Monsanto seed suit; Canadians question pesticides; How to have a pesticide-free Valentine’s Day; 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.

January 31, 2008

California Assembly passes farmer GE protection bill: Jared Huffman’s state legislation passed the California Assembly by a vote of 49-12 this week, and now moves to the State Senate. AB 451would protect farmers whose crops are contaminated by the spread of patented, genetically engineered (GE) seeds and pollen. [See PANUPS, Jan. 24, 2008] The bill provides protections from patent-holder lawsuits and would require a farmer’s written consent and state oversight before corporate investigators could enter and inspect private fields. “While there is still work to do,” Huffman said, AB 541 marks “an important step in establishing basic protections for California’s farmers.” The bill is supported by PANNA and other members of the Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance. Thank you to the hundreds of PAN’s Action Center members in California who sent emails on AB 541 last week. You made a difference. Keep it up! Readers who don’t get PAN’s Action Alerts: please sign up.

APHIS sued over “Franken-seeds”: The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), Center for Food Safety, and Sierra Club have sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to block commercial release of the sugar beet seeds genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup Ready (glyphosate) herbicide. The seeds, currently slated for commercial release this spring, were developed by Monsanto. Roundup is Monsanto’s dominant pesticide product. The suit charges that APHIS failed to thoroughly investigate whether a three-mile buffer zone between GE and natural crops will be sufficient to “thwart the spread of glyphosate-tolerant genes” to fields of organic beets and chard. Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Seeds, warns that contamination of organic crops with artificial genes “takes away people’s right to farm the way they want…. It’s pollution.” Attorney Kevin Golden fears the use of GE beets “will eventually result in weed resistance to glyphosate” and that “more toxic alternatives would need to be used to control those weeds.” An APHIS spokesperson told the Capital Press that GE beets will have “no adverse environmental impact” but APHIS’ own assessment admits “gene introgression…is possible.”

Minnesota bows to Monsanto and Dow: The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that “scientists at Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences convinced the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to double the allowable river concentration of an agricultural weed-killer despite an internal review calling for tougher standards.” The MPCA conducted a three-year review of the herbicide acetochlor after high concentrations of the toxic chemical appeared in local trout streams. According to Integrity in Science Watch, MPCA was about to tighten water quality standards for acetochlor when industry scientists submitted “six studies that they said proved that the draft limit was too strict.” The new standard removed three “impaired” streams from the polluted list. Paul Wotzka, a former Minnesota Department of Agriculture hydrologist said, “I can’t fathom how quickly a state agency would bend over backwards to a chemical giant like Monsanto.” After three years of research and public testimony, the MPCA had proposed setting the limit on acetochlor at 1.7 parts per billion but, after being contacted by the manufacturers, the MPCA reversed itself and doubled the standard to 3.6 parts per billion. The Mankato Free Press called the quick about-face by state officials “troubling.”

Bee industry considers collapsing colonies: Nearly 1,500 people turned out for the National Beekeeping Conference in Sacramento, California, in late January. A major concern was colony collapse disorder (CCD), which poses a threat to the 2.5 million commercial colonies that pollinate $15 billion in U.S. crops. Dr. Jeff Pettis, research chief for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service said there is no “smoking gun” but listed many factors, including “parasitic mites, viruses, pesticides and nosema disease.” The Capital Press noted that “preliminary research showed pesticide traces were prevalent in samples of pollen, wax and bee bread.” (“Bee bread” is a mixture of honey, pollen and fungi that bees dine on.)

Ontario calls for a pesticide ban: A coalition that includes the Canadian Cancer Society, Environmental Defense and the Ontario Medical Association wants Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty to fulfill his campaign promise to enact a province-wide ban on the so-called “cosmetic” use of pesticides on Ontario’s parks, lawns and roadways. (Quebec already has such a ban.) The Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) joined the call, noting that exposure to these so-called “cosmetic pesticides” can be “devastating.” The OCFP’s Jan Kasperski told a news conference that pesticides can cause “cancers and learning disabilities” and maintained that “banning lawn pesticides will be a major contribution to children’s health.” Kasperski demanded immediate action, insisting that the community doesn’t want to “wait 40 years for the evidence to gather [as]…we did with tobacco.” A coalition survey found that 71% of Ontarians favored a “Quebec-type” ban on the use and sale of these chemicals.

