Help end the pesticide era; Chipotle takes action on pesticides; Moving forward on CA bill; Dow greenwash ignites protest

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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Support Panups!April 23, 2010

Help end the pesticide era

Farming familyFrom our founding 28 years ago, we have never been more positive that global food system reform is possible. You can help. We’re asking you to join us today to help end the Pesticide Era. With support from committed people like you, PAN has won landmark victories–from the local to the international–with science and network organizing. We are poised for more victories in the months and years ahead, but we can only do it with your support. We can have pesticide-free food grown in healthy soil and delivered by farmers and farmworkers who aren’t getting deadly diseases like cancer or Parkinson’s from their jobs. Donate $35 today and add your name to the list of people hungry for food system change.

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Chipotle to report pesticide use reductions

Chipotle signEarlier this spring, Pesticide Action Network reported on our work with a group of investors, including Trillium Asset Management Corporation and Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN), to urge food companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill to take active steps towards protecting the environment, workers, and consumers by reducing use of pesticides in their supply chains. In exchange for a withdrawal of the shareholder resolution that was filed to this effect in February, Chipotle has agreed to report publicly on its pesticide use policy, as well as maintain dialog with shareholders on its procurement practices, steps taken to address pesticide use reduction, and public reporting. As a result, Chipotle has published a Position on Pesticide Use report on their website that includes information on steps taken to increase their procurement of organic beans and cilantro. The company uses PAN estimates for pesticide use per acre in the cultivation of dry beans to assess their impact on pesticide reduction in the food chain. According to these estimates, their increased purchase of organic beans has led to a reduction in chemical pesticide use of more than 76,000 pounds since 2005. Comments PAN senior scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves, “This is a great first step. We remain hopeful Chipotle will continue to work proactively on these issues and find meaningful ways to address the health and safety of farmworkers and others in their supply chain, as well as their customers.”   

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CA’s pesticide poisoning bill moves ahead

Pesticide applicationCalifornia’s Assembly Health Committee passed out the Pesticide Poisoning Prevention Bill (AB 1963) on April 20, the second step in a long legislative process for a bill that promises to bring better protections to workers who routinely handle organophosphate and carbamate insecticides—commonly used neurotoxic pesticides and those most often responsible for farmworker poisoning. These pesticides inhibit the function of cholinesterase—an enzyme necessary for nerve transmission in both insects and people. AB 1963 modernizes and augments California’s 1974 Medical Supervision Program, which requires testing pesticide handlers and applicators for dangerous reductions in cholinesterase levels. In the event of serious reductions, employers must remove workers from exposure-associated tasks. Pesticide Action Network is a co-sponsor of the new bill.

PAN senior scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves travelled to Sacramento to testify in support of the new bill, and notes that “what we have now is a prevention program designed to identify and stop exposure before poisoning occurs. However, more than 40 years after the program started we have almost no information about how it is working. We don’t know, for example, how many people are tested, or which pesticides or workplace practices are most often associated with overexposure. We don’t know because no system was ever established whereby state agencies could collect the data to evaluate the program.” Should the new bill pass, the eight state laboratories that currently conduct these tests would be required to report the test results to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation—one of the key agencies responsible for protecting the safety of the state’s agricultural workforce. For more on AB 1963’s background, see Associated Press coverage.

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Dow’s greenwash ignites protest


“On April 18, musicians, athletes, dignitaries, environmentalists and tens of thousands of everyday citizens in 200 cities, across 81 countries…came out to take part in the Dow Live Earth Run for Water–the largest single-day effort in history aimed at raising awareness and funds for the safe drinking water crisis,” trumpeted PR Wire in a press release from Dow Live Earth. Yet in many of those cities, including Amsterdam, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, New Delhi, Oakland, Santiago, Seattle and Vancouver, activists from the International Campaign For Justice in Bhopal, Vietnam veteran’s Agent Orange groups and others demonstrated, disrupted and demythologized Dow’s sponsorship of the event, demanding that Dow clean up its toxic messes around the world. In Berlin, London, Milan, Stockholm and Chennai organizers either cancelled the events or withdrew sponsorship in response to learning about Dow’s exploitation of the event.

In Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New Yorkers who came expecting a charity run and free concert “found themselves unwitting extras in a macabre and chaotic scene as runners keeled over dead, Dow-branded grim reapers chased participants, and a hundred fake Dow representatives harangued other protesters and handed out literature that explained Dow’s greenwashing program in frank detail.” Children from Kids for A Better Future joined activists in a finish line blockade, chanting “Dow poisons children” and “Dow poisons water”. Some runners were overheard saying “I don’t feel comfortable wearing a Dow logo on my shirt” and that had they realized Dow was the sponsor they never would have signed up. The eco-prankster Yes Men provided the Dow corporate impersonators. Satirizing and disrupting the Live Earth run was “the latest blow to Dow’s greenwashing efforts, the most visible element of which is the ‘Human Element’ multi-media advertising campaign, one of the most expensive, and successful, marketing efforts in recent history,” observe the Yes Men. “It even won an ‘Effie Award’ for the most effective corporate advertising campaign in North America.” “We thought it must be a joke when we first heard that Dow Chemical Company was sponsoring a run for clean water,” said Yes Woman Whitney Black. “Sadly, it was not. One of the world’s worst polluters trying to greenwash its image instead of taking responsibility for drinking water and ecosystems it has poisoned around the world? What an awfully unfunny way to start off Earth Week. We decided the event needed a little comic relief.”

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Methyl bromide ban sparks Brit backlash

Cricket batterThe British media was atwitter over the weekend with reports that the national sport of cricket was under siege by overzealous environmental regulations handed down by the European Union. The Mail quoted parliamentarian Jesse Pryke as saying “This shows every English person what consideration the EU gives Britain. Our national game obviously counts for nothing there…” and even the Telegraph framed the issue as the hegemonic EU versus the hapless English. 

At issue is the production of cricket bats. The rules of the game stipulate that bats be made of willow, and the highest quality willow comes from Essex County, England. But most bats are produced in India using cheap labor, and India requires all imports of willow to be fumigated with methyl bromide prior to shipment. Methyl bromide depletes the ozone layer, and is therefore being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement negotiated in 1987 and ratified by 196 nations, including the United Kingdom and India. The regulation (PDF) implementing the phaseout of methyl bromide entered into force on March 19, and English willow exporters were unprepared. “I give our industry 12 weeks to survive,” said Geoff Watling of Anglian Willow Services, although he admitted if bat production were to cease entirely, current stocks would last two years.

“There’s a lot of blame to go around for this ‘crisis;’ it’s unfortunate that the British media has chosen to play to nationalism and finger the EU,” said Pesticide Action Network staff scientist Karl Tupper. “We’ve known for 15 years that methyl bromide’s days were numbered. The specific date for these fumigations to end was set two and half years ago, and applied to all industries, not just the willow exporters. They’ve had plenty of time to adapt, and other industries have successfully transitioned from this chemical. And India is only exacerbating the problem,” noted Tupper. “When it ratified the Montreal Protocol, it committed to ending the use of ozone depleting chemicals, including methyl bromide. It’s hypocritical for the country to be taking such an inflexible position, requiring shippers to use it.”

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PAN ‘bad actor’ off the market

manebOn April 16th, the EPA announced the cancellation of the last maneb products still on the market. Maneb, a fungicide, is ranked by the EPA as a “probable” carcinogen, and by the European Union as a Category 1 potential hormone disruptor, with “clear evidence of endocrine disrupting activity.” Recently, researchers found that the farmers who used maneb doubled their risk of developing melanoma, a serious type of skin cancer. In 2005, the EPA estimated that about 2.5 million pounds of maneb were used in U.S. agriculture. Since then, its use has been declining, as certain uses were phased out and application rate reductions were implemented for others to mitigate risks to farmworkers and to aquatic ecosystems. Mancozeb — a closely related fungicide that’s also a suspected carcinogen, endocrine disruptor, and reproductive toxin — remains on the market for now, and will likely be used in place of maneb on many crops, including walnuts, one of the crops most reliant on maneb, according to Capital Press.

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