Atrazine & spring birth defects; GE alfalfa on trial; Bees drink pesticide dew; GE soy & infertility?; more...

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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Support Panups!April 30, 2010

Time to get serious on atrazine: Send an LTE

atrazine chartApril – June is atrazine season. It’s also birth defect season. Children conceived during this three-month period have a higher chance of being born with a serious birth defect like spina bifada, cleft palate or Down syndrome. According to neonatalogist Dr. Paul Winchester, birth defect rates have been steadily on the rise in the U.S. for the last two decades. Yet when faced with evidence linking birth defects toin utero atrazine exposure during the spring planting season, Syngenta’s chief scientist responded by positing that “rainfall, lightning strikes and tornadoes” might just as well be the cause. Statistically significant correlation does not determine causation, but neither is a 3% increase in serious birth defects something with which to play politics or hone talking points.

These are serious matters. And apparently Syngenta (the largest pesticide company in the world and atrazine's main promoter) needs to be reminded of this fact. You can do that with a letter to the editor. Your letter will come just as U.S. EPA convenes scientists to take a new look at the safety of the controversial weed killer, and as Representative Keith Ellison introduces a federal bill to ban atrazine. Last week, Syngenta issued another statement indicating a stunning lack of seriousness: “Earth Day is a good time to recognize the vital role the herbicide atrazine places in protecting the environment and promoting responsible land stewardship.” Atrazine is the single most common pesticide water contaminant in the country and Syngenta is greenwashing. Meanwhile, Pesticide Action Network is working with farm groups like Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project to ensure that health, democracy and scientific transparency triumph over corporate profit in the atrazine decision. 

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Supreme Court opens GE alfalfa case

GE researchThe Center for Food Safety (CFS) went head to head against agrochemical giant Monsanto on Tuesday of this week in the first-ever case involving genetically engineered crops to be heard by the Supreme Court. CFS lawyers are representing several farmers and environmental groups, including Phillip Geertson, an organic alfalfa seed grower from Adrian, OR. The case, which has major implications under the National Environmental Policy Act, centers on Monsanto’s RoundupReady Alfalfa seed -- genetically engineered to tolerate increased application of Monsanto's Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide. CFS filed the suit after the USDA illegally deregulated without first completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). A federal judge agreed that the potential for cross contamination with organic (non-GE) farmers’ alfalfa posed a grave risk of “irreparable damage” and placed a ban on all planting and sale of GE alfalfa until the Department of Agriculture completed the EIS.  The decision was upheld twice after appeals by Monsanto, who claims that their product poses “no risk of harm whatsoever” -- despite a 2009 study showing that GE crops have increased the use of pesticides by 383 million pounds over the last 13 years, despite their role in the creation of pesticide-resistant “superweeds,” and despite the fact that alfalfa stands a particularly high likelihood of GM contamination because it is an open-pollinated crop that can be cross-pollinated by bees with fields several miles away. Alfalfa is the third most valuable and fourth most widely grown crop in the U.S., but Japan and South Korea, the largest customers of America’s $480 billion worth of alfalfa export, have threatened to discontinue U.S. alfalfa imports if the GE variety is approved.

According to CFS, seven separate amicus briefs have been filed in support of CFS by organic food companies, legal scholars, former government officials, scientists and environmental groups, including one by the Attorneys General of California, Oregon and Massachusetts, noting the  "'immense' ramifications for all environmental protection should Monsanto prevail." The court's decision will have far reaching implications for both GE regulation as well as other cases under the National Environmental Policy Act.

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Pesticide Dew - Exposure route for bees

dew dropHumans aren't the only ones whose drinking water has been contaminated by pesticides: in Europe, a new study finds that the insects already on the frontlines in the battle against toxic pesticides are consuming lethal doses of neonicitinoid pesticides in the droplets of dew they drink. Plants emit guttation droplets -- a source of morning dew -- as part of their respiration process. These droplets of water are a favorite source of moisture and nutrients for bees to drink from after leaving the hive in the morning. Germans scientists have found that seeds treated with neonicitinoid pesticides such as imidacloprid (Gaucho) and clothianidin (Poncho) show contaminated guttation droplets for as long as two months after germination. The study, which looked at corn, barley and canola plants, showed levels were highest during the ten days after germination -- as high as 100 parts per million (ppm). Two weeks after germination, levels were closer to 10 ppm. Levels of imidacloprid in the pollen of plants treated with commercial levels of the pesticide averaged around 3.4 ppm - 1,000 times lower than the levels found in the guttation droplets. Imidacloprid has been shown to affect bees with as little as 0.1 nanogram. A range of serious effects has been documented in the 1-20 nanogram per bee level. This means that a bee drinking a small fraction of a guttation droplet with 100 ppm of imidacloprid would be consuming a potentially fatal dose. The study's authors say that in light of their findings, strong and rapid action is needed to protect bee populations.

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Monsanto's GE soy: infertility in 3 generations?

