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Daily News Blog

20
Oct

New EPA Restrictions of Herbicide Dicamba, Prone to Drift, Criticized as Not Stopping Major Crop Damage

(Beyond Pesticides, October 20, 2017) Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that label changes to the herbicide dicamba would be made to try to minimize drift that has left thousands of acres of crops already damaged this season. The label changes include making dicamba “restricted use,” which allows only certified applicators to apply the chemical. Dicamba drift has been damaging farmers’ crops for at least two years due to the approval of new dicamba-tolerant genetically engineered (GE) crops. Advocates says that the new changes do not ensure that drift will be eliminated.

According to EPA, the agency reached an agreement with the makers of dicamba, (Monsanto, BASF and DuPont) to restrict its application. This comes after hundreds of official complaints of crop damage related to dicamba across 17 states this year alone, leading to questions about the new formulation of the chemical used in genetically engineered (GE) crop productioon. New GE crops developed by Monsanto must be paired with specific formulations of dicamba, and thus led to a vast increase in dicamba use over the past couple growing seasons. Dicamba-based herbicide use has climbed dramatically as farmers have adopted, especially, Monsanto’s GE soybean seeds; in the 2017 season, 20 million acres of them were planted with the seed.

Farmers who do not use GE seed have seen dire impacts on their crops in the last two seasons, including stunted growth, and wrinkled, cup-shaped leaves. This happens in large part because the herbicide can easily volatilize after being applied and drift via the wind onto neighboring fields. In 2017, more than 3 million acres of soybeans and other crops suffered damage from the chemical.

Beyond the crop damage, pesticides are widely used without, in many cases, rigorous vetting for safety, health, and environmental impacts when used in combination with other pesticides. For example, Monsanto rolled out another iteration of its GE soybean seed in 2015, which is tolerant of both glyphosate and dicamba. Some farmers now use those seeds and “stack” applications of glyphosate on top of early treatment with dicamba, without adequate evaluation of synergistic impacts of the use of both compounds. This also increases the overall amount of pesticides used, and presents an opportunity for organisms that may develop resistance to both compounds — advancing the entropic trajectory of pesticide use. Further, potential synergistic effects of the combination use of these herbicides on non-target species (including critical pollinators) is not typically evaluated by EPA. However, a study has shown that the combination caused damage to the DNA of a toad species.

Until now, many believed the dicamba drift incidents were the result of illegal formulations of the herbicide being applied to fields. But, the extent of damage now being observed contradicts this theory, raising more questions as to whether the new dicamba formulation is actually the cause of the widespread drift damage.

Those who planted these GE soybeans in 2017 must use one of the newer, “low-volatility” versions of the herbicide and follow application directions, but the 2017 season shows that these newer formulations have not solved the drift problem. University and agricultural extension experts report extreme damage in hundreds of fields in their territories, and say that these new formulations remain sufficiently volatile to cause such damage. Non-GE growers have become increasingly angry and vocal about the effects of the chemical, from nearby sprayed fields, on their own crops.

Impacts have been the most extreme in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, and Tennessee, where state agencies have fielded thousands of complaints. A map of dicamba-injured soybean acreage shows the most-affected states; several have either instituted bans or tightened restrictions on the use of dicamba. EPA is more than aware of these issues. It held at least three conference calls this past summer with experts and state regulators on potential steps to prevent such damage in coming years. According to North Dakota State University’s Andrew Thostenson, who was on one of those calls, EPA officials said clearly that such damage is unacceptable, and that there would need to be significant changes to the rules on usage of dicamba if it were to be permitted in 2018 (or beyond). The recent announcement on voluntary labeling and protocols is the EPA response. Previously, Missouri and Arkansas have taken limited action against dicamba use.

Now Monsanto and others, after proposing the label changes themselves, are voluntarily agreeing to make the changes for all “over-the-top” (application to growing plants) dicamba products to be used next year. These include:

  • Classifying products as “restricted use,” permitting only certified applicators with special training, and those under their supervision, to apply them; dicamba-specific training for all certified applicators to reinforce proper use;
  • Requiring farmers to maintain specific records regarding the use of these products to improve compliance with label restrictions;
  • Limiting applications to when maximum wind speeds are below 10 mph (from 15 mph) to reduce potential spray drift;
  • Reducing the times during the day when applications can occur;
  • Including tank clean-out language to prevent cross contamination; and
  • Enhancing susceptible crop language and record keeping with sensitive crop registries to increase awareness of risk to especially sensitive crops nearby.

EPA states it will monitor the success of the label changes “to help inform our decision whether to allow the continued “over the top” use of dicamba beyond the 2018 growing season.” However, the fundamental root of the problem continues to go ignored. Restricting dicamba application to only ‘certified applicators’ and other modest changes to applications will not eliminate drift. Continued dicamba use inevitably leads to dicamba drift and environmental damage.

Meanwhile, the chemical companies blame the crop damage on farmers’ misuse, claiming they do not follow directions on application labels, use contaminated equipment, or buy older formulations of dicamba that are cheaper but more prone to drift. Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, insists that drift is not the problem — that “if the label is followed, the product will not move far, including through volatilization.” Of the EPA’s “restricted use” announcement, he said, “We’re very excited about it. It directly address what we found to be the causes of the off-target movement in 2017, and we think it sets the stage for all growers and applicators to have a positive experience in 2018.”

Larry Steckel, PhD, a row crop weed specialist and plant science professor at the University of Tennessee, and Mark Loux, PhD, a professor of horticulture and crop science at the Ohio State University, both suspect that the products’ volatility is the issue. “When you get three or four farmers spraying thousands of acres and it moves and shows the wide-ranging damages we’ve seen, that suggests volatility,” says Dr. Steckel (and Dr. Loux agrees), saying, “It is volatilizing for sure.”

It is no coincidence that with the deregulation of GE dicamba-tolerant varieties by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Plant Protection Act increased dicamba use, and now increased incidences of drift and damage to other non-tolerant crops. Dicamba has stirred up fights between neighbors in a number of agricultural communities. Bader Farms, which grows over 110,00 peach trees on over 1,000 acres in Missouri, is suing Monsanto after its insurance company issued a refusal to pay for damages caused by off-label dicamba drift from surrounding farms. In June of this year, University of Arkansas’ agricultural research station had over 100 acres of soybeans ruined from nearby dicamba use.  Monsanto has defended its new dicamba product, Xtendimax with VaporGrip Technology, resorting to blaming growers for using older versions of dicamba or not following directions on the new product label.

The rise of GE crops has led not only to the proliferation of hard to control, resistant weeds but also increased pesticide use. Pesticides, like dicamba, are highly volatile and drift for miles affecting vegetable and fruit crops that are not tolerant to dicamba. There are reports that the latest dicamba formulation that is used on GE dicamba-tolerant crops (Xtend, Eugenia) is responsible for some cases of drift, and preliminary tests have found that the new formulation does volatilize enough to drift. Until this reliance on hazardous chemicals for food production, especially a reliance exploited by the failures in GE crop technology, is addressed by EPA, more occurrences of increased pesticide use, drift and subsequent environmental and human damage is expected.

Beyond Pesticides has long advocated a regulatory approach that prohibits hazardous chemical use and requires alternative assessments to identify less toxic practices and products under the unreasonable adverse effects clause of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). An approach that rejects uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, like acceptable levels of pesticide drift, is needed that instead focuses on safer alternatives that are proven effective, such as organic agriculture, which prohibits the use of toxic chemicals. By strengthening on-farm resources, such as soil fertility, pasture and biodiversity, farmers can minimize and even avoid the production challenges that most GE organisms have been falsely-marketed as solving.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: EPA News ReleaseWashington Post, The Hannibal Courier-Post (Missouri)

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19
Oct

Atrazine Exposure Leads to More Male, Fewer Female Frogs

(Beyond Pesticides, October 19, 2017) Exposure to the second most commonly used herbicide in the U.S., atrazine, results in a higher proportion of male frogs in populations of Blanchard’s cricket frogs, according to researchers from Ohio’s Miami University. While it may be ostensibly easy to dismiss the results of this study as limited to a single frog species, the Blanchard cricket frog, with its populations concentrated in heavily farmed Midwestern states, is likely an important indicator of broader ecological impacts. Ultimately, only a transition away from toxic herbicides and towards integrated organic systems will successfully address the ongoing effects of industrial agrichemicals on amphibians.

Miami researchers exposed frogs to varying concentrations of atrazine, 0.1, 1, and 10 μg/L, in the laboratory, in order to investigate sex ratios and potential effects on survival of the population. Although no significant effects were seen on survival rate during the course of the study, sex ratios were significantly altered at the 0.1 and 10 μg/L exposure concentrations. At these levels, populations developed 51 and 55% fewer males respectively than control frogs.

Researchers point out that such significant results seen at such low concentrations likely indicates that sex ratios are also skewed in the wild. It is noteworthy that effects seen at 0.1 μg/L, the lowest concentration tested, are lower than the range that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates atrazine will alter sex ratios. EPA indicates that a range between 0.92 and 124 μg/L is likely to skew amphibian sex ratios. This discrepancy, scientists hypothesize, is likely related to the current study’s use of a formulated atrazine product, rather than technical grade atrazine. At the present time, EPA only tests the effects of the active ingredient in a pesticide formulation, and does not consider the impacts of formulations, which often include other active ingredients alongside ‘inert’ ingredients, all of which can increase or decrease the toxicity of the active ingredient. Not only have environmental groups criticized EPA for its repeated failure to test the impacts of pesticide formulations, but earlier this year the agency’s Inspector General called for additional testing of pesticide mixtures.

Skewed sex ratios negatively alter population dynamics, as they influence the maximum rate of population growth and the allocation of ecological resources to either males or females over the course of evolution. The study explains, “EDC [endocrine disrupting chemical]-mediated sex reversal may have important implications for the persistence of wild amphibians, which are facing rapid global declines.”

This is far from the first study showing atrazine’s ability to influence the sex of amphibians. Renowned scientist Tyrone Hayes, PhD, of the University of California Berkeley, has published extensive research documenting a range of impacts to various amphibian species. Results have shown the ability for atrazine not only to skew sex ratios, but also hermaphrodize male frogs, and in some cases make male frogs completely female with the ability to lay eggs.

Scientists, like Dr. Hayes, pushing for the elimination of atrazine in the environment have been attacked by the chemical industry. Syngenta, the main manufacturer of atrazine, has harassed and attempted to discredit his work, as documented in an extensive 2014 report in The New Yorker.

While the adverse effects of this chemical on amphibians are alarming, they are not limited to amphibians. Research on atrazine has found impacts relating to cancer, birth defects, reproductive impacts, kidney/liver damage, and neurotoxicity in humans. A study published just last month found that atrazine hazards affect health across multiple generations, with the grandchildren of rats exposed to atrazine, but never exposed themselves, displaying increased rates of testicular diseases, early onset puberty, and mammary tumors.

Beyond health and the environment, studies show that atrazine use doesn’t even make economic sense. Peer-reviewed research finds that eliminating atrazine in corn production would increase on-farm revenues by 3.2%, resulting in a net benefit of $1.7 billion to farmers. And organic agriculture provides a viable alternative to chemical-intensive food production systems that often employ atrazine or other toxic herbicides. Rather than use hazardous products, organic agriculture focuses on improving soil biology and uses mechanical and cultural weed management, including weed whacking, solarization, cover cropping, and crop rotation to manage weed intrusion.

For more information about the effects of atrazine on amphibian populations, see Dr. Hayes talk to Beyond Pesticides 33rd National Pesticide Forum in Orlando, FL. Or read an abridged version of his presentation on atrazine published in Beyond Pesticides’ journal, Pesticides and You.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Phys.org

 

 

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18
Oct

Monsanto Banned from Lobbying European Parliament

(Beyond Pesticides, October 18, 2017) Effective immediately, the European Parliament has banned Monsanto lobbyists, excluding the chemical company from access to committee meetings and digital resources, as well as no longer permitting Monsanto lobbyists to meet with any Member of the European Parliament (MEP). This limit to its influence is a serious blow to Monsanto’s advocacy campaign to promote the safety of its weedkiller glyphosate, (Roundup). The decision to ban came amid mounting public pressure to deny European Union re-licensing of glyphosate, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides. (See glyphosate listing in Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticides Gateway, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.) Glyphosate is classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monsanto, the world’s largest GE-seed and seventh-largest pesticide company, is eager to suppress IARC’s ranking.

