Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- California sticks to science with methyl iodide
- Bhopal court orders arrest of Union Carbide chair
- Clinton & Vilsack urged to rethink foisting biotech on Africa
- Clear evidence for nutritional superiority of organics
- California releases light brown apple moth review
- Parkinson’s linked to pesticides in well water
Two weeks ago, we learned that efforts were afoot to silently fast-track the controversial new fumigant pesticide, methyl iodide, for use in California’s strawberry fields. Methyl iodide is a known carcinogen and would likely contaminate groundwater. Lab tests link it to miscarriages, cognitive impairment and thyroid toxicity. If registered, the chemical would be used as a gas at rates of 175 lbs per acre. In light of methyl iodide’s public and environmental health hazards, California’s Department of Pesticide Review (DPR) had convened an independent Scientific Review Panel to evaluate the chemical — as of last week, that scientific review process was in question. “Methyl iodide is an extraordinarily hazardous chemical and California would be among its largest markets. We have this opening to stop it in California, and for a moment, that opening was in jeopardy,” explains Kathryn Gilje, Pesticide Action Network’s executive director. “We’re pleased and relieved to see public participation and scientific integrity restored to this decision.” Organizing in Sacramento and online, Pesticide Action Network, partners, and thousands of PAN activists garnered two victories in the last week: last Friday, DPR confirmed its intention to conduct an independent scientific assessment of methyl iodide; and 27 CA legislators wrote the Governor, pressing for fully transparent scientific and public process around the chemical. On Monday, a state legislative hearing was set for August 19. This new public venue will provide scientists, farmers, farmworkers, and community members an opportunity to weigh in on the known dangers of methyl iodide. The Scientific Review Panel, composed of experts from around
the country, will hold meetings in Sacramento on September 24 and 25. On the first day, state scientists will provide presentations. The second day offers opportunity for public comment.
Survivors of the Bhopal disaster danced in the streets on July 31 after hearing news that the High Court in Bhopal ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to arrest Warren Anderson, former chair of Union Carbide Corporation, and bring him before the court “without delay”. Anderson was proclaimed an absconder from justice in 1992 after he ignored a summons to appear in court in India. Union Carbide and Anderson are charged with “culpable homicide not amounting to murder,” “grievous assault” and other serious crimes in relation to the 1984 Bhopal pesticide plant explosion. “This is a very welcome and much anticipated move that the Chief Judicial Magistrate has independently ordered renewed action on this front,” said Rashida Bee, a survivor and a leader in the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. “Punishing the guilty and having them face the law is extremely important for survivors to attain closure to the horrors of the disaster. More importantly, this will send a strong signal that corporations and corporate bosses cannot play with our lives.” Survivors groups in Bhopal said they would mount renewed action to enforce the appearance of Union Carbide Corporation’s authorized representatives. In a related matter, an application to summon Dow Chemical Company, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, is pending before the High Court.
On the eve of a visit to Kenya by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a broad coalition is challenging Obama Administration plans to fund a new “Green Revolution” in Africa. The coalition calls itself the U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis and works against continued U.S. investment in a broken approach that emphasizes biotechnology, industrial agriculture and corporate profit over food security and safety. Instead, the group urges the U.S. administration to follow findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report. The IAASTD is a landmark study conducted by over 400 scientists and development experts sponsored by the United Nations and the World Bank that emphasizes investing in agroecological methods. The IAASTD warns that chemical-intensive production continues to have adverse health and environmental effects, while “modern biotechnology” (genetically engineered seeds) has so far contributed few verifiable positive impacts on equitable and sustainable development.
Ben Burkett, president of the National Family Farm Coalition, cautioned, “As an African American farmer who has visited farmers in Africa many times, I am deeply concerned that much of the Obama Administration’s pledge to spend $1 billion on agriculture research will be wasted on biotech research that benefits Monsanto more than it does small-scale farmers. While I applaud the renewed focus on helping Africa feed itself, our taxpayer money is doomed to be wasted if it continues to fund business as usual. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Vilsack need to learn from previous disastrous biotechnology experiments such as the Kenyan GM sweet potato project. Many Kenyan farmers resent the U.S., Monsanto and the Gates Foundation for continuing to shove unwanted biotechnology down their throats.” Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network and a co-author on the IAASTD report, said, “the IAASTD highlights the need for increased investment in agroecological sciences and farming, an approach considered highly promising for Africa. We hope Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Clinton along with Congress will look to the IAASTD report for the best solutions to address food security and sustainable rural livelihoods for farmers.”
