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Daily News Blog

12
Nov

Controversial North Dakota Amendment Protects CAFOs

(Beyond Pesticides, November 12, 2012) During the recent elections, North Dakotans voted to accept a controversial amendment to the North Dakota Constitution that protects practices used in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that are harmful to human health and the environment. The North Dakota Farming and Ranching Amendment states, “No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.” This amendment, supported by the North Dakota Farm Bureau, was created in response to pressure from organizations, such as the Humane Society and other organizations, that pushed for laws to ban small crates for chickens and pregnant pigs.

This constitutional amendment, which is vaguely and broadly worded, was designed to protect the use of CAFOs. These industrial operations are often viewed as cruel and can create significant problems for the environment and human health. The unsanitary conditions of CAFOs are produced by packing excessive numbers of animals into an unnatural environment. This process creates the risk of infectious disease outbreaks that would be averted under living conditions appropriate for animal species. To prevent these outbreaks from happening, CAFO operators feed sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics, such as penicillin and tetracycline, to livestock. This practice has become so common that, it accounts for upwards of 80% of those materials’ annual usage in the U.S.

Hundreds of organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (IOM), have recommended that livestock producers be prohibited from using antibiotics for growth promotion if those antibiotics are also used in human medicine. Feeding sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics to healthy livestock can lead to accelerated resistance among dangerous infectious organisms that can harm human health. In 2009, the Cook County Hospital in Illinois and the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics estimates that the total health care cost of antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. is $16 to $26 billion annually.

Fortunately, the animal uses of antibiotics my soon be banned, as a federal judge recently ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must act promptly to determine whether to ban sub-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock. Judge Theodore Katz ordered FDA to notify drug manufacturers of its intention to revoke approval for uses of penicillin and tetracycline to promote growth in livestock. However, as long as animals are confined to crowded spaces, antibiotics will be needed to stop the spread of large scale diseases.

Another environmental problem that CAFOs create is the animal waste that is produced from these operations. According to a recent report, CAFOs produce 133 million tons of manure per year (on a dry weight basis) representing 13-fold more solid waste than human sanitary waste production. Waste is often disposed of in wastewater lagoons through which the waste can leech into ground water. Water can also be contaminated as waste lagoons overflow or runoff from applications of waste to farm fields. This waste can contain heavy metals, pesticides such as dithiocrabamatees which are applied to spray fields, and the antibiotics which can lead to resistance among dangerous infectious organisms. Ingestion of contaminated water may result in diarrhea or other gastrointestinal tract distress from waterborne pathogens, and dermal contact during swimming may cause skin, eye, or ear infections.

This constitutional amendment is not only problematic because it gives unchecked power to CAFO operators, but also because it takes power away from local communities to control what happens near their homes and schools. According to the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU), which opposed the amendment, this new regulation would trump local and state laws. It is a form of preemption law which effectively denies local residents and decision makers their democratic right to better public health protection when the community decides that minimum standards set by state and federal law are insufficient to protect local public and environmental health. The NDFU also argues that the amendment doesn’t require that a farmer/rancher use sound agricultural practices or operate without negligence, as the measure guarantees an unlimited right to use any “modern” practice.

Beyond Pesticides strongly believes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification standard creates the safest guidelines for raising livestock. USDA organic certification standards prohibit treating livestock with any amount of antibiotics. The standards also require that producers maintain living conditions that prevent infectious diseases from becoming established and adversely impacting livestock health.

For more information on organics, please visit our organics page and our guide to Eating With a Conscience.