In fact, before being banned, the European Parliament had questioned Monsanto’s funding of counter-studies in order to discredit independent scientists working to limit the public’s exposure to toxic chemicals. In a related development, independent scientists sent a letter to the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology, calling for the retraction of a 2016 paper that refuted glyphosate’s cancer risks after it was learned that the paper was secretly edited and funded by Monsanto.

As part of its deliberations on the reauthorization of glyphosate before the end of 2017, the European Parliament had scheduled hearings for October 11 in Brussels. Though being invited to address the Parliament, Monsanto Chairman, Hugh Grant, declined to appear and or send another Monsanto official to address questions about the chemical’s safety and the underlying science.

With authorization given to the Secretary-General, the Parliamentary decision was made using new Rules of Procedure regarding the transparency of business “governing the withdrawal or temporary de-activation of long-term access badges.” As outlined in the parliament’s rules, Monsanto has been “disbarred from the transparency register” for having been found “guilty of a serious breach” of parliamentary rules and expectations. Furthermore, Monsanto “without offering a sufficient justification . . .refused to comply with a formal summons,” and refused to “cooperate with a committee of inquiry.”

The decision was backed by the leaders of all major parliamentary blocks, voting unanimously in favor of the ban. Therefore, according to the rules, having heard no “significant arguments to the contrary,” Monsanto’s sphere of influence in the European Parliament has been dealt a serious blow.

In response to the lobby ban, Monsanto’s vice president Philip Miller wrote: “We have observed with increasing alarm the politicization of the. . .renewal of glyphosate. A procedure which should be scientific but which in many respects has been hijacked by populism.”

Uncovered in a series of emails Monsanto was forced to release as part of a number of pending lawsuits, the chemical company had vowed the herbicide’s safety was repeatedly and rigorously examined by its own researchers, who reported no risk of cancer from the use of or exposure to glyphosate. The company had done only “cosmetic editing” that “didn’t change the science,” with nothing “substantive” done to censor the panelists’ conclusions, said Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy, Scott Partridge.

The type of collusion, recognized by the European Parliament, is part of ongoing pattern. Monsanto has been accused of deceiving federal, state and local governments as well as the general public in the U.S. in other cases. According to its self-declaration form in the EU transparency register, Monsanto routinely spends between €300,000-€400,000 on lobbying in Brussels each year.

Describing the struggles she faced in pursuit of her own master’s degree, Beyond Pesticides’ Board Member, Lani Malmberg, told the 32nd National Pesticide Forum how “all the chemical-funded students got everything paid for and $30,000 a year.” Having “first noticed” how corporate-funding corrupts science in academic institutions, Ms. Malmberg, owner of Goats Green, told her audience: “What do you research? You research the question that the industry gives you.” The questions being: “How much [of a pesticide] should we use? Pint to the acre? Quart to the acre? Should we spray it in the spring, or fall, or both?”

Monsanto is fighting the cancer classification of Roundup as it is  attempting a merger worth $66 billion with German chemical-colossus Bayer. Amid consolidation in the chemical industry, advocates maintain that a combined Monsanto and Bayer would mean higher seed costs, higher food prices and a loss of biodiversity.

Its name already synonymous with genetic engineering and pesticide resistance, Monsanto has good reason to wish to demonize independent research and, more pointedly, the public eye unveiled. The chemical company profits from general societal ignorance of real costs of chemical-intensive practices and the cost-effectiveness of organic land management alternatives.

Meanwhile, more than 250 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, in which people claim exposure to Roundup caused them or a family member to contract non-Hodgkins lymphoma  a cancer affecting white blood cells which can develop in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, thymus and digestive tract.

The plaintiffs claim that Monsanto covered up the health risks associated with glyphosate. The first trial in the Roundup litigation is set for June 18, 2018 in the Superior Court for the County of San Francisco.

To avoid glyphosate, purchase organic food which is not permitted to be treated with glyphosate compounds. Know who grows your food and how your food is grown. Adopt, or personally support organic agriculture and organic lawn care in your community. There are countless experts and instructional videos available to assist in your adoption of organic land management. Continue to raise your voice! Start your own local movement to stop toxic pesticide use around your local school, or sports field. Talk to your neighbors, farmers, and legislators. Contact the elected representatives making decisions that affect your family’s health. And, contact Beyond Pesticides at info@beyondpesticides.org or 202-543-5450 for assistance, or go to the Beyond Pesticides website.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Guardian

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17
Oct

Scientists Urge Retraction of Journal Article on Glyphosate’s Safety, Surreptitiously Written by Monsanto

(Beyond Pesticides, October 17, 2017) In a letter to the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology, scientists called for the retraction of a 2016 paper that refuted glyphosate’s cancer risks after it was learned that the paper was secretly edited and funded by Monsanto, manufacturer of glyphosate.

The paper in question, “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate,” is a review of the 2015 decision by an expert Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to designate glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship product, Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A). However, a new report this summer discovered conflict of interests not revealed at publication. Contrary to the journal’s conflict-of-interest disclosure statement, Monsanto directly paid at least two of the scientists who authored the paper, and a Monsanto employee substantially edited and reviewed the article prior to publication, in clear contradiction to the disclosure statement.

The retraction-request letter highlights a range of failures involved in the published review:

  • Failure to disclose that at least two panelists who authored the review worked as consultants for, and were directly paid by, Monsanto for their work on the paper.
  • Failure to disclose that at least one Monsanto employee extensively edited the manuscript and was adamant about retaining inflammatory language critical of the IARC assessment — against some of the authors’ wishes. The disclosure falsely stated that no Monsanto employee reviewed the manuscript.

As a result, readers and reviewers of the cancer studies were led to believe that the paper was independently published, and that Monsanto had no influence on the content of the review. The letter notes, “[T]he false, inaccurate, and misleading statements…served an obvious and critical purpose. In light of the high-profile controversy over the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, driven in large part by Monsanto, the company understood that the scientific community would have legitimate doubts as to the independence of a Monsanto-funded review effort. Assuaging these doubts was critical to the success of Monsanto’s mission to discredit IARC’s determination. This was accomplished in the summary review … by misrepresentation and omission.”

In addition to asking for a retraction of the review article, the scientists have called for an in-depth investigation into the other four articles published in the same issue. Multiple internal emails from Monsanto indicated the pesticide maker’s willingness to ghostwrite or compile information for the authors of the reviews, dictate the scope of one of the reviews, and identify which scientists to engage or list as authors of the reviews.

The retraction and investigation request was sent to the journal’s editor-in-chiefthe managing editor at the publisher, Taylor and Francis, and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which the publisher and the journal are both members.

Monsanto has been embroiled in controversy after its attempts to unduly influence and undermine scientific research that has found its product to be harmful to humans. It was recently revealed that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) copied dozens of pages from a Monsanto study in reaching its conclusion that glyphosate (Roundup) is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.” EFSA’s recommendation is supposed to provide an independent analysis for European Union (EU) member states, which are deciding whether to reapprove the chemical. In a similar case, the New York Times reported on Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators, which suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research on glyphosate (Roundup) that was later attributed to academics. There is now an investigation by the Inspector General for EPA into whether or not an EPA official engaged in collusion with Monsanto regarding the agency’s safety assessment of glyphosate. The collusion was uncovered in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by cancer victims that link their illness to glyphosate exposure.

The best way to avoid glyphosate and other harmful pesticides is to support organic practices in landscapes and agriculture and purchase organic food. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for organic management practices as a means to foster biodiversity, and research shows that organic land management does a better job of protecting biodiversity than its chemical-intensive counterparts. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and crops bioengineered with insecticides, responsible organic practices focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and ecological balance, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.

As evidence of the hazardous effects of glyphosate continues to mount, environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, are urging localities to ban or restrict the use of the chemical and other toxic synthetic pesticides.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

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16
Oct

Take Action: Tell Your Senators to Vote Against EPA Nominee with Chemical Industry Ties

(Beyond Pesticides, October 16, 2917) Tell your U.S. Senators to oppose the Trump Administration’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Michael L. Dourson, Ph.D., who has spent a good deal of his career helping chemical companies resist restrictions on their toxic compounds. The U.S. Senate’s August 20 hearing on Dr. Dourson’s nomination, was abruptly postponed on August 19, with no reason offered, but later held on October 4 under a cloud of controversy.

Write your U.S. Senators now!

Critics, including former EPA officials, Congressional Democrats, and public health scientists say that Dr. Dourson’s close ties to the chemical industry should disqualify him from becoming the country’s chief regulator of toxic chemicals.http://action.beyondpesticides.org/images/money%20dance.jpg

U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said, “Dr. Dourson’s consistent endorsement of chemical safety standards that not only match industry’s views, but are also significantly less protective than EPA and other regulators have recommended, raises serious doubts about his ability to lead those efforts. This is the first time anyone with such clear and extensive ties to the chemical industry has been [nominated] to regulate that industry.”

Dr. Dourson’s professional history provides important context for considering his nomination. He did a turn at EPA from 1980 to 1994, starting as a staff toxicologist, and then leading a pesticide and toxics group that supports EPA’s regulatory work. However, in 1995, Dr. Dourson started the consulting group, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), which has done contract work for chemical companies, producing research and reports that often “downplayed the health risks posed by their compounds.”

TERA’s clients have included Dow Chemical Company, Koch Industries Inc., Monsanto, Chevron Corporation, and the industry lobby group, the American Chemistry Council –companies that make pesticides, processed foods, cigarettes, plastics, and other chemical products. The Associated Press reports that Dr. Dourson has, for some time, received payments for his critical assessments of peer-reviewed studies that identified concerns with the safety of his clients’ products. Examples of the kinds of “industry shielding” work TERA did can be reviewed here.

Write your Senators now!

According to the New York TimesAdam Finkel, executive director of the Penn Program on Regulation at University of Pennsylvania Law School, who worked as a partner on a project with Dr. Dourson, said, “Most of what he has done over time is to rush headlong to exonerate chemicals.” Four controversial toxic chemicals –1,4-dioxane1-bromopropanetrichloroethylene and chlorpyrifos– currently under EPA review are manufactured by Dow, a company that Dr. Dourson represented. If confirmed, he would oversee the regulation of these chemicals, which are associated with severe health issues, including cancer, birth defects, and developmental problems in children.

The Associated Press cites the example of Dr. Dourson’s Dow-sponsored review of chlorpyrifos (a neurotoxic pesticide that harms children’s brains, even at very low exposure levels), which claimed flaws in peer-reviewed studies linking delays in fetal development with exposure to the chemical. The credibility of EPA’s regulation of chlorpyrifos is already in question due to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to overrule the recommendation of agency scientists that would have banned the chemical. Mr. Pruitt claims the science is “unresolved” and has delayed a decision on chlorpyrifos until 2022.

Dr. Dourson is a recent example of the “revolving door” phenomenon –the movement of people between roles as agency regulators or legislators, and positions in the industries that are regulated by those government roles. The door revolves in both directions, with regulators leaving government to join industry, and vice versa. This ready switching of roles creates unavoidable conflicts of interest. Indeed, ethics experts say that, if confirmed, Dr. Dourson’s work on behalf of industry could constitute significant conflicts of interest.

Industry has a long history of using the revolving door. When people are allowed to move from industry to regulatory agency (or the reverse) without constraint, the resultant conflicts of interest not only unduly shape policy or ratchet up industry influence, but cast huge doubt on the individual’s ability to act independent of industry’s interests, and in the best interest of the public and an agency’s charge.

Write your U.S. Senators now!

