PANNA: USDA’s nutty plans; DDT and breast cancer; pesticides, parents, kids and leukemia; Antigua; and more


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USDA’s nutty plans; DDT and breast cancer; pesticides, parents, kids and leukemia; Antigua; and more

September 06 , 2007

Almond growers get a raw deal from the USDA: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has rebuffed calls from the California Almond Board, farmers and environmentalists to delay implementation of new regulations requiring raw almonds to be “pasteurized” with steam heat or the toxic fumigant, propylene oxide. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies propylene oxide as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and the fumigant is banned in Canada, Mexico and the European Union. The Cornucopia Institute claims that, under this law, “there will be no such thing as truly raw almonds grown” in the U.S. Organic growers could be put out of business while all growers would bear added costs. Fumigated almonds still would be labeled “raw,” posing a potential health risk to some consumers. Ironically, imported almonds would not be treated. With the law set to go into effect on September 1, the Cornucopia Institute, consumers, retailers and other organizations are appealing to members of Congress to put a 180 day halt to the USDA’s pasteurization treatment plan while reopening the rule for full public review.

Wall Street Journal’s promotion of DDT draws fire: John (Pete) Myers of Environmental Health Sciences has critiqued a WSJ editorial endorsing increased use of the pesticide DDT for malaria control in the Global South. In a letter to the editor, Myers cited a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that studied women born after 1931 and found those exposed to DDT before the age of 15 showed “a statistically significant five-fold increased risk of breast cancer.” For more on the EHP study, see the August 9 PANUPS. For more information on the health effects of DDT and safer alternatives for malaria control, see

Costa Rican researchers link childhood leukemia to parents’ exposure to pesticides: The Central American Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances investigated the effects of 25 pesticides over five time periods. Beyond Pesticides reports that, according to results published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, cases of childhood leukemia were associated with maternal exposures to pesticides during the year prior to conception and during the first and second trimester. Paternal exposures to paraquat, benomyl and picloram were similarly linked to the occurrence of leukemia in offspring. Leukemia accounts for 25-35% of all childhood cancers in most countries, but Costa Rica, with its largely agricultural economy, has one of the world’s highest incidences of childhood leukemia.

Antigua could go organic: Diann Black-Layne, Antigua’s chief environment officer, has proposed that the Caribbean island nation make the transition to organic farming within the next 10-15 years. The call came after recent incidents involving the improper use and disposal of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. “We are importing [organic foods],” Black-Layne told the Antigua Sun. “The fact that there is a market for it speaks volumes. It’s a healthier choice, for our environment and our water supply and human health.” Black-Layne noted that Antigua’s farms are “nice and small and geared towards organic farming.” In addition to saving money and increasing crop yields, Black-Layne predicts that Antigua could make a name for itself as an “organic territory,” a designation that might “lure more tourists, especially the health gurus.”

Some Indian farmers prospering without pesticides: Thirty years ago, local farmers in Andhra Pradesh were relying heavily on chemical pesticides in hopes of increasing crop yields. In recent years, however, crops yields and profits have been in a steady decline. In 2000, farmers in Kothapalli Village began applying bio-intensive pest management practices to protect their cotton, pigeonpea, chickpea, and vegetable crops. PAN-United Kingdom reports that the result has been an increase in crop yields and savings, as farmers are able to abandon the use of costly and dangerous chemical treatments. Meanwhile, as documented in “Dying Fields” — a recent PBS Wide Angle presentation — other Indian cotton farmers remain on the pesticide treadmill, driven to buy genetically engineered Bt cotton seed, and too often choosing suicide using the very pesticides that drove them into debt.

A useful non-pesticide guide: With California facing a water shortage, residents of the San Francisco Bay Area now can draw on a well of best-action resources ranging from water conservation to pesticide avoidance to protect water quality. The Our Water – Our World campaign — a collaboration by several Bay Area agencies and organizations, initiated in 1997 by Contra Costa County Sanitary District and the Regional Water Quality Control Plant in Palo Alto, and now including 80 Orchard Supply Hardware stores across the sate — offers extensive educational resources, with more than 20 fact-sheets (many in Spanish) with info on beneficial insects, pesticides in food and water, and relatively safer alternatives (e.g., neem, clove oil, cocoa bean hulls) to dangerous pesticides.

Wake up and smell the granola: Britain’s Soil Association is challenging people to “wake up to an Organic Breakfast” from September 1-16 as part of Europe’s first Organic Fortnight. Topping the list of six reasons for eating organic: “it’s the best way to avoid pesticides, GM and unnecessary additives.” Other reasons: organic farms create jobs for humans, butterflies, worms and bats; organic farming uses less energy and produces less climate-changing chemicals; organic farming could save Britain £125 million in chemical clean-up costs. “The government knows organic farming delivers all these benefits,” says Soil Association Campaign Director Robin Maynard, “Organic Fortnight will… deliver an organic wake-up call to [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown and the government.”

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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