The U.S.-based Organic Center insists the evidence is clear for the nutritional superiority of plant-based organic foods. The Organic Center refutes recent findings by scientists in the United Kingdom in a study commissioned by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA), who concluded that there are no nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods. Lord Melchett, policy director of the U.K.-based Soil Association, questions the validity of the FSA study in the UK Telegraph, “It’s a very poor piece of work,” he claims. “It seems that there will be a rebuttal from scientists around the world. It’s very disappointing. I thought the FSA had got over this anti-organic stance by now. It seems not.” He adds: “Our position is the science says organic food has nutritional benefits. I was a government minister for nearly five years and I’m really surprised at the behaviour of both the scientists and the FSA. They confused opinion with science.”
The Organic Center explains the controversy, “In their written report, the London team downplayed positive findings in favor of organic food. In several instances, their analysis showed that organic foods tend to be more nutrient dense than conventional foods. Plus, their study omitted measures of some important nutrients, including total antioxidant capacity. It also lacked quality controls contained in a competing study released in 2008 by The Organic Center. Last, the FSA-funded team also used data from very old studies assessing nutrient levels in plant varieties that are no longer on the market.” The study ignores attention to pesticide residues on foods completely, failing to address the long-term effects of pesticide exposure on human health. “Perhaps more to the point,” adds PAN senior scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves, “organic agriculture not only delivers better nutrition, but also an array of indirect benefits for farmers, farmworkers, and the planet. Any comprehensive — or as FSA claims, ‘systematic’ — evaluation must account for organic’s indirect benefits as well.”
On July 31, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) put out a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report looking at “potential environmental impacts that would result from implementation of alternatives for the eradication of the light brown apple moth”. In fall 2007, CDFA set out to “eradicate” the invasive “LBAM” under pressure from the USDA, claiming the moth posed a major threat to California agriculture and landscapes. The agency launched an aerial spray program in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties using an experimental pheromone-based pesticide. On June 19, 2008, following massive complaints from residents and cities as CDFA prepared to expand the eradication approach into most of the greater Bay Area, the state announced it would abandon spraying over urban areas. The long-awaited draft impact report rejects alternatives including classical biocontrol, integrated pest management and other ecological approaches because they would only manage the pest, and don’t meet the USDA goal of LBAM eradication — an objective dismissed as impossible by some leading entomologists. Approaches that are under consideration include release of sterile males to restrict successful mating, mating-disruption pheromones applied in ground treatments in urban areas and by aerial spraying in heavily infested remote areas, deployment of native wasps, which act as a parasite on moth eggs, and targeting larvae with Btk, a naturally-occurring fungus, via ground treatment only. Public comment meetings are scheduled (PDF) across the state in August and early September. Meanwhile, quarantine areas have expanded into the Manteca area of the Central Valley, Southern California and the Salinas Valley, threatening the farm economy, despite little evidence of damage to crops. PAN and other groups have appealed to USDA to reclassify LBAM as a “non-actionable” pest since it has proved manageable in other countries, and it is the quarantines that will do real damage to farmers.
The latest study in an accumulating body of evidence linking Parkinson’s Disease to childhood pesticide exposure points specifically to rural well water contamination. According to Environmental Health News, a UCLA team of researchers studied over 700 participants from California’s Central Valley and found that people consuming well water that was likely contaminated with agricultural pesticides had a higher rate of Parkinson’s. Likelihood of well water contamination was extrapolated from historical use records kept by a state agency — making this study the first to correlate historical pesticide use records to Parkinson’s. Among the specific pesticide use records tracked and correlated to higher risk of Parkinson’s were propargite, methomyl and chlorpyrifos — with wells near fields sprayed with these chemicals having a 90, 67 and 87 percent higher risks of residents developing the disease, respectively. All are on PAN’s Bad Actor pesticide list. Propargite (sold as Omite and Comite) has been used agriculturally since 1969, with EPA approving continued use on restricted crops in 2001 while reporting that drinking water contamination remained below levels of concern based on cancer risk. Residential uses of chlorpyrifos (sold as Dursban by Dow) were banned in 2001 due to health risks for children, but it remains widely used on a variety of crops in the U.S.
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