Source: ABC News

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

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09
Nov

Prop 37 Defeated at Polls, but Battle Against GE Food Remains Strong

(Beyond Pesticides, November 9, 2012) Proposition 37, the statewide proposition California voted on to label foods produced with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, was narrowly defeated at the polls on Wednesday night by a margin of 6.2 percentage points, however uncounted votes may shift the results. Had it been approved, Californians would have required labels for raw or processed food with GE ingredients and it would have prohibited the labeling and advertising of foods using the misleading term “natural.” Though campaign organizers and most news outlets are announcing defeat, the fight is not over yet. Organizers of the “Yes on 37” campaign have begun to regroup, focusing on 4.2 million Californians that voted yes and building a grassroots movement with 10,000 volunteers. Their campaign’s optimism is highlighted by their campaign statement that was released yesterday online:

Yesterday, we showed that there is a food movement in the United States, and it is strong, vibrant and too powerful to stop. We always knew we were the underdogs, and the underdogs nearly took the day. Dirty money and dirty tactics may have won this skirmish, but they will not win the war.

If Prop 37 passed, California would have been the first state in the nation to require labeling for raw GE materials and processed foods. While it might not take that seat, it has generated considerable scrutiny over GE food and sparked discussions in other states over their own labeling laws. Washington State’s grassroots organization “Label GMO Food” has taken up the cause for Proposition I-522 “The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act”. Volunteers have at last begun gathering signatures for the 2013 ballot, with 241,153 valid signatures required by December 31. Likely, the food labeling initiative will gather enough signatures for the November 2013 ballot.

Suffice it to say that supporters of GE labeling are springing up nationwide. The “Just Label It” campaign has continued to grow, with volunteers in Maine and Vermont gathering more than one million signatures to petition FDA for a labeling standard within their states. Rumblings of an initiative in Oregon have started as the GMO Free Oregon group has grown. Signatures are not yet being collected. However, if it did become a proposition this would be the second time in ten years Oregon voters would weigh in on labeling of genetically modified foods, as similar legislation has already been voted down.

Most importantly, the proposition has brought the discussion of GE food into the public spotlight. While half of California has so far voted against Prop 37, the food movement is alive and well. Food writers, such as Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, and Marion Nestle, will ensure that the GE conversation will continue. Mother Jones’ writer Tom Philpott gave a strong assessment of the movement: “Given the formidability and deep pockets of the opposition, I think it’s overblown to treat Prop 37 as a pass-fail test of the food movement’s political viability.”

The amount of money spent by the opposition is proof that this movement is a serious concern for those in industry who want to keep consumers from knowing what’s in their food. Even after being outspent 5:1, $46 million to $9 million, with the “No” folks spending close to $1 million dollars a day in the month leading up to the vote, the poll numbers were razor thin right up until Election Day.

And on Election Day, as a testament to the staying power of this movement, over 4.2 million Californians cast their ballots for the right to know what’s in their food. The next step requires national action, and Beyond Pesticides and the Just Label It campaign are asking supporters to do three things: sign the FDA petition for mandatory food labeling, tell friends and family to do the same, and urge your elected representatives to support GE labeling. Recall, in 2007 on the campaign trail President Obama endorsed the idea that Americans have a right to know what’s in the food they’re buying. So we have had support from the President, but we need to let him know that we’re paying attention, and he needs to act. With pressure from this burgeoning movement of concerned Americans across the county, we can bring much needed transparency to our food system. While California has voted down labeling of GE foods for the moment, consumers who want to avoid GE foods can always buy USDA organic certified products which prohibit their use.


Source: San Francisco Weekly, California Right to Know

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

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08
Nov

Emergency Exemption Granted to Allow Fluridone on GE Cotton

(Beyond Pesticides, November 8, 2012) In response to an emergency exemption granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow the unregistered use of the herbicide fluridone on cotton in order to control glyphosate-resistant weeds, the agency announced in the Federal Register Monday that it is establishing time-limited tolerances for residues of the chemical on food. Because resistance to herbicides in genetically engineered crops is predictable and expected, Beyond Pesticides has challenged EPA’s use of the emergency exemption provision of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Section 18, in this and other similar cases.

