquat has been the focus of an ban campaign spearheaded by the Berne Declaration in Switzerland, Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific and PAN UK. Berne Declaration notes: "The ongoing move away from paraquat by big companies as well as smallholders shows that paraquat is not needed for agricultural production." Paraquat dichloride remains a registered active ingredient in U.S. pesticide products, and is on PAN's Bad Actor Pesticide list because of its acute poisoning hazard. In 2007, nearly 1 million pounds were applied on California crops alone.
Two decades ago scientists began warning that many synthetic chemicals, including a long list of pesticides, can disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system, from fish to humans, causing a wide range of serious birth defects and developmental problems. This week the issue broke out with an editorial in Sunday's New York Times by Nicolas Kristof, and on Wednesday, the prominent columnist appeared on the wildly popular cable TV spoof show, the Colbert Report. Kristof's column in turn keyed on the publication earlier in June of a "landmark" study by the Endocrine Society, in which mainstream scientists declared: “We present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.” As reported PANUPS, on April 15 the EPA finally told manufacturers of 67 pesticides that they had to test their products for endocrine disruption. The agency had been instructed to do so in 1996, and the new program is still "a pitiful skeleton of what it needs to be," says Dr. Theo Colbourn. Colbourn and Pete Myers laid out the case for addressing endocrine disruption as a fundamental health problem in their 1996 book, Our Stolen Future.