Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Organic food on rise in China
- Obama to help Africa or Monsanto?
- Pakistanis tell Monsanto to go home
- Chemical companies concealed known Agent Orange dangers
- Food crisis means rations, veggies in Britain
- Endosulfan research exposes another regulatory loophole for pesticides
A growing number of Beijing consumers are turning to organic and local food as antidote to fears over food safety and lax government regulation. Consumers in Beijing, in particular, are increasingly looking to natural and organic foods for a healthy, safe alternative to industrial food. According to the Los Angeles Times, restaurateur and environmentalist Lejen Chen has brought attention to the recent rise of organic food and farming near Beijing. Chen and her husband own the organic Green Cow Farm in the Beijing suburbs, where she grows produce for her restaurant and food business. Green Cow is one of a burgeoning number of community supported agriculture farms (CSAs), or "food clubs," where consumers pay a weekly fee to receive fresh, local and organic produce, similar to CSAs in the U.S. MSNBC featured Lejen Chen, a former New Yorker from Taiwan, in a video interview about organics and food safety in China. The growth of organics isn't limited to suburban Beijing. As the Times reports, "the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture certifies organic products, and its popular 'Green Food' label, which designates food produced with restricted amounts of agricultural chemicals, can be seen on products such as fruit, noodles, tea and even beer. The ministry also labels genetically modified food, something the United States does not do."
As the Obama administration makes plans to address hunger in Africa, many wonder why the President is ignoring the authoritative global report on the subject. Jill Richardson sheds light into the slow uptake of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) in her recent article. The Obama administration seems to be ignoring the findings of comprehensive, peer-reviewed research in favor of a report released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. According to Richardson, "the vision of the Chicago Council report, which was written under the leadership of Dan Glickman and Catherine Bertini with funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, looks far more similar to pesticide and biotech industry talking points than it does to the IAASTD report." The IAASTD concludes that small-scale, agroecological farming will be more effective at meeting today's challenges than the old energy- and chemical-intensive paradigm of industrial agricultural production. According to Richardson, "The problem [for multinational corporations] with the agroecological methods advocated by the IAASTD report authors is that they are free. It costs nothing to save seeds, fix nitrogen in the soil with cover crops, rely on beneficial insects and biodiversity to deal with pests, or fertilize with manure. In addition to requiring no seeds, commercial fertilizer, or pesticides, these technologies require no oil or banks. And if the poor farmers of the world grow crops to eat or sell locally, then their crops will not benefit corporations who rely on cheap commodities sold on the world market." Richardson concludes, "We may have a genuine desire to help the hungry, but so far we are unwilling to take steps that will actually create meaningful change for those without enough to eat."
Farm and environmental organizations called on the Pakistani government to stop all deals with companies like Monsanto and other outside investors in farmland, according to The Independent. Executive Director of Roots for Equity, Dr. Azra Talat Syed, made this demand while speaking at a news conference along with Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific, Sarojeni Rengam and farmer leader Ghulam Mohammad. Dr. Syed named corporate land grabs and the push for genetically engineered BT cotton by Monsanto as the two most critical issues facing small farmers in Pakistan. "Nearly six million acres of land are said to be leased to foreign investors of Middle Eastern countries," Sayed stated, and "the government last year signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S. company Monsanto to... introduce BT cotton."
Dow Chemical Company knew the human health dangers of the dioxin-laced herbicide Agent Orange when they provided it for use in Vietnam, according to a recent report in Thanhnien News. According to the News, a recent review of official and unofficial documents reveals that Dow intentionally concealed the evidence of what could happen to people exposed to the chemical. The News quotes a 1965 declassified letter by V.K. Rowe from Dow's Biochemical Research Library: "This material is exceptionally toxic; it has a tremendous potential for producing chloracne and systemic injury. Respondents used proprietary, defective manufacturing processes that dangerously contaminated 2,4,5-T with dioxin." Worried that leaked information about the dangers could hurt Dow, Rowe added: “There is no reason why we cannot get this problem under strict control and thereby hopefully avoid restrictive legislation...."
A 1988 letter from Dr. James Clary, a former government scientist, to U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, states: "When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960's, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the 'military' formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the 'civilian' version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the 'enemy,' none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide." In 1984, seven chemical companies, including Dow and Monsanto, agreed to a $180 million settlement with U.S. veterans. In March 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a dismissal of similar lawsuits brought by Vietnamese nationals and U.S. veterans against Dow, Monsanto and other Agent Orange manufacturers.
The British may face food rationing and a vegetarian diet in the event of a world food shortage, according to an official U.K. assessment of British food security covered by the Times. Citing risks including climate change, higher oil prices and more crops being grown for fuel instead of food, Hilary Benn, UK cabinet minister responsible for food policy, has directed officials to prepare a plan for Britain to feed itself. According to the Times, Benn said: “We need a radical rethink in how we produce and consume food. Globally we need to cut emissions and adapt to the changing climate that will alter what we can grow and where we can grow it. We must maintain the natural resources -- soils, water and biodiversity -- on which food production depends.” As part of his public announcement Benn did not rule out commercial planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Britain. According to The Independent, environmental groups suspect that the government might use the need for increased food security as a justification for introducing GE crops, so far extremely unpopular with the public and not grown commercially in Britain. Benn's call for food security was seen by some as too vague, and very late. According to the Independent, "Professor Tim Lang of City University, a specialist on food policy, said, 'The issue is how radical or slight will changes for consumers be, and how soft or hard will the policy changes be? The dominant policy language of recent years has centred on markets, choice and consumer sovereignty. These are too simplistic now. Politics needs to move fast.'"
New research shows that the four day testing period toxicologists and U.S. EPA often use for pesticides is not enough. New research reported in September's Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry documented the lethal consequences on tadpoles of the pesticide endosulfan. The study, conducted by University of Pittsburgh researchers including biologist Rick Relyea, found that "holding the animals for an additional 4 days in clean water revealed significant additional mortality in three of the nine species [of frogs]. Leopard frogs, for example, experienced no significant death during the initial 4-day exposure [to 60 ppb endosulfan] but 97% death after an additional 4 days in clean water." The Pittsburgh Union-Review covered the story: "'The EPA does not routinely test pesticides on amphibians, instead extrapolating the results of tests on fish to frogs and salamanders,' said Relyea, adding that this is concerning because amphibians are famously sensitive to pollution and their health can indicate environmental problems. There has been a worldwide decline in amphibian species." Endosulfan is under fire around the world, and the EPA is currently considering a petition from Pesticide Action Network and partners to end all uses. The international community is considering listing endosulfan under the Stockholm Convention, which would prompt an end to its use in more than 160 countries. Currently, more than 60 countries have banned its use.