According to EPA, of the glyphosate-resistant weeds, Palmer amaranth has become the most severe weed problem in Arkansas cotton production. It can reduce yields of cotton by more than 50 percent if there is a density of at least 10 of these weeds per row. Over 95% of Arkansas cotton and 80% of soybeans is genetically engineered (GE) to be glyphosate tolerant. Because glyphosate is the base herbicide used for weed control in this region, economic loss is expected on nearly 25% of acres grown. Over-reliance on herbicide-tolerant GE crops have caused the spread of resistant weeds that force farmers on the pesticide treadmill to increase herbicide application rates, spray more often, and add new herbicides that work through alternate modes of action into their spray programs.

In August 2011, a series of studies found that at least 21 different species of weeds are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, commonly sold as Roundup and used across thousands of acres of “RoundUp Ready” GE crops. Over-application by farmers on glyphosate to solve all of their weed problems has led to the proliferation of so-called “super weeds,” which have evolved to survive the treatments through repeated exposure. The spread of resistance is what has led farmers to increasingly rely on more toxic alternative mixtures. There has also been an increased push by chemical companies to engineer seed varieties that are tolerant to multiple herbicide treatments, such as dicamba, glyphosate and 2,4-D, or glyphosate and acetochlor. Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience recently petitioned the USDA to deregulate 2,4-D GE corn and soybeans in order for 2,4-D and other herbicides to be used to tackle weeds resistant to glyphosate.

This is the first time EPA has granted an emergency exemption request for the use of fluridone on cotton. The exemptions will expire in 2014 unless evidence is brought to EPA showing the chemical to be unsafe. Through its Section 18, or emergency exemption program, EPA allows the use of pesticides that are not registered for a particular crop, or in some cases not registered for use at all, but making progress toward registration. As a result of this use pattern, EPA sets tolerances for affected crops that are time-limited, usually for the season in which they are allowed. As a result, the database notes that these pesticides have an expiration date that is often renewed. The Section 18 emergency exemption loophole has been used in the past to skirt pesticide regulations meant to ensure health and safety and has resulted in the widespread application of unreviewed, and often unnecessary hazardous substances. In some cases, exemptions have been granted each season, challenging the concept that this is an urgent, non-routine situation as ‘emergency’ is defined under Section 18. Reoccurring problems like weed resistance to herbicides should be a wake-up call for farmers and EPA to reevaluate and implement alternative biological and cultural management practices for the long-term prevention of diseases and end the reliance on the “chemical fix” that will exacerbate the problem when pest resistance to the chemical inevitably occurs.

Fluridone is an aquatic herbicide used to control large aquatic plants. It is currently registered for residential use on ponds and is used for the control of hydrilla and Eurasian milfoil. The registration review process for fluridone began in 2009. The most recent ecological risk assessment was done in 1991, however no assessment has been completed for endangered species, and ecological data was called in as part of the review process. A human health risk assessment was completed in 2004. EPA estimated aggregate exposure and risk from dietary exposure and exposures from swimming in treated water and the risks were considered “below levels of concern.” Most fluridone products have not been assessed for occupational exposures but EPA believes application exposure is negligible and does not anticipate conducting a post-application assessment. Final registration review is expected in 2015.

Although the mechanism of action of fluridone in plants is understood, the mechanism of action of fluridone in mammals is not well characterized. Fluridone is rapidly absorbed, metabolized, and excreted by mammals. At sufficiently high doses, fluridone is associated primarily with changes in the liver, reduced body weight, and reduced food consumption. Fluridone does not appear to be carcinogenic, based on standard life-time toxicity studies in rats and mice. Similarly, there is little indication that fluridone will cause specific neurotoxic effects or impairment of immune or endocrine function.

Fluridone has two degradates of concern: N-methyl formamide (NMF) and 3-trifluoromethyl benzois acid. Ecological data has been called in for these as part of the registration review. There is some evidence that its major degradate, NMF, causes birth defects. In rats, a significant increase in the incidence of malformations including cephalocele and sternoschisis was observed in fetuses exposed to high doses of NMF. However, due to current limited use, NMF has only been detected in the lab and not following actual fluridone field treatments.

