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Daily News Blog

19
Jun

EPA Sued for Delaying Worker Protection Rule Changes

(Beyond Pesticides, June 19, 2017) Farmworker and health organizations have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following the agency’s announcement last month that it will delay for one year the implementation of a final rule that revised and updated protections for certified pesticide applicators. Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice are co-counsel on the case. The rule, the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, includes much needed requirements like mandatory age minimums, as well as better training for pesticide applicators to protect workers and the public from poisoning by the most toxic pesticides.

First enacted in 1974, the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule  was revised and made final on January 4, 2017, and was scheduled to go into effect March 6, 2017. It outlines regulations regarding the certification of applicators of restricted use pesticides (RUPs)- some of the most hazardous pesticides. The rule ensures that applicators of RUPs get adequate training and establishes a minimum age of 18 for pesticide applicators. It also requires that applicators be able to read and write; increases the frequency of applicator safety training to every year; and improves the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that they apply in agricultural, commercial, and residential settings. Now these new common-sense protections have been delayed until May 2018, after EPA announced that it “determined that the effective date of the revised Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule should be extended until May 22, 2018, and that the agency is taking this action to give recently arrived Agency officials the opportunity to conduct a substantive review of the revised Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule.”

On Wednesday June 14, farmworker and health groups filed suit against EPA for the delay. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and comes a month after the EPA announced the one-year delay to the rule while offering the public just 4 days to comment on the move.  The delay means minors or poorly trained applicators can continue to handle some of the most toxic pesticides in agricultural, commercial and residential settings, putting themselves and the public at risk. According to the EPA, there are about one million certified applicators nationwide. Before delaying implementation, the agency said the revised rule could prevent some 1,000 acute poisonings every year.

“EPA’s mission is to protect all Americans from significant risks to human health and yet it’s delaying life-saving information and training for the workers who handle the most toxic pesticides in the country,” said Eve C. Gartner, Earthjustice attorney. “This delay jeopardizes everyone’s health and safety.”

When the EPA adopted the rule, it pointed to various tragic incidents where children died or were seriously injured when poorly trained applicators misused highly toxic pesticides. The agency concluded stronger standards for those applying RUPs will reduce risks to workers and help protect communities and the environment from toxic harms. Yet in delaying the rule, EPA refused to address these findings, and it failed to explain to the public how a delay would not cause unreasonable risks to people.

“There is no justification for delaying common sense measures to improve safety. Each year of delay will result in more poisonings and deaths,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Farmworker Association of Florida, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Pesticide Action Network North America.

Industry critics believe the new rules are too burdensome on pesticide applicators, citing increased time to meet training requirements and increased costs. However, with recent high profile and tragic pesticide poisonings –including the 2015 poisoning incidents in U.S. Virgin Islands  and Palm City, Florida, where evidence revealed that pesticide applicators made gross errors in judgement and were possibly negligent, it is more important than ever for applicators to raise their standards of knowledge and competency in making applications of hazardous pesticides.

Without proper enforcement and oversight, applicators, their clients, and the environment will be at risk. While striving to minimize adverse impact from pesticide use, stricter applicator standards are only one part of the solution. Instead of delaying important applicator standards, EPA must reduce the overall approval, sale, and use of pesticides that are proven to be hazardous to human and environmental health, and for which there are safer alternatives, keeping with its mandate that these products pose no unreasonable adverse effects on people and the environment.

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

Source: Earthjustice Press Release

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16
Jun

Restaurants in Nation’s Capital Feature Foods Reliant on Pollinators for National Pollinator Week

(Beyond Pesticides, June 16, 2017) In recognition of the importance of pollinators to food production during National Pollinator Week, June 19-25, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety are teaming up with restaurants in the Nation’s Capital for the second annual “Made by Pollinators” campaign. The campaign will bring awareness to the issue of pollinator decline, which pesticides play a leading role in through lethal and chronic effects on these critical species. Participating restaurants, including Busboys and Poets, Lavagna, Logan Tavern, Restaurant Nora, Tabard Inn, and Vegetable and Butcher, will educate the public on the importance of pollinators by annotating their menus or offering pollinator-inspired specials that contain ingredients reliant on pollinators for production. One out of every three bites of food requires pollination, a fact these environmentally conscious restaurants will share with their patrons during National Pollinator Week 2017.

Busboys and Poets remarked that, “Without bees, we wouldn’t be able to serve 99% of our menu. Our participation in Pollinator Week is a small step toward a movement to promote the health of our planet’s ecosystems.” By sourcing a multitude of their ingredients from organic farms, Busboys and Poets does their part to support pollinator health.

Lavagna stated, “We’re thrilled to participate in Pollinator Week to educate our community about how integral pollinators are in creating our favorite foods. At Lavagna, we source local, organic ingredients to do our part to protect the hard working pollinators.”

Logan Tavern said, “Pollinators are the unsung heroes of our food system. We are privileged to constantly witness their role first hand on our farm, EatWell Natural Farm, in La Plata, Maryland. During Pollinator Week, we will serve a number of dishes that highlight the roles that pollinators play in producing necessary ingredients for the delicious food at your table; come see what all the buzzzzz is all about!”

Nora Pouillon, owner and founder of Restaurant Nora, America’s first certified organic restaurant, said, “Bees are the most important thing for sustainable food growth, which is one of the reasons I source 100% organic food, free of pesticides that may cause pollinators harm.” She continued, “My business partner takes it even one step further and raises bees.”

The Tabard Inn stated, “We believe it is important for us and our future generations to protect our environment and encourage smart use of our resources in as many ways as we can. By collaborating with local organic farmers, national organizations, and specialized purveyors, we aim to better the quality of our products, and ultimately everyone’s health. At the Tabard, we strive to use pesticide-free, environmentally-responsible products in all of our departments on a daily basis.”

Vegetable and Butcher said, “Bees play a vital role in our food system, and our menu wouldn’t be the same without them. Participating in Pollinator Week is one way for us to support better farming practices and further our commitment to sourcing sustainable ingredients.”

“We are thrilled at the positive response we have received from the participating restaurants, all of which are leaders in the Nation’s Capital when it comes to sourcing organic and sustainable food,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “We are especially excited about the potential this campaign has to bring awareness to the problem of pollinator declines, educating restaurant patrons on the critical role that pollinators play in our food system.”

“This week and every week we should be doing everything we can to protect bees and other pollinators that are critical to our health and the health of our food system and environment. We cannot afford to let alarming pollinator population declines continue to go unchecked, which is why we’re grateful to these restaurants for their leadership in helping to raise awareness about these important issues,” said Larissa Walker, Center for Food Safety pollinator program director.

National Pollinator Week began in 2006 when the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the designation of a week in June to address the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. However, in light of federal inaction, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Maryland have taken steps to eliminate the use of pollinator-toxic products, and many local communities throughout the U.S. have passed pesticide reform policies. While much remains to be done to combat contributing factors to pollinator declines, such as the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and disappearing pollinator habitat, National Pollinator Week is a chance to reflect and celebrate the achievements of the past year, while simultaneously raising awareness of the important role pollinator’s play and the threat that pesticides pose to their very survival.

In addition to the “Made by Pollinators” campaign, here are some things you can do for pollinator week. Here’s what you can do:

1) Organize a Meeting in Your Community. Utilize a public space, such as your local library or community center, have a house party, or host a pollinator-friendly dinner and view the talk Bees, Pollinators, and Biodiversity, by Vera Krischik, Ph.D. from Beyond Pesticides’ 35th National Pesticide Forum. This is a perfect opportunity to have a discussion with your friends and neighbors about the serious issue of pollinator decline and what you can do.

2) Make Change Happen in Your Community. Armed with allies and resources from your video screening party, go to your elected official and ask them to introduce the Model Pollinator Resolution and/or our Model Lawns and Landscapes policy.

>>Get the Model Community Pollinator Resolution here, and our Model Lawns and Landscapes Policy here.>For more information, or help with your campaign, see our fact sheet, How to Start Your Own Local Movement, see our BEE Protective webpage, or get in touch with us. Build the buzz in your community to make changes that will protect your local pollinator population!

See also Pollinator Week 2017 webpage.

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

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15
Jun

Aerial Mosquito Spraying Linked to Elevated Autism Rates

(Beyond Pesticides, June 15, 2017) Communities exposed to frequent aerial spraying for mosquito control experience elevated rates of autism diagnoses, according to new research. The study identifies the frequent use of synthetic pyrethroid insecticides, which are linked to neurocognitive and behavioral impacts, among other health effects.

Pediatric researchers at Penn State University and the University of California examined communities in eight zip codes in Onondaga County, New York with frequent aerial spray programs for mosquito control, and contrasted these findings with communities in 16 zip codes that do not employ similar pesticide use programs. According to the study, between 2007 and 2009, the average yearly pesticide burden across the eight aerial exposed zip codes was approximately 11,000 kilograms, compared to approximately 4,000 kilograms of pesticide exposure across the 16 control zip codes. The study finds that the zip codes with frequent aerial pyrethroid exposure are 37% more likely to have higher rates of childhood developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder. The researchers acknowledge that the study establishes a correlational, not a causal, link between pyrethroid exposure and autism/developmental disorders, it adds to a growing body of research demonstrating an exposure-effect relationship between the two.

Other studies have similarly linked developmental disorders and autism to pyrethroid exposure. In 2014, researchers found that pregnant women who lived within a mile of agricultural fields treated with pyrethroid insecticides are more likely to have their child develop autism. The study found that living near a field where pyrethroids were applied during a woman’s third trimester corresponded with an 87% increased risk of having a child with autism. Another study, published by a team of French scientists in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, links childhood behavioral problems to pyrethroid insecticide exposure. This past Tuesday, Beyond Pesticides reported on a study published by a team of Chinese and U.S. researchers that found prenatal exposure to commonly used mosquito and agricultural insecticides is associated with decreased motor function in infants.

Researchers hypothesize that behavioral disorders are rooted in changes to a child’s brain. Because pyrethroids act on sodium channels, increased sodium influx may result in effects to synaptic plasticity, which is important in the development of learning and memory. Scientists infer that pyrethroid exposure may also alter the transport of dopamine throughout the brain. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter, responsible for a wide variety of functions in the brain and body.

In addition to exposure through mosquito spraying, more and more synthetic pyrethroids are sold to consumers for home use pest control, with claims that they are lower toxicity or as safe as chrysanthemum flowers, from which natural pyrethrum is derived. These chemicals are showing up in increasing concentrations in children’s urine, as reported by recent research at University of California, Davis. In addition to their use in home pest control products like RAID®, they are commonly found in head lice shampoos marketed for children, despite studies indicating that 99.6% of lice are resistant to treatment by the commonly used synthetic pyrethroid permethrin.

In light of the identified hazards and unknown effects of exposure to pyrethroids, Beyond Pesticides urges local and state officials to consider more closely the lack of efficacy associated with community spray programs. Beyond Pesticides encourages an integrated approach to mosquito management that focuses on prevention through public education encouraging frequent removal of standing water, larviciding, and use of repellents. If prevention measures are enforced, the need to spray should be extremely limited, and balanced against the potential public health impacts of hazardous pesticides. Community-based programs should encourage residents to employ these effective techniques, focus on eliminating breeding sites on public lands, and promote monitoring and action levels in order to determine what, where, and when control measures might be needed. Contact Beyond Pesticides for 25 free mosquito doorknob hangers to encourage best management practices in your neighborhood.

Source: Houston Press, Frontiers in Pediatrics

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

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14
Jun

Agricultural Herbicide Use Threatens Oak Trees

(Beyond Pesticides, June 14, 2017)  Oak trees in Iowa may be the latest victim of widespread chemical-intensive agriculture, according reports in the Des Moines Register. The newspaper indicates that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has received roughly one thousand calls this spring from residents concerned about the state of their oak trees. Leaves are ‘tattered’ down to the vein, in an appearance one would first think was related to pest damage, according to the newspaper article. However, foresters with IDNR indicate the cause is likely the use of chloroacetanillide herbicides, which are applied throughout the state and region. Advocates say that this situation contributes to mounting environmental problems associated with chemical-intensive food production that support the need for the adoption of non-toxic weed management strategies.

