Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Monsanto losing its grip?
- Copenhagen Accord leaves ag on hold
- 'Chronic diseases and chemical exposure'
- Better ways to control bed bugs
- Insecticide use doubles RA & Lupus risk in women
In the face of public scrutiny, lawsuits from competitors, and a Department of Justice investigation, Monsanto appears to be backpedaling on some of its stringent patent protection policies. The New York Times reports that, contrary to expectations of seed industry executives, the company has said they will continue to allow farmers to grow Roundup Ready 1 (RR1) soy even after the patent expires in 2014. The Roundup Ready trait makes crops (such as soy, corn and cotton) resistant to the pesticide glyphosate, which is sold by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup. Monsanto’s own officials estimate the Roundup Ready trait is in nine out of ten soybeans grown in the U.S. Introduced in 1996, it is in seeds grown by Monsanto itself as well as licensed to other companies for use in their proprietary seed lines. Previously, Monsanto had plans to force farmers to switch to its successor product, Roundup Ready 2 Yield (RR2Y), before the Roundup Ready 1 patent expired -- by refusing to renew licenses that expired before 2014, and enforcing contract clauses that would require farmers and seed companies to destroy all RR1 inventory before the patent expires. RR2Y will be considerably more expensive than RR1, which is already $40-$45 more per acre than traditional soybean seeds. Monsanto has also said they will allow farmers and seed dealers to obtain the old Roundup Ready seeds without limiting their access to the new technology, and that they won’t prevent farmers from saving seeds from RR1 crops, as they have in the past.
If Monsanto follows through on the statements, the implications could be huge. The Roundup Ready gene for soybeans was one of the first genetically engineered traits to be patented and become commercially available; once Monsanto no longer holds a patent, RR1 genes will essentially “become agricultural biotechnology’s equivalent of a generic drug.” This could save farmers a lot of money, and would finally allow universities to use the gene for research purposes, potentially loosening the chokehold Monsanto has on agricultural GMO research. Pesticide Action Network North America will submit technical comments outlining the ill effects of Monsanto's corporate control of large portions of the agricultural research agenda this week.
Agriculture is responsible for roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet leading up to last week’s climate talks, references to agriculture had been scattered scarcely and incoherently throughout various pieces of the treaty’s negotiating text. The December 7-18 convergence at Copenhagen thus presented an opportunity to streamline and clarify agriculture’s place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). To this end, an agriculture working group had reached basic agreement by the beginning of week two on a draft document describing a 2010 work program to be completed by a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) under the UNFCCC. While critical issues remained unresolved -- such as links between adaptation and mitigation, impacts of climate change on food security, and the question of whether or not civil society would be allowed a voice in negotiations going forward -- important dimensions of a proposed work program had never-the-less been agreed upon in the form of draft agriculture text. (PDF) Specifically, the draft text cited the need to safeguard food security and livelihoods in climate adaptation and mitigation, referenced to the interests of small farmers, the rights of indigenous peoples and the importance of traditional knowledge. The advisory body (SBSTA) it mentioned would develop recommendations for how countries could both reduce emissions from agriculture and adapt farming systems to the major impacts that climate change will bring. However, due to larger controversy over what has come to be known as the "Copenhagen Accord", the agriculture text was not submitted for approval. According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, who has been tracking this issue nexus for over a year, it is unclear when the agriculture text will be revisited, but it could come as early as this spring.
Other important ag-related developments at the talks include the founding meeting of the Round Table of Organic Agriculture and Climate Change, and the announcement of a new, international agricultural research initiative. The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases was announced on December 16th under the leadership of the U.S. and New Zealand. The alliance agrees to boost funding among the 20+ participant countries in order to “improve management practices and technologies” to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack concurrently announced increased research funding streams coming out of USDA as well as a Borlaug Fellowship (after Norman Borlaug, the father of the first ‘Green Revolution’) for training scientists from developing countries in U.S. approaches to chemical-intensive agriculture. The fact that both the increased funding and the fellowship on offer from Vilsack were presented as support mechanisms for the new research alliance, indicates much about its likely agenda. If in fact civil society is allowed a voice at the table going forward, Pesticide Action Network will work with partners in advocating insertion of key agroecological findings from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) into the research alliance’s program.
