Bayer rated worst; LBAM legislation; Genetic pesticides; New malaria controls; DC lawns go green; more…

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June 19, 2008

Pesticide makers rated; Bayer judged worst

The Dirty Portfolios of the Pesticides Industry Report CoverA June 16 Greenpeace report, “The Dirty Portfolios of the Pesticides Industry,” concludes that pesticides made by German chemical multinational Bayer “pose the biggest threat to human health and the environment.” Syngenta (Switzerland), Monsanto (USA), BASF (Germany) and Dow Chemical (USA) followed Bayer in the Greenpeace rating. Monsanto, with the highest proportion of extremely toxic pesticides (60 percent), ended up in the middle of the ranking “due to its small share of the market.” The study marks the first attempt to rank agrochemical companies based on the health and environmental hazards of their pesticide products. These multinationals account for 75 percent of the world market and 243 (or 46 percent) of their 512 pesticide products were judged to be particularly hazardous. With the European Union’s agriculture ministers set to meet on June 23 to reach a common position on the authorization of pesticides, Greenpeace chemicals expert Manfred Krautter urged politicians to “tighten up EU pesticide laws. Pesticides that can cause cancer, alter genes, and damage the reproductive, endocrine or nervous system must no longer be authorized.”

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California light brown apple moth bills move ahead

Two measures authored by California State Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) passed the State Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously on June 18, with bipartisan support from the Committee’s chair, Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria). The Mercury News reports that the bills “would require the state to better plan for the arrival of invasive pests and to explain controversial issues surrounding aerial spraying to fight the light brown apple moth…. Laird’s first resolution, ACR 117, calls on the state to ‘address unresolved health, scientific and efficacy issues’ that surround the spraying. AB 2763 orders the state to list the invasive pests most likely to enter California, and develop plans to deal with them.” Meanwhile, CBS News reports that California Congressmembers are pressuring USDA to reveal “Why and how the Federal and State Departments of Agriculture came up with the plan to spray the Bay Area with pheromone pesticides to get rid of the light brown apple moth, a plan that bypassed California’s Environmental Quality Act.” California Representatives speaking out include Sam Farr, Barbara Lee and Jackie Speier.

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Scientists developing “genetic pesticides”

AntResearchers at the University of Florida are exploring ways to replace deadly chemicals with “genetic pesticides.” Entomologist Michael Scharf explains how the “trend in insect control is to find methods that eliminate the problematic insect without affecting anything else in the environment.” In the journal Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Scharf and his colleagues describe how the use of ribonucleic acid (RNA) as a pesticide caused termites to be cripplingly deformed after molting. “For a long time, the pest control industry has been trying to develop neurotoxin-like chemicals to control insects,” said Kansas State University Entomology Professor John Reese, but this approach exposes non-target pests (and humans) to less risk. While there are still risks, Reese said, “if you try to interfere with a gene of an insect, there’s virtually no chance that you’re going to affect a mammal and almost no chance that you’ll even affect an insect that’s a close relative to the target species.” David Root, project leader of the RNA Interference Consortium at Harvard University, notes that it is difficult to introduce foreign RNA into a mammal’s body but lower life forms seem to be able to absorb RNA by simply consuming it. The University of Florida News reports another advantage: “Insects tend to build resistance to toxins that affect their nervous system, but the changes required to adapt to genetic pesticides would be much more difficult for pests to overcome.”

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Pesticides, race and class

In a ColorLines magazine report syndicated by AlterNet, Christopher Weber writes: “As scientists refocus on pesticides in urban areas, they’re discovering that the effects of these poisons are particularly marked in communities of color” where they have triggered a “swath of allergy, illness, and risk.” Minority communities suffer disproportionately, Weber says, because of “the secretive nature of pest control, the slow progress of science, and the persistent nature of some pesticides.” Scientists are split over whether race or income plays a greater role in explaining why people of color suffer a greater toll from pesticides. Cecil Corbin-Mark of West Harlem Environmental Action notes that the EPA doesn’t require manufactures to consider such effects. In one African-American neighborhood in Chicago, where children have extremely high asthma rates, parents inspected local schools and discovered pesticides were being sprayed in the classrooms. Because pesticides can harm neurological systems, they may contribute to low test scores at some inner-city schools. Groups in Harlem, Chicago and California are working to decrease toxic pesticide use in homes and at school.