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13
Oct

Hazardous Illegal Pesticide Imports Not Adequately Tracked by EPA

(Beyond Pesticides, October 13, 2017) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can better reduce risks from illegal pesticides by effectively identifying imports for inspection and sampling. This, according to a report from EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released last month. The report finds low rates of inspection and sampling across the U.S. to stop the importation of pesticide products that violate federal laws, and recommends increased training and coordination between U.S. Customs and Border Protection to deter the import of harmful pesticides.

EPA’s OIG conducted the report to determine whether EPA is effectively identifying imported pesticides for inspection and sampling to deter imports of harmful pesticides and protect human health and the environment. The report, published September 28, 2017, finds there is limited assurance that imports in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which regulates the use and importation of pesticide products, will be identified or prevented entry into the U.S. According to the report, EPA is at risk of not effectively identifying imported pesticides for inspection and sampling. For instance, EPA regions did not meet the voluntary frequency goal of inspecting two percent of all shipments of imported pesticides nationwide in fiscal years 2015 and 2016. In fiscal year 2016, EPA’s ten regions conducted only 73 inspections of 46,280 pesticide shipments —a rate of only 0.002 percent. In two EPA regions, inspections were more likely to be conducted close to the regional office rather than where the greatest number of pesticides entered the region. In the last five years, seven EPA regions reviewed had sampled and tested the integrity of only seven pesticides out of approximately 145,000 shipments of imported pesticides. One of the main reasons leading to such low rates of inspections is that regional resources available to carry out inspections are not considered part of strategic planning, and regional participation in achieving the agency’s inspection frequency goal is voluntary.

OIG made four recommendations that EPA (1) establish national compliance monitoring goals based on regional resources; (2) implement controls to monitor and communicate progress on regional goals; (3) guide and train EPA regions to use the Automated Commercial Enterprise system for regional targeting of importers, manufacturers and pesticide products; (4) and direct each EPA region to develop guidance or protocols for coordinating with local U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices regarding illegally imported pesticides. EPA concurred with OIG’s recommendation to develop protocols for coordinating with local U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices. The remaining three recommendations are unresolved.

Currently, EPA has no guidance or training available on how its regional offices can use information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automated Commercial Enterprise system to target future inspections or develop their own targeting strategies. This system allows for automatic processing of import notices that could allow EPA regions more time for targeting and inspections. According to OIG, guidance or protocols for how EPA regions can coordinate with U.S. Customs and Border Protection will help to ensure that EPA is notified of any potentially illegal pesticides not found during the agency’s review of import notices.

Illegal imports of pesticides can present significant human health and environmental risks, and have been linked to poisonings of children and pets. Illegal imports include high-hazard pesticides that can be counterfeit, produced at unregistered establishments, or produced using unauthorized ingredients. EPA is tasked with enforcing the requirements under FIFRA that governs the distribution, sale and use of pesticides. EPA can take enforcement actions to address the (a) distribution or sale of unregistered pesticides, (b) registered pesticides whose composition differs from that submitted at registration, and (c) registered pesticides that are misbranded or adulterated. When a product is found to be in violation of FIFRA requirements, several actions can be taken, including denying entry into the U.S., issuing penalties for illegal distribution, or issuing a Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order (SSURO) prohibiting the sale, use or removal of the product.

One well-documented illegal pesticide product is the ‘Insecticide Chalk,’ an illegal insecticide manufactured to resemble blackboard chalk sold under various trade names—including Pretty Baby Chalk, Chinese Chalk, and Miraculous Insecticide Chalk. These may be sold in a neighborhood stores or on the street for about $1 a box. These products are imported illegally from China, and often bear a label in both English and Chinese. Sometimes the manufacturer claims that the chalk is “harmless to human beings and animals” and “safe to use.” Children can easily mistake insecticide chalk for blackboard chalk or put it in their mouths. EPA has been public about the illegal entry of this product for several years.

Unfortunately, with inspection guidelines being voluntary and set at only two percent —which is still not being met— there will continue to be pesticide products being sold illegally to unsuspecting U.S. customers. These pesticides may contain ingredients banned in the U.S. or applied in ways that can pose risks to human health. To ensure you are not buying an illegal pesticide product check the label for an EPA registration number or visit the website information provided. If you are still unsure, contact Beyond Pesticides for assistance.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Office of the Inspector General

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12
Oct

Majority of World’s Honey Contaminated with Bee Killing Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, October 12, 2017) Honey throughout the world is contaminated with neonicotinoid insecticides, chemicals implicated in global decline of pollinator populations. The extent of contamination recorded in the new Science study —with the chemicals detected on every continent except Antarctica, even in honey produced in small isolated islands— is symptomatic of a world awash in toxic pesticides. The results call into question globalized mores that have permitted chemical insecticides to pervade the environment, and signal the need to transform pest management to integrated organic systems that respect nature.

Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and transported into the pollen, nectar, and guttation (drops of xylem sap) drops the plant produces. They are mobile in soil, so quantities of the chemical that are not taken up by plants after an application leach through the soil column into local waterways. Pollinators come into contact with these insecticides through their normal course of foraging and pollination.

Out of 198 honey samples collected as part of a global citizen science project and subsequently tested by Swiss scientists, 75% of samples contained a measurable level of neonicotinoids. Broken down by region, North America represented the highest frequency of tainted honey, with 86% containing at least one neonicotinoid. Asia and Europe had slightly slower propositions, at 80% and 79%, while South American samples had the fewest detections, at 57%.

Although few samples were above levels considered toxic to humans, the same cannot be said about pollinators. Lead author of the study, Edward Mitchell, PhD at University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, indicated to The Guardian, “If you look at the minimum concentration for which a significant negative impact on bees has been found, then 48% of our samples exceed this level.” He continues, noting, “The concentrations are often very low, but we are talking about pesticides that are extremely toxic: something like 4,000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT [dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane].”

At the toxicity reference value of .1 ng/g used by researchers, exposure has been linked to a range of chronic adverse effects in honey bees and other pollinators, including on memory, foraging success, reproduction, queen survival and fitness, and susceptibility to other diseases.

Renowned neonicotinoid researcher Jean-Marc Bonmatin, PhD, explained to The Guardian, “The use of these pesticides runs contrary to environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. It provides no real benefit to farmers, decreases soil quality, hurts biodiversity and contaminates water, air and food. There is no longer any reason to continue down this path of destruction.”

While the European Union is likely to vote to extend its current moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture, very little has been done to stop the use of these chemicals in the U.S. In fact, in early 2017, the agency determined, despite its own evidence gathered to the contrary, that neonicotinoids present “no significant risk” to honey bees. While use at the state and local level continue, advocates say that it is evident that broader action is necessary to address widespread contamination.

Help change pest management practices by changing the way you, your neighbors, and your community approach pest problems. Instead of immediately reaching for a pesticide bottle to address a pest, consider fixing the underlying problems that attracted the pest in the first place through an integrated and organic management strategy. See Beyond Pesticides’ ManageSafe page for assistance for pests both inside the home and in landscapes. When it comes to fixing pest management in agriculture, organic systems already provide a way forward. Support the growth of organic agriculture by buying organic whenever possible. By eliminating the need for toxic pesticide use in our homes, gardens, and in agriculture, we can eliminate the source of contamination in our honey supplies.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Guardian

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11
Oct

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Endangered Species from Neonicotinoid Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, October 11, 2017) Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) registration of neonicotinoid pesticides – acetamiprid, dinotefuran, and imidacloprid, and the agency’s failure to first consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the pesticides’ impact on threatened or endangered species.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenges the failure of the federal government to evaluate the impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides (“neonics”) on threatened and endangered species, like the rusty patched bumble bee, the black-capped vireo, and the San Bruno elfin butterfly. The suit cites widespread presence of neonics in the environment which presents serious risks to wildlife across large portions of the country. It contends that they pose significant adverse consequences to threatened and endangered species. According to the lawsuit, because of toxicity and pervasive environmental contamination, NRDC is now challenging EPA’s registrations of pesticide products containing one of three main neonic active ingredients—acetamiprid, dinotefuran, and imidacloprid—and seeks vacatur of those registrations until EPA complies with the law.

“The EPA ignored endangered bees, butterflies, and birds when it approved the widespread use of neonics,” said Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney in NRDC’s Land & Wildlife program. “Massive pollinator die-offs across the country show that these pesticides cause serious harm to wildlife.”

NRDC identified 26 species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that are at risk from neonic pesticides. They include the federally endangered rusty patched bumblebee, Karner blue butterfly, Hines’ emerald dragonfly, black-capped vireo, and pallid sturgeon, as well as the federally threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp.

This lawsuit follows a decision earlier this year by a federal judge in California who ruled that EPA violated the ESA when it issued 59 neonicotinoid insecticide registrations between 2007 and 2012 for pesticide products containing clothianidin and thiamethoxam. That lawsuit, first filed in 2013, focused on the EPA’s failure to protect pollinators from pesticides and challenged EPA’s oversight of the neonic pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, as well as the agency’s practice of “conditional registration” and labeling deficiencies.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are highly toxic to bees and a growing body of scientific literature has linked them to pollinator decline in general. Neonicotinoids are associated with decreased foraging  and navigational ability, as well as increased vulnerability to pathogens and parasites as a result of suppressed bee immune systems.  In addition to toxicity to bees, neonicotinoids have been shown to also adversely affect birdsaquatic organisms, and contaminate soil and waterways, and overall biodiversity. An overwhelming number of studies have shown that neonicotinoids can impact a wide-rage of non-target species. This summer, the results of a two-year long study conducted at 33 sites in multiple European countries to assess the effects of neonics confirms that these pesticides have a deleterious effect on bee survival.

EPA’s own assessment also finds that neonics like imidacloprid pose risks to aquatic organisms, and has concentrations in U.S. waters that threaten sensitive species. Other preliminary pollinator assessment conducted by the agency for the other neonics- clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, finds that they present “no significant risks” to honey bees, despite finding multiple instances where bees are at risk of toxic exposure, and overwhelming independent data to the contrary.

In light of the shortcomings of federal action in the U.S. to protect these beneficial organisms, it is left up to us to act. You can pledge to stop using neonicotinoids and other toxic pesticides. Sign the pollinator protection pledge today. Beyond Pesticides also advocates the adoption of organic land management practices and policies by local communities that eliminate the use of toxic pesticides in our environment. For more information on what you can do to protect pollinators in your backyard, see Beyond Pesticides BEE Protective campaign page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: NRDC Blog

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10
Oct

Action Needed: Last Chance to Comment on National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Fall Issues

(Beyond Pesticides, October 10, 2017) The comment period closes Wednesday, October 11 at 11:59 pm EDT for the Fall 2017 National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting.

In addition to the other priorities in our previous alert (hydroponics, marine materials, and “inerts”), we focus attention here on eliminating the incentive to convert native ecosystems into organic crop production, strengthening and clarifying the requirements for the use of organic seed, exempt/uncertified handler and brokers, and the need for a comprehensive review of sanitizers used in organic.

New to Regulations.gov? See our two-minute tutorial.

Comment now!

Beyond Pesticides provides you with our positions, which you can use as the basis for your comments. If you have limited time, you can use the sample comments on priority issues below. If you have more time, please use the information on our website to develop your own comments. If you paste our comments into regulations.gov, please first put a personal note of concern in order to reflect the importance of these issues to you as an organic consumer, farmer, or other concerned party.

Some major issues being considered at the Fall meeting are:

Eliminating the Incentive to Convert Native Ecosystems into Organic Crop Production
The proposal must be revised –it should be sent back to the Compliance, Accreditation & Certification Subcommittee (CACS).

Unfortunately, the legal requirement to avoid the use of prohibited substances for three years before land can be certified organic produces an incentive to convert unfarmed land to organic farms. We support the intention of the subcommittee proposal to incentivize the transition to organic production of lands that have had prohibited materials applied, while minimizing the loss of lands with important habitats from conversion. These lands will be necessary to support declining and rare species today and a hundred years from now, when there will be much less available due to increased human populations and climate change.  We support the following language:

A site supporting a native ecosystem cannot be certified for organic production as provided for under this regulation for a period of 10 years from the date of conversion.