Germany tackles Tanzania’s DDT: Over the past 30 years, more than 1,200 tons of dangerous chemicals have been left abandoned across Tanzania. In many cases, storage drums have begun to corrode, leaking fluids and vapors that have sickened livestock, wildlife and people. On January 17, the national newspaper The Citizen reported that the German Technical Cooperation [sic] (GTZ) has begun collecting 50 tons of granulated DDT from Tanzania’s Korogwe District. The chemicals will be shipped to Germany for disposal as part of an operation that “is expected to cost more than 250,000 euros.” For more background on the problem, see “Eliminating Obsolete Pesticide Stockpiles in Africa” in the November 2007 PAN Magazine.

Pesticide factory workers and leukemia: An analysis of 14 published reports on occupational exposures and disease from 1984-2004 found a “consistent increase in the risk of leukemia” among workers employed in pesticide manufacturing plants. The study, published in Environmental Research reports that “statistical significance was found only for phenoxy herbicides unlikely to have been contaminated with dioxins and furans.” The authors concluded that there was “quantitative evidence to consider occupational exposure to pesticides as a possible risk factor” for myeloid leukemia and that “exposure to pesticides may be a significant risk factor for specifically developing myeloid leukaemia and there is a need for additional large well-conducted studies.”

Canadians identify pesticides as health threat: A new report from the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) estimates that “between 300 and 700 New Brunswickers die every year [from]…illnesses caused by pollution, pesticides or contamination of food and water.” The report is based on research by Simon Fraser University Professor David Boyd and University of Alberta Medical Professor Stephen Genius who determined that “between 10,000 and 25,000 [Canadians] die from environmental factors annually.” The study used World Health Organization factor-analysis and Canadian health statistics to estimate that environmental illnesses cost the country as much as $251 million between 1999 and 2003. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “researchers are finding that…exposure to pesticides and toxic substances play an increasingly significant role in the incidence of disease.” CCNB has asked the Provincial Legislative Committee on Wellness to establish a Wellness Plan that will “ban cosmetic use of pesticides and foster public awareness about the role environmental factors can play in wellness.”

Aerial spraying protests expand in SF Bay Area: California’s Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) plans to resume aerial application of pheromones in 2008 to disrupt the mating cycle of the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM). In 2007, the CDFA’s spraying of two formulations of CheckMate (a synthetic pheromone compound) triggered health complaints, protests and litigation in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. CDFA now plans to expand the spraying into the San Francisco Bay Area. Informational meetings on LBAM spraying are scheduled in Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. Governor Schwarzenegger and CDFA Secretary Kawamura are under pressure to replace the spray program with more targeted, on-the-ground, least-toxic alternatives. State legislators are being asked to pass laws to prevent spraying pending a full safety review and community consent. More information and action options for Californians are available at PAN’s LBAM Action Page.

Pesticide-free Valentine bouquets: For many people, February 14 is a day for flowers, chocolates and other gifts. But each of these love-gifts can come with curses. Chocolates can involve child labor, diamonds can support rebel armies, and flower workers often suffer while roses can arrive doused with pesticides. According to Democracy Now, 60% of the flowers sold in the U.S. “were probably genetically engineered and grown in Colombia” where the flower industry’s women workers “earn poverty-level wages, work long hours, and suffer significant health problems due to pesticides.” Fortunately you can still play Cupid without being stupid: Don’t panic, go organic. California Organic Flowers ships organic roses by the dozen. If you can’t find a local supplier of organic flowers or fair-trade organic chocolate, go to PAN’s Special Offers link. A portion of each purchase goes to support PAN’s work.

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