Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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New research published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that exposure to mixtures of chemicals are more harmful than previously thought. Researchers found that healthy reproductive development of male rat offspring was thwarted by a selected mixture of chemicals found in food, consumer products and the environment. A synopsis of the new research by Heather Hamlin and Wendy Hessler concludes, "Exposure to a mixture of environmental chemicals is far more harmful to male rats than exposure to the individual chemicals would predict, even when the level of each contaminant in the mixture causes no effect by itself. Incidence of penis deformities were much stronger with the mixes than what would be predicted from the potency of the individual chemicals." When individual chemicals were tested at a level U.S. regulators have determined "safe," no negative effects were seen. "However, when the chemicals were mixed together, the rats had reduced anogenital distances, indicating that the rats were becoming feminized." The research confirms the troubled state of current pesticides regulation, where compounds are tested one at a time, and not evaluated for their impact in mixture. Real world scenarios involve exposure to multiple pesticides and hundreds of chemicals each day. For example, What's On My Food? finds 42 different pesticides on conventional apples, indicating that the possibility exists for quite a chemical cocktail on any given industrially-grown apple. Pesticide Action Network Senior Policy Analyst Kristin Schafer comments, "Science continues to confirm our deep concern that U.S. chemicals policies don't protect human health or ecosystems from harm. Overhaul is needed to support a quick shift toward green chemistry, agroecological farming and other approaches that offer the safest food and products for all Americans."
An August 2009 EPA Inspector General Report (PDF) calls for new regulation of nutrient pollutants -- including fertilizer runoff and sewage overflows, indicating that current policies violate the federal Clean Water Act. Excessive nutrient runoff has led to the creation of "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, where oxygen levels drop so low during part of the year that marine life can no longer be supported. Nitrous oxide, a byproduct of nitrogen fertilizer use in particular, is also a greenhouse gas with 300 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently published new research showing that "nitrous oxide has now become the largest ozone-depleting substance emitted through human activities." The nitrogen-related climate change, ozone and deadzone problems can be traced back, in large part, to synthetic fertilizer use in industrial food production. The Daily Green reports that "Strategic planting of buffer zones around streams, crop rotation and no-till farming are among the methods conventional farmers can use to reduce runoff and erosion. But ultimately, the fate of our coastal waters may lie with Congress, and its decisions on farm policy, since the subsidization of commodity corn is behind a big part of the runoff."
Farmer suicides in India's agricultural heartland have dramatically increased over the past months, as debt, high production costs, drought and low prices plague farming communities. The Digital Journal reports that the suicide rate in the rural Vidarbha region has doubled since last year, and that the weapon of choice is the pesticide endosulfan. India's National Crime Records Bureau indicates some 16,000 farmers commit suicide each year. According to the Digital Journal, "growing conditions have worsened and farmers are increasingly in debt to multinational companies that provide fertilizer, seed and pesticides. Residents of Dorli, a small village consisting of 48 households in the Vidarbha region, were at one point so overwhelmed by their economic plight, the entire village was up for sale five years ago. Today the farmers of Dorli village have started to change the way they are farming. Instead of focusing on '... high-input cash crops,' according to one villager, the farmers are turning to some traditional crops, such as millet, to help feed the village and their livestock." Some farmers from the region are calling for government promotion and support for organic alternatives. The Wall Street Journal reports that, "valued at $20 million, India's organic farming sector is a sliver of the $26 billion global market. But with its promise of higher profit margins and lower production costs, organic farming provides an alternative to this debt spiral by eliminating a farmer's dependence on expensive pesticides." One organic farmer, Mr. Deshmukh, attributes his ability to escape debt, and possibly death, to his transition to organic farming nearly ten years ago. The Wall Street Journal reports, "He's no longer subjected to high up-front rates for chemical fertilizers and insecticides. In addition, he draws healthy seeds directly from the previous year's crop rather than invest in genetically modified ones. Plus, cutting out middle-men and selling his products directly to textile mills across the country earns him 20% more for his organic cotton, he says. His margins for cotton farming are now 75%, he says, compared to the 40% average in India."
The Non-GMO Project recently launched a testing, verification and labeling scheme for foods found free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The effort reflects growing concern within the organic foods industry over the erosion of consumer confidence that products are free from GMOs and toxic chemicals. The New York Times reported that "The project’s seal, a butterfly perched on two blades of grass in the form of a check mark, will begin appearing on packaged foods this fall. The project will not try to guarantee that foods are entirely free of genetically modified ingredients, but that manufacturers have followed procedures, including testing, to ensure that crucial ingredients contain no more than 0.9 percent of biotech material. That is the same threshold used in Europe, where labeling is required if products contain higher levels." Since the introduction of GM crops in the mid-1990's by Monsanto and other pesticide corporations, the percentage of corn, soybean and canola acreage grown with GM seed has grown significantly in the U.S. Monsanto is pushing for new GM crops in the U.S. and around the world, touting the technology as necessary to feed the world. A 2009 report by the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth found that GM crops have increased pesticide company profits, but have not in fact delivered on feeding the world. Countries around the world have been far more skeptical of GM seeds than the U.S.; Europe in particular has been slow to permit GM technology, pointing to environmental and human health risks. Concern is recently growing in the U.S. however -- in May 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for mandatory labeling and a moratorium on GM foods.