Native ecosystems retain dominant and characteristic species. The composition of species reflects spontaneous natural processes, such as biogeography (e.g. dispersal of plants and animals), the geophysical constraints (e.g. soil type), and natural disturbance regimes (e.g. wind, fire, and water flow). On land with natural vegetation, any past human influences are not readily recognized in the field. For semi-natural vegetation, past human influences may have significantly altered vegetation composition or structure over 50-100 years ago but these have recovered. Sites will tend to have not been previously cultivated, cleared, drained or otherwise irrevocably altered.

Strengthen and Clarify the Requirements for the Use of Organic Seed
A rule change to the seed practice standard is needed to require a demonstrable improvement over time until 100% organic seed use is achieved. Guidance must be strengthened consistent with the existing rule to ensure that plants that have been treated with prohibited substances are not used in organic production.

The National Organic Program’s (NOP) broad exemption allowing the use of conventionally produced seed maintains inconsistency in the enforcement of organic standards. Enforcement must be a first step to strengthening the organic seed requirement –certifiers must enforce consistent and uniform adherence to the present organic seed requirements. We support seeking a rule change to the seed practice standard §205.204 to require a demonstrable improvement over time until 100% organic seed use is achieved, and strengthening the guidance NOP 5029 in ways that are consistent with the existing rule. Plants that have been treated with prohibited substances should not be used in organic production. This includes, for example, plants grown in fumigated soil or from seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.

Exempt/Uncertified Handler and Brokers
The proposal should be revised in view of the fact that highly toxic fumigants used in conventional facilities penetrate packaging materials.

We support the goal of strengthening audit trails of organic products by further clarifying what operations are excluded from certification. However, the assumption that packaged goods will maintain their organic integrity under conventional handling is flawed. Fumigants used in conventional warehouses and other facilities are highly toxic and penetrate packaging materials. Therefore, handlers who handle only packaged organic goods should not be excluded from certification.

Comprehensive Review of Sanitizers
A comprehensive review of sanitizers, disinfectants, and cleansers used in organic production and handling is needed to ensure that the safest and most effective materials are used.

Beyond Pesticides and others have been calling for a comprehensive review of sanitizers used in organic production. The NOSB needs to identify needs for sanitizers, disinfectants, and cleansers, and evaluate the allowed and potentially allowed materials according to OFPA criteria. We support this issue being placed on the Materials Subcommittee work agenda, and we suggest a structure for the comprehensive review.

Comment now at Regulations.gov!

See Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage.

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06
Oct

Study Finds Organic Consumers Commitment to Organic Products Grows Over Time

(Beyond Pesticides, October 6, 2017) Once people go organic, they are increasingly unlikely to go back to conventional foods, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research published by Dutch social scientists.  Organic food products are a rapidly growing industry in the U.S., with consumers spending $43 billion in 2016, an increase of $4.2 billion from the previous year. Given its benefits for health, water quality, workers, wildlife, and the wider environment, it is little wonder that more and more people are voting for the future of ecologically and public health-sensitive farming systems with their food dollars and buying organic.

For the study, researchers tracked over 8,700 consumers for 20 months, using the loyalty card for a major Dutch food retailer. They found that most consumers start by consuming organic dairy products first, milk being the primary entry point into organic. Over time people are likely to not only stick with organic certified milk, but expand their purchases into other organic products.

John Thøgersen, PhD, coauthor of the study and professor at the Aarhus University of Business and Social Science in Denmark, explains the process in a press release as follows: “In connection with organic consumption, there has previously been talk of an ‘organic staircase’ in the sense that consumers are generally buying certain organic products before others. But our research shows that in fact, we’re dealing with an escalator where the upward movement is taking place automatically. Once you’ve purchased your first organic product, you’re not likely to stop. You’ll continue, and over time, you’ll increase your organic shopping list. And you’ll even be following a rather predictable consumption pattern.”

The consumption pattern generally goes from dairy products to fruit and vegetables, then eggs and baking ingredients, and eventually all products categories, from tea and coffee to rice, pasta, canned food, cereals, and frozen food are purchased organic.

“What’s interesting is that something is making the organic consumers stick to their guns. Something is making them stand fast. Our study doesn’t tell us anything about why this is the case, but if we include our knowledge from previous research in the area, we’re able to make an educated guess,” Dr. Thøgersen says. Researchers suspect that the cause is a related to how one perceives themselves morally.  “It becomes a way in which we define ourselves,” he continues. “As a result, we build an identity around the notion of buying organic products, and we’re highly unlikely to suddenly change our moral values.”

In social science, this behavior is characterized as the “spillover” effect. It is the idea that once one moral act is performed, more moral acts are likely to stem from it. Luckily for the organic industry, the spillover effect is more prevalent in organic purchasing choices than the “moral licensing” effect. “Moral licensing” theory states that once one performs a moral act, a person will act less moral because they believe their previous moral actions balance it out.

“We’re not questioning that moral licensing exists,” Dr. Thøgersen notes. “But our study shows that in practice, it doesn’t apply to our ethical or pro-environmental behaviour. Once a person has decided to do good, he or she will actually be even more likely to continue to do good.”

Given the rise of organic only natural foods stores and coops, and increasing options within conventional supermarkets, it is easier than ever for consumers to load their grocery cart up on mostly organic products. Beyond Pesticides is interested in knowing your organic shopping strategy. Did your organic “escalator” follow the one the study? What percentage of your purchases are organic? And why is organic important to you? Leave a comment below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

And if you would like to read more about why Beyond Pesticides promotes organic as the best option for the future of agriculture, see our program page on “Why Organic?”

Source: Phys.org

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05
Oct

Moms’ Pesticide Use Increases Risk of Childhood Brain Tumors

(Beyond Pesticides, October 5, 2017) Research published in the International Journal of Cancer links the residential use of pesticides to an increased risk of childhood brain tumors in children. According to the study, mothers who use pesticides in the home while pregnant put their children at 1.4 times the risk of developing a brain tumor under the age of 15. The study findings point to the need to eliminate the residential use of toxic chemicals by increasing education around alternative pest management practices in the home and garden, as well as regulatory action to remove toxic pesticides from the market.

The team of researchers used data drawn from population-based, case-control studies conducted in France, ESCALE and ESTELLE, which investigated the role of infectious, environment, and genetic factors in common cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma, and brain tumors). From the data, researchers identified 3,102 control mothers, and 437 mothers whose children had developed a brain tumor. These mothers were interviewed via phone over their use of pesticides in and around the home during their pregnancy.

Scientists determined that use of pesticides in the home put children at 40% increased risk of brain tumors, with insecticides being specifically linked to this increase. Because very few women used herbicides or fungicides during pregnancy, researchers were not able to tell whether any significant link existed. “Although such retrospective studies cannot identify specific chemicals used or quantify the exposure, our findings add another reason to advise mothers to limit their exposure to pesticides around the time of pregnancy,” said Nicolas Vidart d’Egurbide Bagazgoïtia, lead author of the study in a press release.

Indeed there is no shortage of reasons to avoid pesticide use when pregnant. A 2013 study published in Cancer Causes and Control found that women that contract for termite pest control applications in their home within a year of pregnancy have twice the risk of their child developing a brain tumor. A meta-analysis conducted in 2010 and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, investigating residential pesticide use and childhood leukemia, found that pesticide exposure during pregnancy increased risk of childhood leukemia by 54%. Another meta-analysis published in 2015 in Pediatrics by researchers at Harvard University found that indoor use of insecticides was associated with a 47% increase in childhood leukemia and 43% increase in childhood lymphoma. Herbicide exposure was associated with a 26% increase in leukemia.

Evidence shows that pesticides are widespread in our environment and in our homes. A 2008 study found that 75% of pregnant women’s homes were contaminated with the widely used insecticide and synergist piperonyl butoxide. Another 2009 study found that most floors in occupied homes in the United States contained measurable levels of pesticide, with insecticides like permethrin found in 89% of homes at detectable levels, but also banned chemicals like DDT found in 42% of homes. Because synthetic pesticides break down so slowly, subsequent applications will increase contamination levels in the home.

There are a range of alternative management techniques that can solve common residential pest problems without needing to resort to pesticides that put children’s lives at risk. Beyond Pesticides has developed a database, ManageSafe, which provides step by step instructions on how to manage pests in the home and garden through nontoxic means. Assistance can be found in identifying a pest, determining the extent of the problem, future preventative techniques, pest monitoring, non-chemical, and biological and least-toxic options as a last resort.  If there is a pest not listed on the ManageSafe page, or if you have other questions about managing pests to ridding toxic chemicals from your community, contact Beyond Pesticides for one-on-one assistance at info@beyondpesticides.org or 202-543-5450.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: EurekAlert!,

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04
Oct

October’s PolliNATION Pollinator of the Month – The Soldier Beetle

(Beyond Pesticides, October 4, 2017) Beetles in the family Cantharidae are known as soldier beetles, a name that is based on the resemblance of the elyra (wing cover) to certain military uniforms. They superficially resemble fireflies (family Lampyridae), but lack light-emitting organs and the covering obscuring the head of fireflies. Like fireflies, soldier beetles are distasteful to most predators.

Range
There are 16 genera containing 455 species of soldier beetles native to North America, including Chauliognathus marginatus, which is commonly seen on goldenrod in late summer and early fall. Worldwide, there are about 5,100 species in 160 genera, widely distributed in all but polar regions. Most frequently active in summer and early fall, adults can be found on various flowers including sunflowers, tansy, zinnia, marigold, goldenrod, and coneflower. Females lay eggs in clusters in the soil. Larvae are mostly carnivorous, feeding on soil insects. They live through the winter under loose soil, and become active during spring. Larvae normally pupate in early summer and adults first emerge in mid-summer.

Physiology
The soldier beetle’s body is around ½ to ¾ inch long. Adults are black or brown, usually with red to yellow markings, an “aposematic” signal to predators, warning of an unpleasant taste. The elytra are soft wing covers, hence the nickname “leatherwings.”

Adults and mature larvae have chewing mouthparts. After hatching, the larvae are tiny and white. However, 24 hours after their first molt, larvae begin to move and darken. To quote University of Minnesota Extension Entomologist Jeff Hahn, the dark larvae come to “resemble miniature alligators.”

Soldier beetle adults and larvae, when attacked, can emit a spray of dihydromatricaria acid from glands along their bodies, causing the majority to be either rejected or avoided outright by potential predators such as birds, mice, and jumping spiders.

Ecological Role and Threats to Existence
After they hatch in the summer, larval activity increases with each successive molt. Soldier beetle larvae are carnivorous, foraging for aphid eggs, worms, slugs, and snails among assorted plant debris. As they feed, soldier beetle larvae reduce the number of eggs and larvae of other soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, thereby limiting the ability of those insects to damage crops.

Soldier beetle adults feed on the pollen and nectar of flowers, as well as other insects, pollinating the flowers as they move about. Beetle-pollinated flowers are generally open and fragrant, allowing beetles to pollinate the flowers as they scramble across them. The same flowers serve as mating sites for the soldier beetles.

Although harmless to humans, the soldier beetle is among a long litany of “non-target” species who may be poisoned, or whose source of both food and habitat may be poisoned by the use of pesticides.

How to Protect the Species
Swaths of wild flowers, native shrubs and trees, as well as urban green spaces, provide good habitat for adult soldier beetles and other pollinators. Similarly, since the beetles deposit eggs into soil, or loose leaf litter, it is critical to eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides that threaten soil life. Adopting organic land management practices such as planting pollinator habitat conservation strips and cover crops, using mulch for weed control, and adding compost to gardens, lawns and farm fields, helps to build and protect biodiversity. The resulting rise of soil organic matter provides healthy hunting grounds for voracious soldier beetle larvae.

Sources:
University of Minnesota Extension: https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/soldier-beetles/

University of Kentucky Entomology: http://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/insects/beetles/soldier/soldier.htm

Virginia Cooperative Extension: https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/ENTO/ENTO-53/ENTO-53-pdf.pdf

Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/animal/soldier-beetle

USDA Forest Service: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/beetles.shtml

Mother Earth News: https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/pest-control/soldier-beetle-facts-zw0z1302zkin

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2009/7-1/soldierbeetle.html

Soldier Beetles – Family Cantharidae http://www.cirrusimage.com/beetles_soldier.htm

Bug Guide: Family Cantharidae – Soldier Beetles http://bugguide.net/node/view/118

R.E. White, 1983. A Field Guide to the Beetles of North America. Peterson Field Guide Series, Houghton-Mifflin Co., Boston, MA.

