Common sense on chemical policy; Atrazine turns male frogs 'female'; Oregon farmers v. Monsanto; Oscar for Food, Inc.?
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- Lawmakers urged to use 'common sense' on PBTs
- Atrazine turns male frogs into 'females' who can mate
- Oregon farmers take on Monsanto
- Investors push Chipotle on 'Food With Integrity'
- Food, Inc. goes to the Oscars
In a Thursday hearing on Capitol Hill, experts called for protecting people and the environment from persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs). "We are failing to prevent avoidable harm to our children," testified Ted Sturdevant of the Washington State Department of Ecology. "We are failing to protect the food chain that sustains us, we are failing to save countless millions of taxpayer dollars that are wasted on health care costs and environmental cleanup, and we are failing to exercise common sense." Sturdevant and others who testified before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trace and Consumer Protection called on legislators to prioritize action on chemicals like PBTs that pose an "urgent and unacceptable threat" to public health. The PBT hearing is part of broader efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the federal law governing industrial chemicals.
Several panelists emphasized the long-term ramifications of letting the PBT "genie out of the bottle," citing PCBs and the pesticide DDT as examples of chemicals that have been banned for decades but still contaminate the environment and human bodies. Officials from the EPA and State Department called for TSCA reform to move forward in a way that allows the U.S. to fully engage and provide leadership in international policy arenas such as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs treaty), and the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent. "The best way for the United States to lead internationally, is to do so based on a strong approach at home," testified Dr. John Thompson, of the State Department. Prior to the hearing, Pesticide Action Network submitted a petition to the Subcommittee signed by thousands of concerned citizens across the country calling on Congress to prioritize action on PBTs. A joint letter signed by dozens of organizations working to promote environmental health and justice also called for strong action on PBTs, as did letters to Congress from the American Public Health Association (PDF) and the National Council of Churches (PDF). "The core of this debate is actually quite simple," noted Sturdevant in his testimony. "It all comes down to common sense, and the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
The public case against atrazine continues gaining steam. An unusually dramatic study released in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has garnered press from all corners, ranging from FOX "News" to Reuters and Scientific American. The study, conducted by Dr. Tyrone Hayes out of University of California Berkeley, links exposure to atrazine to functional sex-reversal in frogs. Hayes and colleagues studied 40 African clawed frogs, keeping them in water contaminated with 2.5 ppb (parts per billion) of atrazine. The EPA's current drinking water standard is 3 ppb. "Before, we knew we got fewer males than we should have, and we got hermaphrodites. Now we have clearly shown that many of these animals are sex-reversed males," said Hayes in a statement. While still genetically male, the sex-reversed "female" frogs mated and successfully reproduced.
Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor in humans as well, meaning it can interact with the hormone system and have negative health impacts at extremely low levels of exposure -- levels well below what the federal government considers "safe". In October 2009, EPA officially reopened an examination of atrazine, despite the fact that it had been reviewed and approved for continued use in 2003. The agency will spend the next year reviewing the health and environmental risks of the chemical.
On Friday, a coalition of organic farmers, Earthjustice, and the Center for Food Safety will be awaiting a Federal Judge's decision on whether or not to grant their request for an injunction that would halt plantings of GM sugar beets on 10 million acres across the nation, according to the New York Times. The "Roundup Ready" beets in question were engineered by Monsanto to tolerate repeated applications of the corporation's profitable herbicide. Two years after being illegally deregulated and approved for sale by the Bush administration, Roundup Ready sugar beets comprise 95% of the crop that farmers will begin planting in April. All of the sugar beets grown for seed are planted in Oregon's Willamette Valley where, despite Monsanto's assurances that the beets are safe, "specklings" — tiny roots planted to produce seed — of Roundup Ready beets were found in compost being sold at garden center in the nearby town of Corvallis. The group asking for the injunction has already won a suit that forced the USDA to reconsider their approval of GE sugar beets and perform and Environmental Impact Survey (EIS). Friday's injunction would halt plantings (and sales of sugar from GE beets) until the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service finishes the EIS, a process that could take two to three years. Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earthjustice, said, "The sugar beets were unlawfully deregulated, the court has already found that. Legally, they shouldn't be on the market. Consumers should not be exposed to it, the environment should not be exposed to it.'' The organic farmers represented in the suit point out that the danger is not just cross pollination with compatible crops like table beets and swiss chard, but that modern testing is now sensitive enough to detect GMO pollen on their crops, rendering them worthless regardless of whether or not they're actually pollinated by it. In 2007, a similar lawsuit stopped planting of GE alfalfa until the EIS was complete — a decision that Monsanto is appealing all the way to the Supreme Court.
Over the last two years, Pesticide Action Network has partnered with a group of investors, including Trillium Asset Management Corporation and Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN), to urge food companies to support sustainable food and agriculture systems that protect the environment, workers, and consumers by reducing use of pesticides in their supply chains. The first company to express interest in revamping their procurement policies to prioritize produce grown without highly hazardous pesticides and with respect for farmworker rights and safety was Chipotle Mexican Grill. While PAN is hard at work finding ways to help Chipotle integrate farmworker rights into their Food With Integrity program, Trillium and IEHN partners are filing a shareholder resolution asking Chipotle to publish a comprehensive report to shareholders discussing how the company is addressing pesticide use reduction in its supply chain.
In their report, Trillium points to new research linking pesticides with cancer and Parkinson’s disease and notes that consumers are paying more critical attention to the origins of their food, citing a tripling in organic food sales from $393 million in 2002 to $1.7 billion in 2007. While Chipotle’s web site reports progress in sourcing of organic beans (35% of total bean purchases) and antibiotic-free sour cream, chicken and pork, they are not yet moving forward on pesticide-free fresh produce such as avocados. Chipotle estimates that they purchase 5% of the nation’s total supply of avocados. According to Trillium’s report, “Chipotle’s forays into sustainable purchasing lead us to believe the company can undertake this work more holistically and more transparently. Doing so will certainly be a factor in the company’s successful entrée into the U.K. next year, where consumer awareness and expectations about supply chain issues is higher.”
Food, Inc., a movie aimed at getting viewers involved in changing the food system, is up for an Oscar this Sunday. As one of the film's social action partners, Pesticide Action Network has been part of the documentary’s "Hungry for Change" campaign from the beginning. Last June, PAN invited supporters to help "make Food, Inc. the next Inconvenient Truth" by spreading the word. The film took off, and we’re excited that the film generated so much buzz about corporate control of our food.
While we take a moment to enjoy this shared achievement, consider donating $35 - about the cost of a movie night for two - to keep our ranks growing.