Pesticides linked to diabetes; Haitians vow to burn Monsanto seeds; South Africa bans chlorpyrifos, a notorious OP
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- 'Enviromics' links diabetes to pesticides
- Haitians burn Monsanto seeds, reject USAID
- South Africa ends home use of Dow's chlorpyrifos
A new study out of Stanford reinforces the link between type 2 diabetes and organochlorine (OC) pesticide exposure by pioneering a new method for assessing the contribution of environmental factors to disease formation more generally. More than 23 million people in the U.S. suffer from the disease, which is on the rise, and genetics have thus far offered little insight. The study's specific findings were that the development of type 2 diabetes correlates strongly with the presence of the OC pesticide-derivative heptachlor in blood or urine, with environmental contaminant polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) also showing a significant association. Beta-carotenes had a protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes. At least as significant as the study's findings were its methodological advances in documenting environmental contributions to health outcomes.
Disease formation is enormously complex, requiring analysis of myriad causal factors over long time frames. Accordingly, the demonstration of causality for increased incidence of chronic diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and other autoimmune and metabolic disorders has been difficult. Over the last few decades, much more money has been devoted to the study of genetic and lifestyle causal factors than to environmental ones -- one effect of which has been the "gross underestimation" of environmental contributions to disease-formation. The Stanford authors piloted an Environment-Wide Association Study (EWAS) in which epidemiological data are comprehensively and systematically interpreted in a way that builds upon Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS). Using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, scientists performed multiple cross-sectional analyses associating 266 environmental factors with the occurrence of type 2 diabetes. Of those 266 environmental factors, OC pesticide-derivative heptachlor showed the strongest correlation. According to Scientific American, the idea for conducting what amounts to a "mass-screening" of environmental risk factors came from a Stanford graduate student, Chirag Patel, the study's lead author. Patel wanted to find a way to "use bioinformatics for the environment," in part to address widespread dissatisfaction with what genetics have been able to explain about disease risk factors. "The time is ripe, to usher in 'enviromics'," claim the study's authors.
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Haitian farmers are calling the news that Monsanto is donating 475 tons of pesticide-treated hybrid seeds a “new earthquake,” and members of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP in Creole) have committed to burning the seeds. MPP Executive Director and National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP) spokesperson Chavannes Jean-Baptiste called Monsanto’s seeds “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds… and on what is left our environment in Haiti.” The country’s Ministry of Agriculture originally rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup Ready seeds, because the country has no policy in place to regulate GMO’s, but consented to accept the donation after being assured in an email that the seeds were not genetically modified. The 60,000 sacks of corn and vegetable seeds are, however, patented hybrid varieties – meaning farmers will have to purchase new seeds next year instead of being able to save them – and have been treated with toxic chemicals. The tomato seeds were doused in thiram, a highly hazardous pesticide whose home and garden use has been banned in the U.S. because most consumers don’t have access to sufficient protective equipment.
Monsanto failed to mention any of the dangers or necessary safety precautions of thiram to Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture. The seeds will be distributed by the by the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID), a tax-payer funded agency infamous for promoting U.S. agendas while offering development assistance. A Monsanto representative also told Business Week that, while Monsanto won’t be receiving any of the profits, farmers will have to pay for the seeds, “to avoid flooding the local economy with free goods.” The U.S. hasn’t had any qualms about flooding Haiti’s markets in the past. Haiti was forced to open its markets to foreign agricultural imports by the International Monetary Fund in order to qualify for a much-needed loan. Haitian farmers couldn’t compete with heavily subsidized rice from the U.S., and farmers lost their only source of income. In 2008, 78% of Haitian people were living on less than $2 a day. Farmers involved in the MPP’s agroecological projects recognize Monsanto’s ploy to force chemical-reliant industrial agriculture on a struggling economy; Jean-Baptiste said earlier this year, “We need to establish seed banks and have silos where we can store our Creole seeds. Local, organic seeds are the basis of food sovereignty.... It’s urgent that Haitians buy local seeds.... What's the danger we face today? It’s that food aid from USAID and others is getting dumped in the country."
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On May 14th, South Africa's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced (PDF) that the country was banning the use of the organophosphate (OP) chemical chlorpyrifos (PDF) for home and garden uses. A PAN Bad Actor pesticide, chlorpyrifos is an acute nerve toxin and suspected endocrine disruptor that has been linked to numerous health harms. Most recently, OPs have been linked to an increased risk of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. The announcement is a major blow to Dow Chemical, the main manufacturer of chlorpyrifos worldwide. Chlorpyrifos is found at particularly high levels in children. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 93% of U.S. residents sampled between 1999 and 2000 had chlorpyrifos in their bodies, with children aged 6–11 years showing levels almost twice as high as those of adults. From 2001-2005, EPA phased out residential uses of chlorpyrifos in the U.S., citing concerns for children’s health in particular, although the chemical, sold under the name Dursban or Lorsban, is still widely used in agriculture, which means heightened exposure continues to endanger rural and farmworker children. PAN North America is working with partners, including the Farm Worker Pesticide Project, to urge EPA to complete the chlorpyrifos ban. "It's just unconscionable to allow continued exposure to chlorpyrifos among children in agricultural areas, after ruling that it is too hazardous for kids in urban settings," said Pesticide Action Network staff scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves, "it's time to get rid of it, once and for all."