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03
Oct

The Ever-Revolving Door: Industry and the EPA

(Beyond Pesticides, October 3, 2017) On August 20, the U.S. Senate was to have held a hearing on the Trump Administration’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for chemical safety, Michael L. Dourson, PhD. The hearing was abruptly postponed on August 19, with no reason offered, and has not yet been rescheduled.

Dr. Dourson has spent a good deal of his career helping companies resist constraints on their use of potentially toxic compounds in consumer products. Critics, including former EPA officials, Congressional Democrats, and public health scientists say that these ties with the chemical industry, in particular, should keep him from becoming the country’s chief regulator of toxic chemicals.

U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) said, “Dr. Dourson’s consistent endorsement of chemical safety standards that not only match industry’s views, but are also significantly less protective than EPA and other regulators have recommended, raises serious doubts about his ability to lead those efforts. This is the first time anyone with such clear and extensive ties to the chemical industry has been [nominated] to regulate that industry.”

Dr. Dourson is perhaps the most recent example of the “revolving door” phenomenon — the movement of people between roles as agency regulators or legislators, and positions in the industries that are affected by laws and regulations promulgated through those government roles. The door revolves in both directions, with folks leaving industry to join government, and vice versa. Critics say that this ready switching of roles creates unavoidable conflicts of interest and that those who do so have dubious ethical standing for undertaking the positions they seek. Indeed, ethics experts say that, if confirmed, Dr. Dourson’s work on behalf of industry could constitute significant conflicts of interest.

Dr. Dourson’s professional history provides important context in which to consider his nomination. He did a turn at EPA from 1980 to 1994, starting as a staff toxicologist. By 1989, he headed a pesticides and toxics group, supervising scientists who support EPA’s regulatory work. In 1995, Dr. Dourson started his consulting group, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, which has done contract work for chemical companies, producing research and reports that often “downplayed the health risks posed by their compounds.

TERA’s clients have included Dow Chemical Company, Koch Industries Inc., and Chevron Corporation. His research has been underwritten by trade groups for companies that make pesticides, processed foods, cigarettes, and plastics, among others, including the storied American Chemistry Council. The Associated Press has reported that Dr. Dourson has, for some time, received payments for his critical assessments of peer-reviewed studies that identified concerns with the safety of his client companies’ products. Examples of the kinds of “industry shielding” work TERA did can be reviewed here: https://theintercept.com/2017/07/21/trumps-epa-chemical-safety-nominee-was-in-the-business-of-blessing-pollution/.

The New York Times quotes Adam Finkel, executive director of the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, who worked as a partner on a project with Mr. Dourson and said he observed a disturbing pattern. “‘Most of what he has done over time is to rush headlong to exonerate chemicals,’ Mr. Finkel said, adding that he stopped working with Dr. Dourson based on these concerns. ‘Pretty much every piece of work he’s ever done, it just so happens that when they are finished with it, the risk is smaller than when they started, the doubt is larger, the concern is less.’ The Times continues, “Four chemicals that are nearly ubiquitous in everyday products — 1,4-dioxane1-bromopropane, trichloroethylene and chlorpyrifos — are now under review by agency regulators to determine whether they pose a threat to public health. If confirmed, [Dr.] Dourson would oversee the review of some chemicals produced by companies that his firm used to represent. . . . Each of the four chemicals has been associated with severe health issues, like cancer, birth defects and developmental problems in children. [Dr.] Dourson’s studies frequently concluded that the risk associated with these substances is much lower or more dubious than what EPA scientists and independent researchers have found.”

The Associated Press reported that, when hired by Dow AgroSciences, which makes chlorpyrifos (a neurotoxic pesticide, commonly sprayed on citrus fruits and apples, that harms children’s brains even at very low exposure levels), Dr.Dourson and his researchers produced three papers claiming flaws in peer-reviewed studies that linked delays in fetal development with chlorpyrifos exposure. (Earlier this year, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt overruled the findings of his agency’s own scientists to reverse an effort to ban chlorpyrifos, claiming the science is “unresolved” and deciding it would push off any finding on the pesticide to 2022.) Beyond Pesticides covered this issue a few months ago in Did Dow Chemical Influence the EPA Administrator’s Decision to Reverse Chlorpyrifos Ban?

As Beyond Pesticides discussed in 2015, industry has a long history of utilizing the revolving door. When people are allowed to move from industry to regulatory agency (or the reverse) without constraint, the resultant conflicts of interest not only unduly shape policy or ratchet up industry influence, but also, cast huge doubt on the individual’s ability to act independent of industry’s interests, and in the best interest of the public and an agency’s charge.

This revolving door is not an artifact only of the current Administration, but among the bevy of people it has put forth for top-level positions in the Cabinet and as agency heads are a remarkable number with deep connections to the industries they are charged with regulating, or, in the case of Mr. Pruitt, for example, with putative animosity toward the mission of the agency. Other recent examples include: former Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who sponsored legislation in 2016 to “reform” the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and subsequently joined a firm that lobbies on behalf of industry, including the American Chemistry Council; and Nancy Beck, formerly a Senior Director at the American Chemistry Council, who in Spring 2017 became a Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Beyond Pesticides called out another example a couple of years ago, noting the case of Nader Elkassabany, PhD, former branch chief of the Risk Assessment and Science Support Branch in the Antimicrobial Division in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. Dr. Elkassabany left EPA to join CropLife America as Senior Director of environmental policy, where he would oversee the pesticide trade group’s regulatory strategies on environmental policy, and help manage the company’s Environmental Risk Assessment Committee and its working groups. CropLife America has been an aggressive advocate of chemical-dependent agriculture and an opponent of organic methods.

Critics consider Dr,Dourson’s nomination especially vexing at this moment, when Congress is supposed to be in the early stages of enacting its 2016 overhaul of the law that governs toxic chemicals. Unsurprisingly, industry supports his nomination and confirmation to the position.

The Harvard Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics sums up the situation: “The EPA has a vast mandate — protecting air, water, land and people from pollutants. But year after year, through both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses, strong economies and weak ones, the institution fails the American public in many ways. The evidence abounds. Reports by the Government Accountability Office (formerly the General Accounting Office), EPA’s own Inspectors General and the media have long documented EPA’s inability to guard Americans from toxic chemicals, mining waste, leaking Superfund sites, greenhouse gas emissions, contaminated water, air pollution and other hazards. New problems also continue to appear, from the emergence of untested nanoparticles in consumer goods, to pollution from hydraulic fracking. Polls show that public trust in the EPA is down. In 2010, an advisory panel found that many agency staffers themselves believe that EPA has been hobbled by political pressure; has been forced to ignore relevant science, and is slow to act against known hazards, to avoid damaging industry. EPA has many dedicated employees who truly believe in its mission. So, why has the agency fallen short so often, since it opened its doors in 1970? A close examination of the agency shows that EPA has been corrupted by numerous routine practices, among them: the revolving door between EPA and industry [emphasis ours]; the large number of former lawmakers now lobbying to weaken environmental regulations or seek exemptions for clients; pressure from current lawmakers who are beholden to donors or who fear opposition in their next race, and other factors, including the ‘burrowing in’ of political appointees, and the influence of the White House Office of Management and Budget.”

A decade ago there was a legislative attempt to curb this dynamic — the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. Reviews are mixed, but data are telling. According to POLITICO: “Not only did the lobbying reform bill fail to slow the revolving door, it created an entire class of professional influencers who operate in the shadows, out of the public eye and unaccountable. Of the 352 people who left Congress alive since the law took effect in January 2008, POLITICO found that almost half (47 percent) have joined the influence industry: 84 as registered lobbyists and 80 others as policy advisers, strategic consultants, trade association chiefs, corporate government relations executives, affiliates of agenda-driven research institutes and leaders of political action committees or pressure groups. Taken as a whole, more former lawmakers are influencing policy and public opinion now than before the reform was enacted.”

The impacts of this ongoing revolving door between (especially) EPA and industries that are highly motivated to influence regulations are enormous for public health and the health of the environment, never mind the ethical culture in government. Increasingly, members of the public feel that federal agencies are not serving and protecting the people, and are allied far too closely with corporate interests. What can “regular” folks do? Talk about this issue with local and state officials to take action in the absence of federal protection; learn more from and support organizations working for strong reform (Represent.US and Open Secrets.org are two); and advocate for stronger controls on these activities with your U.S. Representative and Senators. Get involved on a regular basis by participating in Beyond Pesticides’ Action of the Week. Contact Beyond Pesticides at info@beyondpesticides.org to get on our email list.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/19/science/epa-chemical-industry-dourson.html

 

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02
Oct

Schoolchildren Lead the Charge Against Roundup and Other Toxic Pesticides in New York City Parks

(Beyond Pesticides, October 2, 2017) Elementary school students at New York City’s PS 290 are taking a stand against toxic pesticide use in New York City parks, supporting Intro 800, a bill introduced by Manhattan Councilmember Ben Kallos. “We’re going to make a great big fuss,” the children in Mrs. Paula Rogivin’s kindergarten class chanted in a skit performed in front of the NYC Committee on Health this week. Since New York City (NYC) passed Local Law 37, Pesticide Use by City Agencies, in 2005 to stop toxic pesticide use on City owned and leased land, it turns out that some pesticides known to be hazardous were not captured by the law. As a result, the proposed legislation is intended to strengthen restrictions to ensure more comprehensive restrictions that limit pesticides to biological pesticides.

Local Law 37 restricts the use of acutely toxic and carcinogenic pesticides as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and developmental toxicants as defined by the state of California under Prop 65. Exemptions allowing the use of these pesticides are granted based on a waiver review process that requires evidence that the chemicals are necessary to protect public health. Otherwise, City agencies are encouraged to use less toxic products in and around structures and green spaces owned by the City. The law also requires NYC agencies to record and report their pesticide use, and each year the City publishes a Pesticide Use Report summarizing total pesticide amounts applied.

Intro 800 would amend Local Law 37 to limit the use of pesticides on New York City property to only biological based pesticides and those currently exempt from the requirements of the law. Much of the reform efforts are driven by the City’s increased use of the weedkiller glyphosate (Roundup) after the law was passed. “The World Health Organization found that it was a carcinogen, so we introduced legislation right away,” Councilmember Kallos said in an interview with CBS New York. Glyphosate use in NYC spiked in 2009, and declined thereafter, yet still has represented over 50% of pesticide use by City agencies over the past several years. In 2016, glyphosate was applied over 1,000 times by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

Beyond Pesticides provided testimony in support of Intro 800, however suggested some clarifying amendments that would provide additional tools for landscapers to achieve aesthetic goals in NYC parks without sacrificing public health. This includes a request to include under exempt materials products that are certified organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. These products, which can be viewed and used in your own lawn care practices on Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Compatible Product List, are approved by the independent stakeholder National Organic Standards Board and are reviewed for their safety and essentiality within an organic land care system. Though biological pesticides cover a majority of least-toxic products available on the market, many active ingredients are specific to agricultural uses, and some are genetically engineered proteins used in crops, and thus not relevant to City pest management.

At the end of the day, student Jesse Balsam summed up the core importance of Intro 800 like only a bright young kid can. “I think this is a good law that should pass, because pesticides are bad for people,” the student told CBS New York. Indeed, given continued use of toxic pesticides in NYC Intro is thus critical to the protection of community health, particularly children, elderly, and vulnerable population groups that suffer from compromised immune and neurological systems, cancer, reproductive problems, respiratory illness and asthma, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and learning disabilities.

Councilmember Kallos told CBS New York that he hopes to pass the legislation by year end. If you live in NYC and would like to show your support to your City Councilmember and urge them to pass Intro 800, go here to send them a letter, and consider following up with a phone call.

