Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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November 13, 2008
- NRDC petitions EPA to ban 2,4-D
- Canadian outrage over Dow suit spurs pesticide activism
- Tyson misleads consumers on antiobiotic-free chickens
- Rethinking the Green Revolution in Mexico
- Pesticide exposure at Oregon Schools
- NRDC prevents fungicides rule rollback
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On November 6th, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned EPA to ban 2,4-D — a commonly used herbicide in lawn-care products such as Scott’s and Miracle-gro Weed and Feed. One of the oldest pesticides still legal for use, 2,4-D is a suspected endocrine disruptor that can lead to health effects that include thyroid problems, prostate cancer and reproductive abnormalities. This herbicide is also a neurotoxin that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease and delays in brain development. Pregnant women and children are the most susceptible to the effects of exposure. Despite the risks, about 46 million pounds of the pesticide are used in the U.S. each year. According to NRDC, “[2-4,D] shows up in about half of all surface water samples nationwide, and the groundwater of at least five states and Canada. Once tracked indoors — such as from the bottom of a shoe — 2,4-D can stay in your carpet for up to a year.” Cosmetic use of the pesticide on lawns and gardens was recently banned in Quebec, although the province faces a legal challenge from Dow (see following story).
A backlash has erupted over the October announcement by Dow Agrosciences that it plans to sue Canada over Quebec’s provincial ban on the use of pesticides for cosmetic lawn and garden care. Dow is claiming that its corporate rights under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are being violated. “Citizens in every corner of the country are outraged that a U.S.-based transnational firm would attack Quebec’s environmental laws,” Council of Canadians trade expert Steven Shrybman declared. Gideon Forman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) suggested what may be motivating Dow’s claim when he noted: “Quebec’s ban helped cut pesticide use by 50% — a far greater reduction than anywhere else in Canada.” According to Canada Newswire, “the Council of Canadians is calling on Ottawa to renegotiate NAFTA with the Obama Administration so the deal forbids companies from suing governments.” Shrybman called existing NAFTA laws “wholly unacceptable” because “it puts corporate profit ahead of human and environmental health.” Meanwhile, Ontario is moving ahead on an even tougher provincial cosmetic pesticide ban, including prohibiting use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and on November 10, CAPE delivered 10,000 petitions to Parliament calling for a countrywide ban on toxic lawn chemicals.
Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S., admitted that it injects its chickens with antibiotics before they hatch, but labels them as “raised without antibiotics,” according to Natural News. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered Tyson to stop using the antibiotic-free label, initially because they treated feed with bacteria-killing ionophores. Tyson began advertising it’s chicken as “raised without antibiotics” in 2007. USDA warned the company that the labeling was not truthful. “Because ionophores are not used to treat human disease, however, the poultry company suggested a compromise, accepted by the USDA in December, whereby Tyson would use a label reading “raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans,” and continued a $70 million “antibiotic-free” advertising. Tyson’s claims spurred a lawsuit by the “Truthful Labeling Coalition” (an alliance of Tyson competitors Perdue, Sanderson and Foster Farms). In May 2008, a federal judged ordered Tyson to stop using the label. On June 3, USDA inspectors discovered that, in addition to treating the feed, Tyson was injecting chicken eggs with gentamicin, an antibiotic that had not been disclosed to the agency. Tyson agreed to suspend its “raised without antibiotics” labels in July, but has filed suit seeking to have USDA regulations changed to exclude antiobiotic use prior to hatching.
Sixty years ago, Norman E. Borlaug, the Nobel-prizewinning “father” of the Green Revolution, conducted his pioneering work on seeds, chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the Yaqui Valley in Mexico’s Sonora State. Today, the AP reports, the promise of the Green Revolution has faded as “the cost of fertilizers has tripled, and their overuse has depleted soils, spewed more greenhouse gas into the skies and polluted water with farm runoff.” Today, the AP reports, “Yaqui Indian leaders say the chemicals have raised cancer rates among tribe members working in the fields, where fertilizer use is among the highest in the world.” The AP notes the promise of the Green Revolution faded as “the cost of fertilizers has tripled, and their overuse has depleted soils, spewed more greenhouse gas into the skies and polluted water with farm runoff.” While the first revolution “targeted large-scale growers…, today’s crisis epicenter lies instead in the countless small subsistence farms of sub-Saharan Africa.” The Yaqui Valley’s farmers are “trying to make the valley’s green revolution more sustainable” by letting land lie fallow, using no-plow planting and reducing chemical inputs. “We applied the Industrial Revolution model to the green agricultural revolution and we went a little bit too far in that direction, and now we have to back off a bit and respect the fact that the plants and the soil are biological,” says Matthew Reynolds, of the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. “They are not engineering problems. They’re more complex.”
A review of pesticide poisoning complaint records in Oregon has revealed that children participating in school activities have been exposed to pesticides dozens of times in the past ten years, according to Oregon Toxics Alliance. The report outlines 43 specific cases of poisoning in the last 10 years — 14 cases were so severe as to result in school evacuations, trips to emergency rooms, and the issuance of citations for violations of state pesticide law. In one case, teachers and young students suffered adverse health effects, including sore throats and headaches up to six days after an insecticide was sprayed in the attic and building exterior near classrooms. “The records under-represent the actual number of pesticide poisonings at school activities because children may not know why they are feeling ill, or adults may not report an exposure to a state agency,” according to Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of Oregon Toxics Alliance.
Last week, NRDC succeeded in thwarting an attempt by the pesticide industry to rollback restrictions on EBDC fungicides — a class that includes maneb and mancozeb, which are used extensively on potatoes and other crops. In the early 1990s, the EPA placed several restrictions on the use of EBDCs in response to concerns over carcinogenicity. These restrictions included prohibiting use on some crops, reducing the number of applications allowed, and increasing the preharvest interval (PHI) for potatoes from 3 to 15 days. The PHI is the minimum amount of time that growers must wait between spraying a crop and harvesting it. In 1996, the National Potato Council and EBDC producers (including BASF, Dow, and DuPont) asked EPA to shorten the PHI for potatoes. In 2007, when the Agency announced its intention to grant this request, NRDC challenged this decision before an administrative law judge. According Jennifer Sass of NRDC: “The judge ruled against EPA and the chemical industry 7 times in the last 12 months, until the industry finally decided to withdraw their claim and concede the case…. This [case] is especially important because of the precedent it establishes: any future attempts to overturn pesticide bans will be held to the stringent standard that we argued for and that the judge ruled must apply.”
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