Past research has found associations between the use of chloroacetanillide herbicides, such as acetochlor and metolachlor, and oak leaf tatter syndrome. State officials indicate that the increase in resident complaints is likely related to a colder March, which may have retarded leaf development. By the time leaves began unfurling in early spring, herbicide use was at its height, leading to high ambient concentrations of the chemicals in the atmosphere, according to IDNR officials that spoke with the Des Moines Register.

“Our concern is, if this would happen in multiple years, year after year, that’s heavy defoliation,” said DNR forester Mark Vitosh to Radio Iowa. “It can cause stress which can induce other insects and other things to attack them.”

State officials told the Des Moines Register that the phenomenon is likely not a result of farmer herbicide misuse. While some herbicide defoliation may be related to direct pesticide drift, widespread use brings chloroacetanilide herbicides into the air, and rainfall can bring the herbicides back down to the ground, affecting oaks far away from the original application site.

“In Iowa, we have a significant decline in white oak in the last five, six years,” Mr. Vitosh said to the Des Moines Register. “I’m not saying it’s because of tatters, but that could be part of the problem.”

The syndrome is not limited to Iowa, but has been reported throughout the Midwest.  And the damage isn’t limited to oak trees. Hackberry trees have also experienced widespread defoliation, according to Iowa State University Extension forester Jesse Randall, PhD, in an interview with the Des Moines Register. “But nothing will change because it’s such a widely used family of chemicals,” Dr. Randall stated.

That sentiment is not shared by Beyond Pesticides. Oak tree defoliation as a result of minute atmospheric herbicide concentrations should be a wake- up call not only for regulators, but product manufacturers and farm groups. Although the impacts may not be as acute as those seen by the now-banned herbicide Imprellis, which was responsible for the death of thousands of spruce and pine trees, it points to a broader concern –namely, the pervasive acceptance of chemical-dependency is agricultural production.

Despite the fact that numerous studies have found that certified organic row crops produce equal yields and often increased profits when compared to conventional production, politicians and regulators continue to act as if there is no alternative to a habitual dousing of hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland with synthetic chemicals. Given continued intransigence from policy makers, residents must play a central role in promoting positive change.

Support a safer system of food production by purchasing organic food, which doesn’t allow the use of toxic synthetic herbicides, and requires methods to support ecological health. Folks in the Midwest should be aware of oak tatters, and report any signs to their Department of Natural Resources or Forestry Services. By joining together in support of a safer future, residents can make important strides in protecting trees, wildlife, and the wider environment.

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

Source: Des Moines Register, Radio Iowa

Photo Source: ISU Plant Disease Clinic

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13
Jun

Common Mosquito Control Insecticides Decrease Motor Function in Infants

(Beyond Pesticides, June 13, 2017) Prenatal exposure to commonly used mosquito and agricultural insecticides is associated with decreased motor function in infants, according to a study published in Environment International by a team of Chinese and U.S. researchers. The results of the study should give pause to insecticide-heavy efforts to control mosquitoes as the season ramps up this summer and fall. Frequent spraying as part of efforts to control Zika in Southern Florida last year resulted in large protests and calls for a preventive management approach not dependent on toxic chemicals.

For the current study, over 350 pregnant Chinese mothers were tested for the presence of organophosphate pesticides in their umbilical cord blood. Researchers looked at exposure to the insecticides naled, methamidophos, trichlorfon, chlorpyrifos, and phorate. After giving birth, their children’s motor function was tested at both six and nine months of age. Tests included an analysis of the infant’s reflexes, locomotion, grasping, stationary and visual-motor integration abilities. Scores were categorized based on gross, fine, and total motor skills, and standardized quotients were created for each of the categories.

Of the over 300 mothers, roughly 240 had detectable levels of one of the insecticides in their samples. Although no differences in motor function were observed for infants at six months of age, significant impacts were seen once the tests were repeated at nine months. The most striking effects were seen with the chemicals chlorpyrifos and naled. For naled, scores for visual motor, fine motor, and fine motor quotients decreased 0.55, 0.85, and 0.90 points lower per 1 ng/mL increase in naled originally detected in an infant mother’s cord blood. With chlorpyrifos, reflexes, locomotion, grasping, VM (visual motor), GM (gross motor), FM (fine motor), TM (total motor), GMQ (gross motor quotient), FMQ (fine motor quotient), and TMQ (total motor quotient) are, respectively, 0.50, 1.98, 0.80, 1.91, 3.49, 2.71, 6.29, 2.56, 2.04, and 2.59 points lower, when comparing exposed and unexposed infants, according to the study.

Concerns about the toxicity of naled and chlorpyrifos are not new. Chlorpyrifos is the subject of a decade-long legal battle, where the Natural Resource Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), challenging its continued allowance, given evidence of neurotoxic effects. Earlier this year, EPA reversed a tentative decision made in 2015 to revoke food tolerances for the chemical, a move seen as politically motivated by the Trump administration. Past research has linked chlorpyrifos to a range of adverse health outcomes, from tremors in children, to lowered IQ, and autism.

Naled has also long been subject to scrutiny from scientists and health advocates. Last year, Beyond Pesticides sent a letter to EPA citing the inadequacies of its scientific review as outdated and incomplete, leading to significant safety concerns. A 2015 deadline the agency set for a final review decision on residential exposure to naled has still not been met.  Meanwhile, reports of massive bee kills, sick residents, and studies such as these add to calls to eliminate this chemical’s use in our environment. To wit, a study published last year regarding the efficacy of naled and other mosquito adulticides in controlling Zika in Southern Florida showed very little reduction in the mosquito that carries the virus, Aedes aegypti, indicating evidence of widespread resistance.

Smart community mosquito management focuses on education and source-reduction as the primary means to manage mosquito-borne disease outbreaks. Community residents are encouraged to dump out standing water at least once a week, and effective vector control operations also eliminate standing water sources to the extent possible and, as needed, treats water bodies with least-toxic larvacides like bacillus thuringiensis. Use of mosquito adulticides have been shown to lack efficacy and should only be as a last resort temporary measure when other options have failed and there is an imminent public health threat – never as a regular course of action. Beyond Pesticides’ Mosquito Management program page has a list of resources that can help individuals and communities safely manage mosquitoes, including information on least-toxic mosquito repellents, bed nets, and proper clothing that can be used to keep mosquitoes safely at bay. Beyond Pesticides produces educational doorknob hangers available for print out or request, which can be used to educate neighbors on the adoption of pesticide-free methods for reducing mosquito populations in communities nationwide.

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

Source: Environment International, CNN

 

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12
Jun

Crops Damaged by Drift Widespread from Herbicide Dicamba Applied to GE Plants

(Beyond Pesticides, June 12, 2017) Once again, there are reports that soybean and cotton fields are being damaged by off-site drift of the toxic herbicide dicamba. Last summer, farmers in Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee reported widespread crop damage from dicamba drift, which led to reduced yields. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a criminal investigation at several Missouri locations into what they said was the illegal spraying of dicamba in October 2016. This year, reports of dicamba drift and damage are already being reported in Arkansas, and 25 formal complaints have already been filed, according to the state Plant Board.

In summer 2016, illegal applications of dicamba damaged thousands of acres of soybeans, cotton, ornamental trees and fruits and vegetables. After numerous complaints, EPA launched a criminal investigation into the illegal spraying of dicamba, an investigation that is still ongoing. Many suspect that farmers who planted Roundup Ready 2 Xtend® and XTENDFLEX® Cotton, the new dicamba-tolerant genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the region, when faced with a proliferation of pigweed, illegally sprayed dicamba across their fields leading to drift and off-site crop damage to other farmers. This year, although it is too early to say how many acres have been affected or what specific formulations of the readily available herbicide were used, many farmers are bracing for levels of damage seen last year.

One Arkansas farmer, who reported his damage to the state Plant Board, noticed the damage to his field the day after a neighboring farmer sprayed BASF’s Engenia, a dicamba product developed for genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops. The farmer noted that the application was made according to label directions, but dicamba-drift still occurred onto his field. In Arkansas, the conditions that lead to the widespread damage seen last year were the same. Farmers are being encouraged to plant Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant GE seed, but the accompanying herbicide formulation from Monsanto, which the industry giant claims has low volatility, has not been approved in Arkansas, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. So far the product, XtendiMax®, has been approved in several other states, including Missouri and Tennessee. Arkansas’ Plant Board also debated and voted 12-0 to push measures that would ban or limit the use of certain forms of dicamba in the state last November. This came after a contentious hearing where farmers expressed their displeasure at the extensive crop damage they experienced. This year the board began requiring anyone who physically applies legal formulations of dicamba to complete an online training and certification course, and plans to levy hefty fines for “egregious” violations of laws restricting dicamba spraying.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deregulated Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and Bollgard II XtendFlexa® cotton in January 2015, but it was not until November 2016 that EPA registered the use of specific dicamba formulations, Xtendimax  and VaporGrip  for use on these crops. Monsanto describes the dicamba-tolerant GE crops as “designed to provide farmers with more consistent, flexible control of weeds, especially tough-to-manage and glyphosate-resistant weeds to maximize crop yield potential.” What was viewed by industry and EPA several years ago as a unique occurrence, weed resistance is now acknowledged to be a serious economic problem for farmers. While the agrichemical industry and its researchers can no longer ignore weed resistance to pesticides, it continues to promote more chemical applications in GE crops as the solution, despite the success of organic systems.

Earlier this year, farmers, environmentalists, and conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the EPA’s approval of Monsanto’s XtendiMax with Vapor Grip Technology, which is claimed to have lower volatility. The petitioners claim that EPA violated its duties under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in issuing a conditional registration, and that it did not adhere to duties under the Endangered Species Act that require EPA to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure registration would not harm any listed species. Monsanto is currently embroiled in another legal battle with a farmer who projected that he would lose $1.5 million in revenue from crop damage due to the formulation’s release (Bader Farms Inc., v. Monsanto Co., Case No. 1:16-CV-299 SNLJ). This farmer seeks compensation for extensive damage to his peach trees, which he blames on the illegal, or non-labeled use of dicamba, brought on by sales of Monsanto’s new, GE dicamba-tolerant crops.

Pesticide drift is an inevitable problem of pesticide application, and dicamba drift and subsequent crop injury to broadleaf crops has been a frequent problem. Abnormal leaf growth, floral development, reduced yield, and reduced quality have all been observed from dicamba drift. A study published by Pennsylvania State scientists in late 2015 found dicamba drift was “frequently responsible for sublethal, off-target damage” to plants and insects. Researchers find that even very low rates of dicamba herbicide exposure negatively affected plant flowering, and thus insect pollination. Dicamba has also been linked to damage of the kidney and liver, neurotoxicity, and developmental impacts. Historically, to mitigate against potential risks from pesticide drift, EPA has required buffer zones and application restrictions. However, these have not been sufficient to alleviate off-site crop damage and environmental contamination. Additionally, as demonstrated with these incidents, there are challenges with pesticide product label compliance.

While pesticide drift is a harmful consequence of chemical-intensive food production, there are alternatives that safeguard the environment and human health, while allowing for the sustainable production of food. Beyond Pesticides suggests an approach that rejects uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, and 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, organic farmers can minimize and even avoid the production challenges that most genetically engineered organisms have been falsely-marketed as solving.

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

Source: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

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09
Jun

Inspector General Investigates Alleged Monsanto-EPA Collusion to Reject Glyphosate Cancer Classification

(Beyond Pesticides, June 9, 2017) Last week, it was revealed that the inspector general for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating potential collusion on glyphosate-related matters between Monsanto and former EPA official, Jess Rowland. In a letter sent to U.S. Representative Ted Lieu, obtained by HuffPost, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. stated that he has asked the “EPA OIG Office of Investigations to conduct an inquiry into several agency glyphosate review-related matters.”

