Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- 10 years later: Completing the chlorpyrifos ban
- Monsanto, Pioneer & Gates seed industrial ag in Africa
- Scientists report: Methyl iodide too toxic to use
- PAN targets hazardous pesticides at Bali meeting
- Illinois takes “baby steps” to reduce drift
Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides because, pound for pound, they drink 2.5 times more water, eat 3-4 times more food, and breathe twice as much air. They also face particular harms from exposure during critical developmental periods in the womb and via breast milk. In recognition of these increased risks, EPA began phasing out non-agricultural uses of the insecticide chlorpyrifos 10 years ago because it can wreak havoc on developing brains and bodies. Chlorpyrifos (PDF) is an acute neurotoxin that remains widely used in U.S. agriculture (PDF) with about 8 million pounds applied to U.S. crops each year. Children in farming communities across the country face regular exposure to chlorpyrifos.
Chlorpyrifos is a member of the organophosphate (OP) class of pesticides. OPs are among the most toxic pesticides still in use. Acute poisoning with these neurotoxins can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, inability to concentrate, difficulty breathing and more. Exposure to even very small amounts, especially at critical periods of fetal development, can lead to permanent learning and developmental harms. “It’s just unconscionable to allow continued exposure to chlorpyrifos among children in agricultural areas, after ruling that it is too hazardous for kids in urban settings,” said PANNA staff scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves, “it’s time to get rid of it, once and for all.”
PAN is working with partners, including the Farm Worker Pesticide Project, to urge EPA to complete the chlorpyrifos ban. If chlorpyrifos is too dangerous for urban kids, it’s too dangerous for rural and farmworker kids. Please join us in telling EPA head Lisa Jackson that it’s high time children in farming communities enjoyed the same protections afforded to kids in urban and suburban communities.
Monsanto is under increasing scrutiny by Justice Department officials for illegal monopoly behavior at home and facing steadfast public opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe and Japan. Yet the agrochemical giant is now teaming up with private capital to push its products and technologies into Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable communities and ecosystems. The Des Moines Register reports that the Gates Foundation is vigorously supporting both Monsanto and its arch-rival Pioneer Hi-Bred in their GMO crop research efforts, with all concerned parties claiming that this will help increase productivity and feed a hungry continent under conditions of climate change. Both seed giants have sought to deflect criticism of the social costs of their patented seed technology by offering it “royalty-free” to small-scale farmers in Africa, but neither has promised to respect the fundamental right of farmers to save and exchange seed. And Monsanto has acknowledged that it intends to introduce a commercial variety of the same “drought-tolerant corn” in the U.S. four years before bringing it to Africa, assuring the corporation a substantial bundle of royalty fees.
Claims of being able to feed the world or overcome climate change put forth by corporate biotechnology quickly fall apart under scrutiny. So far, no transgenic seeds have contributed consistently or significantly to yield increases; when yield increases do occur, they are more likely due to successful conventional breeding methods that produced good seeds into which an unrelated gene (herbicide-tolerance, for example) was then inserted. The climate-related advantage of GMOs also falls apart under scrutiny. Climate change brings increased variability in weather patterns, and more extreme weather. According to Pesticide Action Network senior scientist Dr. Marcia Ishii Eiteman, “Resilience—or the ability to respond to drought one year and flooding the next—comes from maintaining complex, biodiverse cropping systems with soil rich in organic matter, not from monocrops of a single drought-resistant variety of corn. The latter leaves farmers more, not less, vulnerable to climate change, pest outbreaks and other environmental stresses.” The authoritative UN and World-Bank-led IAASTD report, authored by over 400 scientists from 80 countries and endorsed by 58 governments, warned that “business as usual”— i.e. continued reliance on chemical-, water- and energy-intensive agriculture — is not an option. The report notes that state-of-the-art scientific and empirical evidence clearly indicates the need for greater investment and policy supports for agroecological science, small-scale biodiverse farming, and a rebalancing of power in the global food system
through the establishment of localized food systems, enforcement of anti-trust rules and more equitable global trade arrangements. These findings have been repeatedly confirmed by subsequent scientific studies (PDF).
Ironically, the Wall Street Journal and UK Guardian have simultaneously reported the collapse of chemical-intensive agriculture in India and China respectively, in large part because of severe soil degradation caused by reliance on chemical fertilizers. Massive overuse of chemicals was also blamed for water contamination and rising food prices. This week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that small-scale family-owned operations practicing ecological farming are best suited to conserving biodiversity while maintaining high productivity and ensuring food and livelihood security.