Get Beyond Pesticides take on Intro 800 by reading testimony presented this week to the NYC Council Committee on Health. For more information on the hazards of glyphosate use, see Beyond Pesticides Chemical Gateway page on the herbicide.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: CBS New York.

 

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29
Sep

Study Shows Climate Change Threatens Soil Organisms Essential to Life

(Beyond Pesticides, September 29, 2017) Protect polar bears and “big charismatic wildlife!”  But do not ignore the microscopic organisms essential to ecological sustainability. That is the take from a new study at University of California Berkeley, which, for the first time, links global climate change to the loss of a “shockingly high” number of critical microbial species essential to ecological systems, biodiversity, and organic land management.

Other studies link chemical-intensive agriculture, and its reliance on petroleum-based substances, to adverse effects on soil organisms and insects and birds essential to ecological balance, while indicating the importance of organic management practices in protecting biodiversity and curtailing global climate change.

As stated in the study, “Models predict that up to 30% of parasitic worms are committed to extinction, driven by a combination of direct and indirect pressures.”  Furthermore, for those species “successfully tracking climate change,” the search for food and water, in once unavailable habitat, will cause them to “invade” and to “replace” native plants and animals with “unpredictable ecological consequences.”

Lead author of the study, Ph.D. candidate Colin Carlson, states that for symbiotic parasites, those with numerous beneficial roles, “a loss of suitable habitat” comes as a result of “host-driven coextinctions.” In an interview with Democracy Now, Mr. Carlson spells it out plainly, saying, “For parasitic species, because they’re dependent on wildlife and because wildlife are already threatened at such a high rate, what we think is going to happen is a pretty high across-the-board extinction rate.”  The implications of such ecological disturbances could be truly catastrophic for the human and other species which rely on thriving soils for survival.

How could the scope of these coexstinctions go unnoticed?

Quite simply: Among humanity’s increasingly sanitized and suburbanized existence, many beneficial insects are still only viewed as pests and eradicated as such. As stated in the study, “Climate change is a well-documented driver of both wildlife extinction and disease emergence, but the negative impacts of climate change on parasite diversity are undocumented.”  As Mr. Carlson discloses, “Previous [extinction research] has focused nearly exclusively on free-living biodiversity (especially vertebrates),” while “many important functional… [parasitic] groups remain undescribed or are only now being included.”

Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” explains in her writing that in a mass extinction event, “[We] would expect very elevated extinction rates, [ ] across [ ] virtually all groups, including our friends, the parasites.”  Ms. Kolbert continues, “When [we’re] messing around with the very tiny world that we’re not really paying a lot of attention to” – the microbial world beneath our feet, streets and tractors –“[we] can get some really, really big impacts that [we] didn’t anticipate…in part because [we] didn’t even know what was going on.”

Throughout the history of chemical-intensive agriculture, factory farms have failed to recognize the soil as the living superorganism, supporting plant life as part of an ecological community.  To quote Jenny Hopkinson, author of the article Can American soil be brought back to life?  –  “For generations, soil has been treated almost as a backdrop —not much more than a medium for holding plants while fertilizer and herbicides help them grow. The result, over the years, has been poorer and drier topsoil that doesn’t hold on to nutrients or water.” Consequently, these microbial species “facing extinction and redistribution” have been living under stress as a result of the human species’ relentless disregard for their wellbeing.

“Why are all these microbes and parasites so important?

Geologist David Montgomery,Ph.D. explains how microbial life is in fact “very nutrient rich—rich in nitrogen, rich in phosphorus, and rich in the micronutrients that all life forms need.” Citing “a biological bazaar,” Dr. Montgomery states that farmland without a vibrant microbial network does not have soil.  It has “dead dirt.”

To achieve “incredibly rich, dark, fertile soil,” in which microbes, bacteria, and fungi thrive, Dr. Montgomery recommends that farmers and gardeners actively accrue and apply “organic matter” –what used to be living matter (e.g., leaves, mulch, compost) – in whatever form they can find.  This process of soil restoration, says Dr. Montgomery, nourishes the rhizosphere, or “that zone around the root system of a plant that is incredibly rich with life,” and is, he concludes: “one of the most life-dense zones on the planet.”

Describing the significance of Earth’s microbial-motherboard, Dr. Montgomery states, “When nematodes and microarthropods can graze on and consume these smaller creatures, which [are] then being consumed by larger creatures,” what results is the depositing of soil nutrients “that can be fairly good fertilizer.”  Moreover, says Dr. Montgomery, these microbes, or “tiny grazing animals,” if fed and cultivated, are in every sense “manuring the soil from the inside out.”

However, as was mentioned in Climate Change Consequences and the Organic Response for those committed to chemical intensive practices, “problems which are rooted in the soil are now being attributed to lack of synthetic fertilizer, insufficient genetically modified food crop varieties, and lack of pesticide availability.”

Due to increased reliance on chemical cure-alls, conventionally farmed topsoil in the U.S. is experiencing a grave reduction in organic matter and, more broadly, therefore, losing its ability to retain water and the essential nutrients which sustain the broad range of parasitic partners.

Increasing soil organic matter for the soil’s carbon bank is a principle goal of organic agriculture. Organic agriculture relies on the carbon bank and stimulated soil microbial communities to increase soil fertility, improve plant health, and support competitive crop yields. This approach utilizes the natural carbon cycle to eliminate “the use of purchased synthetic inputs, increase energy resource efficiency, improve economic returns for farmers, and reduce toxic effects of fertilizers and pesticides on human health and the environment.”

Buying local-organic is the best approach to eliminate the application of toxic chemicals because their direct affect on soil biology and because of the contribution that the toxic chemical use makes to climate change. (Talk to the farmers in your neck of the woods!)  To restore soil health and preserve the microbes and parasites under threat, talk to your neighbors and elected officials about stopping toxic pesticide use, the importance of organic land management, restoration of riparian buffers along your nearby lakes and streams, and the use of hedgerows as integral to land management. All of this contributes significantly to carbon sequestration and ultimately is critical to stopping the escalating rate of climate change. Start a community garden, or food scrap compost station. See what you can do to nurture the soil in your own backyard.  In the words of author and nature writer Barry Lopez, “Go local. Go deep.”

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Parasite biodiversity faces extinction and redistribution in a changing climate

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28
Sep

Extreme Weather Events Create Chemical Health Risks

(Beyond Pesticides, September 28, 2017) Response to the recent and powerful hurricanes that buffeted the Caribbean and continental U.S. focused first and rightly on the acute potential impacts: risks to life and limb; loss of power; damaged transportation systems; food and fuel shortages; exposure to pathogens and infectious diseases (via compromised drinking water, exposure to sewage or wastewater from overwhelmed systems, and

Pesticide plant Crosby, TX flooded during Harvey and 50,000 pounds of chemical exploded an caught fire.

simple proximity to other people in storm shelters); damage to and destruction of homes and buildings; and mental health issues.

Yet, as has become more evident with the experience of many ferocious and flooding storms in recent memory —Katrina (2005), Ike (2008), Irene (2011), Isaac (2012), Sandy (2012), and Harvey, Irma, José, and Maria (all in 2017)— another significant threat to human health accompanies such events. Processing and storage facilities for petroleum products, pesticides, and other chemicals can be compromised by floodwaters, releasing toxicants into those waters and the soil, and explosions and fires from damaged chemical facilities can add airborne contaminant exposure to the list of risks. The chemicals in floodwaters can also infiltrate into groundwater or water treatment systems, and some can be dragged back out to sea as floodwaters recede.

If pesticides, petroleum derivatives, and other chemicals can’t be safeguarded in the event of increasingly strong storms and other potential natural disasters, federal and state agencies must —as they currently do not— accommodate for these events in the risk calculations that inform their regulation of these compounds’ creation, storage, use, and emergency mitigation.

The Houston area, which was impacted terribly by Hurricane Harvey, may be the poster child for such toxic threats. Communities on the Gulf Coast, and the Houston area in particular, harbor many refineries and much petrochemical infrastructure. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called the Houston area one of the most intensely contaminated areas in the country. As of August 31 this year, for example, after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported “21 inoperable wastewater systems; 52 inoperable public water systems, serving at least 115,000 people; 18 wastewater and sanitary sewer overflows; and 184 active boil-water notices covering at least 189,000 people.”

It’s worth noting that, in addition to exposure of the population at large, first responders may suffer greater-than-average exposures. When arriving on the scene, they don’t necessarily know what they will encounter. In the longer-term aftermath of such events, emergency personnel not infrequently manifest health problems caused by their exposures to multiple —and sometimes unknown— toxic chemicals and materials.

As chemical facilities anticipate the approach of dangerous storms, they often shutter their operations to limit damage, but can release huge amounts of toxicants in doing so. In the week before Harvey made landfall, more than 2,000,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals were released into the air. “‘On a good day, there’s already a high risk of cancer,’ said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, an advocacy group based in Austin. ‘This amount of pollution in such a short time just makes that risk even higher.’”

Adding to the threat are already-contaminated Superfund sites that can be compromised. EPA said on August 26 that 13 Superfund sites (of the 40–50 in Texas) were flooded by Harvey and were “experiencing possible damage” due to the storm. Floodwaters that breach such facilities contain unknown concentrations of toxicants.

Commenting on Harvey’s impacts, Michele Roberts, Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA), said: “Victims of this storm are now facing an unacceptable confluence of environmental injustices — and if past is prologue, they will continue to face overlapping hardships for years to come. . . . Refineries and petrochemical operations in Houston, almost too numerous to count, have been venting a toxic mix of hazardous air pollutants those trapped by rising floodwaters are forced to breathe. The long-term health consequences of this toxic air pollution are unknown. . . . The concentration of only minimally regulated chemical, oil, and gas facilities in low-lying areas, combined with increasing extreme weather events due to climate change and an . . . Administration rolling back chemical safety protections and climate action — is a recipe for health and environmental disaster.”

Evidence of the risks posed by the generation, storage, and use of toxic (and often under-regulated) chemicals is legion. As Beyond Pesticides noted nearly 10 years ago, regulation of these chemicals has not kept pace with the latest science, and controversy surrounding their use continues to grow. It is not uncommon for federal and state regulators to evaluate a pesticide for 15 or 20 years while it is already in wide use, only to determine, years down the road, that its use presents unreasonable adverse effects. EPA and regulators still do not adequately evaluate the health and environmental impacts of many toxic pesticides and chemicals.

If industry cannot ensure that, during extreme weather events and natural disasters, chemicals will not migrate from their allowed sites — into waterways, groundwater, and soil — or volatilize into the air, the exposure hazards associated with these chemicals’ migration must be calculated as a risk. Regulators do not typically consider these events or other accidents as part of their risk assessments, but clearly ought to. With the increase in extreme weather events, and especially those that involve flooding and structural damage, this issue will continue to grow in importance.

In addition to the toxic chemical exposure caused by widespread chemical contamination, mosquito spray programs become commonplace over vast areas after flooding. Last week Houston announced it would douse the city with the organophosphate insecticide Naled (Dibrom), among the most potent neurotoxic mosquito pesticides on the market.

For more Beyond Pesticides background on regulation of pesticides and chemicals, please see: “Petition Filed to Compel EPA to Review All Pesticide Product Ingredients,” and “Inspector General: EPA Must Evaluate Impact of Chemical Mixtures”; for overviews from at the start of the first and second Obama administrations, respectively, see “Transforming Government’s Approach to Regulating Pesticides,” and “What a Second Obama Term Can Do to Stop the Toxic Treadmill. Beyond Pesticides also monitors regulations, at the federal and state levels, on toxic pesticides; see more at the National Watchdog web page. For general information on pesticide hazards and alternatives to their use, see the Center for Community Pesticide and Alternatives Information page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/31082017/hurricane-harvey-health-risks-climate-change-disease-toxic-chemicals-mold.

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27
Sep

Herbicide Atrazine Found to Affect Health Across Multiple Generations

(Beyond Pesticides, September 27, 2017) Adverse health effects caused by exposure to the widely used herbicide atrazine pass down from parents to their children through multiple generations, according to new research published by scientists at Washington State University. This burgeoning area of study on ‘transgenerational’ impacts calls into question the current methodology for assessing toxicity and risk from chemical exposure. With the current U.S. regulatory system permitting food and communities to be awash in toxic pesticides, the results of the study have grave implications for future generations.