According to Michael Hubbard, a retired Special Agent in Charge for the EPA’s criminal investigations division, in an interview with HuffPost, “Inspectors general have wide-ranging authority to investigate matters of corruption at federal agencies. With confirmation that the IG’s office is taking up a probe, it’s likely that IG investigators will begin interviewing Rowland’s former colleagues and bosses, pulling records and looking through his emails.”

In March 2017, Congressman Lieu issued the following statement regarding the released files and questions on glyphosate safety.

“Reports suggest that a senior official at the EPA worked to suppress a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review of glyphosate, and may have leaked information to Monsanto. I believe that a Department of Justice investigation is warranted to look into any potential misconduct by employees of the EPA. I also believe a congressional hearing is immediately warranted.”

This followed the release of documents by a federal judge in March 2017 that raised questions of collusion between officials at EPA and Monsanto to fight a cancer classification for the company’s flagship product, Roundup (glyphosate). The judge’s ruling comes in a lawsuit against Monsanto, charging that the company’s herbicide caused the plaintiffs’ non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, on May 15, the judge rejected a motion to compel testimony from Mr. Rowland.

According to the New York Times, the court documents included “Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators [and] suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics.” The California lawsuit was brought on following the determination and listing of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015.

The released files show that Monsanto was “tipped off to the [IARC] determination by a deputy division director at the EPA, Jess Rowland, months beforehand. That led the company to prepare a public relations assault on the finding well in advance of its publication,” according to the released documents. According to Monsanto’s internal emails, Mr. Rowland had promised to fend off efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a separate review of the chemical, which never ended up occurring. The documents show a refusal by both EPA and HHS to protect public health over industry interests and advance the science on issues such as carcinogenicity of chemicals. This revelation comes as the Trump administration adopts positions that undermine scientific reviews and funding of regulatory oversight.

Despite the known risks of glyphosate exposure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) abandoned its plans to test the U.S. food supply for the presence of glyphosate residues in March 2017. The decision came after heated controversy over the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, which was cleared by a California judge for listing under California’s Prop 65 in January of this year. The federal government’s pesticide monitoring program, which is run jointly by USDA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2014 for its failure to test for the widely used herbicide.

Beyond Pesticides urges individuals concerned about glyphosate exposure to support organic systems that do not rely on hazardous carcinogenic pesticides. In agriculture, concerned consumers can buy food with the certified organic label, which not only disallows synthetic pesticides like glyphosate, but also the use of sewage sludge and genetically engineered ingredients. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and biotechnology, responsible organic farms focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and other beneficial insects, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective. To find out more about the work Beyond Pesticides is doing on organic integrity, check out Keeping Organic Strong, or to see all the reasons to go organic, visit Eating with a Conscience

Sources: HuffPost, Center for Biological Diversity

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

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08
Jun

Groups, AGs Challenge EPA Decision to Allow Insecticide Chlorpyrifos in Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, June 8, 2017) On Monday, numerous organizations filed an administrative appeal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seeking to reverse Scott Pruitt’s order to continue allowing the toxic organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos in agriculture, and revoke all tolerances (allowed food residues) of the chemical. On the same day, Attorneys General (AGs) from seven states announced legal objections to Scott Pruitt’s order, also calling for a reversal of the decision and a revocation of all tolerances. Allowing the continued use of chlorpyrifos runs counter to findings of independent science and EPA’s own scientists, which establish unacceptable risks to humans and the environment.

The administrative appeal, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of 12 environmental, labor, and civil rights organizations, resulted from the decision by EPA to allow the use of chlorpyrifos while it studies the safety of the chemical. The seven AGs, in their filing, are charging that EPA wrongfully approved the continued use of chlorpyrifos in agriculture without first gathering and assessing the full safety data, as required by the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Many environmental groups spoke out in favor of these filings. “There’s a good reason this dangerous toxin has been banned from indoor use for more than a decade and the EPA’s own scientists recommended ending its use on food,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “There is no question that this pesticide causes serious harm to people and wildlife so there should be no question that it should be banned, period.”

In March 2017, Scott Pruitt and the EPA reversed a tentative decision from 2015 to revoke food residue tolerances of chlorpyrifos due to the chemical’s neurotoxic impacts. This would have effectively banned chlorpyrifos from agriculture. This decision stemmed from a petition and lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)  ten years ago, calling for EPA to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances and cancel all registrations. A Federal Appeals court mandated that EPA take final action by March 31, 2017. Mr. Pruitt’s decision left the door open for continued neurotoxic dangers for humans, especially children, who have been shown to be especially vulnerable to chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos is part of the organophosphate (OPs) class of pesticides, which were used in World War II as nerve agents. As potent neurotoxicants, organophosphates are extremely harmful to the nervous system, given that they are cholinesterase inhibitors and bind irreversibly to the active site of an enzyme essential for normal nerve impulse transmission. The scientific evidence of neurotoxic dangers associated with chlorpyrifos exposure is extensive and consistent. A 2016 study found lower IQ in children born to mothers who, during their pregnancy, were living in close proximity to chemical-intensive agricultural lands where OPs were used. A 2015 study found that a decrease in lung function in children was linked to exposure to organophosphates early in life. Another 2015 study found that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos is linked to tremors in children. Although organophosphate use was on the decline in the U.S., Mr. Pruitt’s decision sets a precedent for continued allowance.

EPA’s own assessment, which incorporates recommendations from a 2016 Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), finds that children exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos have mental development delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorders. The SAP agreed with EPA that there is an association between chlorpyrifos prenatal exposure and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. After the 2016 review, EPA concluded that there is “sufficient evidence” that there are neurodevelopmental effects even at levels below the agency’s level of concern, and that current approaches for evaluating chlorpyrifos’ neurological impact are “not sufficiently health protective.”

Another assessment released by EPA in January 2017 found that chlorpyrifos likely has detrimental effects on 97 percent of all species listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). OPs are acutely toxic to bees, birds, mammals, aquatic organisms and certain species of algae at low doses. OPs method of entry into the environment can vary from pesticide drift, volatilization, and runoff from soil erosion.  Once present in the environment, organisms that come into contact with the pesticide will have difficulty performing basic survival and reproductive functions.

Beyond Pesticides has long sought a broad-scale marketplace transition that disallows the use of toxic synthetic pesticides by law and encourages a systems-based approach that is protective of health and the environment. That is why organic, with its requirement of a detailed organic system plan, and methods to foster and improve soil health, represent the future of agricultural production in the U.S. and abroad. This approach never allows the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, let alone organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos, and advances a viable, scalable path forward for growing food. For more information on why organic agriculture is the right alternative, see our organic program webpage.

Source(s): CommonDreams; Center for Biological Diversity

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

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07
Jun

Insecticide-Resistant Fruit Flies Show Reproductive Difficulties

(Beyond Pesticides, June 7, 2017) Fruit flies that developed a genetic resistance to the insecticide DDT have lower success at mating than those without similar changes, according to a study published last month in the journal Behavior Genetics. The results were surprising to researchers, given that the resistance developed through changes to a single allele (a variation of a single gene). “It is amazing that even if all the genes are exactly the same, having this one gene expressed at a higher level has all these effects,” said Professor Nina Wedell, PhD, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, UK to Phys.org. The study raises possible concerns about the effect of pesticide exposure to non-target (not the focus of pesticide use) insects that are integral to a healthy ecology and food web.

In conducting their investigation, researchers studied the biological fitness costs associated with the development of an insecticide resistance gene. After scientists bred resistant flies in the lab, they set up a series of “competitive mating trials,” comparing both courtship behavior and the impact of size on male fruit flies’ mating success. In general, resistant males were found to be smaller than flies that did not contain the genetic variation. However, even when larger than non-resistant males, insecticide-resistant fruit flies were less likely to be successful in the study’s competitive mating trials.

While researchers indicate size played an important role in differences between mating success, they note a number of other factors were also at play. In addition to being smaller, males carrying the resistance allele also chased females and performed courtship displays at a lower rate. And after they performed a courtship display, they were less likely to make an attempt to mate. In addition, these males waited more than two times as long as non-resistant males before mating, a term called “copulation latency,” indicating that resistant males were less attractive to females.

In sum, Dr. Wedell said to Phys.org, “The expression level of one gene responsible for detoxifying DDT also makes males smaller, less aggressive and rubbish at courting.” While the observations were clear, the mechanism through which this genetic variation resulted in the changes were less so. “We don’t yet know how this comes about,” Dr. Wedell indicated.

Although DDT is no longer in use, insecticide resistance among pests is widespread. Reports indicate that the vast majority of lice are resistant to common insecticide treatment, including the use of new chemical class insecticides, such as the synthetic pyrethroids. Indeed, 99.6% of lice are resistant to chemical treatment. Similarly, scientific studies have found bed bugs to also be resistant to commonly used insecticides. If the current study’s results are able to be translated to other insect pests, it may seem to be a beneficial on the whole by lowing a pest’s reproductive fitness. However, it should be noted that the documented effects in this study are only seen in the absence of insecticide exposure. When insecticides are present, non-resistant fruit flies die out, leaving less fit males free reign to mate. Indeed, if translatable to other insects and pesticides, this study raises concerns about the fitness of non-target, beneficial organisms that may develop resistance as a result of pesticide drift or location-based exposure.

For nearly every pest problem, there are a range of alternative methods to address the issue without resorting to the use of toxic pesticides with a range of unknown and concerning effects on the environment, wildlife and public health. For more information on managing pests without hazardous chemicals see Beyond Pesticides ManageSafe webpage, which provides information for inside homes and structures, and outdoor gardens, lawns, and landscapes.

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

Source: Phys.org

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06
Jun

Court Revokes Federal Approval of Nanotech Pesticide

(Beyond Pesticides, June 6, 2017) Last week, the U .S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to show that its conditional registration of the antimicrobial, nano-silver pesticide product “NSPW-L30SS” (previously “Nanosilva”) is in the public interest and revoked its registration. The case, brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS), challenged the approval of the novel nanotechnology which was marketed for use in an unknown number of textiles and plastics. The decision underscores the need for EPA to ensure pesticide products, including nanomaterials, meet the standards of federal pesticide law.

According to the Center for Food Safety, the Court’s decision is the first of its kind to address EPA’s responsibilities in issuing conditional registrations of new pesticide products like NSPW-L30SS. In its ruling, the Court ruled that EPA had failed to show that “conditional approval” of NSPW-L30SS as a new pesticide supported a public interest finding by the EPA with substantial evidence. EPA had conditionally registered the controversial pesticide back in 2015. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), EPA can only conditionally register new active ingredients, such nanosilver particles, if EPA determines that the registration is “in the public interest.” In the case of NSPW-L30SS, EPA stated that the registration could “potentially” reduce the amount of silver released into the environment, if all users of conventional silver pesticide products switched to nanosilver and no new users started using nanosilver. The Ninth Circuit rejected these assumptions, holding that merely stating that a pesticide “has the ‘potential’ to be in the public interest” falls short of what the law requires. The Court therefore revoked the conditional registration of the pesticide in whole.

The court decision further warns, “Nanosilver, due to its much smaller particle size, can have significantly different properties than conventional silver. These different properties provide new benefits and opportunities to industry. But with these new benefits come new risks.” Studies find that nanoproducts carry with them significant risks to people and the environment, including DNA damage to plants, increasing bacterial resistance to antimicrobials, and toxic and potentially lethal impacts on fish.

Specifically, the decision states, “The panel held, however, that substantial evidence did not support the EPA’s finding that use of NPSW was in the public interest because it had the “potential” to reduce the amount of silver released into the environment. The panel held that the EPA’s finding was based on two unsubstantiated assumptions: first, that current users of conventional-silver pesticides would replace those pesticides with NSPW; and second, that NSPW would not be incorporated into new products to the extent that such incorporation would actually increase the amount of silver released into the environment. The panel concluded that without evidence in the record to support the assumptions, it could not find that the EPA’s public-interest finding was supported by substantial evidence as required by the Act.”