The hope that additional herbicide options like fluridone will stem the tide of herbicide-resistant weeds is like feeding fuel to the fire in hopes it will go out. This process ensures that farmers are stuck on a pesticide treadmill which constantly demands greater amounts of synthetic inputs, including GE seeds, and rewards chemical suppliers at the expense of farm profitability and the environment. Sustainable, integrated pest management strategies, including organic practices, and not chemical-intensive solutions, are the appropriate solutions at this time. Organic agriculture is an ecologically-based management system that prioritizes cultural, biological, and mechanical production practices, and natural inputs. 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.

Take Action: Under section 408(g) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), 21 U.S.C. 346a, any person may file an objection to any aspect of this regulation and may also request a hearing on those objections. Public comment on this final rule will be accepted until January 7, 2013. Comments may be submitted to the docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2012-0756, at www.regulations.gov.


Source: Federal Register Notice

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

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07
Nov

Arctic Study Confirms Mother Whales Pass Contaminants To Fetus

(Beyond Pesticides, November 7, 2012) Pregnant beluga whales pass to their fetus a portion of the persistent organic pollutants, PCBs and flame retardants, they carry in their bodies, report researchers who measured the chemicals in the animals’ blubber. The study is one of the first to show whales, like people, can transfer and expose their developing offspring to persistent contaminants, whose long-term health effects continue to remain unclear.Beluga whale. Credit: NOAA

A study of Arctic beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) confirms that mothers can pass more than a tenth of their chemical burden of PBDE flame retardants and PCBs to their unborn calves. This study found that the mother whales transferred, on average, 11.4% (7.5 mg) and 11.1% (0.1 mg) of their polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) blubber burden to their near-term fetuses. Mammals transfer contaminants, usually persistent organic pollutants (POPs), during pregnancy to the developing fetus and during lactation when the baby is nursing. Lactation transfer has been well studied in marine mammals, but very little is known about the transfer of pollutants during pregnancy. POPs are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, to be capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, biomagnify in food chains, and to have potential significant impacts on wildlife and human health.

Previous reports have documented toxic chemicals in the brains of marine mammals and identified several contaminants including organochlorine pesticides like DDT, PCBs and flame retardants in the cerebrospinal fluid and cerebellum gray matter of several species of marine mammals including the short-beaked common dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and the gray seal. PCBs have been found in alarmingly high concentrations. Researchers also found low levels of PCBs in the cerebrospinal fluid of a gray seal. The antibacterial triclosan has also been detected in the in the blood of bottlenose dolphins.

This new study is unique because it examines blubber from healthy pregnant whales. Previously most research has investigated beached or ill whales. This study is only the second to report mother to fetus transfer of PBDE flame retardants in whales. The study is also important because it focuses specifically on the amount of chemicals transferred to the fetus during pregnancy. Chemical exposure during critical times of gestation is known to cause abnormal growth and development. In some instances, prenatal exposures can impact health in adults many years later. Both classes of chemicals measured in the study are persistent and accumulate in animals at the top of the food chain.

As for humans, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published the first study to look at a broad range of chemicals specifically in pregnant women which analyzed biomonitoring data to characterize both individual and multiple chemical exposures in U.S. pregnant women. Researchers analyzed the data for 163 chemicals and detected about three-quarters of them at varying levels in some or all of the women. They found almost all – 99 to 100 percent – of the pregnant women carry PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, phenols such as triclosan, PBDEs, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and perchlorate.

Various studies have reported that prenatal exposure to chemical pollutants, like PCBs, PBDEs and pesticides can negatively impact the developing fetus. One study reports that the antibacterial pesticide, triclosan, has a high potency to act as an inhibitor of estrogen sulfotransferase activity raising concerns about its possible effects on the ability of the placenta to supply estrogen to the fetus. Another found significant associations of prenatal pesticide exposure with structural changes in the developing human brain, and also may affect both length of pregnancy and birth weight.

