Scientists review methyl iodide; LBAM science weak; FL farmworker win; more...
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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- Scientists to review methyl iodide in California
- USDA scolded for weak science on LBAM
- Obesogens: U.S. to review chemicals linked to obesity
- Florida tomato grower strikes historic deal with farmworkers
Scientists from around the country will meet in Sacramento on September 24-25 to review the risks of introducing methyl iodide, a fumigant pesticide, for use on California crops. Arysta, the Tokyo-based manufacturer of the chemical, is hoping to register the chemical in California's lucrative fruit and vegetable market. Scientists, community members, health professionals and environmentalists are concerned about the registration, and have documented their concerns in extensive comments to U.S. EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Methyl iodide is so dangerous that over 50 scientists -- five of them Nobel Laureates -- sent a letter to EPA officials expressing astonishment that the agency would register such a toxic chemical. State officials are now deciding whether to allow use of this dangerous fumigant pesticide on fields for California strawberries and other crops. "This is worth going to the mat over," Dr. Susan Kegley, a scientist with the Pesticide Action Network North America in San Francisco told the Fresno Bee. "This is so toxic, and exposure to it is almost guaranteed." In July, when it looked like Governor Schwarzenegger’s office intended to skirt a scheduled scientific review in favor of speedy registration, activists from PAN and other groups rallied to uphold better public process. Thousands of Californians –- including 27 state legislators –- called and wrote the governor, demanding full and independent scientific review. The state agreed to move ahead with an independent scientific panel, convened by Dr. John Froines, involving scientists from around the country in a rigorous examination of the risks associated with the proposed pesticide.
The National Academies this week released a review of USDA science used to classify the invasive Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) as an "actionable" pest and justify a widespread eradication program. The LBAM classification led to aerial spraying of cities and countryside to control in California last year. "In late 2008 and early 2009, the U.S. secretary of agriculture received two petitions, from the Pesticide Action Network North America and three private citizens, to reclassify LBAM as a 'non-actionable pest' based on the argument that the moth is not a significant pest economically and can be controlled by means other than eradication," according to a press release from the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies. LBAM is not native to North America, and discovery of significant numbers in the greater Bay Area in 2006 and 2007 launched an "emergency eradication" campaign by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), funded with $90 million from USDA. Aerial spraying, begun in Monterey and Santa Cruz, was halted in 2008 after massive protests and suits by local authorities. At a recent CA Senate hearing, entomologists characterized the CDFA approach as wasted effort.
In February 2009, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requested that the NRC "evaluate the scientific justification of the draft response APHIS wrote to answer the two petitions." The NRC review (PDF) "found that APHIS did not 'fully consider and address the specific arguments' and did not 'conduct a thorough and balanced analysis' supporting the conclusions in its Response. Full consideration would have included a more detailed economic analysis and a more complete response to the argument against eradication. Overall, the committee found that the APHIS Response would greatly benefit from the use of more robust science to support its position." The NRC further recommends that APHIS "would be well served by articulating the justification for its actions to the public clearly, and the Response should be revised accordingly."
The LBAM classification is about trade protectionism, said Dr. Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at PAN. "Despite the NRC rebuke of USDA's science, we anticipate a denial of our petition. Eradication is indefensible and could lead to risky pesticide use; quarantines are hurting farmers, yet USDA and CDFA won't admit it." This week, reports the Monterey Herald, the City Council of Monterey, which was planning to send a letter to CDFA opposing the LBAM eradication plan, agreed to add a citation of the NRC's finding that an eradication approach is not based on sound science.
New research shows that obesity in babies and younger people may be linked to exposure to chemicals, including certain pesticides. An in-depth story in Newsweek reports, "Evidence has been steadily accumulating that certain hormone-mimicking pollutants, ubiquitous in the food chain, have two previously unsuspected effects. They act on genes in the developing fetus and newborn to turn more precursor cells into fat cells, which stay with you for life. And they may alter metabolic rate, so that the body hoards calories rather than burning them, like a physiological Scrooge. 'The evidence now emerging says that being overweight is not just the result of personal choices about what you eat, combined with inactivity,' says Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 'Exposure to environmental chemicals during development may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.'" Hormone-mimicking chemicals include the pesticide atrazine. Scientists at the December meeting of the Society of Toxicology will discuss new research (PDF) suggesting that long-term exposure to atrazine might contribute to obesity and insulin resistance. Earlier this year, new science showed that prenatal exposure to DDE -- a breakdown product of DDT -- may contribute to the obesity epidemic in women. This fall, for the first time, scientists from the Food & Drug Administration, U.S. EPA, NIH and academia will gather to discuss the unfolding research on such obesogens.
In a decided victory for farmworkers in Florida, East Coast Growers and Packers, boasting 7,000 acres of tomatoes, agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to raise wages for farmworkers. The deal -- to increase wages by one penny per pound of tomatoes harvested -- will mean a 64% wage increase for farmworkers. Over the past five years, CIW has struck agreements with several fast food chains, including Subway, Burger King, McDonald's and Taco Bell. However, the chains have been hard pressed to find a tomato supplier willing to partner with them to implement the agreement. Since 2007, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a marketing cooperative of industrial tomato farms, has effectively blocked implementation by refusing to be the conduit for the raises, and threatening fines for members who might sign up. East Coast Growers and Packers dropped out of the Exchange when they made the deal this past week, marking the potential for significant change across the industry. The Miami Herald reported that Batista Madonia, sales manager for East Coast Growers and Packers, said, "I would rather be unpopular with my competition and do the right thing. I believe when you do the right thing for your worker, it gives you a better worker and a better company."
Tom Philpott of Grist elaborates: "With mega-companies like McDonald’s directing their business to East Coast because of the deal, it seems likely that other growers will relent, too—and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange’s absurd campaign to block the raise will collapse." Chipotle Mexican Grill immediately announced that it would buy tomatoes from East Coast Growers and Packers. Chipotle has been under pressure from CIW and food movement leaders, including Pesticide Action Network North America, to take concrete steps toward improving conditions for farmworkers as part of their "food with integrity" platform. "We are extremely pleased that a significant player in the Florida tomato industry has made a concrete commitment to increase wages for farmworkers and to work with the CIW. We hope that this move is the first of many agreements with growers to improve the health and well-being of farmworkers and the farm environment," said Pesticide Action Network Senior Scientist, Margaret Reeves.