This case also highlights the deficiencies of the controversial conditional registration process at EPA. EPA’s conditional approval of the nanoproduct exemplifies the agency’s allowance of products into the market without sufficient and legally required data. A 2013 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concludes that, “EPA does not have a reliable system to track key information related to conditional registrations, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required timeframes.” This latest court decision shows that products must be fully evaluated before being allowed onto the market, and that continued conditional registration of products is contrary to the EPA’s mission.

Nanotechnology is a platform technology for manipulating materials at the atomic and molecular level; manufactured nanomaterials are so small that they cannot be seen with an ordinary microscope. Yet, “nano” means more than just tiny; it means materials that have the capacity to act in fundamentally novel ways, ways that cannot be predicted from the same materials at larger scale. Their exponentially small size gives them extraordinary mobility for a manufactured material, as well as unique chemical and biological properties. Nanomaterials’ properties increase potential for biological interaction and increase potential for toxicity. Nano-silver products are overwhelmingly the most common nanomaterial in consumer products, commonly used as a powerful antimicrobial agent.

In 2008, a coalition of more than 13 organizations, including Beyond Pesticides, filed a legal petition requesting, among other things, that EPA recognize the risks associated with a growing class of nanosilver consumer products and regulate them as new pesticides. In December 2014, some of the petitioner groups sued the agency to force it to respond, and in 2015, EPA agreed to regulate novel nanomaterial pesticides as a result of the lawsuit. In the 2008 petition, petitioners identified 260 nanosilver consumer products not registered under FIFRA. That number has increased to over 400 nanosilver products on the market today. Because there are no labeling requirements for nano-scale products, many more likely exist. Nanomaterials can be incorporated into any consumer product, except those approved for food-contact uses. They are in toys, clothing, yoga mats, shoes, kitchen appliances and housewares, building materials, HVACs, bathroom fixtures and accessories, combs, brushes, offices supplies and many more.

For more on nanosilver and nanotechnology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Antimicrobials page.

Source: Center for Food Safety Press Release

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

 

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05
Jun

Continued Use of Glyphosate Herbicide in EU Called into Question by Renowned Toxicologist

(Beyond Pesticides, June 5, 2017) Following the recent proposed 10-year extension for the approval of glyphosate use in the European Union (EU), internationally recognized toxicologist Dr. Christopher Portier, Ph.D. has delivered a letter to the European Commission (the Commission), calling the scientific findings of these agencies into question. Dr. Portier is former associate director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and director of NIEHS’ Office of Risk Assessment Research. According to the letter, both the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (EChA) “failed to identify all statistically significant cancer findings in the chronic rodent carcinogenicity studies with glyphosate.” Previously, the Commission, which is in charge of the approval of glyphosate, was forced to issue a limited license extension for the chemical because member states could not reach a consensus. The Commission was holding out for further information on carcinogenicity, which was assessed by the ECHA, and whose report was issued in March 2017. According to ECHA’s most recent assessment, glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

Dr. Portier asks that the evaluations by EFSA and EChA be “repeated for all toxicological endpoints and the data underlying these evaluations be publicly released.” Based on these failures in data analysis, the final assessments conducted by the EU agencies are insufficient to allow for glyphosate’s license extension, he said. In his final request of the European agencies, Dr. Portier states, “In the interest of scientific transparency, EFSA should release all of the raw data in all areas of toxicology for all pesticides so scientists interested in repeating the evaluations by EFSA and EChA can do so.”

In 2015, Dr. Portier presented at a scientific briefing in London and stated, Glyphosate is definitely genotoxic. There is no doubt in my mind.” Genotoxicity is the ability of a chemical agent to damage the genetic information within a cell, causing mutations that may lead to cancer. According to Dr. Portier’s presentation, there is strong evidence that glyphosate and its formulated products are genotoxic and an oxidative stressor.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup brand of weedkillers, and research by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that it is a probable human carcinogen. Since IARC’s findings were released, Monsanto has made several efforts to discredit the research of this highly respected, international body, including attempting to influence government agencies. Glyphosate is also patented as an antibiotic. Because glyphosate disrupts a crucial pathway for manufacturing aromatic amino acids in plants –but not animals— many have assumed that it does not harm humans. However, many bacteria do use the shikimate pathway, and 90% of the cells in a human body are bacteria. The destruction of beneficial microbiota in the human gut (and elsewhere in and on the human body) is, therefore, a cause for concern –and a major contributor to disease.

In April 2016, a European poll reported that the majority of people across the EU’s five biggest countries, including three-quarters of Italians, 70% of Germans, 60% of French, and 56% of Britons, support a ban on glyphosate. The herbicide is the most widely used herbicide in the world, according to Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally, and as a result is being detected in food and human bodies. Tests have detected glyphosate residues in German beer at levels higher than allowed in drinking water. Glyphosate residues have been found in bread being sold in the UK. The results of the bread study also shows that glyphosate use in the UK increased by 400% in the last 20 years and is one of the three pesticides regularly found in routine testing of British bread –appearing in up to 30% of samples tested by the UK government.

Despite the known risks of glyphosate exposure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) abandoned its plans to test the U.S. food supply for the presence of glyphosate residues in March 2017. The decision came after heated controversy over the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, which was cleared by a California judge for listing under California’s Prop 65 in January of this year. The federal government’s pesticide monitoring program, which is run jointly by USDA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2014 for its failure to test for the widely used herbicide.

Beyond Pesticides has filed several lawsuits against companies that have produced food products containing glyphosate, and then labeling those products “natural.” In August 2016, three non-profit organizations filed a lawsuit against General Mills for misleading the public by labeling their Nature Valley brand granola bars as natural. In November 2016, Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), represented by Richman Law Group, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in the District of Columbia against Sioux Honey Association, for the deceptive and misleading labeling of its Sue Bee and Aunt Sue’s honey brands.

Consumers can avoid glyphosate exposure by buying organic food and supporting organic agriculture. Beyond Pesticides has long promoted the importance of organic in a sustainable food system, and works to promote the widespread transition of chemical-intensive farming to organic production. By utilizing ecological pest management strategies, organic practices, and solutions that are not dependent on toxic chemicals are the most appropriate and long-term solution to managing unwanted plants, or weeds. To find out more about the work Beyond Pesticides is doing on organic integrity, check out Keeping Organic Strong, or to see all the reasons to go organic, visit Eating with a Conscience.

Sources: Euractiv.com, Fruitnet

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

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02
Jun

Levels of Triclosan Spike in Children Following Hand Washing or Tooth Brushing

(Beyond Pesticides, June 2, 2017) According to a new study, levels of triclosan spike in the bodies of children after they brush their teeth or wash their hands. Triclosan, a controversial antimicrobial, is frequently added to consumer care products. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of triclosan in hand soaps, but it is still allowed in toothpaste and numerous plastic and textile products regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many companies had previously decided, due to consumer pressure, to remove triclosan from hand soaps years ahead of the FDA decision.

Researchers collected and tested the urine of 389 mothers and their children –three times during pregnancy, and then took between 1-6 samples from children between the ages of 1 and 8 years old. The researchers found triclosan in over 70% of samples taken. In the group of 8 year olds, they report that levels were 66% higher in the children that used hand soap. For those that wash their hands over five times a day, the levels increase more than four times in comparison to children who wash their hands once or less per day. For toothpaste, researchers find that children who had brushed their teeth and then been tested within 24 hours had concentrations of triclosan that were 167% higher than those who had not brushed their teeth in the last 24 hours.

Assistant Professor in Brown University’s Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health Joe Braun, PhD of Brown Univesity, the senior author of the study, discussed with Environmental Health News why the study was done and how exposure to triclosan at a young age can affect development. Dr. Braun stated, “There’s very little data on the exposure in those first years of life. There are a lot of behavioral changes in those years, and environmental chemicals can play a role.” A previous study, which Dr. Braun co-authored, was released in April, and the researchers found that triclosan exposure during pregnancy was linked to lower birth weights, smaller heads, and earlier births.

Triclosan has been used for over 30 years in the U.S., mostly in a medical setting, but more recently in consumer products. Numerous reports have increasingly linked triclosan to a range of adverse health and environmental effects from cancer and endocrine disruption, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistance, to the contamination of water and its negative impact on fragile aquatic ecosystems. Beyond Pesticides has cataloged extensive documentation of the potential human and environmental health effects of triclosan and its cousin triclocarban.

Meanwhile, EPA, which has jurisdiction over non-cosmetic consumer products containing triclosan (microban), continues to allow the use of this hazardous chemical in numerous plastic and textile products, from toys, cutting boards, hair brushes, sponges, computer keyboards to socks and undergarments. Beyond Pesticides previously petitioned EPA for the cancellation of registered products that contain the antibacterial pesticide. In May 2015, EPA issued its long-awaited response to the petition filed by Beyond Pesticides and Food & Water Watch, denying the request. The agency did, however, grant one request, and will evaluate and conduct a biological assessment of the potential for effects on listed species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the ongoing triclosan registration review.

In the past, public pressure, led by Beyond Pesticides and other groups, has contributed to growing awareness of the dangers of triclosan’s use. As a result, several major manufacturers took steps to exclude the chemical before the FDA decision, including Johnson & JohnsonProcter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, which reformulated its popular line of liquid soaps, but continues to formulate Total® toothpaste with triclosan. Minnesota became the first state to ban the toxic antibacterial, announcing that retailers would no longer be able to sell cleaning products that contain triclosan, effective January 2017. In June 2015, the agency responsible for chemical oversight in the European Union announced that the triclosan is toxic and bioaccumulative, and will be phased-out for hygienic uses and replaced by more suitable alternatives. According to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), “[N]o safe use could be demonstrated for the proposed use of triclosan.”

What Can You Do?

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to be conscious of labels when buying products. Be sure to read the ingredients when purchasing toothpaste and hand soap. When purchasing home products, you can research whether or not they contain triclosan (or microban). If you are interested in taking steps to rid triclosan from your community, there are a few things you can do. Encourage your local hospitals, schools, government agencies, and businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free, or follow the lead of Minnesota and New York by introducing a ban on triclosan. Additionally, organizations can adopt Beyond Pesticides’ model resolution, which commits them to not procuring or using products containing triclosan. For additional information and resources on the human health and environmental effects of triclosan, join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today.

Source: Environmental Health News, Environmental Science & Technology

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

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01
Jun

Polli-Nation Pollinator of the Month: Hawk Moth

(Beyond Pesticides, June 1, 2017) The hawk moth is the pollinator of the month for June. Hawk moth is the common name for Sphingidae, a family of over 1,400 moth species. They are also commonly referred to as sphinx moths. This family is divided into two subfamilies, five tribes, and 205 genera. The voracious tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms are larvae of two hawk moth species.

Range

According to a study by the University of Nebraska, hawk moths can be found in all parts of the world except Greenland. Some areas only host these moths for part of the year because many species make seasonal migrations to find reliable food sources and to breed. The study notes that some hawk moth species can even be found in Antarctica and the North Pole.

Diet and Pollination

The hawk moth drinks nectar from sweet-smelling flowers, many of which bloom at night. Most hawk moth species have a long proboscis. This hollow, tongue-like appendage is used to access nectar deep inside flowers. The family has the longest tongues in the moth and butterfly order. In some species, the proboscis reaches over a foot in length. These impressive tongues allow the moths to feed on and pollinate the deepest flowers.

The adults contribute to pollination in a manner similar to many other pollinators. Pollen sticks to the moth’s face, proboscis, and legs when it feeds. It then transports the pollen to successive flowers. A 1995 study at University of Massachusetts, Boston on the speed of hawk moths noted that the family uses a hovering method, similar to that of hummingbirds, while feeding on flower nectar. Additionally, tobacco, tomato, and other nightshade species play host and food source to the hawk moth larvae.