These findings further understanding of potential risks associated with chemical exposures to the developing fetus before birth and nursing begins. In mammals, hormones direct critical physical and mental development during gestation. The fetus is vulnerable to chemicals that can alter hormones – generally called endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Both the PCBs and PBDEs targeted in the study can disrupt hormone functions. PCBs, PBDEs and various pesticides are known to cause a diverse range of health effects, including cancer, immune system problems and thyroid diseases. In addition, early exposure to PCBs has been linked to cardiac diseases in animals. Even though PCBs have been banned and PBDEs restricted they are still routinely detected in the environment, people and wildlife. In the environment, PCBs, PBDEs, and other persistent organic pollutants breakdown very slowly and can travel long distances, accumulating in wildlife, people and remote locations such as the Arctic.

The study illustrates that the health impacts of pesticides are often subtle and delayed, and that pesticides once considered to pose “acceptable” risks are continuing to affect public health years after being pulled from the market. In response to the growing evidence linking pesticide exposures to numerous human health effects, Beyond Pesticides launched the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database, to capture the range of diseases linked to pesticides through epidemiologic studies. The database, which currently contains hundreds of entries of epidemiologic and laboratory exposure studies will be continually updated to track the emerging findings and trends.

Source: Environmental Health News

Photo: NOAA

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

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06
Nov

Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Take Flight in Brazil

(Beyond Pesticides, November 6, 2012) In efforts to stamp out the deadly disease Dengue fever, officials in Brazil are in the process of releasing millions of genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes into the environment. However, some in the environmental community are concerned about the possible non-target effects of this experiment, and urge additional research in the lab before releasing the insects into the natural world.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the experiment is taking place in the small town of Itaberaba, in Brazil’s Bahia state. The company overseeing the release, London-based Oxitec, also developed the GE insects. GE mosquitoes are raised in the laboratory, where the eggs of female mosquitoes are injected with a gene that produces sterile male mosquitoes. The modified male mosquitoes are then released into the environment en masse where they crowd out native males and mate with available females. The offspring from these mosquitoes are supposed to die before they hatch.

In the town of Itaberaba, 84% of mosquito larvae now carry the modified gene, and the state government has approved an expansion of the program into five additional neighborhoods. GE mosquitoes have previously been released into uninhabited areas of India and Malaysia, and future plans include a release of the insects in the Florida Keys; though local officials are waiting on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis before moving forward. Farther south, the Los Angeles Times indicates, “Scientists in Brazil are waiting for permission to take the next step: the carpet bombing of an entire city, Jacobina, with the male zombie mosquitoes.”

While much talk has focused on the grand possibility for GE mosquitoes to eliminate all mosquitoes worldwide, some in the environmental community are concerned that Oxitec is rushing into these experiments without seriously considering the possible risks associated with their work. British-based environmental group Genewatch is issuing an alert over the release of modified mosquitoes in Brazil, indicating that there is a possibility of some next-generation mosquitoes mutating further and surviving into breeding age. Genewatch is concerned because GE mosquitoes rely on the antibiotic tetracycline to act as a chemical switch, allowing the GE larvae to develop under lab conditions. The organization cites confidential company documents that show 15% of GE insects surviving to adulthood in the presence of low levels of tetracycline contamination. These results imply that the modification may only provide a temporary reduction in the spread of the disease, with further unknown human and environmental health effects as a result. Dr. Helen Wallace, director of Genewatch, notes in an interview with The Financial Times, “Staff would be better employed using the well-established public health approach of removing mosquito breeding sites [water containers] rather than in placing GM mosquito larvae at intervals across a site. Plans to scale up releases of GM mosquitoes in dengue-endemic Brazil should be halted. Authorities in other places where releases are planned, such as Florida and Panama, should also stop and think again.”

Researchers involved in the experiment respond to these claims by stressing that the potential benefits of their work outweigh the risks. They claim that no mosquitoes have survived so far, and that even if they did, it would be unlikely to cause problems because the altered gene is nontoxic and not spread by saliva. Although, as Genewatch revealed, the gene doesn’t necessarily have to be toxic in order to cause adverse effects. Professor Anthony James from UC Irvine compares the use of GE mosquitoes to the widespread use of pesticides, stating to the Los Angeles Times, “Most of the concerns are about some unintended off-target effects [involving species beyond the Aedes], but we know exactly what the off-target effects of insecticide are.”