HamstaRussian researchers have found that hamsters fed a diet of genetically engineered (GE) soy failed to reproduce after three generations. "'This study was just routine,’ said Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov, in what could end up as the understatement of this century,” writes Jeffrey Smith in the Huffington Post. Smith heads the Institute for Responsible Technology, a U.S. nonprofit that advocates rejection of GM foods. “Surov and his colleagues set out to discover if Monsanto's GE soy, grown on 91% of U.S. soybean fields, leads to problems in growth or reproduction. What he discovered may uproot a multi-billion dollar industry.” The two-year experiment, detailed results of which are to be published in July, was conducted by the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, and the Russian National Association for Gene Security. The researchers tracked four groups of hamsters eating food that ranged from no GE soy to predominantly GE soy. Other impacts included slowed growth, high mortality among their pups, and even hair growing inside the hamsters’ mouths -- an outcome found in another Russian study published earlier this year. Though other studies have shown high mortality in GE soy-fed laboratory animals, Surov notes that more research is needed: the infertility and hair abnormality may not be caused by GE soy, or by GMOs (genetically modified organisms) alone, and could be a result of a combination of contaminants in the laboratory feed, such as Roundup which is found in heavier concentrations in Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” soy and corn.

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Cochababma - People's Climate Summit

Woman with flagFrom April 19-22, more than 35,000 people from 140 countries gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. The summit follows the disappointing UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen, and a frustrated meeting of more than 190 governments in Bonn in early April, where according to One World, "the official admission of failure in Bonn was given by Yvo de Boer, the departing head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. De Boer said in Bonn that the pledges made so far by industrialized countries to reduce their GHG emissions 'are nowhere near adequate.'" Facing this gridlock, Bolivian President Evo Morales convened the "People's Summit" as a venue for movements from around the world to gather and strategize. Organized with a critique of the use of market mechanisms such as carbon trading, along with a firm commitment to equity, the gathering was a direct response to what President Morales posed as an Obama-led push for the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord is an extremely controversial side agreement to the Kyoto Protocol with no enforcement mechanisms, inadequate emissions cuts and an abnegation of the first world's historical responsibility for creating climate change. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. denied Bolivia and Ecuador aid since these countries refuse to adopt the Accord.

On tap was a thorough critique of industrial agriculture as a main cause of climate change. Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Bolivia organized an in–depth workshop on the links between pesticides, climate change and agriculture and how local, agroecological production is a promising option for ending pesticide reliance, adapting to climate change and mitigating the impacts of climate change. A consensus statement emerged from the workshop, calling for: a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs); the banning of pesticides, and particularly those that are highly hazardous; the recognition of Indigenous and local farming system models by government officials; and a call for policies that support education in and adoption of agroecology. According to Karen Hansen-Kuhn, attendee from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, President Morales raised the issue of local foods in contradiction to GMOs in his opening remarks, saying, "multinational corporations promote genetically engineered crops and other technological solutions when the answers are really closer to home. During the food price crisis, wheat became very expensive, and many Bolivians returned to eating quinoa -- a local crop that had been neglected for years. Now, he said, the FAO has released a report saying that quinoa is one of the most nutritious grains in the world."

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DDT pushers go after PAN, again

Africa bednetOn the occasion of World Malaria Day (April 25), while governments and communities around the world pledged to revitalize the fight against malaria, fringe groups used the opportunity to push their own anti-regulatory agenda by driving DDT as a wedge issue. Usual suspects Richard Tren and Donald Roberts (both from Africa Fighting Malaria) maligned decades of science proving that there are serious and significant human health harms associated with the use of DDT for malaria control. They also attempted to discredit the work done by malaria control programs and malariologists around the world when those programs successfully control malaria without relying on DDT. Every year, Tren and Roberts attack PAN for promoting safe, sustainable and effective malaria control solutions with variations on a predictable and spurious theme: "white environmentalists are killing African babies." Their motive: to sow doubt where there is certainty by manufacturing a false "debate" where there is none. Tren et al. have long sought to make DDT an example of what they want everyone to believe are failures of environmental regulation -- while ignoring the very real human health harms of DDT, its failures over the long term in controlling malaria and the many effective and modern alternative solutions for malaria control. 

Meanwhile, Pesticide Action Network marked World Malaria Day by submitting a petition signed by our members to President Obama asking for increased investment in safe, sustainable solutions for malaria control. PAN congratulated the President's Malaria Initiative on its increased commitment to battle malaria in recent years, while outlining concerns that the program has shifted its focus from proven, safe and sustainable malaria control solutions to increased reliance on Indoor Residual Spraying with long-lasting chemicals, including DDT. "The fact is, DDT is rarely the best way to control malaria, and scientific studies show that its use for malaria control can indeed harm human health. PAN will continue to advocate for the safest, most effective malaria control solutions," said Dr. Abou Thiam, executive director of PAN Africa. "Communities suffering from malaria deserve nothing less."

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