Physiology

The USDA Forest Service notes that some of the largest moths in the world belong to the sphingidae family. Moth size varies by species, but the largest can have wingspans over ten centimeters. Hawk moths are fast and powerful flyers. The University of Massachusetts, Boston study found one species capable of flying at a speed over twelve miles per hour.  They have four long and narrow wings that they use to travel great distances in search of food and in annual migration. The University of Nebraska study reported that off-shore studies have been conducted that attracted moths for study with ship lights as many as sixty miles from land.

The many hawk moth species vary in color and pattern. Their bodies are covered in narrow scales, similar to a mammal fur, which act as insulation to maintain a high temperature. They have been observed “shivering” in a similar manner to mammals in low temperatures.

Science Magazine reports that the hawk moth is among a number of insects that use their antennae as gyroscopes to maintain stability in flight. The antennae allow the moth to sense rotations, which are adjusted for by the four wings.

Ecological Role

The hawk moth plays an important role as both a pollinator and prey. As previously mentioned, the hawk moth pollinates as it feeds on flower nectar. Moth pollination is important for night-blooming plants, which are not readily serviced by daylight pollinators like bees. Additionally, the University of Nebraska study notes that hawk moths and their larvae are prey to birds, bats, small mammals, and even other insects. Their vulnerability to predation has resulted in the evolution of protective mimicry –as in the appearance of the bumblebee hawk moth and the inflatable snake head on the tail of Hemeroplanes triptolemus larvae.

Threats to Existence

The hawk moth, as a large family of moths, is not endangered. Its broad speciation and range indicate the family’s adaptation to different conditions. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Redlist lists threats to a couple of hawk moth species. The Prairie Sphinx Moth, native to the United States, has been considered critically endangered since 1996. It faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. The Fabulous Green Sphinx Moth of Kauai was considered extinct between 1986 and 2002. However, the moth was observed in limited numbers and noted as “data deficient” in 2002 before being reclassified as endangered in 2004. It faces a high very high risk of extinction. The most up-to-date assessments identify as threats to this species and the diversity of plants and insects on the island a number of factors, including agricultural development and the plants and animals it brings to the island. Further disturbance, such as hurricanes, exacerbates the problem. The 2015 study Effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on non-target invertebrates names moths among other beneficial insects as likely to experience “wide ranging negative biological and ecological impacts.”

How to Protect the Species

The steps you take to protect the hawk moth depend on which species live in your area. Use the Butterflies and Moths of North America Checklist to determine which species of moth are common in your area. The website will also provide you with the information you need to help protect pollinating moths, including their migratory schedule, preferred habitat, caterpillar host plants, and adult food plants. Once you’ve found that information, you can make sure your garden includes flowering plants that are available for nocturnal pollinators.

You can also support the hawk moth family by providing a range of flowers they prefer in your garden. They are particularly fond of petunias, trumpet vine, jimpsonweed, and Queen of the night cactus. These flowers all exhibit strong, sweet fragrance, long floral tubes, and large volumes of nectar. More generally, you can plant white and yellow night-blooming flowers in addition to those previously mentioned.

In addition to providing food and habitat for your local hawk moth species, take measures to ensure your garden is not contaminated with pesticides. Neonicotinoids are a particularly harmful class of pesticides that enter plants, contaminate nectar and pollen, have been documented to decimate non-target insect populations. Avoid introducing plants that have been treated with pesticides, especially neonicotinoids. Read more about the effects of neonicotinoids on our page Chemicals Implicated.

Citations

Buchman, Steve Hawk Moths or Sphinx Moths (Sphingidae) https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hawk_moths.shtml

IUCN Red List Euproserpinus wiesti http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8373/0

IUCN Red List Tinostoma smaragditis http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/21913/0

Messenger, Charlie The Sphinx Moths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) of Nebraska http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1071&context=tnas

Sane, Sanjay P. Antennal Mechanosensors Mediate Flight Control in Moths http://science.sciencemag.org/content/315/5813/863

Stevenson, R.D. Cage Size and Flight Speed of the Tobacco Hawkmoth Manduca Sexta http://jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/198/8/1665.full.pdf

Pisa, L.W. Effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on non-target invertebrates https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4284392/

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31
May

Neonicotinoid Seed Coatings Create Exposure Hazards for Honey Bees and Fail to Increase Yields

(Beyond Pesticides, May 31, 2017) Neonicotinoid-treated corn seeds produce lethal and sub-lethal exposure risks to honey bees and do not increase yields for farmers, according to a recent study by researchers at Purdue University. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Planting of neonicotinoid-treated maize poses risks for honey bees and other non-target organisms over a wide area without consistent crop yield benefit, examines neonicotinoid (neonic) dust drift during corn planting in Indiana and the likelihood of honey bee exposure during foraging. The study results and subsequent analysis using public data of apiary locations indicate that over 94% of honey bee foragers in Indiana are at risk of exposure to varied levels of neonics, including lethal levels, during corn sowing. Researchers also performed a three-year field assessment of the purported benefits from neonic seed coatings for pest management, finding that there is no evidence of increased corn yields compared to sites with no neonic seed treatments.

According to the lead author of the study, Christian Krupke, Ph.D., in an interview with Purdue Extension, “There was a misconception that any bees not living near corn were likely to be fine. But that’s not true, and it’s clear that these insecticides are reaching into the places bees forage and putting them at risk.” The research team set up neonic dust collection traps at 12 corn fields around Indiana and collected samples over two years to determine the levels of pesticide dust at increasing distances from the corn field edges. The data demonstrate the movement of neonic residues outside the borders of planted fields, and the researchers estimate that residues on non-target lands and waterways will be deposited on over 42% of the state of Indiana during the corn planting season.

The second aspect of the study looked at the role of neonic corn seed coating for pest control and yield increases. The research team tested untreated seeds and seeds treated with clothianidin and a fungicide at a low rate and a high rate at three different sites in Indiana, with measurements taken on root damage, early season plant count, and late season yield estimates. These data fail to demonstrate any significant benefit, measured in crop yields, from planting neonic-treated corn seeds.

Although neonics are marketed as highly beneficial for farmers, this study and other recent evidence contradicts this claim. Arguments in favor of these chemicals assert that they provide continuous protection from insect pests to the plant throughout the majority of the growing season, without the need for repeat applications. However, a 2014 EPA report offers evidence that neonic use in soybeans does not translate to better yields, with the finding that soybean seeds coated with the neonics imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin “provide negligible overall benefits in [yield] in most situations” when compared with no insect control treatment. A 2015 study finds that the use of aldicarb soil insecticide and thiamethoxam-coated seed does not reduce cutworm damage, and that plots treated with these insecticides actually had a higher percentage of defects when compared to untreated plots. Other studies, including a 2014 Center for Food Safety review of the literature on the subject, finds that the benefits of prophylactic neonic use via seed coatings were nearly non-existent, and that any minor benefits were negated due to honey bee colony impacts, reduced crop pollination by honey bees, loss of ecosystem services, and market damage from contamination events.

This study comes at a time when neonic-treated seeds are pervasive and widely used across the agricultural landscape, home gardens, and public spaces. Of the two most widely planted crops in the U.S., between 79 to 100 percent of corn seed and 34 to 44 percent of soybean seed were treated with neonics in 2011. A conservative estimate of the area planted with neonic-treated corn, soybean, and cotton seed totals just over 100 million acres, or 57 percent of the entire area for these crops.

Systemic neonic pesticides move through the plant’s vascular system and are expressed through pollen, nectar, and guttation droplets. These pesticides have been found by a growing body of scientific literature  to be linked to pollinator decline in general. Neonics 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. While the benefits to farmers are insignificant, the harm neonics cause to the wider environment is of serious concern. The dust released from planting coated seeds can drift off-field and contaminate field margins with high levels of these toxic pesticides. The Center for Food Safety’s 2016 report, Net Loss, cites findings that, depending on the crop, only five percent of the active chemical in a seed coating actually enters a crop. The other 95% of the chemical makes its way into the environment, either through seed dust, soil contamination, or water runoff.

With one in three bites of food reliant on bees, other insects, and birds for pollination, the decline in pollinators due to pesticides demands immediate action. For more on this and what you can do to protect pollinators, visit Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage. Show appreciation for both wild and managed pollinators by taking local action. Get involved at the community level to pass policies that protect imperiled pollinators.

Sources: Purdue Extension, Agriculture.com

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

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30
May

Beekeepers Continue to Experience Significant Losses as Pollinator Crisis Moves into 11th Year

(Beyond Pesticides, May 30, 2017) U.S. beekeepers lost an unsustainable 33% of their hives over the past year, according to new data from the Bee Informed Partnership. While this year’s numbers are lower than those recorded last year, which found nearly half of U.S. honey bee colonies died off, there is no cause for celebration. Declines are still well above acceptable loss rates of 15% or less, and the data indicate a continuing trend of substantial losses during the summer months. Without real changes to U.S. policy that effectively eliminate pollinator exposure to highly toxic and persistent pesticides such as neonicotinoids, there is little likelihood that these unsustainable losses will subside.

Despite the overall dour projections for U.S. pollinators, Bayer, the major manufacturer of neonicotinoid pesticides implicated in pollinator declines, attempts to spin the news in its favor. Last week, the company put out a press release titled “Welcome News for Honey Bees,” and went on the praise itself for its efforts to protect pollinators.

The chemical industry continues to use public relations tactics, in a similar vein to those previously employed by the tobacco industry, to downplay the nature of the crisis, spin the science, and blame everything but their own products for the ongoing crisis in our food supply. The good news is that there is no shortage of scientific, peer-reviewed studies linking toxic pesticides to adverse impacts on pollinator health. The key however, is the difficulty in translating this overwhelming evidence to policy-makers and the public, the subjects of the chemical industry’s misinformation campaigns.

For example, Bayer praised the Bee Informed Partnership’s results, noting “It’s the lowest winter loss rate since these surveys began.” However, behind this year’s “low” 21% winter loss rate, is a 10-year average of total winter losses which remains at 28.4%. And beekeepers are seeing more and more of their colonies die off in the summer months, a time when there should be few stressors on bee hives. As persistent, systemic chemicals are used year after year, they begin to build up in field margins and present substantial risks to honey bees both during and after crop pollination.

Indeed, as survey director Dennis vanEnglesdorp, PhD, notes in phys.org, “…I would stop short of calling this ‘good’ news.”

Without honey bees and other pollinators, U.S. consumers would lose one out of every three bites of food. And the crops that pollinators support are those that are the healthiest, most flavorful, vitamin and nutrient dense foods, meaning a world without pollinators is a world with bland food that endangers global health. There is already evidence that the pollinator crisis is affecting crop yields, as a study earlier this year revealed that wild bees are declining in 139 key agricultural communities in the country.

In spite of the chemical industry’s tactics, certain governments in the U.S and abroad have begun to tackle the issue through substantive action. After suspending neonicotinoid insecticides for 3 years, the European Commission recently proposed a complete ban on agricultural uses of these chemicals. The states of Minnesota, Connecticut, and Maryland have also taken steps to eliminate the use of pollinator-toxic products, and many local communities throughout the U.S. have passed pesticide reform policies.

Change always starts from the local level. If you’re interested in getting involved to protect pollinators in your community, reach out to Beyond Pesticides at info@beyondpesticides.org or 202-543-5450. On our Bee Protective webpage, we have resources and educational materials to get you started.

Source:  Bee Informed Partnership

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

 

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26
May

U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Rollback Waterway Protections

(Beyond Pesticides, May 26, 2017) On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that would reverse an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirement to obtain a permit before spraying pesticides on or near waterways. The passage of HR 953The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act (known by environmentalists as the “Poison Our Waters Act”), is the latest update in a multi-year string of attempts to rollback commonsense protections for the public waterways all Americans use for swimming, fishing, and other forms of recreation. It will now move forward to be considered by the Republican-majority Senate, where it will most likely pass and be signed into law.

