Carcinogenic “organics”; India’s endosulfan victims; Global Seed Vault questions; GMOs boost pesticide use; and 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.

March 20, 2008

Carcinogens in “organic” products: The March 14-16 Natural Products Expo was rocked by the news that many “organic-labeled” personal care and house-cleaning products contain the cancer-causing contaminant 1,4-dioxane. David Steinman (author of The Safe Shopper’s Bible) made the discovery after ordering lab tests of several top-selling shampoos, lotions and cleansers. Tainted products included JASON Pure Natural & Organic, Giovanni Organic Cosmetics, Kiss My Face and Nature’s Gate Organics. (Click here for full list.) The Organic Consumers Association cautions that the words “organic” or “certified organic” are no guarantee of quality. Instead, look for the “USDA Organic” seal or brands carrying Germany’s Natural “BDIH” Certificate. Shun “unpronounceable ingredients” including polyethlene glycol, oxynol, myreth, oleth, laureth and “any other eth.” Avoid the new OASIS standard created by Estee Lauder, Loreal and Hain, which grants an “organic” label to products containing petrochemicals like ethylhexylglycerin and phenoxyethanol or hydrogenated and sulfated ingredients made from agricultural material produced with herbicides and pesticides. Steinman adds that consumers should “take heart in the emergence of a growing number of companies … who are seeking to completely avoid petrochemicals in their cosmetic and personal care products. Your best bet is to purchase products whose ingredients you can pronounce.”

India’s endosulfan victims: The aerial spraying of endosulfan over cashew plantations in Kerala has “left a legacy of deformity and malfunctions” according to India Together. Despite the suffering of thousands of victims, “it took hundreds of deaths, dedicated effort of environmental/public health activists and two decades to force the Kerala government to stop the use of endosulfan.” In August 2006, government officials finally accepted responsibility to the calamity and offered Rs. 50,000 to the families of 135 people killed by the spraying and established a relief program to care for the survivors. Surgeons with the Endosulfan Victims Relief and Remediation Cell are working to restore the sight of blinded children. The Anti-Endosulfan Committee praises the doctors but insists that more work needs to be done. Unfortunately, the funds are nearly gone and the government has not offered further assistance to thousands of surviving victims.

GM crops boost pesticide use more than yield: Multinational seed companies argued that genetically modified (GM) would reduce the need for pesticides but a new report from Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) concludes that GM crops “have, on the whole, caused an increase rather than a decrease in toxic [herbicide] use.” Africa Files reports that “more than a decade of GM crop cultivation [has] … done nothing to alleviate hunger or poverty in Africa or elsewhere.” One reason, says Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, is that “the majority of GM crops are used to feed the animals of rich countries.” FOEI’s report, “The Rise in Pesticide Use,” notes that the use of Roundup Ready™ glyphosate-resistant crops “has led to an increase in pesticide use.” U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show a 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate herbicide from 1994 to 2005 (Monsanto’s trade name for glyphosate herbicide is Roundup). The use of 2,4-D herbicide on GM soybeans “more than doubled” between 2002-2006 and applications of atrazine (an herbicide banned in Europe) on U.S. corn jumped 12% between 2002-2005. Moreover, Roundup Ready soybeans have not demonstrated “a higher yield performance than conventional soya.” Many studies showed an “average 5-10% lower yield.”

Something to chew on: To the dismay of the U.S., Bolivian President Evo Morales is working with Venezuela to expand markets for legal coca-based products and hopes to increase coca cultivation from 30,000 to 50,000 acres. On March 4, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board escalated the “war” against the illegal cocaine trade by urging Peru and Bolivia to ban the popular local pastimes of chewing cocoa leaves, drinking coca tea, baking with coca flour or using coca toothpaste. Indignant members of Peru’s congress responded with a “chew-in” to protest this attempt to criminalize a plant widely recognized for its medicinal value. “The coca leaf has existed for thousands of years. It’s part of our agriculture, our food and our medicine. It’s sacred,” said Congresswoman Hilaria Supa. “The drug war has been condemned, ridiculed and lamented,” The Guardian of London observed, “and now, in a more original critique, it has been masticated.” More than 200,000 families make their living by growing coca in retion. Meanwhile, the “war on drugs” (including the aerial spraying of Colombia with U.S. herbicides) has been a costly failure. As Rolling Stone reported last December, “After 35 years and $500 billion, drugs are as cheap and plentiful as ever.”

So whose vault is it? The Global Seed Vault (GSV) in Svalbard, Norway has received a harvest of positive press from the global media but some NGOs are expressing concerns about a centralized “seed saving” operation that ignores the work and rights of Third World farmers. GRAIN, a European NGO with branches in Africa, Asia and Latin America, faults the vault for appearing to forget that “farmers are the world’s original and ongoing plant breeders.” GRAIN’s Shalini Bhutani complained to the InterPress Service that the vault has removed “rights over the seeds, originally conserved by farmers” and entrusted them to “governments and the seed industry.” The GSV is jointly run by the Norwegian government, the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre and the Global Crop Diversity Trust. GRAIN is concerned that the GCDT is “a private entity with strong corporate funding.”

Food sovereignty and energy linked: “Food & Energy Sovereignty Now: Brazilian Grassroots Position on Agroenergy,” a new Oakland Institute report, exposes how the “ethanol factor” is being used as “a Trojan Horse to promote free-trade agreements.” The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization promotes agrofuels as a positive “development” tool despite mounting evidence that “biofuels make global warming worse [by releasing] … far more carbon into the air than they absorb.” According to the report’s lead author, Camila Moreno, a researcher at Brazil’s Terra de Direitos, agrofuels require “massive expansion of industrial monocultures and biotechnology under the corporate-controlled industrial agricultural system.” Millions of hectares of natural systems — from grasslands to the Amazon — are being destroyed to grow crops to feed U.S. fuel tanks. “Instead of taking measures to fight the root causes of climate change,” Oakland Institute Director Anuradha Mittal observes, agrofuels are “maximizing corporate profits and perpetuating [the] global power imbalance” while serving to postpone the structural changes needed to make the “transition to a post-oil society.” The concept of Energy Sovereignty must be linked with the movement for Food Sovereignty because “both stem from the right to democratic access and effective control over common natural resources.”

Bangladesh going organic: For the past half-century, traditional pesticide-free produce has only been available in Bangladesh’s rural bazaars, but that is changing as citizens insist on food that is not tainted by toxic chemicals. The Daily Star reports that “Organic food is becoming popular among the consumers of Dhaka City” thanks, in part, to the work of two grassroots groups. Shashya Prabartana, a project of UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative), started selling organic produce in 1988 as part of the Naya Krishi Andolon (New Agriculture Movement). UBINIG now has 10 production centers that engage one lakh (100,000) farmers, half of whom are women. The second NGO, Proshika, started promoting organic agriculture in 1978 and supplies two tons of fruit and vegetables to Dhaka markets every day. Prabartana’s Shahid H. Shamim notes that while organic foods still cost more than most people can pay, “the scene will change … as it is becoming [more] popular every day.”

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