UN report backs ag revolution; NY lindane alert; WA investigates drift; Bhopal’s ‘sister’ plant in US; and more…

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives

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UN report backs ag revolution; NY lindane alert; WA investigates drift; Bhopal's 'sister' plant in US; and more…

April 17, 2008

A new path for global agriculture: After six years of work, the United Nations-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) has concluded that "modern" agriculture is not sustainable. According to the UN News Service, "Modern agricultural practices have exhausted land and water resources, squelched diversity and left poor people vulnerable to high food prices." The IAASTD, after a week-long meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, pronounced the verdict of 400 scientists, government agencies and civil society participants: "Business as usual is no longer an option." At the meeting, 55 world governments agreed on the IAASTD final report; Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States requested more time to consider whether or not to approve it. Reporting from Johannesburg, PAN North America Senior Scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman observed: "This is a wake-up call for governments and international agencies. The survival of the planet's food systems demands global action to support agroecological farming and fair and equitable trade." Ishii-Eiteman explained that the IAASTD calls for replacing dependence on petrochemical fuels and pesticides with "resilient, sustainable agricultural systems, grounded in agroecological science and drawing on local, indigenous and community knowledge." The IAASTD was bitterly attacked by Syngenta and other powerful multinational corporations but, as UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner observes: "If our modern agricultural systems continue to focus only on maximizing production at the lowest cost, agriculture will face a major crisis in 20 to 30 years time."

Protect our parks from pesticides: On March 6, PANUPS reported on a U.S. National Parks Service study that found extensive pesticide contamination in 20 western parks. Researchers warned that persistent organic pollutants — like the pesticide endosulfan — are threatening ecosystems and wildlife in Rocky Mountain, Glacier and 18 other national parks from Texas to the far reaches of the Arctic. PAN is demanding that Congress protect our parks by banning endosulfan and other persistent chemical pollutants. Act today: sign the petition.

States consider bills to protect children from lindane: Lawmakers in New York and Michigan are considering legislation to protect children from exposure to the pesticide lindane. Lindane shampoos and lotions for headlice and scabies control are still allowed in most states. California banned these uses of lindane in 2002, and a recent study reports no adverse health effects from the ban. The New York bill prohibits use of lindane products for headlice control on children under 16 and pregnant women. The Michigan legislation allows use of lindane products only under the supervision of a physician in his or her office. Morton Grove, the company that distributes lindane products in the U.S., is aggressively opposing both pieces of legislation. New York residents can take action before April 29 to support the bill.

Burger King spies on farmworkers: The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has joined the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers' (CIW) campaign to "End Slavery and Sweatshops in the Fields." CIW's nationwide petition demands that Burger King and other food industry leaders join with CIW to improve wages and working conditions for those who pick their tomatoes. The goal is to promote an industry-wide effort to eliminate modern-day slavery and human rights abuses in Florida's fields. Meanwhile, the Ft. Myers News Press reveals that Burger King hired "a security and investigative firm" to infiltrate the Student/Farmworker Alliance, a key CIW ally. The Press also traced the email of a "bogus blogger" who spread "libelous, anonymous attacks on CIW … across the Internet" back to Burger King's corporate office in Miami. For the latest developments see CIW's Web site. You can support this growing campaign by signing OCA's petition to Burger King and other fast-food outlets.

Washington State investigates drift: Two years after Pesticide Action Network and the Washington state group Farm Worker Pesticide Project (FWPP) published "Poisons on the Wind," a study that used PAN's Drift Catchers to show how insecticides drift from apple orchards to nearby homes, the Yakima Herald-Republic reports that Washington is now conducting its own air monitoring "at secret locations near orchards in the Yakima Valley." Pesticides applied to apple and pear orchards with airblast sprayers pulled behind tractors are especially prone to spray drift. Chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), the main insecticide used to kill cutworms and leafrollers, has been linked to "developmental problems in babies and toddlers" and has been shown to have "adverse effects on prenatal and children's health." The FWPP air monitoring project showed levels of chlorpyrifos in the air that have the potential to cause adverse effects in children. Washington State Department of Health is heading up the $538,000 study, working with University of Washington scientists and the Tree Fruit Research Commission. FWPP's Carol Dansereau is concerned that growers, knowing they are being monitored, may alter their spraying habits during the study. Growers fear new regulations could jeopardize the state's $6 billion fruit-tree industry, but the industry's use of chemicals has dropped 50% since the 1990s and the state has appropriated $550,000 to help farms adopt Integrated Pest Management practices.

Bhopal's "sister plant" has West Virginians worried: On April 25, the Coalition against Bayer Dangers (CBD) plans to file a countermotion at Bayer's annual stockholders' meeting in Germany to dismantle stockpiles of methyl isocyanate (MIC) and phosgene nerve gas stored at Bayers' plant near Institute, West Virginia. Bayer acquired the facility from Union Carbide in 2001. In 1984, 30 tons of MIC spilled from Union Carbide's plant in Bhopal, India, killing thousands. Despite assurances that the U.S. plant was safe, there have been major leaks of aldicarb and thiodicarb pesticides and an explosion in 1984 killed two workers. According to the CBD countermotion, Bayer's "sister plant" in West Virginia stores at least twice the amount of MIC that escaped in Bhopal. In 2006, the EPA reports, the plant released more than 300 tons of chemicals into the air — including 200 kg of MIC, 50 kg of thiodicarb, four tons of chlorine and several kilograms of phosgene. The plant holds 90% of the MIC in the U.S. and is the source for 95% of the country's MIC emissions.

Fight for the Farm Bill: If negotiations on the Farm Bill are not concluded by this Friday, the current bill may be extended for another two years. This would undo the work of Farm Bill reformers who want to end massive subsidies to corporate growers of commodity crops and redirect these funds to support organic farming and community nutrition programs. For an overview of the problems with the current bill, see Dan Imhoff's recent LA Times essay, "We'll Reap What We Sow." Seven new members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee are California Democrats. Please call immediately and urge that they (1) pass a progressive bill by Friday or (2) extend the negotiating period to allow the debate to continue. Call the government switchboard in Washington at (202) 224-3121 or toll-free at 1-800-826-9624.

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