'Big Ag' still on the inside; EPA revisits atrazine - finally; Agriculture's role in climate change...
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
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- 'Big Ag' still on the inside
- EPA revisits atrazine - finally
- Agriculture's role in climate change
- Pesticides linked to childhood leukemia
- Syngenta's 'howling conflict of interest'
Despite campaign promises to the contrary, President Obama has nominated to two key posts “Big Ag” industry power brokers who come straight from the chemical pesticide and biotechnology sectors. Obama tapped Roger Beachy, long-time president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, Monsanto’s nonprofit research arm, as chief of the USDA’s newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Created by the 2008 Farm Bill, NIFA is the new means of awarding the USDA’s external research dollars. As the director of NIFA, Beachy will oversee the distribution of nearly $500 million in grants and other research funding. Sustainable agriculture initiatives are likely to suffer as research dollars are awarded to projects that promote Beachy’s vested interests in biotechnology.
Islam Siddiqui, currently the VP of Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife USA, was nominated to the post of Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the US Trade Representative’s office. CropLife is the pesticide and biotech industry trade group who “shuddered” when Michelle Obama planted a White House organic garden. This critical position is designed to use “free” trade agreements to open up foreign markets for U.S. agricultural goods. At CropLife International Siddiqui led the initiative to reduce and eliminate trade barriers against pesticides as part of the WTO Doha Round. He also served as the Senior Trade Advisor to former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who is best known for his role in the sign off of GM (genetically modified) seeds. PAN is working with partners on a response; stay tuned.
What a difference some noise makes. In the wake of last month's controversy surrounding atrazine contamination of 71% of U.S. groundwater, U.S. EPA announced on October 7 that it plans to re-evaluate the herbicide. Banned in the E.U. while Syngenta (atrazine's manufacturer) conducted 50+ private meetings with EPA decision-makers, atrazine was re-registered under the Bush administration and remains the second-most widely used herbicide in the U.S. Atrazine is used throughout the midwest on corn and soy, as well as on lawns and in forestry across the country. Exposure to very low levels of the chemical has been linked to birth defects and a host of other human health effects associated with endocrine disruption. EPA will announce its plan for re-evaluation in November, with a decision expected by September 2010. Meanwhile, families across the midwest remain exposed to dangerous levels of atrazine in their drinking water.
This decision marks a significant reversal from the EPA's previous position which had been re-affirmed as recently as June, according to the Huffington Post. The New York Times reports that Stephen Owens, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, explains the reversal as a matter of scientific integrity: “There are new scientific findings that deserve attention, and we’re going to engage our scientific panels in actively reviewing the work of this office under previous administrations.” He added, “We have a question: Did the decisions made in previous administrations use all the available science?” Pesticide Action Network staff scientist Karl Tupper puts the development in context somewhat differently: "It's about time."
U.S. agricultural interests "are reading the science [of climate change] wrong" according to Newsweek. "Based on rationales from 'climate change isn't real' to 'it will increase crop yields so it's a good thing' to 'it will cost us money' most of the country's farming sectors along with their elected officials have staunchly opposed taking action to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions." Meanwhile, climate science indicates that global warming will have, and in some cases is already having, disastrous effects on U.S. and global agriculture. Key among these are drought, more pests and bigger storms, all of which will lower rather than increase crop yields. Experts gathering for a workshop on climate change and sustainable agriculture in Anantapur, India -- already intimately familiar with the myopia of industrial agriculture's preoccupation with profit -- are looking to leverage learnings from fifty years of a flawed "Green Revolution" into a climate-ready, sustainable agriculture. According to The Hindu article entitled, "Green Revolution left Soil Infertile," excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers have left over half the country's cultivatable land so saline it can't support food crops. Solutions for recovering from the Green Revolution identified at the workshop align with tactics for surviving climate change: a return to traditional, ecological organic farming methods.
Another gathering in Penang, Malaysia brought together more than 100 experts and a variety of stakeholders for a Conference on Confronting the Food Crisis and Climate Change. Throughout the event, panel discussions were held to understand the threats and challenges of the food crisis and climate change, and to advance people’s movements, resistance and alternatives. The conference culminated with a Unity Statement declaring their commitment to claim people’s right to food, to work together in regenerating nature and society, as well as, to further strengthen the movements in advancing food sovereignty, gender justice and climate justice. “We are meeting and consolidating our efforts during the inopportune time when the wrath of tropical storm Ketsana hit the Philippines. This is a stark reminder of the impact of climate change,” declared Sarojeni V. Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific. She added, “We have been confronting oppressive structures and institutions that started and continue to deepen the food crisis and climate change. Now is the time to heed our advocacies for affordable, local, ecologically produced and safe food as well as an environment that has regenerative ability to ensure the long-term survival of all life forms.”
A research report in press from the Northern California Childhood Leukemia Study links residential proximity to applications of agricultural pesticides with increased risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). According to the abstract of the new study published by ScienceDirect, researchers from Stanford, UC Berkeley, Children's Hospital Central California, Madera, and the Northern California Cancer Center compared residential histories of 213 families who had children with ALL with 268 matched control families. Study participants lived within a half-mile of pesticide applications "during different time windows of exposure, including the first year of life and the child's lifetime through the date of diagnosis for cases or reference for controls." Leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancer, approximately 80% of childhood leukemia is ALL, and children comprise about 75% of ALL cases, peaking at 4 to 12 years of age. The researchers found that "Elevated ALL risk was associated with lifetime moderate exposure, but not high exposure, to certain...categories of pesticides, including organophosphates, chlorinated phenols, and triazines, and with pesticides classified as insecticides or fumigants."
The Swiss transnational Syngenta, largest producer of pesticides in the world, has offered to co-fund research into the decline of honeybees in the UK. Among Syngenta's $10 billion in chemicals and pharmaceuticals sales last year are neonicotinoid insecticides linked to the 2008 crash of almost a third of the UK bee population. "Syngenta sells two products containing neonicotinoids, Actara and Cruiser," reports the Herald Scotland. This class of insecticides has been banned or severely restricted in France, Germany, Italy and other countries due to concern about bees, but not yet in the UK or U.S. Environmental groups and the Soil Association -- Britain's organic farming advocacy and certification organization -- are campaigning for a UK ban. Hugh Raven, Scottish director of the Association, told the Herald: "'The taint of commercial interest has undermined this research before it's even started,'" and Professor Andrew Watterson, who heads the occupational and environmental health research group at Stirling University, "agreed there were 'potential conflicts of interest in the project which may affect the credibility of the findings.'" The research Syngenta is funding "is also supported by the government's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. 'The BBSRC should think again, and get a co-funder without this howling conflict of interest,'" said Raven. Syngenta calls the critical outcry "perverse". Environmental author and Scottish beekeeper Graham White couldn't disagree more: "'Putting Syngenta in charge of UK research into the causes of honeybee deaths is arguably the equivalent of putting the tobacco companies in charge of research into lung cancer.'"
Coincidentally, on October 9 a new film, Vanishing of the Bees, is premiering across Britain. The film is sponsored by Co-operative -- a diversified member-owned retailer that operates a huge supermarket chain and is also the UK's biggest farmer -- that "has a strict policy on the use of pesticides on the fruit and vegetables it sells, including a total ban on the use of several chemicals." The Co-op banned neonicotinoids in January 2009 because of concern over honeybee colony collapse disorder.