New laws protect farmers, public; Organic farm wins drift suit; Biotech no solution to hunger; and more

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October 2, 2008

California enacts new laws to protect farmers, public

panups20081002 ab541On September 27, Governor Schwarzenegger signed several new laws to protect farmers and residents. AB 541 is a landmark law that, for the first time in the country, protects farmers from agribusiness and chemical giants like Monsanto that have harassed and sued farmers for “theft” of the company’s patented genes when their crops are contaminated by genetically modified seeds or pollen. AB 541 was sponsored by an unprecedented coalition that included family farmers, California Certified Organic Farmers, United Natural Foods Inc. and the California Farm Bureau Federation. “AB 541 provides much-needed protection for farmers who typically lack the resources to fight lawsuits brought by biotech conglomerates,” says Genetic Engineering Policy Project Director Renata Brillinger who praised the new law as “a good first step towards establishing that Monsanto … is legally responsible for the economic, environmental and health harms caused by their patented and uncontrollable products.” This week, the governor signed two other laws to address public concern about California’s plan to use aerial spraying to control the light brown apple moth: AB 2763 and AB 2765 require the Department of Food and Agriculture to hold meetings to assure community input on any plans to deal with “high priority” insect, plant or animal pests, to consider alternatives and evaluate the public health risks, and reveal each ingredient in the pesticide to be sprayed. PAN and allies supported all three measures.

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Organic farm wins $1 million pesticide drift suit

A jury in Santa Cruz, California has awarded $1 million to an organic farmer whose crops were contaminated by pesticides drifting from nearby fields. Trace levels of pesticides were detected on the organic crops at Jacobs Farm in October 2006 after several organophosphate chemicals — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and dimethoate — were applied on Brussels sprouts at a nearby farm. Over the course of several days following application, the pesticides evaporated and coastal fogs carried the chemicals over neighboring property. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the pesticides “wiped out a year’s worth of culinary herbs including sage, rosemary and dill at Jacobs Farm Del Cabo.” Although organophosphates are known to persist and are prone to drift, the Chronicle notes that “neither federal nor state regulations account for it or provide any protection for organic farmers.” Western Farm Service — the company that applied the pesticides and was found liable for the $1 million fine — is considering an appeal, fearing the verdict “raises concerns about (the) future use of organophosphates in California.” Nathan Benjamin, an attorney for the organic farm concluded: “The message from the jury is pretty clear, both to industry and to regulators: It’s not acceptable to apply these poisonous chemicals and turn your back on the consequences after the point of application.”

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Bio-tech no solution to global food crisis

panups20081002 bioTechAs global food prices shot up 83 percent over the past three years — culminating in worldwide food riots last spring — biotech firms pumped up their PR campaigns to promote genetically engineered (GE or GM) crops as the techno-fix for world hunger. But, according to Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety, writing in the Multinational Monitor, agricultural biotech creates more problems than it solves. Many observers regard the food crisis as structural and systemic –- the result of speculation and deregulation in commodity food markets, diversion from food to agrofuel production, and trade policies that have encouraged mono-crops (primarily soy and corn) for export, rather than for in-country consumption. Farmers are urged to buy patented GE seeds costing two to four times more — seeds that cannot be legally saved for re-use. “Hype and promises of future innovations notwithstanding, there is not a single commercial GM crop with increased yield, drought-tolerance, salt-tolerance, enhanced nutrition or other attractive-sounding traits touted by the industry,” says Freese. “Disease-resistant GM crops are practically non-existent.” In addition to increased herbicide use on Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops, unintended, yield-lowering side-effects have proven another serious limitation of GE crops. While agricultural biotech has failed to address the ongoing crisis, the UN’s Agricultural Assessment finds agroecological farming techniques better suited to small farmers. The Assessment also calls for comprehensive reforms that treat food as a human right and recognize the importance of “food sovereignty” — the right of peoples and sovereign states to democratically
determine their own agriculture and food policies.

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Online pesticide sales — illegal and dangerous

Pesticide dealers are selling unregistered and restricted-use pesticides in the Internet’s unregulated online marketplace. Recent investigations conducted by state agencies found multiple violations including sales of federally unregistered chemicals and illegal sales of diazinon, a chemical banned from residential use because of the risks it poses to children’s health. Another concern is that many formulations sold online are highly concentrated versions designed for use by licensed professionals. One online sale involved the termite and ant killer Tengard SFR. “Numbness, seizures, or even death could result from overexposure to permethrin, the chemical found in Tengard SFR,” says PAN Senior Scientist Susan Kegley. “Because some products sold online are highly concentrated, they are especially dangerous for untrained users who may not know how to properly ventilate an area or the importance of using appropriate protective equipment during the application,” she said. The risks of Internet pesticide sales have been on the EPA’s radar since at least 2001 when the agency promised “to play a significant role in e-commerce enforcement.” Since then, the EPA has shifted responsibility to individual state agencies, which often lack the resources and, in cases of interstate commerce, the authority to monitor and enforce Internet pesticide sales. The organization charged with coordinating state and federal regulations is the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials. Its main enforcement tool is a letter.