While insecticides are surely not the answer to mosquito borne illnesses, given the current evidence on GE mosquitoes, Beyond Pesticides continues to recommend cultural controls as the main method for stopping mosquito borne disease. As a result of the massive West Nile virus outbreak this year, the issue of GE mosquitoes will surely not retreat by next summer. It is therefore of utmost importance that regulators and government officials not only assess hazards, but also consider alternatives when reviewing proposals to introduce gene altered insects into the open environment. In terms of biological controls, New Jersey’s Cape May County provides an excellent example of a low-risk alternative to employing insecticides or introducing GE species. Cape May relies on mosquitoes’ natural predators, tiny copepods that eat the larvae of the mosquito. Through education of proper cultural controls, and least-toxic and cost effective biological alternatives, there shouldn’t be a need to choose between GE mosquitoes or toxic chemicals.

For more information on safer mosquito control, see Beyond Pesticides program page on mosquito management.

Source: LA Times

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

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05
Nov

Growing “Super Rat” Population Is Resistant to Rodenticides

(Beyond Pesticides, November 5, 2012) An ongoing study in the United Kingdom has found that in areas of southern England up to 75% of the rat population is potentially resistant to the common rodenticides warfarin, bromadiolone, and difenacoum. Pesticide resistance was documented in rats as early as the 1950’s. Common rodenticides used in homes already pose a high risk to human and animal health, but as more rodents become resistant to these pesticides individuals face the greater danger of pest control companies using higher doses of more lethal chemicals to deal with “super rats.”

The rodenticides being tested in this study are anticoagulant pesticides that work by blocking vitamin K-dependent synthesis of the blood clotting substance prothrombin. These chemicals cause the animal to bleed to death internally. Not only are these chemicals toxic to mammals, but they are often used in dangerous loose bait and pellet traps.

These traps put children at particular risk for exposure because the products are typically placed on floors, and young children sometimes put bait pellets in their mouths. The American Association of Poison Control Centers annually receives between 12,000 and 15,000 reports of children under the age of six being exposed to these types of products, with Black and Hispanic children living below the poverty line being disproportionately affected. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that these rodenticides “are, by far, the leading cause of [pesticide-related] visits to health care facilities in children under the age of six years and the second leading cause of hospitalization.”

In 2008, EPA proposed to phase out these loose bait and pellet traps. However, Reckitt, the producers of d-Con, has challenged EPA’s proposal and until EPA completes its administrative process the products can be legally sold and used. Growing rat resistance however, means these products are not only dangerous but also ineffective.

An inability to control rodent populations is problematic because they can spread disease, gnaw through electrical cables, and get into food resources. Pesticide resistant rodents can also be harmful to predator species. Animals that hunt these rats, such as domesticated cats, will ingest the built up rodenticides that these rats have eaten and potentially cause secondary poisoning. A recent study published in PLoS One reveals the dangers rodenticides can cause to predators when they feed upon poisoned mice and rats. The study found instances of fisher cats dying as a direct result of eating poisoned rodents. The irony of this is that animal populations that often work to naturally control rodents are being poisoned by these rodents, which in turn makes them less effective at controlling rodent populations.

Resistance to rodenticides in rodents develops the same way as insecticide or herbicide resistance in insects or plants. The resistant strain has always been present in the rat population, and has been noted since the introduction of the poisons in the 1950’s. As these rats reproduced they have had distinct survival advantages where the poison is used because of their resistance. Previously, studying resistance in rats was difficult and this research was halted in the 1990’s. Over the past two decades, the problem has increased, creating an impetus to restart this research. The research is now easier because researchers now know the gene responsible for resistance and merely need to test for its presence–instead of carrying out lengthy feeding experiments.