Scientists began their research by exposing rats to atrazine while still in the womb. The parents of these rats were the F0 generation, while their atrazine exposed offspring were F1. Rats in the F1 generation did not exhibit any incidence of disease or adverse health, however they had lower weights than F1 rats in the control group that were not exposed to atrazine.

F1 rats were then bred to produce the F2 generation. Although rats in the F2 generation were never exposed to atrazine, they displayed a range of diseases. Males exhibited early onset puberty, diseases of the testis, and mammary tumors. Females exhibited mammary tumors and decreased body weight when compared to the control group.

While the F2 generation fared poorly, the F3 generation, bred from rats in the F2 generation, was even sicker. While males did not exhibit early onset puberty in this generation, females did.  Males continued to have testis diseases, and both males and females exhibited reduced body weight and behavioral changes associated with motor hyperactivity.

“The third generation had multiple diseases and much more frequently than the third generation of unexposed rats,” said Michael Skinner, PhD, biology professor at Washington State University and co-author of the study.

Dr. Skinner and his colleagues explain that the diseases were induced and passed down by changes to the rat’s epigenetics. Epigenetics deals with the way that cells read genes – the biological mechanisms that decide whether to turn a gene on or off. Epigenetics can be altered by environmental exposures as a result of DNA methylation, which changes the way an individual’s genes are expressed by their body. For the current study, researchers were able to identify the unique regions where DNA methylation occurred, and were further able to associate these regions with disease outcomes. Scientists identified DNA methylation regions for both decreased body weight as well as diseases of the testis.

The study explains, “The etiology of disease appears to be in part due to environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance, and epigenetic biomarkers may facilitate the diagnosis of the ancestral exposure and disease susceptibility.”

Thus, the research may be the beginning of a methodology to identify epigenetic mutations caused by chemical exposure in parents and grandparents, and relate that to an individual’s susceptibility to a particular disease.

Dr. Skinner and his peers have been on the cutting edge of epigenetic research for years. Past research from his team found epigenetic effects passed down generations with other pesticides as well. In 2013, his research linked DDT exposure to the transgenerational inheritance of obesity.  His 2014 research on the pesticide methoxychlor linked the chemical to higher incidence of kidney disease, ovary disease, and obesity in an F3 generation.

While those two chemicals are banned and no longer used in the U.S., the health effects of legacy exposure may still live on in the great grandchildren of individuals who were exposed before the pesticides were taken off the market. Atrazine, meanwhile, remains one of the most widely used herbicides in the country, with over 70 million pounds used each year. In addition to transgenerational effects, the chemical has been linked to cancer, endocrine (hormone) disruption, neurotoxicity, birth defects, and a range of adverse impacts to wildlife, including the “chemical castration” of frogs as noted by researchers.

Alternative agricultural systems like organic agriculture, which work with natural processes, and only allow least-toxic pesticides to be used as a last resort, offer a better path forward for the future of agriculture and human health. For more information about the epigenetic effects of pesticides, watch Dr. Skinner’s presentation to the 32nd National Pesticide Forum in 2014.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: WSU News, PLOS One

 

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26
Sep

USDA Study Confirms Concerns about Electronic GE Labeling Law

(Beyond Pesticides, September, 26, 2017) A congressionally mandated study belatedly released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) questions the feasibility of electronic disclosures as a means of providing consumers with information on genetically engineered (GE) food ingredients. The study, which should have been published in July 2017 by law, confirms concerns held by many that “electronic and digital disclosures” (QR codes) will pose technological challenges for consumers, limiting access to food information. The study was required by the 2016 Federal Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standards Act (the “GE Labeling Act”) to help inform the establishment of federal standards for labeling by July 2018.

USDA issued the study just days after the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit challenging the agency’s unlawful withholding of the required study. Twelve days after the lawsuit was submitted on August 24, USDA publicly released the study p. The labeling law allows USDA to consider several options: on-package text, a GE symbol on packages, or “electronic or digital disclosures,” which would require shoppers to use a smart phone to scan packages to access a website or call a 1-800 number for every single product to find out if it was produced with genetic engineering.

The study is crucial in analyzing if QR codes will make the information accessible or not, based on several factors. The study found that the proposed food labeling measures will not serve consumers who do not have access to technology. Specifically, the researchers found key technological challenges that prevented nearly all participants from obtaining the information through electronic or digital disclosure methods:

  • Technological challenges disproportionately impact low-income earners, rural residents, and Americans over the age of 65.
  • Consumers are unfamiliar with QR codes or do not know that digital links contain food information.
  • Many of the more than 100 apps on the market that scan QR codes are not intuitive to use and include pop-up ads, causing consumer confusion.
  • Consumers may not have equipment capable of scanning digital links on their own, and in most cases there is not a viable alternative provided by retailers.
  • Consumers without phones are unlikely to find in-store scanners available and landlines do not provide a practical way of getting the information.
  • Consumers may be unable to connect to broadband, or connect at a speed that is so slow that they cannot load information, particularly rural and low-income consumers.
  • In-store scanners may be cost prohibitive for small and rural retailers and provide limited benefit due to limited consumer understanding and rapidly changing technology.
  • The study also concluded that “offline alternatives are necessary for consumers who lack access to a scanning device or broadband.”

According to the study, 53 percent of adults say they care about the issue of GE food, with a third of that group caring a great deal. Half of all shoppers would likely be sensitive to labeling changes, as evidenced by increased consumer desire for food information which is pervasive across region, age, income, and gender. It is unclear how USDA plans to comply with the federal law’s other mandates for the study, including that the public be given the right to comment on it.  The labeling option that makes sense is on-package labeling which is quick, simple and effective.

Consumers have advocated for mandatory labeling of GE foods for nearly two decades. Polls show that over 90% of U.S. residents support requiring the labeling of GE foods, as 64 countries already do, including many U.S. trade partners such as the European Union and Japan. Consumers have become more and more aware that, while few whole foods are genetically engineered, the majority of processed foods are produced with GE ingredients. The public recognizes that having thousands of processed food products containing GE ingredients, yet going unlabeled is deceptive, misleading, or at best confusing.

Connecticut and Maine both passed GE food labeling laws in 2013, albeit with their effective dates contingent on the passage of similar standards in other states. In 2014, Vermont became the first state to pass a mandatory GE labeling law to go into effect in 2016. Numerous major food producers began to label their food for GE content in order to anticipate compliance with Vermont’s law. In response, Congress finally passed a GE labeling law in July 2016, preempting state laws and setting a federal standard in its place.

Genetically engineered foods pose risks that are not considered by regulators. The most dependable way to avoid GE ingredients is to buy organic, but all consumers have a right to know what is in their food.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

Source: CFS Press Release

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25
Sep

Comment by October 11 to Protect Organic Integrity: Keep the Soil in Organic

(Beyond Pesticides, September 25, 2017) As the comment period officially begins for the Fall 2017 National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting, a major controversy is coming to a head on allowing hydroponics to be certified organic. Contrary to prior recommendations of the NOSB, the National Organic Program has allowed some hydroponics operations to be certified. The NOSB will consider motions at this meeting that could stop this practice.

Make your voice heard on this and other issues by submitting comments NOW on what materials and practices are allowed in organic production! An easy way to speak out is to go to our website, find our positions, write your comments (using our summary –feel free to cut-and-paste our comments), and submit your comments on the government website. [Unfortunately, for those who are not familiar with commenting on these critical organic integrity issues, this action requires that you post your comments on the government’s ‘regulations.gov’ website. We have simplified this process through our Keeping Organic Strong webpage.]

Submit your comments now.

Beyond Pesticides provides you with our positions, which you can use as the basis for your comments. Please feel free to develop your own comments or cut and paste ours. If you cut and paste our comments into regulations.gov, please first put a personal note of concern in order to reflect the importance of these issues to you as an organic consumer, farmer, or other concerned party.

Some major issues being considered at the Fall meeting are:

Hydroponics
Organic production is soil-based and is defined by principles concerning the grower’s relationship to the soil. The “Law of Return,” the rule “Feed the soil, not the plant,” and the promotion of biodiversity, provide the ecological basis for organic production. The Law of Return says that we must return to the soil what we take from the soil. The dictum to “Feed the soil, not the plant” reminds us that the soil is a living superorganism that supports plant life as part of an ecological community. Finally, biological diversity is important to the health of natural ecosystems and agroecosystems. Biodiversity promotes balance, which protects farms from outbreaks of damaging insects and disease. It supports the health of the soil through the progression of the seasons and stresses associated with weather and farming. It supports our health by offering a diversity of foods. Hydroponics is not consistent with these principles.

The of the 2010 Subcommittee of the Hydroponics Task Force convened by USDA reminds us of these foundations, but also contrasts organic production and “conventional” chemical-intensive agriculture. At the time of the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), the organic community’s characterization of soil as alive was viewed with amusement by the “conventional” agriculture experts, who saw soil as a structure for supporting plants, while farmers poured on synthetic nutrients –and the poisons that had become necessary to protect the plants growing without the protection of their ecological community. Interestingly, organic producers at that time compared conventional agriculture to hydroponics.

The term “container” is very broad, encompassing pots in various sizes and shapes, as well as beds that are not in direct continuous contact with the earth –such as rooftop gardens, or gardens in areas where an impervious layer protects plants from contaminated earth beneath. We support eligibility for organic certification of containers where the soil is managed organically. As discussed above, managing the soil organically involves many things –most could not be done in pots or most other containers, but would be possible in large beds. In particular, the organic regulations must be followed to the letter.

Containerized culture may be eligible for organic certification under limited circumstances in which organic soil-building and other organic practices are used. These are essentially the same practices that would be required for growing in permanent beds in the soil.

We support the proposals of the Crops Subcommittee majority for prohibiting hydroponics and delineating acceptable practices for organic containers.

Marine materials (Seaweeds and products of seaweeds)
Marine biodiversity is important, and the roles played by marine algae (seaweed) are important to marine biodiversity and ecology. Human threats to marine environments include overfishing, global warming, biological introductions, and pollution. The NOSB should continue its efforts to clarify the identities of species of marine algae used in organic production as well as to develop guidance for the application of the wildcrafting standard to marine algae. Application of scientific names to seaweeds needs to be clarified to ensure protection, and any restrictions need to be justified.

The NOSB must investigate mechanisms for protecting marine ecology from the impacts of over-harvesting marine algae for use in organic products and production. It must also look at natural materials in use in crops and livestock as well as those on the National List. Lastly, the NOSB must protect rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) to the extent possible and specifically list it as a prohibited natural.

Seaweeds (marine algae) and products made from them should be allowed as ingredients in organic food, feed to organic livestock, and crop inputs only “when harvested from a designated area that has had no prohibited substance applied to it for a period of 3 years immediately preceding harvest and when harvested in a manner that ensures that such harvesting or gathering will not be destructive to the environment and will sustain the growth and production of the population of the species.”

“Inert” Ingredients in Organic Production
“Inert” ingredients frequently compose as much as 99% of pesticide products.  So-called “inert” ingredients are typically not biologically and chemically inert, and are not disclosed to users or others who may be exposed.  Due to NOSB scrutiny of active ingredients, “inert” ingredients may be the most hazardous ingredients in pesticide products used in organic production. We urge the NOSB to insist that NOP move forward quickly with implementation of the NOSB recommendations on inert ingredients. Allowing the current lack of movement to persist raises serious compliance issues and threatens the integrity of the USDA organic label.

Submit your comments now.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.  

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22
Sep

Washoe Tribal Council Brings Goats to Its Rangeland to Manage Invasive Weeds

(Beyond Pesticides in Gardnerville, Nevada, September 22, 2017) For the second year, the Washoe Tribe has brought a 450 head herd of goats to its tribal land to manage weeds on its rangeland at the Stewart Ranch. The program, led by the Washoe Tribal Environmental Protection Department (WEPD), is being conducted with the Washington, DC-based organization Beyond Pesticides and Goat Green LLC., a goat grazing company based in Wyoming.