A highly regarded Scientific Review Panel issued its report (PDF) on methyl iodide, the proposed new fumigant pesticide for strawberries and other crops in California. Their assessment, released in early February, is unequivocal: “Based on the data available, we know that methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical and we expect that any anticipated scenario for the agricultural or structural fumigation use of this agent would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health. Due to the potent toxicity of methyl iodide, its transport in and ultimate fate in the environment, adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”
“Arysta Life Science is disappointed by the findings of the Scientific Review Panel,” said a company statement released in response to the report. Arysta manufactures methyl iodide and has been aggressive in its attempts to bring the chemical to market — particularly to a California market, which would be among its most profitable. At stake for Californians and people across the country is whether chemical industry pressure will outweigh the science when officials make their final decisions on the chemical. “The science is in. Using methyl iodide in the fields would be a ticking time bomb” said Dr. Susan Kegley, Consulting Scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. “If the Department of Pesticide Regulation approves methyl iodide, we can expect to see increased numbers of late-term miscarriages for women who live or work near methyl iodide applications, increased thyroid disease, and more cancers.”
Many strawberry farmers and corporations, including Driscoll Strawberry, a leading strawberry distributor, are growing berries without methyl iodide and other fumigants. “I’ve been growing strawberries without using pesticides in California for 25 years,” said Jim Cochran, owner of Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California. “It’s certainly possible to grow commercially-viable and ecologically sound strawberry crops without using methyl iodide or any other chemical pesticides.” According to Driscoll, “As the leader in fresh berries, growing the finest organic berries in the world is both art and science, requiring care, commitment and dedication. We work closely with our independent organic farmers to find new and innovative organic farming practices.”
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks. Officials at US EPA will review the science and may reopen their national decision on the pesticide, made in the final months of the Bush administration.
Government officials from around the world have gathered this week in Bali, Indonesia to review the work of three major international chemicals and toxics management treaties – the Stockholm, Rotterdam and Basel Conventions, and identify potential synergies in their implementation. These three treaties are important tools by which toxic chemicals like pesticides are evaluated and action taken when chemicals are found to propose serious risks to human health and/or the environment. The agreements form a kind of international regulatory apparatus by which the most hazardous chemicals can be banned or restricted in their trade and waste handling.
At the Bali meeting, PAN Asia and the Pacific released a new report highlighting on-the-ground impacts of highly hazardous pesticides. Based in part on interviews with more than 1,300 peasant farmers and agricultural workers conducted in eight Asian countries, the report revealed that 66% of pesticide active ingredients used on a variety of crops in the countries studied are highly hazardous, according to PAN International classification criteria. “Exposure to these pesticides puts communities at high risk of developing severe permanent health problems,” said Bella Whittle, coordinator of the project and author of the report. “It is especially distressing that the most vulnerable populations, such as women and children, the sick and malnourished, and the elderly are disproportionately affected and cannot escape the sources of exposure.” The report recommends that national and international efforts focus on phasing out highly hazardous pesticides and replacing these with non-chemical pest management approaches, including Integrated Pest Management and agroecological agriculture. “This report is a strong indictment of the conventional agriculture model which relies on pesticides and other synthetic inputs. It highlights the horrific costs of this type of agriculture and sends a clear message from people on the frontlines, where communities are telling the world it’s time for a change, for a move towards a safer, more sustainable agriculture”, says Medha Chandra, PANNA’s International Campaign Coordinator.
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Last week Illinois State Senator Dave Koehler introduced a resolution intended to protect organic farms, apiaries, and other sensitive agricultural sites from pesticide drift. The resolution urges the state’s Department of Agriculture to implement an online database of such sites that could be consulted by pesticide applicators prior to spraying, with the goal of “help[ing] conventional farmers and chemical applicators avoid damaging sensitive crops.” The website, www.driftwatch.org, is already in place with information on sensitive agricultural sites in Indiana, and will eventually cover Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. If the resolution is passed, EPA will fund participation in Illinois.
The voluntary initiative asks organic growers, beekeepers and others to register the locations of their lands with the website, and has the support of the state’s agrichemical industry, which hopes to avoid any new, mandatory regulations. The resolution and the website do nothing to address human exposure to pesticide drift. In an interview with the Peoria Journal Star, Terra Brockman, author and founder of The Land Connection, commented on the proposed resolution: “These U.S. EPA-funded sites are good, but they strike me as first, baby steps to protect children from toxic chemical agriculture drift. This is an extremely weak response to an extremely serious issue.”
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