HR 953, if signed into law, would reverse a 2009 decision issued by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA, which held that pesticides applied to waterways should be considered pollutants under federal law and regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Prior to the decision, the EPA, under the Bush Administration, had allowed the weaker and more generalized standards under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to be followed. This allowed pesticides to be discharged into U.S. waterways without any federal oversight, as FIFRA does not require tracking such applications and assessing the adverse effects on local ecosystems.

To be clear, HR 953 would:
(1) undermine federal authority to protect U.S. waters under the Clean Water Act,
(2) allow spraying of toxic chemicals into waterways without local and state oversight,
(3) contaminate drinking water sources and harm aquatic life, and
(4) not reduce claimed burdens to farmers, since there are currently no burdens.

Backers of the bill continually argue that the permit requirements place undue burdens on farmers, but in reality, the majority of pesticide applicators can obtain a permit with little restriction, and agricultural activities are exempt from the requirement. What the bill will actually do is take away American’s right to know what toxic chemicals are entering their waterways. “This bill takes away the public’s right to know about toxic pesticides we may be exposed to,” Mae Wu, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health program, said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “It eliminates the current commonsense requirement that communities should have access to basic information about what’s being sprayed in waters that can pose risks for public health.”

The vote, which was recorded as 256-165, included 25 Democrats who voted in favor of the bill. While disappointing, many Democrats did voice their concerns with the legislation. According to U.S. News, Jim McGovern, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee stated, “The Republicans are again bending over backward to help corporations and the wealthiest among us, while ignoring science and leaving hard-working families to suffer the consequences.”. . .“This administration’s decisions have placed special interests and their financial contributions ahead of the health and safety of our citizens.”

If this bill passes, citizens will be forced to take innovative local actions to protect threatened waters. Already, nearly 2,000 waterways are impaired by pesticide contamination, and many more have simply not been tested. A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report from 2014 finds that levels of pesticides continue to be a concern for aquatic life in many of the nation’s rivers and streams in agricultural and urban areas. The study, which documents pesticide levels in U.S. waterways for two decades (1992-2011), finds pesticides and their breakdown products in U.S. streams more than 90 percent of the time. Known pesticide water contaminants, such as  atrazine,  metolachlor, and  simazine, continue to be detected in streams more than 50 percent of the time, with fipronil being the pesticide most frequently found at levels of potential concern for aquatic organisms in urban streams. The report also found that for urban areas, 90 percent of the streams exceeded a chronic aquatic life benchmarks. In 2015, another USGS report found that neonicotinoid insecticides contaminate over half of urban and agricultural streams across the United States and Puerto Rico.

Beyond Pesticides continues to fight to prevent water pollution and harmful agricultural practices. Visit our Threatened Waters page, and learn how organic land management practices protect waterways in the article, Organic Land Management and the Protection of Water Quality. Do your part! Contact your Senators and ask them to oppose HR 953.

Source: ThinkProgress, U.S. News

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

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25
May

Maui County Kicks Off Pesticide-Free Pilot Program to Transition to Organic Management

(Beyond Pesticides, May 25, 2017) Four parks in Maui, Hawaii, have kicked off a year-long pesticide-free pilot program to transition to organic management. A series of training events in the county over the past few weeks focused on soil-based approaches to land management, a more effective solution than solely switching from synthetic to organic pesticides. Last Wednesday, Beyond Pesticides’ executive director, Jay Feldman, and Chip Osborne, president of Osborne Organics, taught training sessions with county Parks and Recreation staff, “discussing lawn care that relies less on outside products and aims to feed the soil, not just the plant.” Beyond Pesticides worked to support the pesticide-free parks movement in Maui by sponsoring these training sessions for Maui County Parks, Department of Transportation, Maui public schools, several local resorts, and golf course management groups.

Beyond Pesticides is working with Maui County to provide guidance on transitioning its parks to organic practices. Analysis of soil samples at each site has been conducted, which will provide a baseline to implement cultural changes to improve the biological health of the soil, making it more resistant to weed and insect pressures. The next step includes creation of a report and action plan for each county park by Beyond Pesticides and Osborne Organics, detailing the timeline for implementing practices of soil improvement and long-term management. In discussing the parks’ pilot program with Maui News, Chip Osborne stated, “There was a lot of fungal life and a lot of bacterial life [in these soils], but it wasn’t active. All the years of pesticides and salt-based fertilizers had diminished it. So the first thing that’s going to happen – far more important than a bag of fertilizer – is to restore that biological level.”

There has been “an increase in resources and attention given to organic agriculture methods, but this is the first time efforts on this scale have been made to support organic landscape management,” Maui County Councilmember Elle Cochran told Maui Now about the local training events. The county has had mixed results with other alternative management strategies, including an aeration program by the Parks and Recreation Department that reduced the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used. According to Parks and Recreation Deputy Director, Brianne Savage, “Labor costs went up, chemical costs went down, though the department would have to do more analysis to determine whether the program was truly cost effective.” The organic management approach that Osborne and Beyond Pesticides taught the county is systems-based rather than a single tactic, and will save money over the long term by reducing outside inputs and generating nutrients naturally through improved soil health.

“This pilot program has been a couple of years in the making,” according to Elle Cochran, chairwoman of the Maui County Council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. Maui’s pesticide-free parks program highlights the powerful change residents can make when they become engaged with their local elected officials. Communities throughout the country are realizing that the risks associated with pesticide use are simply not worth their health, the health of pollinators, or the wider environment.

The work Beyond Pesticides is conducting in Maui is similar to efforts undertaken in parks in the Reno, Nevada area. These programs aim to give land managers to knowledge, understanding, and tools necessary to make a broader transition to organic land care. Hopefully, successful pilot sites in Maui will lead to the passage of an ordinance that institutionalizes safer practices, as in many communities across the country.

In the past several years, Takoma Park and Montgomery County in Maryland passed ordinances banning the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes on all property, in favor of organic practices. Nearly 20 communities in Maine have restricted pesticide use on private property in some way, including comprehensive cosmetic pesticide restrictions passed in Ogunquit and South Portland. In the summer of 2015, the City of Minneapolis, MN passed an organic, pollinator friendly resolution, committing the City to adopt clear guidelines against the use of synthetic pesticides. Communities in Colorado, including Lafayette, Boulder County, and the City of Boulder have restricted the use of bee-toxic pesticides on public spaces. As Beyond Pesticides’ Map of U.S. Pesticide Reform Policies shows, numerous other localities have already enacted pesticide-free parks programs with good success.

If you’re interested in getting active in your community to fight for an organic or pesticide-free policy, click here to sign the petition today. We’ll send you resources and strategies that you can use to win protections for children, pets, pollinators, wildlife, and water quality. Without action from local residents, states and localities will continue to rely on an increasingly politicized and underfunded EPA for their safeguards from toxic chemicals. For more information on passing your own community pesticide policy, see Beyond Pesticides’ Tools for Change webpage, or reach us at 202-543-5450 or info@beyondpesticides.org.

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

Source: The Maui News, Maui Now

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24
May

DuPont Worker Sues Company for Retaliation Over Pesticide Concerns

(Beyond Pesticides, May 24, 2017) A Hawai’i woman is suing her former employer, DuPont Pioneer, stating that the company retaliated against her for bringing up concerns over pesticide safety. Shanbnell Grilho, who worked for DuPont Pioneer on Oahu’s North Shore, alleges the company required her to apply hazardous herbicides without the proper training or protection, and ultimately fired her after fabricating allegations against her. This lawsuit is the latest claim against multinational pesticide companies operating in Hawai’i, which have been at the center of local and state-level disputes over their use of toxic pesticides where Hawai’i residents live, work, and play.

In her complaint, Ms. Grilho indicates that she began working at DuPont Pioneer as a temporary employee, during which time she was awarded a raise and named DuPont Pioneer employee of the month. At the time she did not have to apply pesticides. However soon after her award, she was hired as a full time employee and required to work with Roundup, Liberty, and Honcho herbicides, which contain the active ingredients glyphosate, glufosinate, and glyphosate, respectively.  “DuPont Pioneer required plaintiff to apply herbicides and biocides while wearing a backpack sprayer, driving an ATV while applying herbicides with a backpack sprayer, and drive while others applied herbicides with a backpack sprayer,” the complaint notes.

Although these applications exposed Ms. Grilho to the aforementioned herbicides, she notes she was denied requests to have the company provide training and personal protective equipment. Her complaint further alleges that DuPont Pioneer reprimanded Ms. Grilho after she moved her coworkers to an area 500’ away from where the herbicide was applied to allow it to dissipate.  She indicates she was told not to use two-way radios, where her coworkers may overhear her safety concerns, and only contact her supervisor directly with those concerns.

When Ms. Grilho went above her immediate supervisor to express her worries over working conditions, she was transferred out into crop fields, into a more physically demanding job she alleges was retaliation for her complaints. In the fields, she worked in even closer proximity to pesticide use. As the lawsuit indicates, “[her supervisor] forced plaintiff to work in areas that were supposed to be evacuated because hazardous chemicals had been applied to the area in the past 24 hours.” She again voiced safety concerns, but in response was denied funding of her Education Assistance Program, the lawsuit indicates, in retaliation for her complaints.

After injuring her knee several months later, Ms. Grilho was then terminated by DuPont Pioneer. The complaint alleges that her termination was contrived, that “DuPont Pioneer fabricated her acceptance of long-term disability benefits in retaliation for plantiff’s whistleblowing activities and in an effort to terminate her for those whistleblowing activities.” The suit additionally indicates that Ms. Grilho’s husband, Morgan Armitage, who had worked for the company for 13 years, was fired two months after his wife’s demand letter also in retaliation over her whistleblowing activities.

Stories and lawsuits over pesticide misuse are widespread in the state of Hawai’i. As far back as 2007, chemical companies operating on the islands were accused of dangerous pesticide practices.  At that time, a number of incidents at Waimea Canyon Middle School on the island of Kauai led administrators and teachers to sit down with the company Syngenta and secure an agreement not to spray before school was out at 3:30 pm. Syngenta broke that promise, according to Maluhia Group, a coalition of Waimea Canyon Middle School staff, parents and community members. The group recorded the incident in a YouTube video.

In 2015, residents successfully sued DuPont Pioneer over property damage and loss of use and enjoyment of their property after being subject to the incessant blowing of pesticide-laden red dust from the company’s Waimea Research Center field. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently investigating Terminix and Monsanto for repeat violations of pesticide law in Hawai’i. Late last year, Syngenta was fined 4.6 million by EPA after exposing a dozen of its agricultural workers to an unregistered, chlorpyrifos-based pesticide after which they were sent to the hospital.

It is evident that pesticide enforcement in the state is lacking. In addition to the aforementioned investigations and lawsuits, EPA is looking into Hawai’i’s Department of Agriculture over allegations of discrimination against Native Hawaiians as part of their pesticide program.

Community members in Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island’s fight to institute protections from pesticide use resulted in a preemption lawsuit that ultimately struck down their protective local laws. Efforts to move these protections to the state level have been struck down in the state legislature this year, despite strong grassroots support.

Even these state-level efforts would not stop pesticide use, but simply require disclosure of when are where these chemicals are used. Yet the chemical industry has consistently refused to accept any accountability for public outrage over their practices.

As consumers, the best method to eliminate the proliferating use of toxic pesticides is to vote with our wallets. Support a system that does not endanger workers with exposure to hazardous chemicals by seeking out and purchasing only organic foods. Buying organic reduces consumer demand for products which perpetuate the alleged treatment of workers like Ms. Grilho. As the marketplace shifts towards organic, communities, workers, and the wider environment will benefit from safer, sustainable foods.

