Aerial spraying concerns in New Zealand, New Mexico & California; China bans five OPs; UK GMO subsidies, more…

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives

See PANUPS updates service, for complete information.

Auckland spraying victims publish scathing report:
In 1996, New Zealand began massive aerial sprayings to eradicate moths that reportedly posed an economic threat to plantation forests. The West Auckland urban area was sprayed 48 times over a period of 70 days with Foray 48B, a product based on the naturally-occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, subspecies Kurstaki (BtK). More than 400 residents reported being sickened. Despite medical reports and university studies linking the spraying to seizures, headaches, memory loss, skin rashes, vomiting and respiratory distress, the government refused to investigate. Dr. Meriel Watts of PAN New Zealand called it “completely unacceptable to spray an urban population…with a brew of a biological insecticide and chemicals, and prevent the community from knowing what chemicals they are being sprayed with.” In March 2006, residents raised $20,000 to hold their own five-day inquiry. The results of those hearings, including testimony of 70 individuals before a panel of four health experts, are now available in a new book, Peoples Inquiry, which calls for the government to compensate residents who experienced health problems and also suffered the loss of “jobs, businesses, schooling, homes and marriages as a result of the spraying.”

New Mexico school doused with pesticide drift: The aerial application of another BtK (or soil bacterium-based) pesticide intended to target a fir looper infestation of local forests recently wound up blanketing a New Mexico school. “I could smell and taste it,” one elementary school student told the Alamogordo Daily News. Parents in the Village of Cloudcroft were alarmed that some children were allowed to play outdoors during the spraying. County Commissioner Martin Moore assured worried parents that the spraying was “computer-controlled” but admitted he didn’t really know “what was going on.” Cloudcroft Mayor Dave Venable said that he doubted the pesticide posed any threat to the children and besides, he added, “the spraying is over and done.” The active ingredient, Bacillus thuringiensis Kurstaki (BtK), is generally considered safe for humans, but it can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract. Chemical “inert” ingredients in pesticide products can also cause illness.

New assessment in inert ingredients of California spray controversy: The California Department of Pesticide Regulation and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment have released a scientific “consensus statement” on the human health aspects of aerial application over urban areas of CheckMate — pheromone-based products — to interrupt mating behavior and control the spread of the light brown apple moth (see PANNA’s LBAM page for background). The report notes that exposure to high levels of airborne particles from CheckMate, could cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. It states that these effects would be consistent with the reported symptoms from sprayed areas in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, but notes that it is likely that actual exposure occurred at levels below what would be expected to cause health effects. The report includes a number of recommendations to the California Department of Food and Agriculture that it says should be undertaken prior to resumption of spraying — training local health care providers in how to recognize possible symptoms and how to report illnesses, and establishing a formal health study and tracking program to monitor and assess long and short-term health outcomes associated with exposure to CheckMate.

China bans five organophosphate pesticides: After a four-month safety campaign triggered by the presence of pesticides in food, Chinese officials revoked the licenses of seven pesticide manufactures and seized 479 tons of illegal pesticides. Vice-minister of Agriculture Gao Hongbin also announced the closure of 16 factories producing methamidophos and four other organophosphate pesticides, all slated to be banned on January 1. The Vice-minister explained the factories were being closed because even pesticides produced for “export” would inevitably be used domestically. Halting the global annual sales of 28,000 tons of these pesticides (exported to 60 countries) shuts down a $20 million-a-year market. The People’s Daily On-line has the full story.

Activists expose UK’s secret GMO subsidies: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair repeatedly assured the public that the government was “neither for nor against” genetically engineered (GE) foods. Now Friends of the Earth (FoE) and GE Freeze have unearthed secret emails showing otherwise. The Independent reports that these “startling internal documents” reveal that agricultural biotech companies received subsidies worth “at least £50m [US$102,764,000] a year” while organic farming received only £1.6 million [$3,288,448]. FoE’s Kirtana Chandrasekaran called the support for GE food “out of all proportion to its non-existence benefits.” The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) called its support a response to “consumer demand” (despite government surveys that found 86 percent of the public reject GE foods). Internal emails showed DEFRA worked closely with biotech giant BASF to approve the planting of 450,000 GE potatoes in the UK. DEFRA officials repeatedly asked BASF if the agreement “is workable for you” and redrafted rulings “in response to your concerns.” Other documents revealed a government promise to continue funding research on GE crops even in the case of “a Europe-wide ban.”

“Pesticide suicides” killing 12 farmers a day: Between 1997 and 2005, nearly 150,000 Indian farmers, plagued by drought, floods, free trade and debt, committed suicide — one suicide every 32 minutes. The rate has now increased to one suicide every 30 minutes. According to the Madras Institute of Development Studies, between 1997 and 2005, 25% of the 89,362 reported farmer suicides in India’s four largest agricultural states (22,340) involved farmers who swallowed pesticides. The Hindu notes that pesticides, “a common tool in farm suicides,” are also a factor in non-farm suicides. According to the NGO Berne Declaration, in Gujarat, the rate of non-farmers committing suicide by drinking paraquat and other pesticides is now “84 percent higher than farm suicides.”

Syngenta addresses “concerns” over paraquat: The leading producer of paraquat, Syngenta, appears to be feeling the heat, particularly following the recent phaseout of the herbicide in Europe. The following statement appears on the Syngenta Web site: “Some NGOs have raised concerns about the safe use of paraquat, the active ingredient in the well-established Syngenta herbicide GRAMOXONE®…. Syngenta herbicide atrazine has also been the subject of concern.” Without explaining the nature of these “concerns,” Syngenta states: “Farmers around the world have been using both herbicides safely and effectively for over 40 years.” Nonetheless, Syngenta claims it is now commissioning “independent research into the safe use of its products” and is mounting an “initiative to effectively manage adverse health incidents related to use of its crop protection products.”

Keep those chemicals off your cranberries: Here’s another thing to be thankful for as you trot out your holiday turkey — pesticide-free cranberry sauce. Cranberries, which were first harvested in Massachusetts in the early 1830s, are now grown in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon and Canada. The bad news: more than 80 herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are registered for use on Wisconsin’s cranberries alone. The good news: Rutgers University experts are teaching growers how to raise berries using pesticide-free “common sense practices” like Integrated Pest Management and safe cranberries can be spotted by the Certified Organic label. Pass the gravy!

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