We are goal oriented and want to heal all components of this living system including diversity in desired plants, recycling of all nutrients, water retention in the soil to prevent erosion and decrease runoff to the river.  The goat herd is a living tool and we work with deep respect for the land, water, animals and culture of the Washoe people,” says Lani Malmberg, co-owner of Goat Green, LLC.

The program is being launched as a pilot, an alternative to using herbicides for managing invasive weeds, including Perennial Pepperweed, Hoary Cress, Canada Thistle, Russian Knapweed and others.  Goat grazing has been demonstrated to be an effective tool because the herd eats unwanted vegetation then cycles nutrients back into the soil, thus fertilizing.  Goats get a drink and deliver water to dry sites one pint at a time, thus irrigating and with 1,800 hooves are aerating, mulching and tilling soils. Ms. Malmberg elaborates, “Unique enzymes and bacteria in their guts coupled with small and narrow triangular mouth shape aids goats in destroying over 99% of ingested weed seeds thus preventing weed spread.”

Goats headed for the river to get hydrated.

Other benefits beside weed management are fire mitigation, seedbed preparation, covering bare sites and filling niches with desire vegetation which builds stability and resilience in the ecosystem. All efforts prevent future problems from both natural stresses such as drought, flood, fire, wildlife trails and bedding grounds, etc. or man-made stresses, such as over-grazing, misuse of chemical treatment, road maintenance, as well as people and pets introducing new weed seeds

We are thrilled to be a part of this project,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “With this project, the Washoe Tribal Council and Washoe Department of Environmental Protection promote a progressive approach to weed management, which respects Mother Nature,” Mr. Feldman said.

We are pleased to bring this project to the reservation, which aligns with the Tribe’s commitment for enhancing weed treatment on the land and ecosystem without the use of herbicides,” said Norm Harry, Director of the Washoe Environmental Protection Department.

If you are in the area, or know someone in the area, reporters are invited to see the goats do their work. Please call Norm Harry at 775-265-8682 or Susan Jamerson at 775-265-8689 to arrange a visit.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.  

See press release        

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21
Sep

California Court of Appeal Rejects California’s Approval of Bee-Killing Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, September 21, 2017) The First District California Court of Appeal issued an opinion Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging a California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) decision to approve additional uses for two bee-killing pesticides without disclosing the impact on honeybees.

Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, and Beyond Pesticides, represented by Earthjustice, filed the underlying lawsuit in 2014, seeking to halt DPR’s practice of approving ever more uses for neonicotinoid pesticides pending completion of the agency’s languishing scientific review of the evidence linking agricultural use of neonicotinoids to a global honeybee die-off. DPR began its scientific review in early 2009 after it received evidence that neonicotinoids are killing bees, but DPR has yet to complete its review or take meaningful action to protect bees. Instead, DPR has continued to allow increased use of neonicotinoids in California.

“DPR acknowledged almost 10 years ago that neonicotinoids are killing bees, yet the agency has approved more and more uses for these toxic pesticides every year since,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who represented the groups. “It’s time for DPR to do its job and protect honeybees and the multi-billion dollar agricultural economy that bees make possible in this State.”

At issue in the lawsuit was DPR’s decision to expand the use of two powerful neonicotinoid insecticides – sold under the trademarks Venom Insecticide and Dinotefuran 20SG – despite the agency’s still-pending review of impacts to pollinators.  The case underscores larger problems with DPR’s unwillingness to comply with laws enacted to ensure that pesticides do not threaten human health, agriculture, or the environment.

“This ruling is welcome news, given the crisis facing bee populations in California and across the country, along with the resulting impacts on farmers and our food system,” said Paul Towers, Organizing Director and Policy Advocate at Pesticide Action Network. “We applaud the court for confirming that the state must evaluate the impacts not only of these two pesticides, but also the toxic combination effect of multiple pesticides, as well as meaningfully consider alternatives to their use.  This is a win for public health, the environment — and in particular honeybees.”

A growing body of independent science links the class of pesticides called neonicotinoids to bee declines, both alone and in combination with other factors like disease and malnutrition. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 800 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines.

“Unless halted, the use of these pesticides threatens not only the very survival of our pollinators, but the fate of whole ecosystems. DPR has a responsibility to step in and say no. Particularly in the current political climate, it is all the more important to continue to hold all regulators accountable and to have states step up and protect beekeepers and the environment,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director at Center for Food Safety.

“An overwhelming body of scientific literature calls for regulatory action to protect vulnerable pollinator and other non-target species from toxic pesticide use,” said Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides. “This court decision enforces regulatory responsibility to assess the full range of impacts caused by the indiscriminate pesticide poisoning in order to preserve essential ecological services that are critical to sustaining life.”

One in every three bites of food depends on bees for pollination, and the annual value of pollination services worldwide are estimated at over $125 billion. In the United States, pollination contributes $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually. And in California alone, almonds crops — entirely dependent on bees for pollination — are valued at over $3 billion.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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20
Sep

European Regulators Lifted Language from Monsanto in Concluding that Glyphosate (Roundup) is Not Carcinogenic

(Beyond Pesticides, September 20, 2017) The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) copied dozens of pages from a Monsanto study in reaching its conclusion that glyphosate (Roundup) is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans,” according to recent report in The Guardian. EFSA’s recommendation is supposed to provide an independent analysis for European Union (EU) member states, which are deciding whether to approve the chemical. However, the scandal is raising new questions over the multinational chemical industry’s influence over the upcoming November vote. Late last month, French officials indicated they will vote against the reauthorization of glyphosate in the EU.

EFSA’s recommendation on glyphosate, known as its renewal assessment report (RAR), was released in 2015. EFSA’s RAR was released eight months after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from laboratory studies. At the time of the release, Beyond Pesticides and other watchdog groups noted that EFSA’s RAR only evaluated technical grade glyphosate, and not formulated glyphosate products, such as Roundup, which have inert ingredients that increase the overall toxicity of the product. EFSA indicated as much in the RAR, suggesting that the “toxicity of the formulations should be considered further.” And that, “…although some studies suggest that certain glyphosate-based formulations may be genotoxic (i.e., damaging to DNA), others that look solely at the active substance glyphosate do not show this effect. It is likely, therefore, that the genotoxic effects observed in some glyphosate-based formulations are related to the other constituents or ‘co-formulants.’”

Given that most glyphosate applications to gardens, landscapes, and farm fields use formulated products, such as Roundup, it is difficult to set aside these safety implications when considering classifications over carcinogenicity. However, The Guardian’s recent reporting adds another layer of uncertainty to EFSA’s RAR, as dozens of pages appear to be copied verbatim from an industry funded report produced by a Monsanto backed group known as the Glyphosate Task Force. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a similar approach aimed at influencing independent evaluators was undertaken by Monsanto shortly after IARC’s 2015 determination. In that case, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment released a report that drew almost solely on data provided by the Glyphosate Task Force.

A Monsanto spokesperson indicated to The Guardian that EFSA allowed the RAR report to be written the way it was because of the large number of studies that needed to be assessed.

This is not the first regulatory body that Monsanto has sought to influence over glyphosate’s cancer classification. In the U.S. the company is being criminally investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Inspector General over potential collusion between the company and top level EPA official Jess Rowland. Documents released in the discovery process over a lawsuit filed by cancer victims that link their illness to glyphosate exposure uncovered the collusion. The documents reveal that Deputy Division Director for the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs Jess Rowland alerted Monsanto to the IARC determination months before its publication. This allowed Monsanto ample time to formulate a public relations campaign calling into question the integrity of IARC scientists.

However, despite Monsanto’s continued efforts to denigrate the international body, states and localities in the U.S. are taking action to restrict carcinogenic Roundup use. In California, the company failed to stop glyphosate from being listed under Prop 65, chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. And hundreds of local communities are taking action to eliminate glyphosate and other toxic synthetic pesticides from being used in their public spaces.

While pressure continues to mount in the EU to stop the reauthorization of glyphosate products, a transition away from chemical use in the US will require grassroots advocacy. Start your own local movement to stop toxic pesticide use in your community by arming yourself with the latest science on toxic chemicals and their alternatives, building a coalition of concerned residents, and taking your concerns to elected officials. Contact Beyond Pesticides at info@beyondpesticides.org or 202-543-5450 for assistance.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.                                  

Source: The Guardian

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19
Sep

Organic Better than Chemical-Intensive Agriculture at Fighting Climate Change

(Beyond Pesticides, September 19, 2017) Soils on organic farms sequester more carbon for a longer period of time when compared to the soil on conventional chemical-intensive farms, according to a study conducted by researchers from Northeastern University and The Organic Center. The continuing effects of climate change necessitate a robust approach to both limiting and reducing carbon in the earth’s atmosphere. As the study shows, a wholesale transition from conventional to organic farming could play an important part in mitigating the effects of a warming planet.

In order to assess the impact of the differing production practices, researchers compared the soil on over 1000 organic and conventional farms throughout the U.S. Focus was placed on how the different approaches impact soil organic carbon, which is simply the amount of carbon contained in soil, and consists of two sources. The first is carbon that cycles through air, soil, and microorganisms. The second is more stable in the soil, and is contained in soil humus. Humus is not cycled in and out of soil. It is a complex of decayed organic matter that stores essential elements including carbon and nutrients in a highly stable state. The primary substances that make up humus are fluvic and humic acid, and the percentage of each was also measured by researchers at each farm observed in the study.

Results show that soils on organic farms contain 13% more total soil organic carbon than conventional farms. Levels of fluvic and humic acid were also 150% and 44% higher respectively in soils on organic farms when compared to conventional counterparts. Further, the study indicates that ability of organic soils to be a long-term source for carbon sequestration through the process of turning organic matter into humus (humification) was 26% higher in organic soils than conventional ones. Researchers indicate, “With the exception of water retention, comparisons of soil organic matter, fluvic acid, humic acid, and humification suggest that organic farming practices support healthy soils and build and/or or maintain soil organic matter more effectively than conventional farming practices.”

These data are in line with previous research that has revealed the benefits and role that organic farming practices can play in carbon reduction through sequestration. According to calculations from the Rodale Institute in 2014, soil sequestration has the potential to store the greenhouse gas emissions of up to 52 gigatonnes of CO2.

Organic agricultural practices also show a range of benefits beyond greenhouse gas reduction. Research published in 2016 found that U.S. counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity boosted median household incomes by roughly $2,000, reducing poverty levels by 1.3%. A 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) found similar results, with increased labor costs in organic being offset by a decreased need to purchase outside inputs that include nonrenewable resources like chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A recent 2017 report from the European Parliament also noted that organic production had significant benefits for human health. “Overall, consumption of organic food substantially decreases the consumer’s dietary pesticide exposure, as well as acute and chronic risks from such exposure,” the report says.

Meanwhile, conventional systems have been found to be particularly bad for soil, leading to a myriad of problems that effect personal and global economics, human health, and ecological stability. A report released in March of this year by French researchers finds that conventional pesticide use did not equate to higher profits for farmers. Further, a 2016 report published in Nature Communications found that the loss of soil microbial diversity adversely impacts the ability for soil to deliver valuable ecosystem services.  Indeed, another report published in 2016 by Danish researchers found that conventional agricultural practices had direct effects on populations of earthworms, springtails, mites, and other microbial life critical to the cycling of organic nutrients. There is growing evidence documented by Beyond Pesticides in its recent issue of Pesticides and You linking pesticides, soil microbiota, and the human gut microbiome to poisoning and resulting diseases.

It is little wonder why scientists at Washington State University recently determined that organic agriculture is essential to a sustainable future. While organic farmland is currently still a small portion of farms in production in the U.S., that number is growing rapidly as more and more consumers decide to buy organic.

Though organic products may be a bit more expensive, consumers know that what they’re getting is worth the price – safer food that is better for the environment. For more information on the impact of pesticides on soil health, see Beyond Pesticides’ Soil Biota webpage. Additional information on the benefits of organic production can also be found on the Organic Agriculture program page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Organic Center

 

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