The risk that a 50-year-old white woman will develop breast cancer has soared to 12 percent today from one percent in 1975. Likewise, asthma rates have tripled over the last 25 years and childhood leukemia is increasing by one percent per year. Such statistics map the alarming rise in incidences of chronic diseases in U.S. populations over the past few decades and are increasingly thought to be linked to the ballooning number of chemicals, including pesticides, that people in the U.S. have been exposed to since the Second World War, reports The New York Times. In a symposium held in November this year, Dr. Philip Landrigan, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, noted that over 80,000 new chemicals have been developed since WWII, of which less than 20 percent have been tested for toxicity to children. One class of chemicals that creates concern -- although the evidence is not definitive -- is endocrine disruptors, which may fool the body into setting off hormonal changes and can increase incidences of breast cancer.
Endocrine disruptors are found in everyday things like plastic containers, cosmetics and household cleaning products. Many pesticides -- such as atrazine and endosulfan -- are potent endocrine disruptors demonstrating health impacts including increased incidences of certain cancers and reproductive harm. The disease incidence numbers and the suffering of countless people speak for themselves: Pesticide Action Network and other environmental health groups have been calling for adoption of a precautionary approach by regulatory agencies and industry to protect everyone from unnecessary exposures to chemicals that appear likely to cause a wide range of health harms. Among those who attended Dr. Landrigan's talk was New York City chef Rob Endelman. He was moved to write about endocrine disruptors in his popular cooking and healthy eating blog, The Delicious Truth, pointing out that until precaution becomes the regulatory standard, consumers must claim their right to a healthy environment by choosing safer products and buying food that is free of pesticides and other harmful additives. "Don't we owe it to our kids," chef Rob concluded, "to become more familiar with these issues?"
In response to the growing problem of bed bugs in Ohio, the state's Department of Agriculture is petitioning the U.S. EPA for an emergency exemption for the use of a highly toxic pesticide in homes, the The New York Times reports. The pesticide, propoxur (trade name "Baygon"), a neurotoxic carbamate known to the state of California to cause cancer, also results in dizziness, vomiting, unconciousness and other significant impacts on humans. Propoxur was withdrawn for home use in the 1990s by Bayer, its manufacturer. It remains a controversial insecticide used in pet collars (NRDC sued pet product retailers and manufacturers in California in April for violating Prop 65 since residue from collars is a carcinogen). While the EPA issues waivers for agricultural and public health pesticide exemptions fairly routinely, it is unusual for an exemption to be granted for such indoor pesticide use. The resurgence of bed bugs is likely due to the pest’s growing resistance to commonly used insecticides. The EPA responded by convening a National Bed Bug Summit in April 2009, bringing together scientists, local and state officials, pest control operators and the general public to discuss solutions, including alternatives like Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and offer recommendations.
Safer, sustainable solutions including IPM approaches such as use of powerful vacuums, scrupulous washing of linens and chemical-free heat and steam treatments, have proven effective in controlling and eliminating bed bugs. According to Beyond Pesticides, preventative steps (PDF) should be taken to keep bed bugs at bay, including frequent vacuuming, sealing cracks and crevices where bed bugs can hide, and laundering bed linens in hot water. As this issue of PANUPS went to press, Pesticide Action Network had signed on to a letter organized by Beyond Pesticides urging EPA to deny Ohio the exemption to use propoxur for bed bugs. The letter concludes: "Propoxur would pose an unacceptable human health risk if it was allowed to be widely used for indoor applications where humans would be exposed via inhalation and dermal contact with residues. Residents of homeless shelters, multi‐dwelling units, hotels, and college dormitories, [as well as] low‐income and underserved communities, would be disproportionately affected."
A study of nearly 77,000 women ages 50-79 found that those who had personally mixed or applied insecticides regularly had double the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. The findings are among many from the 15-year Women's Health Initiative Observational Study of generally healthy postmenopausal women, conducted under the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. According to the Arthritis Foundation, women who sprayed more than six times per year increased their risk compared to women who did not use insecticides. The study reported similar results among women who used insecticides for 20 years or more. "We also saw that long-term application of insecticides by others in the home or in the lawn or garden about doubled disease risk," said NIEHS epidemiologist Christine G. Parks, lead investigator in the study. The same risk of autoimmune disease was reported among women exposed to long-term insecticide spraying by commercial companies. Parks noted that up to 75% of U.S. households use insecticides in the home or garden, 20% of which had applied insecticide within a month of being surveyed. Although the study didn’t include research on specific bug sprays, Parks noted that insecticide products do not break down readily in the home environment. "Our new results provide support for the idea that environmental factors may increase susceptibility or trigger the development of autoimmune diseases in some individuals," Parks told WebMD.