Siddiqui faces tough questions; Proposed spray drift rule; U.S. moves to ban carbofuran in food; more
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- CropLife lobbyist Siddiqui faces tough questions
- Proposed spray drift rule would legalize chemical trespass
- U.S. moves to ban carbofuran in food
- Bhopal activists challenge Dow, The New Yorker and The Hindu
- Take Action: Congress voting on chemical security law
Just one week ago, Islam Siddiqui was widely considered a “shoe-in” for confirmation as Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Instead, he has become the first trade nominee ever to face substantial public opposition. Leading up to Siddiqui’s confirmation by the Senate, a flurry of skeptical press -- including a New York Times editorial -- and an unprecedented groundswell of public protest have set the former pesticide lobbyist up for some tough questions. Key among them will be how Siddiqui’s pro-pesticide, pro-GMO record and current employment as CropLife America’s vice president of regulatory affairs will influence his approach to trade and agriculture should he be confirmed. When Senator Wyden pressed Siddiqui on these concerns during a November 4 Senate hearing, Siddiqui attempted to distance himself from his current employer.
“Siddiqui dodged the question of whether he agrees with his employer's aggressive lobbying to weaken international pesticide regulations, allow pesticide testing on children, and keep persistent and acutely toxic pesticides such as endosulfan on the market,” notes Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Siddiqui’s statement that he welcomes all kinds of agriculture glosses over the fact that if our trade office pushes the export of hazardous pesticides and GMOs, we will never get the ecologically sound, sustainable farming our planet needs.” The National Family Farm Coalition’s Executive Director, Katherine Ozer, added “The assumption that what’s good for Monsanto, Cargill and Smithfield is good for America’s farmers is false. By imposing our flawed industrial agriculture model on the rest of the world and dumping U.S. commodities into foreign markets, these agribusinesses drive farmers off the land.” In the last week, PAN and NFFC have joined more than 60,000 individuals and 80+ groups representing family farmers and farmworkers, sustainable ag, environmental, anti-hunger and fair trade advocates in protesting Siddiqui’s nomination. Siddiqui's confirmation is expected to reach the full Senate for a floor vote in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.
Photo: Chance Gardener
"The entire concept is fatally flawed, even with the provision that would allow citations based on potential harm," responded Dr. Susan Kegley, consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network and a participant in EPA's Spray Drift Work Group. "The new guidance implicitly requires the affected party to prove harm or have the state regulators provide measurements of residues before a violation could be issued. In other words, with this notice, EPA would legalize the act of chemical trespass onto others’ property, as long as no harm or potential harm could be proven."
According to Kegley, proving harm would require the state enforcement agencies to investigate drift complaints promptly, physicians to successfully recognize and report suspected poisonings, workers to risk telling their supervisors they have been poisoned at work, and scientists to be ready to conduct environmental monitoring immediately after every pesticide application to determine whether residues exceed levels of concern. “Experience has shown it is unrealistic to assume that these things will occur,” she says. "A simpler and far less expensive solution to the problem of spray drift would be to require a mandatory no-spray buffer zone around sensitive sites such as homes, schools, fields where workers are present, organic farms and waterways. Elimination of drift-prone application methods such as aerial and orchard-blaster applications must be part of the plan as well." Public comments on this new Pesticide Registration notice are due by January 4, 2010, though an extension will likely be requested. PAN will submit comments, and provide updates on its website as the situation develops.
As of January 1, 2010, growers will not be able to apply the pesticide carbofuran to any food crops. Despite objections from the manufacturer (FMC Corporation) to the original May 2009 ruling, scientists and regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that action is justified because exposure to the chemical in food residues is not safe. In announcing the action this week, EPA advised growers not to apply carbofuran to food crops after December 31st, and encouraged a switch to "safer pesticides or other environmentally preferable pest control strategies." Short-term health effects of carbofuran exposure can include headache, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, chest pains, blurred vision, anxiety and general muscular weakness. Registration for the granular form of the pesticide was withdrawn more than 15 years ago due to its danger to birds and other wildlife, but the chemical continues to be used on a variety of fruit, vegetable and field crops. “The evidence is clear that carbofuran does not meet today’s rigorous food-safety standards,” said Steve Owens, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances in the Agency's announcement. “EPA has carefully evaluated the scientific issues and has provided more than 500 days of public comment on this decision. It is now important to move forward with the needed public health protections, especially for children.”
FMC is the only company still selling carbofuran in the U.S., and it has fought EPA's efforts to move forward toward a ban at every opportunity. In taking its decision this week, EPA specifically denied a request by FMC for a public hearing. The company has pledged to appeal the decision to the federal courts. FMC was recently embroiled in controversy when 60 Minutes reported that their carbofuran product Furadan is widely available in Africa and used to poison lions. The company previously manufactured an array of toxic organochlorine pesticides that have since been banned globally, including chlordane, heptachlor, lindane, and toxaphene.
On October 28, Dow Chemical and The New Yorker hosted a party at an upscale Manhattan gallery to focus on clean water in developing countries. Bhopal and Agent Orange activists collaborated to make sure it would be a night to remember for Dow. Despite the event being invitation-only, several advocates from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal were able to get into the event (see video), while others distributed flyers outside the venue and chanted “Dow and New Yorker sitting in a tree, K-I-L-L-I-N-G”. The program featured presentations about water scarcity and generosity of western corporations, including Dow's commercial "The Human Element". The activists inside interrupted, loudly asked presenters whether they were aware that Dow, owner of Union Carbide, was responsible for the world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal in 1984. As he was being forcibly removed by security guards, one protester shouted: "How do you reconcile working with a company that portrays itself as being environmentally conscious but clearly does not practice what it preaches?!" By the end of the event demonstrators had given away 65 bottles of the ironically labeled “B'eau Pal water, courtesy of Dow" -- underscoring that Dow refuses to take responsibility for still-contaminated water in Bhopal.
Meanwhile in India, The Hindu Group of Newspapers, publisher of The Hindu and Frontline magazine, responded to public outcry against Dow Chemical sponsorship of the high-profile November Music Festival in Chennai by returning funds to Dow. Indian advocates have commended The Hindu: "Returning Dow Chemical's money owing to its insensitivity in dealing with the Bhopal issue is a commendable act which will go a long way in reminding Dow that people will not forget Bhopal until justice is done." The New Yorker has not responded to complaints about co-sponsoring the event with Dow.
The House of Representatives is voting this Friday on a law that could reduce the risk of attacks and accidents at chemical factories by requiring producers to use safer technologies whenever possible. The "Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009" (HR2868) directs all chemical plants to develop a plan for reducing consequences of a terrorist attack, including evaluation of "inherently safer technologies" such as a shift to production of less toxic chemicals. Policy experts at Greenpeace, who have long campaigned for chemical plant safety and fully support HR2868, note that President Obama has called chemical plants "stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country." Greenpeace reports that the Department of Homeland Security has identified 6,300 high risk chemical facilities in the US. Advocates of the bill argue that safer chemical processes not only make chemical plants less attractive terrorist targets, but also reduce the risk of chemical accidents. The agricultural industry is opposing the bill, and Senate Republicans plan to introduce competing legislation that strips the safer technology requirements.