Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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November 20, 2008
- Landmark UK ruling on pesticides
- EU’s strict pesticide controls losing ground
- Another Canadian province bans lawn chemicals
- GM corn continues to contaminate Mexico
- UN report: Organic farming can feed Africa
- Enjoy a happy, organic Thanksgiving
On November 15, a British High Court Justice ruled the government had “failed to comply” with a 1991 EU directive designed to protect rural residents from toxic chemicals used to spray crops. The Yorkshire Post reports that this “landmark ruling” came after a seven-year campaign by Georgina Downs, founder of the UK Pesticides Campaign. When she was 11, Downs suffered “flu-like symptoms, sore throat, blistering and other problems” after she was exposed to pesticides sprayed on a farm near her West Sussex home. Over the years Downs assembled evidence that other members of her rural community suffered similar problems, as well as cancer, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease. Downs told the court the government had failed to protect residents “who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides.” Justice Collins praised Downs for providing “solid evidence” of harm and called on Britain’s Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to “rethink” its policies by taking care to “inform residents of imminent spraying and of the composition of the pesticides to be used,” adding that “voluntary action is not achieving this.” Citing a 1986 regulation requiring beekeepers be given 48-hours notice before pesticide spraying, Justice Collins observed “it is difficult to see why residents would be in a worse position.” PAN UK’s Nick Mole said: “We congratulate Ms. Downs…. There is no reason why people in the UK should have to put up with being exposed to hazardous pesticides.”
Earlier this year, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee proposed stringent controls to ban up to 85% of the pesticides that are harmful to human health. Now, EurActiv reports, the proposal is “losing ground” after pro-chemical lobbyists claimed the plan would devastate yields and raise consumer prices. Yorkshire’s Member of Parliament warned the ban would destroy the British pea industry by outlawing the use of pendimethalin. Reed Business Information (RBI) reports that “pressure from farming and food chain organizations, including Farmers Weekly‘s Save our Sprays campaign” had succeeded in “softening” the amendment. While the original plan would ban any persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that met one of three criteria of concern, under a new proposal, a chemical would have to meet all three criteria which would mean “many… key weed-killers and fungicides could now be saved.” Other “climb-downs” include allowing continued use of dangerous chemicals “if safer alternatives do not exist,” permitting additional five-year renewals for continued use and regulating immunotoxic and neurotoxic substances only if the risk were proven to effect “one in a million citizens.” In addition, the ban on pesticide use in and around schools and public spaces would no longer protect surrounding areas. If accepted, RBI reports, the new rule would mean “well over 100 [targeted] pesticides…would be safe from withdrawal.” On November 11, EurActiv reported “a compromise amendment” was introduced that would set a “50% reduction target” for “active substances of very high concern” and those classified as “toxic or very toxic.” PAN Europe says the Committee has “backed away from previous commitments to eliminate hazardous pesticides” by agreeing to “a substantially diluted set of proposals” and predicts “a complex set of loopholes and derogations now
added to the text could bring substantial delays in replacing the worst pesticides.” A vote by the full European Parliament could take place as early as December.
In a May 2008 poll, 87% of Alberta’s residents backed a ban on the use of pesticides that are typically applied to lawns and gardens for cosmetic purposes, and on November 12, Alberta outlawed the use of herbicide-fertilizer mixtures for such aesthetic purposes. The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) praised the action as an “appropriate first step to limit the risk to human health and the environment.” A June 2007 study by the David Suzuki Foundation found Alberta’s number of pesticide poisonings outranks any other province in the country, showing “the highest per capita rate of pesticide poisonings, with 1021 cases in the year, 45% of which involved children under the age of six.” According to Canada Newswire, “Alberta joins Ontario and Quebec, in addition to more than 100 municipalities across Canada, which have already enacted similar restrictions.” CCS’ Angeline Webb thinks the ban “is a necessary step to reduce harm, especially to children.” Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail reports, the CCS is considering broadening its concerns to include farmlands. While Health Canada, the national health ministry, calls these chemicals “safe,” the CCS believes there is a link between agricultural pesticide exposures and increased rates of cancer among farmworkers. In 2005, the U.S. EPA reported that farms consumed five times more 2,4-D-laced weed killer than lawns. On November 12, the CCS assembled a panel of experts to offer advice on expanding its advocacy. “It’s very hard to argue that the cosmetic use of pesticides poses a public-health risk, including cancer risk, and not examine what is going on in the rural and agricultural communities,”
University of Windsor Adjunct Professor James Brophy told the Globe and Mail.
New research published in Nature confirms the controversial findings reported in the same magazine in 2001: transgenes from genetically modified (GM) maize is contaminating traditional “landrace” maize in the Mexican heartland. After the original report was published, Monsanto created a propaganda campaign to discredit the report’s authors, David Quist and Ignacio Chapela of the University of California, Berkeley. In 2002, the London Guardian revealed how the Monsanto-hired Bivings Group created fictitious on-line “critics” to create false controversy that eventually forced the editors of Nature to disavow the research. At one point, Chapela (at the time a member of PAN North America’s board) “was approached by the director of a Mexican corporation who first offered him a glittering research post if he withheld his paper, then told him that he knew where to find his children.” The new research, led by Elena Alvarez-Buylla of Mexico’s National Autonomous University, has confirmed Quist and Chapela’s original findings. “The paper reports finding transgenes in three of the 23 locations that were sampled in 2001.” Mexico outlawed GM maize in 1998 to protect its 60 domesticated traditional varieties, but farmers have illegally planted “at least 70 hectares of GM maize crops in the northern state of Chihuahua.”
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD)-United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has released a report on “Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa” that concludes a transition to organic farming offers the best path to securing food stability in Africa. London’s The Independent reports that farmers who have already made the shift to organic agriculture are seeing yields increase as much as 128%. The farm land also benefits from healthier top soil that allows plants to set deeper roots which, in turn, guarantees greater resilience in conditions of extreme drought. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) reports the benefits to organic agriculture “were linked to enhancement of five capital assets critical in promoting food security — natural, social, human, physical, and financial. Multiple studies have shown that yields remain stable, and often rise after conversion to organic agriculture,” an outcome that “challenges the popular myth that organic agriculture cannot increase agricultural productivity.” Moreover, OCA states, “organic agriculture is making important, positive contributions to farm incomes and rural economic activity. These benefits could be enhanced, according to the report, by adoption of more supportive policies and development strategies.”
Consumers Union and the Eat Well Guide have created an easy online tool you can use to find fresh, locally grown food in your area. “If you’ve tasted a homegrown tomato, pulled an apple straight off the tree, or picked up pecans from a neighbor’s yard, then you know why so many people are passionate about finding and eating locally grown food,” Consumers Union writes. In addition, buying local reduces your “carbon footprint” because “your food hasn’t been harvested prematurely and shipped thousands of miles.” The CU website features recipes from famous chefs, including Alice Waters, Dan Barber, and Mario Batali. Alice Waters suggests roasting “a delicious Heritage organic turkey. These birds are slow-growing and spend a large part of their lives grazing and foraging, which results in a deep and complex flavor.” And if meat’s not your thing, you can also get an organically produced, meatless “tofu turkey” at very little cost. As Dan Barber says: “We aren’t healthy unless our farms are healthy. The end of the food chain is connected to the beginning of the food chain.” Invite your friends to join the Local and Organic Food Challenge to “find at least one locally grown or organic ingredient for your coming Thanksgiving feast” and to get as many people as possible buying local, supporting sustainable farmers, and eating well on Thanksgiving Day.
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