Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- New chemicals test power of POPs treaty
- Scientists urge DDT cutback in Africa & Asia
- Two pesticides combine to raise risk of Parkinson’s
- Food company & worker’s rights organization make history
- Quick $50m for ‘Organic Agriculture Initiative’
- U.S. organic sales up 17% in 2008
Hundreds of government officials are wrangling over the fate of a group of toxic chemicals at the fourth meeting of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants this week in Geneva. Twelve chemicals have already been targeted for global elimination under the treaty, and governments are now considering the addition of nine new substances as recommended by a committee of scientists. “Sadly, some governments are reluctant to give up chemicals that are still in use – even when alternatives are available,” reports Karl Tupper, Staff Scientist for Pesticide Action Network from the Geneva meeting. “The treaty’s goal is to get rid of those chemicals that pose a danger to communities and the environment now and in the future – short term interests are clearly undermining the spirit of this important treaty.” Kenya, for example, is pressing for an exemption for agricultural uses of the pesticide lindane, one of the nine chemicals up for consideration. India, which produces lindane, is pressing for continuing the pharmaceutical uses of the pesticide (used in shampoos and lotions to control lice and scabies). According to observers at the meeting, U.S officials are not showing the strong leadership many expected under the new Administration. For example, while they are no longer actively pressing for an exemption for the pharmaceutical uses of lindane, they are not discouraging the exemption, and are supporting loopholes for other chemicals. Dozens of public interest groups from around the world have gathered in Geneva to press for rapid
implementation of the treaty, including indigenous leaders from the Arctic region where persistent chemicals accumulate and contaminate traditional foods. “We traveled to Geneva to inform the other nations that for us this is not an abstract issue—we need action now to stop the production of these chemicals that affect our health and the health of future generations,” says Andrea Carmen, Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council. Indonesian officials announced at the meeting that they will ratify the treaty early next week, becoming the 164th Party to the Convention. The U.S. has signed but not ratified the treaty, and participates as an influential observer.
An international group of 15 environmental health experts has published a warning against the increasing use of DDT in homes to combat malaria in Africa and Asia, one of the world’s deadliest diseases that claims some 880,000 lives a year. Writing in Environmental Health News, Marla Cone reports that the group, led by Dr. Brenda Eskenazi, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, underscores that DDT be used only as a last resort, in keeping with the recommendations of the Stockholm Convention, the legally binding international treaty ratified by 163 countries. The abstract of their study, published May 4 by Environmental Health Perspectives (PDF), concludes: “The recent literature shows a growing body of evidence that exposure to DDT and its breakdown product DDE may be associated with adverse health outcomes such as breast cancer, diabetes, decreased semen quality, spontaneous abortion, and impaired neurodevelopment in children.” Cone reports that the scientists, who reviewed some 500 studies, concluded that because of these health problems, DDT “should be used with caution, only when needed, and when no other effective, safe and affordable alternatives are locally available.” Confusion arose in 2006 when use of DDT for malaria prevention was promoted aggressively by a prominent World Health Organization official. Since then the WHO adopted a more nuanced position which, while keeping DDT as one of twelve chemicals approved for indoor spraying, calls for emphasis on moving towards alternatives to DDT so that the persistent pesticide can be phased out in the next decade. U.S. AID continues to support DDT use in Africa under an initiative launched by President George W. Bush. Among the health risks the scientists cited: reduced fertility, genital
birth defects, breast cancer, diabetes and damage to developing brains. “’We cannot allow people to die from malaria, but we also cannot continue using DDT if we know about the health risks,’ said Tiaan de Jager, a member of the panel who is a professor at the School of Health Systems & Public Health at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.” A study on male fertility “conducted in Limpopo, South Africa [by de Jager and his team]…found men in the sprayed homes had extremely high levels of DDT in their blood and that their semen volume and sperm counts were low.” <>
In the first study of its kind, a survey of more than 700 residents of California’s Central Valley suggests that people who live near farm fields sprayed with a combination of pesticides have an elevated risk of acquiring Parkinson’s disease. The results, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that residents who lived within 500 meters of tomato, bean and potato fields sprayed with a combination of maneb and paraquat had 75% greater risk of Parkinson’s disease. Environmental Health News (EHN) reports that exposing children to the pesticide combo posed “an even higher risk.” Residents aged 60 were “five times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.” Although this was the first study to investigate the combined impacts of the two pesticides, it adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests chemical cocktails of two or more pesticides can be more harmful than any single chemical acting alone. Rodents exposed to a mixture of maneb and paraquat in lab experiments suffered nerve cell loss, diminished motor activity and decreased levels of dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter. EHN notes that, because the study did not include tests for pesticides in blood and urine, “other factors” may account for the observed relationship.
