Illinois pesticide drift; New atrazine research; Scientific American calls for independent GM science; more...

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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Support Panups!July 30, 2009

Pesticide drift sparks push for new Illinois law

Kids running through fieldWidespread concern over pesticide drift among farmers and rural residents -- combined with incidents such as the spraying of two children last summer as they were playing outside  -- have prompted a call for legislation to protect children, communities and businesses. Peoria's Journal Star reports that Illinois state Representative Moffit "said the state needs better communication channels to enable the public to learn on a 24-7 basis what chemicals might be involved in a potential misapplication." The push comes as states around the country are grappling with how to protect children and families from the health and economic harms caused by pesticide drift. Some Illinois residents are urging the state to adopt a policy similar to one adopted recently by Maine. The Maine act establishes a public notification registry for specific types of aerial pesticide applications. The registry will ensure neighbors have access to critical information about the chemicals being used on nearby farms, and when pesticides will be applied. Maine Representative Barry, who championed the law, commented, "It's fairly well known at this point that many pesticides are linked with cancer and improper brain development in young children and a whole host of health and developmental issues. It seems the least we can do in the age of communications technology is to communicate with people before we spray."

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New research linking atrazine to hormone disruption

The pesticide atrazine, found in surface and ground water in many U.S. states, alters the genes of male rats that control hormone production, according to new research published in Toxicological Sciences. Environmental Health News summarized the science: "Rats were fed two higher doses of atrazine, 50 and 200 micrograms per kilogram body weight. Atrazine reduced the expression of several key genes involved in the production of steroid hormones, which affects levels of the androgens important for male development and reproduction. The exposure lowered testosterone levels at the higher dose and prostate size at both doses in the male rats." The research adds to growing scientific evidence pointing to human and ecological health harms associated with atrazine, including hormonal disruption, neural damage, reproductive disorders, spontaneous abortion and cancers. The majority of atrazine is produced and marketed by Syngenta, a Swiss-based company. Atrazine is banned for use in the European Union, including Syngenta's home, Switzerland, due to widespread and unpreventable water contamination. The herbicide remains the second most widely used pesticide in the U.S., with communities in the Midwest facing highest levels of exposure in their groundwater. The law firm Korein Tillery is suing Syngenta and other atrazine manufacturers on behalf of an Illinois water provider, charging that that atrazine is harmful to humans in drinking water.

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Scientific American urges scientific integrity, free inquiry in GM research

Seed experimentEditors of Scientific American question corporate control of research and information on genetically modified (GM) seeds in the August issue of the magazine. Pesticide and GM giants like Monsanto and Syngenta tout the importance of GM seeds in improving yield and feeding the world. "Unfortunately," according to Scientific American editors, "it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers." The editors further explain that the companies "have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects." Recently, a group of 24 corn scientists went to US EPA with their opposition to the practice. According to Scientific American, "It would be chilling enough if any other type of company were able to prevent independent researchers from testing its wares and reporting what they find -- imagine car companies trying to quash head-to-head model comparisons done by Consumer Reports, for example. But when scientists are prevented from examining the raw ingredients in our nation’s food supply or from testing the plant material that covers a large portion of the country’s agricultural land, the restrictions on free inquiry become dangerous." In related news, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently approved use of a new corn with multiple GM traits, despite serious concerns from farmers and environmentalists. Developed by Dow and Monsanto together, the SmartStax corn contains eight different GM traits that create resistance to several different pesticides marketed by the same companies. The Montreal Gazette reported that the approval was quick and quiet -- and that many groups are calling for a full review before its broad release. “Not only did the CFIA neglect to do a risk evaluation for SmartStax corn, but it has also seriously reduced one of the only precautions imposed on farmers,” said Benoit Girouard of Quebec’s Union Paysanne, a farmers’ group.

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Climate solutions from agroecology & small farms

The international network of small farmers -- Via Campesina -- is urging negotiators to consider agriculture in the upcoming UN climate talks in Copenhagen. Industrial agriculture is estimated to contribute 17 – 35% of global greenhouse emissions, while agroecology (PDF) and small farms offer a range of climate mitigation and adaptation solutions. According to Via Campesina, “Large agribusiness extensions and vast monocultures make intensive use of oil-based chemical fertilizers, pesticides and machinery; convert carbon-rich forest and prairie into green deserts; and are based on a long and unnecessary chain of secondary processing and transport links. On the other hand, small-scale sustainable family farming is a key solution to climate change. Sustainable local food production uses less energy, eliminates dependence on imported animal feedstuffs and retains carbon in the soil while increasing biodiversity. Native seeds are more adaptable to the changes in climate that are already affecting us.” Via Campesina insists, “If small farmers are given access to land, water, education and health and are supported by food sovereignty policies they will keep feeding the world and protecting the planet.” Meanwhile, the United Nations recently approved a first avenue for agriculture to formally participate in reducing greenhouse gases as part of the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. 

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Indian state to compensate endosulfan victims

Farming in IndiaThe Indian state of Karnataka has agreed to compensate victims of exposure to the persistent pesticide endosulfan. Endosulfan was used from 1980 through 2000 on cashew plantations in the coastal Beltangady region of the state. The Daijiworld Media Network reports that a delegation of victims approached the state government for compensation, attributing deaths, cancers and birth defects to endosulfan exposure. The Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation is primarily responsible for the endosulfan use. Bayer Corporation has recently agreed to end distribution of the controversial pesticide by 2010. "Endosulfan is an extraordinarily dangerous, and entirely unnecessary, pesticide," according to Kathryn Gilje, Pesicide Action Network Executive Director. "Over 60 countries have banned it, Bayer is stepping away from it -- it's time the U.S. joined the global movement." As Australian activists also call for a ban, the Australian grain-farming sector recently reported that it does not need the antiquated insecticide. Although used primarily on cotton and tomatoes in the U.S., endosulfan is a persistent pesticide leaving residues on a variety of foods in the U.S. food supply.

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