McCain & Obama urged to address food crisis; Agent Orange tour; EPA greenwashing rules; and more

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October 16, 2008

McCain and Obama urged to address food issues

World Food Day - Call to ActionOctober 16th is World Food Day, or World Foodless Day, depending on your perspective (see next story). Each year the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) commemorates its 1945 founding by coordinating events related to the world food situation. This year, the FAO’s focus is on climate change and bioenergy as they disproportionately affect the world’s poor. But according to national and global NGO coalitions, this focus does not begin to address the scope of the current crisis in the world food situation. To highlight the depth of the crisis, call attention to its systemic causes, and demand more adequate policy interventions, PAN North America is co-sponsoring a Call to Action demanding that the incoming U.S. presidential administration replace the broken food system with a coherent food-policy platform. The U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis — a coalition of anti-hunger, family farm, community food security, environmental, international aid, labor, food justice, and consumer groups — states: “We do not view the food crisis as an unexpected, sudden emergency of the last year, but as the inevitable consequence of the development of a long list of misguided agricultural and food policies over the last 30 years.”

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Food crisis hype and reality — call to global action

PAN International and the People’s Coalition of Food Sovereignty (PCFS) are hosting “World Foodless Day” to highlight the failure of “business as usual” solutions. “There are more hungry people than ever before — over 150 billion,” says PCFS co-chair Antonio Tuja, “The Green Revolution for Africa [and] the so-called Gene Revolution will only result in more hunger.” PAN Asia and the Pacific Executive Director Sarojeni V. Rengam notes these grand schemes have resulted in “displacement of rural communities, increased loss of livelihood and escalating hunger and poverty… [for] peasants, agricultural workers, women, small food producers and the poor.” PAN International joins more than 80 international NGOs and People’s Organizations from 23 countries who are asking the UN Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis — and task-force head, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — to draw comprehensive measures to resolve the deepening global food security crisis. The group has issued an open letter to the U.N. Task Force critiquing it’s failure to reconsider or restructure the trade policies and market arrangements that have led to the ongoing food crisis.

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Vietnamese women on U.S. Agent Orange tour

Agent OrangeThousands of U.S. soldiers and an estimated three million Vietnamese were poisoned by Agent Orange during the U.S. war on Vietnam. Now, a group of female victims of the toxic herbicide have embarked on a ten-city U.S. tour to demand that Monsanto, Dow and 35 other complicit companies compensate Agent Orange victims and clean up the toxic residues that still contaminate their homeland. Dang Hong Nhut is a middle-aged woman who suffers from cancer and has experienced multiple miscarriages and Tran Thi Hoan is a 21-year-old college student who was born without legs. They want Americans to know that exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange has been linked to tens of thousands of crippling birth defects that have plagued three generations of Vietnamese. The tour, which began on September 28, has already visited New York, New Jersey, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Michigan. On October 19, the tour arrives in Chicago before moving on to Portland, Eugene, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco. PAN is co-sponsoring the Oakland event on October 28. Details of the tour are available from the sponsor, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.

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Greens move to boost EU’s pesticide regs

Despite complaints from chemical manufacturers and large farming interests, the European Union is moving ahead with plans to tighten regulations on the use of pesticides in the EU. Macroworld Investor reports that, under the “common position,” the European Parliament (EP) has agreed to replace “the established risk-based system… with a hazard-based” system under which pesticides that are “mutagenic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic or endocrine disruptive would be banned.” On October 13, Green Germany Member of Parliament Hiltrud Breyer caused a stir when she called for even stronger controls that would ban ingredients “considered to cause a risk of developmental neurotoxic or immunotoxic properties in humans.” Noting that “neurological diseases… are on the increase,” Breyer called on the EP to scrap a provision that would allow continued use of hazardous chemicals for five years “if there are no alternatives available.” The UK Pesticides Safety Directorate counters that increased pesticide controls would remove 85% of “current crop protection products” from the market and threaten farm yields. Breyer insists that the UK Directorate’s warnings are exaggerated and Macroworld Investor reports that the EU Commission supports the view that such reports are merely “designed to create panic.” The EP is set to vote on Breyer’s amendment on November 5.