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

Source: Civil Beat

 

 

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23
May

G20 Health Ministers Craft Plan to Address Antimicrobial Resistance

(Beyond Pesticides, May 23, 2017) Health ministers from the G20 nations, the largest advanced and emerging economies, identified Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) as a “current and increasing threat and challenge to global health” and committed the member countries to several actions aimed at reducing the occurrence of AMR. The outcome of the first meeting of G20 health ministers, the Berlin Declaration of the G20 Health Ministers, addresses a wide range of global health issues, including AMR.

The G20 declaration contains little more than a mention of antimicrobials in agriculture, but both it and the G20 Agriculture Ministers’ Declaration support WHO’s Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance. WHO’s action plan includes measures of effectiveness of actions, including member state adoption of “policies on use of antimicrobial agents in terrestrial and aquatic animals and agriculture, including: implementation of Codex Alimentarius and OIE [Organization for Animal Health] international standards and guidelines as well as WHO/OIE guidance on the use of critically important antibiotics; phasing out of use of antibiotics for animal growth promotion and crop protection in the absence of risk analysis; and reduction in nontherapeutic use of antimicrobial medicines in animal health.”

The G20 meeting last weekend was not the first time world leaders have come together to discuss, in great detail, the issue of AMR. In September 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, comprised of delegates from 193 countries, addressed the alarming rise of antibiotic resistance. Prior to this historic meeting, the international body had only convened health-related meetings on three other issues: Ebola, HIV, and noncommunicable diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN health agency, “Antimicrobial resistance has become one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” At this high-profile meeting, heads of state and heads of delegations addressed the urgency of the situation and discussed multisectoral approaches to addressing antimicrobial resistance.

The most significant agreement to come out of the Declaration is the commitment by member countries to have implementation National Action Plans on AMR as called for in the WHO Action Plan “well underway” by 2018. According to the Declaration, approximately one-third of the 194 WHO member countries currently have an AMR action plan in place, and an additional one-third have begun to develop such a plan. Other efforts outlined in the Declaration include increased public education campaigns about the causes and harms of AMR, reinvigorating research and development in the antimicrobial industry, and increased monitoring at the national and regional levels. All of these have the potential to play a critical role in the global reduction of AMR.

The development of resistance by bacterial, viral, and fungal microorganisms to antimicrobial medicines is primarily due to inadequate health care systems, the improper use and overuse of these medicines in humans, agriculture, and aquaculture, as well as antimicrobial residues that make their way into water, soil, and crop systems. In the U.S., antibiotic-resistant microorganisms cause over two million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths each year as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant infection. A report published this spring identified antibiotic use in conventional plant and animal agriculture as contributing to bacterial resistance to critical life-saving human medicines and the importance of organic agriculture in eliminating antibiotic use. The report, Agricultural Uses of Antibiotics Escalate Bacterial Resistance, published in Pesticides and You, finds that while antibiotic use in animal agriculture is widely acknowledged as harmful, the use of antibiotics in chemical-intensive crop production also poses unnecessary and significant risks.

The vast majority of antibiotics sold in the U.S. is used in agriculture. According to a report by Consumers Union and Physicians for Social Responsibility, the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production accounts for nearly four times as much as are used for human illness. Typically, low levels of antibiotics are administered to animals through feed and water to prevent disease and promote growth. This is generally done to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions, as is common in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and to fatten livestock to get them to market sooner. This process increases the risk of infectious disease outbreaks that would be averted under living conditions appropriate to each species.

In addition, the most widely used pesticide –glyphosate or Roundup— is an antibiotic. Because glyphosate disrupts a crucial pathway –the shikimate pathway—for manufacturing aromatic amino acids in plants –but not animals— many have assumed that it does not harm humans. However, many bacteria do use the shikimate pathway, and 90% of the cells in a human body are bacteria. The destruction of beneficial microbiota in the human gut (and elsewhere in and on the human body) is, therefore, a cause for concern –and a major contributor to disease. In addition to impacts on human health, glyphosate has been linked to adverse effects on earthworms and other soil biota.

Under the Organic Foods Production Act, (OFPA) certified USDA livestock producers cannot use growth promoters and hormones, whether implanted, ingested, or injected, including antibiotics. Additionally, certified USDA Organic livestock producers cannot use subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics, meaning they cannot administer low-dose antibiotic treatments that are not for the purpose of treating sick livestock. The standards also require that producers maintain living conditions that prevent infectious diseases from becoming established and adversely affecting livestock health.

In the spring of 2014, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to uphold the phase out in apple and pear production of the antibiotic streptomycin, which was set to expire on October 21, 2014. This vote came after a similar proposal to extend an exemption for oxytetracycline, another antibiotic used in apple and pear production, was rejected at the spring 2013 NOSB meeting. Beyond Pesticides, with other organizations, led the effort to remove antibiotics from organic apple and pear production because of their contribution to antibiotic resistance, organic consumer expectation that antibiotics are not used in organic food production, and the availability of alternative practices and inputs.

The widespread use of triclosan in antimicrobial soaps and personal care products, also has led to an increase in bacterial resistance. In a decision that was long overdue, on September 2, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned triclosan in soaps, while EPA continues to allow for its use in common household products and toys. Beyond Pesticides raised concerns about the health effects of triclosan in 2004 in the piece, The Ubiquitous Triclosan, and petitioned the agencies to ban the chemical in 2009 and 2010. In 2015, triclosan was banned in the European Union. For nearly two decades, scientific studies have disputed the need for the chemical and linked its widespread use to health and environmental effects and the development of stronger bacteria that are increasingly difficult to control. For more background, see Beyond Pesticides’ triclosan page.

Through the support of organic agriculture and in pressing for even stronger organic standards and continuous improvement, consumers are moving the market away from hazardous chemicals, including antimicrobial use. For more information on what you can do to advance organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong website, which provides a number of resources for people to participate in the organic review process.

 

Source: Reuters, G20 Health Ministers Declaration via Down to Earth

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

 

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22
May

Maine Committee Votes to Reject Governor LePage’s Pesticide Preemption Bill

(Beyond Pesticides, May 22, 2017) Last week, the Maine Legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government unanimously voted to reject a bill that would have prohibited the right of municipal governments to restrict pesticide use on private property. This victory protects the 27 cities and towns across Maine which are exercising their right to adopt pesticide restrictions that incentivize land management practices supporting healthy environments and allows other communities to follow suit. Opponents of the Governor’s bill successfully argued that its weakening of local control could violate the Maine Constitution. Proponents of the bill included industry trade groups, lawn care companies, and golf courses, who argued that the legislation was necessary to address the growing “patchwork” of local regulations. There is no evidence of this, and on the contrary, there has been a long history of local communities adopting ordinances to respond to matters of public health and welfare.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the bill, LD 1505, was a “late introduction on behalf of [Governor] Paul LePage and reportedly mirrored model legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy group that works with state lawmakers.” This group and others aim to suppress or preempt local democratic action to adopt public health and environmental protections in order to allow the unimpeded marketing of their products. Those industry groups that lead the charge to preempt local government action have a vested economic interest in selling toxic products and services and stifling the movement of the market toward greener alternatives. Passage of the bill in Maine would have been a significant blow to many local communities that currently regulate pesticides more stringently than the state.

There were 77 pieces of testimony submitted by individuals and organizations on the Governor’s bill, with the large majority opposing it. Many Maine residents and local organizations expressed extreme concern over this piece of legislation, based on its undemocratic basis and failure to comply with the intent of the state constitution. Maine communities want to be able to adopt standards that exceed or are more stringent than state standards as a matter of public health and environmental protection, resulting in improved quality of life. Beyond Pesticides submitted comments on behalf of its Maine members opposing LD 1505, which can be viewed by clicking here.

Legislation incorporating preemption language has led to a battle for local control of the democratic process, as more and more local grassroots organizations mobilize effectively with knowledge of the hazards that accompany many lawn care products containing pesticides and the availability of alternative products and land management systems. For a more detailed explanation of state preemption law and how it affects local communities, please see Beyond Pesticides’ State Preemption Law factsheet.

Some of the most critical victories in recent years as far as the ability local communities to regulate pesticides have come from Maine. In 2014, the town of Ogunquit became the first town in the state to prohibit the use of pesticides on public and private property for turf, landscape, and outdoor pest management activities. The ordinance was passed after a three-year education and awareness campaign, initiated by the town’s Conservation Commission, and expanded upon existing pesticide use restrictions on town-owned property. More recently, in 2016 the town of South Portland passed an ordinance banning the use of toxic lawn pesticides on private and public land. Both of these ordinances would have been affected by LD 1505, as the language of the bill states that, “An ordinance regulating the sale or use of pesticides adopted prior to the effective date of this subsection is void.”

Local policies incentivize the adoption of lawn care practices that meet community expectations by nurturing soil biology to support the natural cycling of nutrients, resulting in resilient turf systems and plants. Because the use of toxic materials undermines the soil food web by harming soil microbial life, identifying ecologically compatible products is an essential component of the system. To find out more about these ecologically sensitive products, see Beyond Pesticides’ List of Products Compatible with Organic Landscape Management.

Take Action Today

It is more important than ever to build upon the growing number of local policies and to take action to protect public health and the environment. Community activism is the best way to get your town to adopt a policy that limits toxic pesticide use similar to those passed by the town of Ogunquit or South Portland. For assistance in proposing a policy to your city council, contact Beyond Pesticides at info@beyondpesticides.org or 202-543-5450. For more information on joining the growing organic lawn care movement, see Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscapes program page. Let your neighbors know your lawn and garden are organic by displaying a Pesticide Free Zone sign.

Source: Portland Press Herald

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

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19
May

European Union Plans to Propose a 10-year Extension for the Approval of Glyphosate Use

(Beyond Pesticides, May 19, 2017) In spite of a growing body of evidence implicating glyphosate in a wide range of human illnesses and environmental impacts, the European Union (EU) plans to propose a 10-year extension for the approval of glyphosate use. Previously, the European Commission (the Commission), which is in charge of the approval, was forced to issue a limited license extension for the chemical because member states could not reach a consensus. The Commission was holding out for further information on carcinogenicity, which was assessed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), and whose report was issued in March 2017. According to ECHA’s assessment, glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup brand of weed-killers, and research by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that it is a probable human carcinogen. Since IARC’s findings were released, Monsanto has made several efforts to discredit the research of this well respected, international body, including attempting to influence government agencies.

According to a Bloomberg BNA article, “The commission will discuss with EU member nations the prospect of a 10-year reauthorization, said Anca Paduraru, spokeswoman for the commission.” Once the Commission proposes the 10-year license approval, representatives from the EU member nations will need to vote on it. Neither pesticide manufacturers nor environmental groups were happy with the proposal –the former believing the 10-year proposal would be too short, and that the Commission was pandering to activists, and the latter believing that the Commission should look towards safer options.

Bart Staes, a Belgian Green member of the European Parliament, told Bloomberg BNA in a statement, “There are credible concerns regarding the safety of glyphosate,” and that the Commission “should promote sustainable alternatives rather than reauthorizing glyphosate.” On the other hand, Bloomberg reports that “Graeme Taylor, director of public affairs for the European Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticides manufacturers, said the EU reauthorization of glyphosate had been held up by ‘the Facebook science of NGOs and activists.’”

Glyphosate is touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals by industry. But glyphosate has been shown to have detrimental impacts  on humans and the environment. Given its widespread use on residential and agricultural sites, its toxicity is of increasing concern. In addition to IARC’s findings, previous studies have linked the toxicant to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Studies show that it is also an endocrine disruptor, causes reproductive effects, kidney and liver damage, and is toxic to aquatic organisms.  In September 2015, a study published in Environmental Health News found that chronic, low-dose exposure to glyphosate  leads to adverse effects on liver and kidney health. In January 2017, research was published showing that ultra-low doses of glyphosate formulations fed to rats is linked to an increased likelihood of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A lead author of that study stated that the findings are “very worrying as they demonstrate for the first time a causative link between an environmentally relevant level of Roundup consumption over the long-term and a serious disease.” Another study released this year finds that glyphosate can cause changes to DNA function resulting in the onset of chronic disease, including diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Glyphosate is an antibiotic. Because glyphosate disrupts a crucial pathway for manufacturing aromatic amino acids in plants –but not animals— many have assumed that it does not harm humans. However, many bacteria do use the shikimate pathway, and 90% of the cells in a human body are bacteria. The destruction of beneficial microbiota in the human gut (and elsewhere in and on the human body) is, therefore, a cause for concern –and a major contributor to disease..

