Drift Catcher uncovers high pesticide levels; Global ban sought; EPA halts testing on people; Supreme Court rules on Monsanto

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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!June 25, 2010

 

 

New Drift Catcher report documents fumigant dangers


Tarp blowing in wind
Pesticide Action Network and local community members released a report this week with new evidence of high levels of pesticide drift in the California community of Sisquoc. Poison Gases in the Field: Pesticides put California families in danger (PDF) presents results of community air monitoring for fumigant pesticides in Santa Barbara county, on the central coast of California. Using a simple monitoring device called the Drift Catcher, community members measured pesticides above the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s “level of concern” – even when all application rules were followed and no equipment failure occurred.

The Sisquoc monitoring found the pesticide chloropicrin in about half of the 57 air samples collected. Two samples had chloropicrin levels higher than DPR’s 24-hour level of concern for children, and average levels over the 19-day period were 23 to 151 times higher than acceptable cancer risks. “What’s striking about these results is what they imply about fumigation in general,” says PAN Staff Scientist and report co-author Karl Tupper in a press statement. “Sisquoc is not unique in terms of how close fumigated fields are to people’s homes. The application we monitored was typical as well—there were no blunders and the amount of chloropicrin used was not abnormally high.”

California regulators are currently proposing use of a new, extremely volatile fumigant pesticide—methyl iodide. The proposal comes despite findings of DPR’s own Scientific Review Committee, whose experts reported in February that any agricultural use of methyl iodide would be harmful to public health. Fumigant pesticides are used to sterilize soil prior to planting. After sulfur and crop oil, more fumigants are applied in California than any other class of pesticides, about 35 million pounds per year. “Sustainable farming is all about building healthy soil,” says organic farmer Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm. “I’ve been growing strawberries for 25 years, and fumigant pesticides are the last thing I’d put in my soil.”

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PAN calls for global ban of 'Highly Hazardous Pesticides'


Danger Keep outBrussels, June 24 – Pesticide Action Network International challenged global agrichemical producers by issuing a 200-page report on the shockingly persistent poisoning of farmers and agricultural workers exposed to highly hazardous pesticides worldwide. Yesterday’s release of Communities in Peril: Global report on the health impacts of pesticides used in agriculture coincided with the Brussels meeting of CropLife, the global trade association of multinational pesticide corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta.

PAN groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America carried out interviews with 2,220 women and men from farming communities in 13 countries, using a community-based monitoring and participatory action research strategy. PAN North America reported on air monitoring for pesticides in the U.S. and analysis of California farmworker poisoning reports. “The results of rigorous community monitoring banish any arguments pesticide manufacturers make about the ‘safe use’ of pesticides,” said Dr. Abou Thiam, Executive Director of PAN Africa, at the press conference. “The data shows that the conditions of use in the Global South are such that communities routinely suffer incredible health harms due to exposure to agricultural pesticides.”  

PAN called for assertive action by corporations, governments and international bodies to address pesticide damage. Specifically, the Network is advocating a progressive ban of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (PDF) — as recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Panel on Pesticides — and support for research, education, adoption and promotion of biodiversity-based ecological agriculture. PAN North America’s Dr. Medha Chandra underscored the Network’s demands: “Pesticides are a U.S. $40 billion industry. Manufacturers, through their association CropLife, have committed to comply with the FAO Code of Conduct. We urge that the pesticide industry stop production and marketing of Highly Hazardous Pesticides and be made liable for the human health and environmental harm of their products.”

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EPA reverses 2006 rule on testing pesticides on people

Boy by wallA coalition of groups who had sued U.S. EPA over human testing of pesticides announced last week that the agency had reversed its position and would settle. EPA stated that it would “propose amendments to the final human studies rule consistent with language negotiated with groups who challenged that rule.” Michael Wall, NRDC senior attorney, said: “under today’s settlement, EPA will propose far stronger safeguards to prevent unethical and unscientific pesticide research on humans.”

In 2006, EPA had issued a rule lifting a ban on human testing that had been enacted by Congress the year before. Congress was responding particularly to a case in Florida where poor families received compensation for participating in a study of the effects of pesticides on their children. “EPA’s 2006 rule allows pesticide companies to use intentional tests on humans to justify weaker restrictions on pesticides,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, senior staff scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “Pesticide companies should not be allowed to take advantage of vulnerable populations by enticing people to serve as human laboratory rats.” NRDC elaborated that EPA’s rule allowed experiments in which “people have been paid to eat or drink pesticides, to enter pesticide vapor ‘chambers,’ and to have pesticides sprayed into their eyes or rubbed onto their skin.”

The suit was brought by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Migrant Clinicians Network, NRDC, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste and San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility. Attorneys with NRDC, Earthjustice, and Farmworker Justice served as the coalition’s legal counsel. "We hope that improved regulations will result in greater protections for those who are most exposed to pesticides, particularly farmworkers and their families," said Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director of Farmworker Justice. Under the settlement agreement, a proposed rule shall be opened for public comment by January 2011. The settlement still requires court action to become effective. 

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Supreme Court acts on Monsanto's GE alfalfa

alfalfa balesMonsanto’s PR machine is spinning in high gear this week following Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on genetically engineered alfalfa in Monsanto vs. Geertson Seed Farms. Geertson and other farmers were represented by the Center for Food Safety in the suit. CFS Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell observed in the Huffington Post that while the court technically ruled in Monsanto’s favor, it also ruled that the ban on GE alfalfa remains in effect — “actually a huge victory ... for the farmers and consumers who we represent.” At issue is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa – a GE crop of particular concern both because it is open pollinated (increasing the potential for genetic contamination), and because the advent of Roundup-resistant weeds makes it clear that the corporation's Roundup Ready technology is a dying system.

The case came to the Supreme Court when Monsanto appealed the successful suit by CFS and alfalfa farmers opposing genetic engineering. The Court found that the U.S. District Court in San Francisco overreached by issuing two separate injunctions: one that prevented farmers from planting any GE alfalfa and another that prevented the USDA from seeking limited approval for Roundup Ready alfalfa. In a 7-1 decision the Supreme Court reversed the injunctions, saying that the District Court didn’t have the authority to prevent a federal agency’s regulatory process. Tom Laskawy of Grist points out that while Justice Steven Breyer chose not to take part because his brother was the District Court judge on the case, Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t seem to see a conflict of interest despite having served as corporate counsel for Monsanto earlier in his career.

The court upheld other main tenets of the case, including that the USDA’s initial approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa was illegal. The court also made it clear that “gene flow” – the contamination of conventional plants by genetically modified material through cross pollination – is “harmful and illegal,” and that its dangers include “economic effects such as reduced agricultural yield or loss of market.” Monsanto says on its website that its goal is to start selling seed for fall of 2010, yet the USDA has announced no plans to initiate a new approval process, and the completion of the required Environmental Impact Statement could take years. “The Justices’ decision today means that the selling and planting of Roundup Ready Alfalfa is illegal. The ban on the crop will remain in place until a full and adequate EIS is prepared by USDA,” said Kimbrell. “In sum, it’s a significant victory in our ongoing fight to protect farmer and consumer choice, the environment and the organic industry.”

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