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New approaches to malaria and vector diseases

Medical News Today (MNT) reports that “combating malaria and other so-called vector diseases with chemical controls is increasingly ineffective” because they “only work for a limited time and are not sustainable.” MNT cites the Integrated Vector Management concept, which calls for combating malaria without the use of chemical pesticides. During his inaugural address as Professor of Medical and Veterinary Entomology at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, Prof. Willem Takken called for new strategies to combat diseases transmitted by insects and ticks including malaria, Bluetongue virus, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, dengue and chikungunya. Prof. Takken expressed alarm that some countries have resumed using DDT to fight malaria. He called for using proven, effective alternatives to this toxic insecticide. He highlighted new breakthroughs like a cloth impregnated with a fungus that affects mosquitoes that has been developed by Wageningen University researchers. Scent traps have been devised to lure mosquitoes away from houses and huts. Other effective strategies include using bednets, community awareness, medications, mosquito-proofing homes and environmental controls to reduce the breeding habitat of the malaria vector.

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China’s Olympian battle with pesticides

Olympic PesticidesHoping to keep bug-bites to a minimum during the Olympic soccer matches, Shanghai launched a 10-day campaign to eradicate mosquitoes by placing insect traps around the city and spraying pesticides on fountains and ponds. But pesticide residues on food pose a potentially bigger problem. After its athletes were sickened during a visit to Beijing, Australia decided to bring its own food to the Olympics and has advised competitors to drink only water bottled by Coca-Cola. China subsequently hired 36 companies to grow produce using “few chemicals.” Meanwhile, China’s bid to raise the eco-friendly bar by reducing pesticide manufacturing has caused the cost of pesticides to pole-vault in places like Kashmir. When China halted production of some agrochemicals in hundreds of its factories, the cost of pesticides like mencozeb, hexacanozol and captan long-jumped 20 percent in Kashmir. According to the newspaper, the Greater Kashmir, the shortfall “means quite an extended market for multinational companies.”

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Trout, salmon and pesticide damage

In the June 4 edition of Environmental Science and Technology, researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia warn that pesticides may damage a rainbow trout’s sense of smell, making it difficult to find mates and avoid predators. Because the trout are closely related to salmon, the findings suggest that pesticides may be a cause of plummeting salmon stocks in Canada and the US. Keith Tierney, a toxicologist at University of Windsor, Ontario, explained how steelhead rainbow trout exposed to low levels of agricultural pesticides lost the ability to perceive a predator’s scent. “You can imagine if a fish is unable to detect just how close it is to a [wading] bear, it’s a problem,” Tierney told the New Scientist. Tierney’s team measured the water quality in a river south of Vancouver and found “no fewer than 40 chemicals,” most at trace concentrations. After trout were exposed to a weak mixture of the 10 most abundant pesticides — including atrazine and diazinon — for four days, they lost the ability to sense changes in the concentration of an amino acid called L-serine. The damage appeared permanent -– “the protein that detoxifies harmful chemicals appears overwhelmed by the pesticides.”

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DC’s lawns and buildings go organic

Pesticide Free LawnThe General Services Administration (GSA) has begun using organic fertilizer on the grounds of all its federal buildings in the National Capital Region covering parts of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the District of Columbia, and stretches of Virginia and Maryland. GSA Regional Administrator Tony Reed explains that using sustainable practices was a way of “enriching our landscapes at the same time we are helping to clean up Chesapeake Bay.” According to Beyond Pesticides, “chemical fertilizer, pesticides, animal manure, and poultry litter are major sources of excess nitrogen and phosphorus that cause water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay.” The pollutants feed massive algae blooms that rob the bay of dissolved oxygen, creating “dead zones” that kill fish and other aquatic life. “GSA’s switch to all-organic fertilizer sets a good example of the kind of steps we all need to take to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” said EPA Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh. GSA has also introduced an Integrated Pest Management program to replace the spraying of toxic insecticides in 30 million square feet in approximately 7,000 federal buildings. Meanwhile, more than four acres of the capital’s National Mall now are receiving organic lawn care from the National Park Service.

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