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DOJ begins Monsanto probe; Farmworkers petition EPA for tougher pesticide rules; Vilsack booed in Iowa; more...

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Oct 14, 2009 -- Andrew Olsen

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Support Panups!October 15, 2009

DOJ begins Monsanto probe

Skull carved in cropsOn October 8, the seed and agrochemical giant Monsanto revealed that it is being questioned by the Department of Justice for a possible violation of anti-trust laws related to its control of much of the genetically engineered seed market, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The timing of the investigation coincides with an announcement in late August from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about a series of workshops to hear farmers' concerns about corporate consolidation in the agricultural industry. Christine Varney, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, also recently announced a commitment to investigate competition issues within the agricultural industry.

Monsanto is characterizing the investigation as an informal, “business as usual” questioning, rather than a formal probe, but that may well be because it is no stranger to being investigated on anti-trust charges. In 2007, the Peoria Journal Star reports, Monsanto acquired the cottonseed company Delta and Pine Land, which gave them control of more than half of the U.S. cottonseed market. In order to approve the deal, federal regulators required Monsanto to divest itself of another cottonseed company that controlled about 12% of the market, as well as amend its licensing policies to allow other companies to “stack” or combine Monsanto’s patented genetic traits with their own. This meant billions of dollars in licensing fees for Monsanto. In May of this year, Monsanto sued DuPont, one of its largest competitors, for intellectual property right infringement. DuPont promptly counter-sued, accusing Monsanto of unlawful anti-competitive behavior. Monsanto is the world's biggest seed company and fifth largest agrochemical company (thanks largely to its ubiquitous herbicide, Roundup). DuPont is the world's second biggest seed company is also the sixth largest agrochemical company. All of the genetically engineered traits involved in the litigation between the two companies relate to herbicide tolerance.

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Farm labor & allies ask EPA for child-protective pesticide rules

Pouring pesticidesLuis Medellin and his three little sisters - aged 5, 9 and 12 - live in the middle of an orange grove in Lindsay, CA, a small Central Valley town. During the growing season, they are awakened several times a week by the sickly smell of nighttime pesticide spraying. What follows is worse: searing headaches, nausea, and vomiting. But if a coalition of farmworker, public health, and children’s advocates is successful, Luis and his little sisters may one day be able to sleep through the night without these toxic assaults. In 1996, Congress required EPA to set standards by 2006 to protect children from pesticides. Three years have passed since that deadline, and on October 14, the Associated Press reports, the coalition filed a petition asking EPA to finally act. “We traditionally think of farms as healthy places,” said Joan Blades, president of the million-plus member “But children and families across the country are being poisoned by pesticides that travel from the fields into their houses and bedrooms."

Dr. Margaret Reeves, senior scientist for Pesticide Action Network, noted that “children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposures both because their smaller bodies cannot break down toxins as well as adults, and because their developmental processes are prone to being derailed - even by very low-level exposure. The particular pesticides we're finding in our drift catching and biomonitoring in California, Florida and Washington are some of the worst: chlorpyrifos, diazinon, endosulfan. They are not legal for use in residences, but are allowed on farms. They are also entirely unnecessary.” Public interest law firms Farmworker Justice and EarthJustice represent the coalition. “It's time the EPA put an end to this double standard for farmworkers,” said Farmworker Justice attorney Virginia Ruiz.

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Thousands press for toxic-free schools

Girl in schoolyardOn Wednesday, October 14th, thousands of activists from across the country demanded stronger state policies to protect schoolchildren from chemical pollution. Reacting to a National Day of Action organized by Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) and supported by Pesticide Action Network, more than 4,000 citizens wrote letters to their Governor calling for rules that prevent schools from being built near contamination sources like pesticide drift from agricultural spraying, "dirty" industrial factories and superfund dumpsites. "Studies have shown that children attending school within 10-20 miles of superfund sites are nearly twice as likely to suffer from autism," reports CHEJ's Renee Blanchard. "We need strong policies for safe school siting today." Last year, USA Today ran a series of articles exposing the problem of chemical contamination in our country's schools. 
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced in March that her agency would test 63 schools in 22 states for air contamination. 

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DDT & androgeny in babies

African arms"South Africa's use of the pesticide DDT for malaria control in the Limpopo River basin is likely to lead to an increase in babies being born with deformed sex organs or being born with both male and female genitalia." So reports Dr. Anthony Turton of South Africa’s University of Free State. Turton resigned last year from the country's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, after the Council's board "had gagged him for speaking out about South Africa's looming water crisis, and had refused to allow him to present his findings at a conference," reports the Independent Online. The Limpopo River is contaminated with radioactive waste from gold mines and inadequately treated sewage, in addition to pesticide pollution. Turton's October 10 statement, made as he accepted the Habitat Council's Conservation Award in Cape Town, adds to growing evidence of the human health impacts of DDT. Last year, peer-reviewed research on DDT was summarized by experts in the Pine River Statement (PDF). DDT is an endocrine disrupting chemical and its presence in the Limpopo River’s water, used intensively by an unusually high number of people, is exposing future generations in this area to the risks of genital malformations and androgyny. "South Africa has thousands of tons of DDT in the environment which will stay there for decades, even if the country stopped using it tomorrow," Turton said.

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Sec'y Vilsack booed in Iowa for defending GMOs

Jim Goodman quoteDes Moines, IA – According to the Des Moines Register, Huffington Post, LaVidaLocavore, and Pesticide Action Network Senior Scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, USDA head Tom Vilsack was booed and hissed at when he tried to pitch genetically engineered crops as a solution for feeding the world to “a room full of experts at actually feeding the world…numerous PhDs who had spent their careers looking deeply into the issue," including several authors of the authoritative UN International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Vilsack was speaking Tuesday in Des Moines at the Community Food Security Conference and had just finished filibustering in order to avoid a pointed question about what he planned to do about corporate consolidation in agriculture. As the conference organizers were trying to end the session, author and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, Jeffrey Smith, got the mic: “Mr. Secretary, may I ask a tough question on GMOs?” Smith then listed the most recent slate of scientific findings establishing that GMOs are causally linked to a suite of health problems, and have yet to deliver on promises of increased crop yield despite billions of tax dollars going into research and subsidies every year. Dr. Ishii-Eiteman was waiting to ask Vilsack a question when the exchange occurred. “It was remarkable," she reports. "Everyone applauds Jeff Smith, and still Vilsack persists in trying to tell this room that biotech is ‘necessary to feed the world.’ That’s when the room really heated up. A room full of credentialed experts groaned, booed and hissed the Secretary of Ag.”

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