Syngenta science debunked; U.S. pledges global GMO push; Persistent chemicals policy up; Bee colonies still declining...
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- Syngenta's atrazine science debunked
- State Department pledges global GMO push
- Congress urged to tackle persistent chemicals
- Bee colonies still collapsing, another 1/3 gone
In 2008 a group of scientists associated with Syngenta published a review of atrazine's effects on aquatic animals which concluded that, "Based on a weight of evidence analysis of all of the data, the central theory that environmentally relevant concentrations of atrazine affect reproduction and/or reproductive development in fish, amphibians, and reptiles is not supported by the vast majority of observations." However, in early 2010 independent scientists from the University of South Florida (USF) published an article drawing very different conclusions. A new paper by the USF team investigates the discrepancy, finding that the Syngenta-sponsored review is systematically biased and factually incorrect. (Syngenta is the main producer and defender of atrazine.) The USF scientists meticulously document (PDF) 122 "inaccuracies" and twenty-two "misleading statements" in the review. All of the misleading statements and 117 of the inaccuracies favor Syngenta, downplaying atrazine's harms. In addition, the Syngenta paper "criticize[d] or cast doubts on the validity" of 94% of the studies that found adverse effects, versus only 3% of those studies that didn't.
According to Science News, the USF scientists were motivated to take a second look at the Syngenta-sponsored science after discovering that some of their own work had been mischaracterized in it. Coauthor Jason Rohr told PhysOrg.com: "The goal of the paper was to educate scientists, natural resource managers, policymakers and judicial officials on the potential impacts of conflicts of interests, and how to identify and reduce them.” The paper makes several recommendations for reducing the deleterious effects of conflicts of interest, including that "No chemical should be approved for sale or use without toxicity testing, and federal approval to sell a product should not be based on product safety research conducted by the producing or affiliated companies. Companies should be required to provide funds to the regulatory agency to study the safety of its product." Under current systems, chemical companies conduct health and safety studies on their own products.
In related news, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released new analysis of the water monitoring study that EPA required Syngenta to undertake as a condition of allowing atrazine to stay on the market. NDRC's new report looks at recent data, finding that "of the 153 water systems that were sampled between 2005 and 2008, 100 ... had spikes of atrazine in their untreated water that exceeded [the federal standard] of 3 ppb. Two-thirds of these 100 systems had spikes of atrazine greater than 3 ppb in the treated water."
The U.S. State Department is determined to aggressively confront critics of biotechnology, according to Jose Fernandez of the agency's Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs. Fernandez was a speaker at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) annual convention in Chicago last week. BIO members include executives from Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, BASF and Pioneer Hi-bred. The statement comes amidst a wave of regulatory decisions in Europe, Asia and Africa that restrict or ban genetically modified (GM) foods and crops; the European Commission’s decision last week to grant Madeira’s request to impose a territory-wide ban on GM crop cultivation in order to preserve the archipelago’s biodiversity; Bulgaria’s ban earlier this year on GM crop cultivation; Turkey’s ban on GM food imports and its plan to outlaw GM crop planting by next year; India’s indefinite moratorium on planting Bt eggplant; Zimbabawe's efforts to curb GMO imports; and Kenya’s rejection of 280,000 tons of illegally imported GM maize. Rather than re-thinking the United States’ promotion of GM crops, in light of growing international rejection and scientific
evidence that organic and agroecological farming (PDF) offers a more robust solution to world hunger, the State Department instead vowed to “overcome these obstacles” and called on BIO members to help U.S. agency officials “confront the naysayers.”
In a recent Hill Op Ed contesting controversial efforts in the U.S. Senate to direct foreign aid money to GM crop research, PAN senior scientist Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman and World Food Prize laureate Dr. Hans Herren explained that “The trouble with a mandate for GM crops is this: it won’t work.... Ultimately, tackling global hunger and poverty requires more than a focus on production technologies. The bigger, more fundamental challenge today is about restoring fairness and democratic control over our food systems.” They concluded, “If Congress is serious about addressing world hunger, they should take their lead from the most comprehensive science and from farmers on the ground — not from Monsanto lobbyists.”
Meanwhile, responding to an open letter from the Oakland Institute, Oxfam International clarified its position on GMOs, stating that “The Oxfam International confederation ... does not support GMOs as the solution to hunger, poverty and development,” adding that “As it stands today, GMOs have not delivered against the guiding principles of participation, transparency, choice, sustainability and fairness and public investments should prioritize options that do.”
In the wake of the President's Cancer Panel Report, and for the first time in more than 30 years, Congress is revisiting the national law governing the use and control of industrial chemicals. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) last month, proposes sweeping changes to the regulation of both new and existing chemicals used in industrial processes and everyday products (agricultural chemicals are governed under a separate federal law). A similar bill was introduced as a discussion draft in the House by Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL); both bills amend the Toxics Substances Control Act of 1976. "As a mother and a nurse, I have enormous concern for everyone, especially our children and unborn babies, due to the hidden dangers of chemicals in everyday products," said Mary Hintikka, local mother and Registered Nurse in a press release from national the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition. "It’s time to get toxic chemicals out of our homes and schools."
Under discussion as the bills move forward is how Congress will address the unique problem of persistent, bioaccumulative toxins, or PBTs. Such chemicals can last for decades in the environment, build up in the bodies of humans and other animals, and cause a range of human health effects -- even at very low levels of exposure. "These chemicals are uniquely dangerous," explains Kristin Schafer, Senior Policy Analyst for Pesticide Action Network. "Because they are passed from mother to fetus before birth, every child is born carrying persistent chemicals in their bodies. This toxic load then grows and changes over a lifetime." Many persistent chemicals are known to disrupt the human hormone system, and studies have shown links to problems such as learning disabilities, infertility and cancer. Several states have passed laws targeting PBTs, and the international community has enacted a global treaty to phase out use of the chemicals. Environmental health groups are urging Congress to give EPA power in the new law to take swift action on PBTs in the United States.
Honeybee populations may well be in terminal decline across the globe, according to Alison Benjamin of the UK Guardian. Results from an annual survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) find that, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of America’s commercial honeybee colonies did not survive the winter. Results for a similar survey by the British Beekeepers' Association are expected later this month. Since the discovery of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in 2006, more than 3 million bee colonies in the U.S. have died. The Pennsylvania beekeeper who initially raised concerns about CCD told the Guardian that he lost more than 60% of his bees last year, and points out that the AIA survey gives an incomplete picture of the damage because it only measures winter losses, and bees are exposed to the greatest amounts of pesticides during the summer. While scientists aren’t certain of the exact cause of CCD, Jeffery Pettis of the ARS explains, “We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies." U.S. scientists studying the issue have found that the “chemical cocktail” effect of combined pesticides has placed an “unprecedented” burden on honeybee populations.
Ninety crops worldwide are dependent on pollination by bees – an estimated 1/3 of everything we eat. Benjamin writes that, “Their extinction would mean not only a colourless, meatless diet of cereals and rice, and cottonless clothes, but a landscape without orchards, allotments and meadows of wildflowers – and the collapse of the food chain that sustains wild birds and animals.” Although the UK’s National Bee Unit continues to deny the existence of CCD, Scotland’s beekeepers have reported losses similar to those in the U.S. France is taking the problem very seriously, taking proactive steps to protect the country’s 1,000 species of bees. As part of a project jointly funded by the EU and French local authorities, 48 “Bee Hotels” are being constructed out of earth, bricks and plant stalks in parks and public gardens in or near towns that have banned pesticides and insecticides. Homeowners are being asked to plant wildflowers and mow their lawns as little as possible.