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Endosulfan risk on NZ sports fields

panups20081002 sportsFieldDespite endosulfan bans in more than 15 countries, a town in New Zealand is spraying endosulfan on sport fields. Dr. Meriel Watts, of PAN New Zealand, wants to see the practice stopped. New Zealand’s Northern Advocate reports that endosulfan, a persistent organochlorine pesticide, is used in the city of Whangerei “to control earthworms on a Kamo soccer field and Cobham Oval, “despite the fact that the chemical “is linked to birth defects, breast and testicular cancer and Parkinson’s disease.” “It’s a serious risk to humans and animals,” Watts warns. “The chemical evaporates off the soil and plants…. It will drift in the wind and people nearby will inhale it.” Its use is declining in other New Zealand cities – Auckland halted the spraying of endosulfan in 1999 and the city of Tauranga ceased use in September after residents complained. Auckland now controls worms with iron or ammonium sulphate, which doesn’t kill the worms, just drives them away. Whangarei parks officer Aubrey Gifford insists the alternatives are not “cost effective” but Watts responds: “What matters more? Finding a cheap way of controlling worms or looking after people’s health?” On October 1, New Zealand’s Green Party reported “children are being needlessly put at risk” by 18 of the country’s 85 town councils which “have sprayed sports grounds with Endosulfan in the past year.”

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Pesticide rice scandal rocks Japan

Japanese shoppers were reportedly “horrified” by the discovery that 102,053 red bean onigiri rice balls sold in supermarkets and stores over a five-month period were contaminated with mold and the pesticide methamidophos. According to the Associated Press, the tainted rice was intended “for industrial uses such as the manufacture of glue” but a rice trader in Osaka shipped the contaminated rice to sweets and liquor makers as well as some 370 food companies while “several chemical companies, including a glue maker, also shipped tainted rice as food.” The AP reports the rice, “imported from China, Vietnam and the United States, was shipped to food companies, schools, day-care centers and nursing homes.” Levels of methamidophos exceeded government safety standards but government officials assured the public that levels “were too low to threaten anyone’s health.” One distributor has reportedly committed suicide. Another casualty was Japan’s Agriculture Minister Seiichi Ota who offered his resignation after only seven weeks in office.

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Organic controls boost Uganda’s coffee yields

Ugandan coffee growers, whose yields have suffered due to the disease coffee leaf rust, are enjoying improved harvests thanks to homemade, organic disease control methods. Kampala’s New Vision newspaper reports that organic “farmers who have managed to control the diseases currently make over $5 a kilo for washed Arabica coffee, compared to the previous amount of less than $1.” Urth Caffe, a California-based organic coffee importer, teamed with the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and farmers to develop organic methods for controlling the diseases. Farmers are using local ingredients, including pepper, pawpaw, orange leaves, tomatoes and ash, among other inputs. UCDA Principal Development Officer Apollo Kamugisha predicts that once “more farmers embrace organic coffee farming, the entire district [will] be in a position to eradicate coffee leaf rust.”

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Fight pesticides; wear bamboo undies

It can take a pound of chemicals to produce eight pairs of conventional men’s cotton briefs. Each year 275 million pounds of pesticides are used in cotton production. In addition to pesticide residues, bleached undershorts can also contain dioxin, a carcinogen and toxic hormone disruptor. WebWire reports that offers “organic men’s boxers” made from certified organic cotton grown in Turkey. Meanwhile, Joanna Ketterer, the head of Luva Huva, a London design shop, has introduced a new line of women’s underwear made from bamboo. London’s The Sun reports these bamboo briefs are “eco-friendly” because bamboo is “quick to grow, does not need pesticides and is biodegradable.” Ketterer told The Sun: “People often have the perception that environmentally-sound clothing lacks style and comfort. With this new range, I have tried to show they can have both.” One of The Sun‘s online readers recommended “a fabric made from nettle stalks [that] produce a beautiful silky fabric.” Another reader expressed concern that Luva Huva might be “taking bamboo out of a Panda’s mouth.” (Not to worry: it’s panda-friendly.) And a third reader offered a word of caution: When visiting a zoo, “don’t get too close to the pandas when wearing that ensemble.”

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