Last December, several Florida farm bosses were sentenced to 12 years in prison for “enslaving and brutalizing migrant workers.” A jury found them guilty of forcing tomato pickers to work without pay, beating them and keeping them confined in chains. Since 1997, federal officials have prosecuted abusive operations involving more than 1,000 workers in a stretch of Florida that has been called “ground zero for modern-day slavery.” To counter this exploitation, reports Environmental News Network, Bon Appetit Management Company, a progressive firm providing university and corporate food services in 29 states, joined forces with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker organization pressing for more humane labor standards in Florida, to devise a plan that rewards growers who meet—or exceed—a strict code of conduct guaranteeing field laborers a minimum fair wage, worker empowerment and worker safety. “When I met with workers in the fields and saw ﬁrst-hand how difficult their lives are, I knew that I could not, in good conscience, contribute to such a system,” said Bon Appetit CEO Fedele Bauccio. Since Palo Alto, California-based Bon Appetit buys nearly five million pounds of tomatoes a year, the company has the clout to transform the way produce is grown. CIW’s Gerardo Reyes predicts the new guidelines will provide “a golden opportunity for Florida’s smaller, family-scale farmers to gain access to a market that has traditionally been beyond their reach.” United Farm Workers Co-Founder Dolores Huerta predicts this “’historic partnership between the food industry and farmworkers can end the slavery… that farmworkers are subjected to in Florida and other states.’”
“Farmers will have three weeks to apply for $50 million in land stewardship funding to help pay the cost of converting to organic production,” reports Reuters. Speaking to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on May 5, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced “a new initiative to meet the Obama Administration’s promise to encourage more organic agriculture production,” according to a USDA press release. The 2009 Organic Initiative is a special nationwide effort to assist certified organic producers as well as those who are in the process of transitioning to organic production. Amounts are limited to $20,000 a year or $80,000 over six years per farm. “‘The EQIP transition contracts are geared for small- and medium-scale family farms and ranches and will speed the move toward more organic acreage,'” Mark Lipson of Organic Farming Research Foundation told Reuters. Ironically, the funding comes from the controversial Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), infamous for supporting large-scale factory farms. Core conservation practices that will be supported include crop rotation, cover crops, nutrient management and pest management. Appropriate practices to be required will be determined on a state-by-state basis. The small window for applications runs May 11-29.
“U.S. sales of organic products, both food and non-food, reached $24.6 billion by the end of 2008, growing an impressive 17.1 percent over 2007 sales despite tough economic times,” reports the Organic Trade Association (OTA). While the overall economy has suffered, consumers “have shown continued resilience in seeking out these products,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director. The survey found that “organic food sales grew in 2008 by 15.8 percent to reach $22.9 billion, while organic non-food sales grew by an astounding 39.4 percent to reach $1.648 billion. As a result, organic food sales now account for approximately 3.5 percent of all food product sales in the United States.” Nonetheless, the annual rate of increase has slowed: organics accounted for 2.8 percent of total food sales in 2006 when the growth rate hit 20.9 percent.
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