In addition to impacts on human health, glyphosate has been linked to adverse effects on earthworms and other soil biota, as well as shape changes in amphibians. The widespread use of the chemical on genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant crops has led it to be implicated in the decline of monarch butterflies, whose sole source of nutrition for development from egg to adult, milkweed plants, is being devastated as a result of incessant use of glyphosate. In addition, the destruction of soil microbiota leads to unhealthy agricultural systems with an increasing dependence on agricultural chemicals. Other scientists have found that glyphosate starves and sickens the very crop plants that it is supposed to protect.

In April 2016, a European poll reported that the majority of people across the EU’s five biggest countries, including three-quarters of Italians, 70% of Germans, 60% of French and 56% of Britons, support a ban on glyphosate. The herbicide is the most widely used herbicide in the world, according to reports, and as a result is being detected in food and human bodies. Tests have detected glyphosate residues in German beer, at levels higher than allowed in drinking water. Glyphosate residues have been found in bread being sold in the UK. The results of the bread study also shows that glyphosate use in the UK increased by 400% in the last 20 years and is one of the three pesticides regularly found in routine testing of British bread –appearing in up to 30% of samples tested by the UK government. A pilot study conducted by the group Moms Across America in 2014 found that glyphosate may also bioaccumulate in the human body, as revealed by high levels of the chemical in the breast milk of mothers tested.

Beyond Pesticides has filed several lawsuits against companies that have produced food products containing glyphosate, and then labeling those products “natural.” In August 2016, three non-profit organizations filed a lawsuit against General Mills for misleading the public by labeling their Nature Valley brand granola bars as natural. In November 2016, Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), represented by Richman Law Group, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in the District of Columbia against Sioux Honey Association, for the deceptive and misleading labeling of its Sue Bee and Aunt Sue’s honey brands.

What Can You Do?

Beyond Pesticides urges individuals concerned about glyphosate exposure to support organic systems that do not rely on hazardous carcinogenic pesticides. In agriculture, concerned consumers can buy food with the certified organic label, which not only disallows synthetic pesticides like glyphosate, but also the use of sewage sludge and genetically engineered ingredients. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and biotechnology, responsible organic farms focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and other beneficial insects, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.

Source: Bloomberg BNA

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

 

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18
May

Soft Drink Company Faces Pressure Over Use of Pesticides in its Supply Chain

(Beyond Pesticides, May 18, 2017) A pesticide reduction plan proposed by investors in the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) lacks a positive vision that could accomplish the investors’ goals. The shareholder proposal at DPS, which makes Mott’s, 7UP, Snapple, and Canada Dry, was filed by the Green Century Equity Fund, a company that offers environmentally and socially responsible mutual funds, seeks to pressure DPS to reduce toxic pesticide use in its supply chain. According to their press release, the shareholder proposal suggests that DPS “use quantitative metrics to track the amount of pesticides avoided, publish goals to reduce pesticide use or toxicity, and/or provide incentives to growers to minimize the use of pesticides.” However, the shareholder group could better achieve its goals by asking that DPS use certified organic ingredients.

Beyond Pesticides has long sought a broad-scale marketplace transition that does not simply reduce or minimize pesticide use, but prohibits the application of toxic synthetic pesticides by law and promotes the widespread transition of conventional farmland to organic production, which is protective of health and the environment. Certified organic production, with its requirement of a detailed organic system plan and methods to foster and improve soil health, achieves the elimination of toxic pesticides and reduction of overall pesticide use.

In discussing the company’s long-term interests, Marissa LaFave, Shareholder Advocate at Green Century, stated that, “We believe that properly managing, reducing, and disclosing pesticide use could help Dr. Pepper Snapple mitigate the risk of supply chain disruption due to the loss of pollinators, along with reputational, competitive, and regulatory risks.” There is a strong economic argument for the group’s statement, given evidence that it costs more to not protect pollinator species than to allow them to suffer population declines. A 2016 UN report estimates that pollinators worldwide contribute between $235 and $577 billion in agricultural productivity annually and warns of shortages in global food supplies following further pollinator losses.

In its opposition statement on page 79, the DPS board of directors recommends shareholders vote against the proposal and states that, “We will continue to work with our agricultural suppliers, as we have always done, to ensure that they are making meaningful and impactful decisions with respect to their operations and IPM programs, and their effect on the environment.”

This focus on marketplace pressure comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Beyond Pesticides against Mott’s, under the District of Columbia’s consumer protection law, for false and misleading “natural” labeling of applesauce products containing residues of the neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid. This pesticide is particularly toxic to pollinators, and there are concerns in the scientific literature that are recognized by the European Food Safety Authority about the effect of acetamiprid on human health, particularly children. The plaintiffs maintain that by using “natural” or “all natural ingredients” labeling, Mott’s leads consumers to believe that its applesauce products do not contain synthetic substances.

This suit, as with several similar consumer protection claims, aims to challenge fraud and deception in the marketplace, as well as to protect the integrity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic label. Unlike the organic label, which adheres to a strict set of rules regulated by the federal government, the term “natural” has not been defined and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or any other government agency. The only way to truly know if what you’re buying is free of harmful pesticides like acetamiprid or other toxic synthetic materials is to buy organic products.

In light of federal inertia and with a growing understanding about the false promises that industrial agricultural systems have provided, citizens, private companies, and policy-makers around the world must push for food systems that place biologically regenerative, organic agriculture at the center. Organic law requires farmers adopt an organic systems plan to support soil biology, ecological balance, and pest prevention. Beyond Pesticides encourages the public to use their market power to support companies that have made a commitment to sourcing only organic products, as well as to encourage new companies to make the transition away from toxic chemical use throughout their supply chains.

Beyond Pesticides also provides many opportunities to get involved in protecting and advancing the integrity of the organic label, and encourages public action to ensure organic’s strong standards remain intact. To find out more about the work Beyond Pesticides is doing on organic integrity, check out Keeping Organic Strong, or to see other reasons to go organic, visit Eating with a Conscience.

Source: Green Century

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

 

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17
May

Fraudulent Claims Undermine Organic Integrity

(Beyond Pesticides, May 17, 2017 Fraud among producers portraying products of chemical intensive agriculture as organic –including those recently identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP)— is costly to organic producers and consumers. Imported grains –corn and soybeans that are largely fed to livestock whose products are sold as “organic”— are the focus of claims that USDA is not doing enough to protect the integrity of the organic label.

The fraudulent documents that are the subject of the USDA alert are typically produced with the intent to circumvent U.S. organic regulations and are often forged along the supply chain with the goal of increasing the value of agricultural commodities imported to the United States. The arrival of soy and corn crops labeled as organic but later testing positive for residues of pesticides prohibited in organic production, has been well documented in recent years. USDA encourages certifying agents and organic operators to remain vigilant when purchasing organic products from suppliers, and warns of fines for up to $11,000 for anyone found in violation of selling products fraudulently labeled as organic. Additionally, the agency encourages anyone suspecting a violation has been committed to make a claim reporting the instance to the NOP Compliance and Enforcement Division.

An investigative article published in the Washington Post earlier this month put the spotlight on this issue by focusing on the importation of corn and soybean shipments labeled as “organic” that later tested positive for pesticides. The article chronicled the shipment of 36 million pounds of soybeans that were shipped to California by way of Ukraine and Turkey in late 2016 and underwent a lucrative transformation during their journey. Starting out in Ukraine as conventionally grown soybeans, by the time the load made its way to a California port they had been labeled as “USDA Organic,” increasing the value of the shipment by nearly $4 million. Receipts, invoices and other shipping records supported the organic designation, though the broker for the soybeans later made a statement admitting that they may have been “provided with false certification documents,” according to the Post.

This was not an isolated incident, and the frequency of complaints related to fraudulent certificates of organic products has grabbed the attention of groups with an interest in maintaining the integrity of the organic label.  The Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), an organization that “coordinates the efforts of producer marketing groups to benefit and sustain organic producers,” has been very vocal on the issue of false representation of commodities. Last fall, OFARM joined with Food and Water Watch (FWW) to urge the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) “to investigate the integrity of imported organic grains.” Their letter, which cites concerns over the potential for “fraudulent organic imports to undermine consumer expectations and the market for domestic organic producers,” asks the OIG to examine several issues related to the importation of organic goods, including whether the “increased imports present an opportunity for fraudulently labeled organic products to enter the United States,” given the more complicated supply chains, as well as whether organic imports undermine “the opportunity for U.S. producers to get a fair price in the market.” The full letter to OIG, sent September 1, 2016, can be found here.

In response to the Washington Post article, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which represents a broad spectrum of organic businesses, also expressed concerns over the mislabeling or organic soy and corn and called on the USDA and NOP to “thoroughly and immediately complete investigations” related to the imports in question. In its press release on the subject, OTA also declared that the “oversight of foreign organic suppliers and the enforcement of organic standards must be rigorous and robust” in order to maintain the integrity of the USDA organic label.

The allowance of organic imports has long created costly repercussions for domestic organic farmers. According to the Post article, “the rise of [organic] imports has helped drop prices by more than 25 percent, hurting U.S. organic farmers, many of them small operations.” The increase in organic imports into the U.S. can be attributed to the fact that domestic demand for organic products outpaces the supply. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for policies and programs that would help close the gap between domestic demand and supply. Investment by the federal government in educational and transitional programs that help reduce the financial burden of conventional farmers that wish to transition to organic production (a process that takes three years) could help close the gap. Additionally, increased funding for organic research has the potential to help domestic organic farmers increase their yields while still adhering to the organic standards maintained by USDA, with input from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

Without the adoption and expansion of policies, research, technical assistance, and credit for organic farmers to increase the domestic supply of organic products, it is likely that fraud will continue to be a factor when importing organic products. John Bobbe, the executive director of OFARM, stated to the Post, “The U.S. market is the easiest for potentially fraudulent organic products to penetrate because the chances of getting caught here are not very high. In Europe and Canada, import rules for organics are much stricter.” In explaining how the breakdowns occur, he continued, “These long international supply chains increase the opportunities for breaks in the chain of recordkeeping, organic certification and verification that the USDA organic seal is built upon. We need the USDA to make sure that organic imports are meeting the same organic standards that U.S. producers do.”

According to a statement made to the Post, USDA officials claim to be investigating the grain shipments in question. However, until improvements are made to the system as a whole, it is likely that products fraudulently labeled as organic may continue to be imported and sold. A factor that contributes to this breakdown, highlighted by The Post, is that under current rules, a company only needs to verify that the shipment they are importing comes from a supplier that has a “USDA Organic” certificate, but that it does not have to be traced all the way back to the point of origin, namely the farm. Additionally, the Post article points to weaknesses in the organic system, such as the infrequency of pesticide residue testing and the practice of giving advance notice before an inspection, as creating vulnerabilities in a system designed to provide consumers with a rigorous standard when choosing to purchase organic food. Without efforts to strengthen USDA oversight, coupled with policies aimed at increasing the domestic supply of organic foods, it is probable that the U.S. will continue to import products that do not meet the organic standard.

With large-scale cuts currently being made to most government programs under the Trump administration, it is more important than ever to call your elected officials and encourage them to support organic farmers through the expansion and protection of policies and research. For more information on the history of organic agriculture and why it is the best choice for your health and the environment, please see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food Program Page. You can also check out Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong page, to stay up to state with proposed changes in organic regulations and farming practices, and to find ways to get involved in preserving organic integrity.

Source: Washington Post, Organic Trade Association, OFARM Letter to OIGUSDA

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

 

 

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