Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Siddiqui stalls in Senate, food movement foments
- Congressional action begins on chemicals reform
- World Food Summit: promises & crumbs for 1 billion hungry
- Bhopal plant open for tourists?
- OMB commits to science, not chemical industry, on endocrine disruptors
- WhatsOnMyFood? iPhone App launched
Industry representatives and environmental health advocates staked out positions on chemical policy reform at a Congressional hearing this week. In Tuesday's testimony before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, environmental advocates called on legislators to overhaul the current law in a way that gives EPA power to take quick action to phase out high priority chemicals and shifts the burden of proof to manufacturers to prove the safety of their products. Chemical industry officials urged Congress to maintain the current risk-based assessment approach to chemicals management, and avoid changes to the law that would place an undue burden on the chemical industry. The hearing focused specifically on how Congress should direct EPA to prioritize chemicals for action, and was the first of many such hearings expected in both the House and Senate as reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act moves forward. The on-line business journal ICIS.com reported that Daryl Ditz of the Centre for International Environmental Law urged lawmakers to focus on chemicals "that combine persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity," and that EPA be given authority to order phase-out of these persistent chemicals, with only narrow exemptions for critical uses. Ditz urged Congress to “provide EPA a stronger footing by granting it clear authority to reduce use of and exposure to these and other high-priority chemicals, and to promote their replacement with safer alternatives.” In related news, the National Congress of American Indians released a formal resolution urging U.S. ratification of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the global treaty that targets for global phaseout persistent chemicals that bioaccumulate and are transported across borders on wind and water currents. The U.S. has signed but not yet ratified the POPs treaty.
“The number of hungry people rose this year to 1.02 billion people,” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, a tragedy FAO attributes to international economic problems, high food and fuel prices, agrofuels, drought and conflict. Yet countries that met in Rome this week for the fourth World Food Summit on Food Security took no concrete steps to change direction. Peasant and family farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists and agricultural workers, mostly from the developing world, who had gathered for a parallel Peoples' Food Sovereignty Forum (PDF), came away angry and disappointed. Small farmers and Indigenous agriculturalists produce 75% of the world's food, the Forum’s organizers told the InterPress Service, yet themselves have inadequate access to food. "And this represents the most incredible aspect of hunger."
Joining the chorus of criticism, Oxfam denounced the Rome summit for offering what it called "crumbs for the world's hungry,” the Associated Press reports. Jacques Diouf, FAO Director General, concluded that despite countries taking “important steps” by pledging to increase aid to agriculture, “alas, I note that [the final] declaration does not contain any quantified objectives.” The UN’s hope was that the summit would commit to eradicating hunger by 2025.
In the run-up to the summit, 23 U.S. groups called on the administration to take leadership rather than continue to support failed approaches that have actually contributed to the global food crisis. “It’s unfortunate that the Obama administration has been joined so closely at the hip of the genetic engineering industry in responding to the global food crisis,” said Alexandra Spieldoch of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The World Summit was "an opportunity to change course and join the global consensus on a more sustainable approach that would enable countries facing hunger to feed themselves.” Groups signing the November 13 letter (PDF), including PAN North America, Food & Water Watch, Grassroots International, Food First, Greenpeace USA, World Hunger Year and the National Family Farm Coalition, again pointed to the UN’s 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, declaring corporate-controlled “business as usual” is unacceptable. Another letter to Diouf, “Look Beyond Tried and Tired Strategies to People's Solutions for Hunger and Poverty,” was coordinated by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific and signed by 140 organizations. It appealed to the FAO to dismantle the “corporate model of agriculture that has crippled the food security of the world and to make an unequivocal move towards developing a new global food production system based on food sovereignty and environmental sustainability, with small food producers at the centre of agriculture.” The growing chorus calling for radical change was acknowledged with little more than rhetoric in Rome.
"Survivors of the world's worst industrial disaster in India's Bhopal city are outraged by plans to throw open the site to visitors 25 years after the tragedy that killed thousands,” according to Agence France Presse. The Union Carbide pesticide plant that exploded the night of December 3, 1984, leaking methyl isocyanate gas that killed 8,000-10,000 within 72 hours, has been sealed ever since. More than 25,000 have died of related causes subsequently. Reopening the site to tourists next month has appalled survivors of the tragedy and activists campaigning to hold Dow Chemical (owner of Union Carbide since 1999) accountable. Babulal Gaur, head of the government’s Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Ministry, defended the plan “’to help people to get rid of apprehension and misconceptions that chemical waste lying inside the factory is still harmful or that the chemicals are polluting the water in nearby localities,’" AFP reports. The move by the government follows a similar recent stunt by India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who claimed to have handled the toxic waste stored on the plant site and emerged unscathed. Mr. Ramesh pointed to his still being alive as proof that the obsolete pesticides and residues stored inside the factory are harmless.
Rachna Dinghra, speaking for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, responded: "Mr. Gaur is neither a scientist nor a man with common sense because there are still 24 deposits of high toxic material inside the plant." Rasheeda Bi, a Goldman Environmental Prize winner and a Bhopal survivor who lost all of her family as a result of the explosion, is angry about the ministry’s plan, which “includes a week-long exhibition at the site to highlight government welfare measures. ‘Some 340 tonnes of toxic wastes are still out there and if Gaur is so sure that it is not harmful then why is he saying visitors must view the dumping sites from a distance of 20 feet?’" she asked. As the December 3 anniversary of the tragedy approaches, pressure is building on Dow-Carbide to clean up the site, provide just compensation to surviving victims and fund ongoing research, health monitoring and medical care. Carbide also remains an “absconder” from criminal charges for “culpable homicide” in the Indian courts. "Rather than clean-up the site, the government and the corporations are now engaged in cleaning up their image through deceit and denial," observed Syed M. Irfan, a local Bhopal activist.
Pesticide Action Network released a new iPhone App this week to help conscientious food shoppers make healthy choices. The new WhatsOnMyFood? App and corresponding website link pesticide residue and toxicology data from dozens of sources in a uniquely searchable format to show what pesticides are found on each food, in what amount, and what health effects associated with exposure to each of the chemicals. “This tool gives shoppers easy access to information on pesticides that’s been buried deep in government reports for years,” says Kristin Schafer, Senior Policy Analyst at Pesticide Action Network. “We’re working toward a future where we don’t have to worry about chemicals on our food. But for now, the WhatsOnMyFood? tools help shoppers make healthy choices for their families that also help move the whole food system in the right direction.” The newly updated website and free iPhone application present pesticide residue data for 87 foods sampled by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture. It then highlights health problems linked to the chemicals, including cancer, damage to the nervous system, and harm to the reproductive, developmental and hormone systems. The site notes that while most residues are found at low levels, little is known about the combined effects of the multiple pesticides consumed in a daily diet of conventional foods.