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EPA waffles on ‘Greenwash’ marketing rules

GreenwashingIn January 2007, the U.S. EPA prompted a storm of complaints about misleading endorsements and marketing when it announced plans to allow Clorox to print the logo of the charitable Red Cross organization on its bacteria-killing bleach products. Two weeks ago, the EPA gave notice in the Federal Register that it was “withdrawing” the proposal after reviewing public comments. The notice conceded “the addition of such statements could interfere with [the] goal [of]… improving human health.” But Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the lead organization challenging the proposal, warns that “what at first seems like a refreshing dash of sanity becomes a head-scratcher when one reads EPA’s full notice.” A close reading reveals that while EPA generally discourages third party endorsements on chemical cleanser and pesticide products, it has not actually rescinded its approval of the Red Cross/Clorox co-promotion and plans to allow such labeling on a “case-by-case basis.” PEER also notes the EPA has indicated “an interest in adding ‘green labeling’ on pesticide labels.” While EPA says the process would benefit from consultation and public review, PEER notes the agency “did not promise any transparency or notice requirements.” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch believes the EPA should not be supporting pesticide marketing by allowing promotional campaigns designed to boost the sales of commercial poisons. Making decisions on a case by case basis means EPA officials will “meet with every manufacturer who knocks, when EPA should instead just post a ‘No Solicitors’ sign.”

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Philippine city battles aerial spraying

In February 2007, officials in the Philippine town of Davao City passed an ordinance that banned aerial spraying of pesticides. The ban followed complaints from small farmers and residents that drift from crop dusters spraying fungicides on massive banana plantations had killed livestock and crops and sickened nearby families. A local reporter for the Pinoy Press described how “water exposed to fungicide turns milky white and vegetables like malunggay curl up or retain a sticky residue.” Farmers whose homegrown produce became contaminated now are forced to buy fruits and vegetables in the town market. Nearly a third of Davao’s banana plantations (1,800 hectares) are sprayed from the air with 30 liters of pesticide raining down on each hectare. Government regulations require buffer zones to protect humans, plants and animals but these safeguards are seldom enforced. The powerful banana industry challenged the “constitutionality” of Davao’s ban but the lower courts and the Office of the Solicitor General upheld the ruling. The banana barons eventually won a reversal in the Court of Appeals and Davao officials have asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The Manila Times calls the contest “a landmark case that will test the power of the local government to protect public welfare.”

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OP pesticides found in pregnant women & olive oil

A National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study has found “high levels of organophosphorous (OP) pesticides and some suspected endocrine disrupting compounds, including bisphenol A and phthalates, in pregnant women and their offspring” in the Netherlands. Researchers analyzed urine samples from 100 pregnant women and found “relatively high levels of OPs and some phthalates.” Tests detected “a specific metabolite of the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos.” Meanwhile, InformaWorld reports that a team of Greek researchers that examined 167 samples of Greek virgin olive oil found 30.5% contained “detectable residues… of organophosphorus pesticides” including dimethoate, fenthion, and fenthion sulfoxide. Although dimethoate residues were detected “above the maximum residue limit,” the team’s report, published in Food Additives & Contaminants, concludes, “there is neither acute nor chronic risk for the Greek population through olive oil consumption.”

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More Portland parks go pesticide-free

In 2004, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) convinced Portland, Oregon, to make three city parks pesticide-free. This month, NCAP announced two more parks will become pesticide-free thanks to hundreds of community volunteers who manually pull weeds from the parks and wilt weeds with propane-powered weed-burners. It has taken 244 volunteers working 1,374 hours to keep the first three parks weed-free and Portland’s pest management coordinator John Reed wonders if it’s worth it. “It takes a lot of work to make sure volunteers show up and are supported,” Reed told the Portland Tribune. Reed estimates the city spends $371 a year to spray around 28 ounces of Roundup and six ounces of Surflan herbicides while it costs about $3,600 a year to maintain a chemical-free park. And then there’s the pollution produced by propane burners and volunteers driving their cars to the parks. NCAP volunteer coordinator Haley Smith is one of those who believes it’s worth the effort. Oryzalin, the active ingredient in surflan, was recently listed as a Proposition 65 carcinogen. Besides, Smith notes, “testing has found both chemicals in the Clackamas River, indicating they leach out into water sources.”

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