As this “super rat” population grows and the rodenticides that they are resistant to continue to poison children and non-target animals, there is a greater need to look toward alternatives to these harmful pesticides. This must happen before individuals resort to the use of more toxic pesticides, continuing on the cycle of pesticide dependence. It is because of these types of problems that Beyond Pesticides strongly encourages consumers not to use poisons as a means to control mice and rats. We believe that defined integrated pest management (IPM) practices are vital tools that aid in the advancement of non-toxic methods to control rodents and help facilitate the transition toward pesticide-free (and healthier) methods.

IPM, as defined by Beyond Pesticides, is a program of prevention, monitoring, and control that offers the opportunity to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides, and to minimize exposure to any products that are used. A well-defined IPM plan does this by utilizing a variety of methods and techniques, including cultural, biological and structural strategies to control a multitude of pest problems. Exclusion practices (sealing up structures), sanitation, structural repairs, mechanical and biological control, and pest population monitoring are some IPM methods that can be undertaken to control rodents.

To learn more about rodenticides, go to Beyond Pesticides’ Rodenticides fact sheet. For least toxic control of mice and other pests, visit our alternatives page.

Source: Phys.org

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

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02
Nov

Prop 37: Your Right to Know

(Beyond Pesticides, November 2, 2012) Despite the onslaught of advertisements saying otherwise, on November 6th California voters will be asked a simple yes or no question: Do you have a right to know if the food you purchase contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients?

Industrial chemical corporations and conventional food manufacturers think your answer to this simple question could dent their profits, possibly damage their image. So they’re attempting to make it as confusing as possible for citizens to understand the issue. The “No on 37” campaign has flooded California’s airwaves with dubious statements and misrepresentations in attempts to scare consumers away from voting in their best interests.

And they’ve made a difference. Back in March, a survey revealed that 91% of consumers nationwide favor the labeling of GE foods, a remarkable consensus that cut across party lines. Up until the past few weeks, before the “No on 37” ads started appearing, there was a 2:1 margin in favor or labeling GE foods. However, recent polls show Prop 37 in a dead heat.

What happened?

In early August, Beyond Pesticides reported on how pesticide manufacturers are “pushing hard” to block the passage of this proposition. At the time, the “No” campaign had contributed $750,000 to defeat Prop 37. Fast-forward to today, where the latest reports show the “No” campaign working with over $40 million, and receiving exponentially more every day that the election nears. To date, the largest “Yes on 37” group has only raised around $5.5 million. This is a substantial difference, and it truly is “…a great example of the power of advertising,” according to pollster Chris Condon in an article with the LA Times.

Money can buy speech, but the “No” folks don’t seem to be providing consumers with a more reasoned assessment of the issue. From a brief overview of their claim, one is likely to think that Prop 37 would place onerous regulations on groceries and retailers, hurt farmers, raise the cost of food, and provide arbitrary exemptions to certain foods. Moreover, the “No” folks claim there’s no point to this endeavor anyhow, as GE foods are proven safe. Given this flood of money and disinformation, it’s not difficult to see how the “No” crowd has been effective at drowning out the the “Yes” voices.

Here’s a quick run-down of the fallacious claims, followed by the real story:

“Prop 37 would place onerous regulations on farmers, groceries, and retailers, exposing them to lawsuits”

Under Prop 37’s language the onus and responsibility is on the manufacturer to label GE ingredients. They are the ones legally obligated to place the label on the product. Grocers would only have to label raw agricultural commodities, such as GE corn, which Walmart intends to place on supermarket shelves.

“Prop 37 would raise the cost of food”

An independent cost-estimating assessment from Joanna M. Shepherd-Bailey, Ph.D of Emory University’s School of Law reveals that the initiative would not result in any additional expense to California taxpayers; Prop 37 is self-enforced and requires no new bureaucracy. This is the same argument that was made to citizens of the European Union (EU) before they began labeling GE foods in the late 1990’s. Manufacturers change their labels all the time without raising food costs, and the EU did not experience a dramatic rise in food prices as the result of a little more ink on a product’s package.

The fact is that conventional manufacturers are concerned that labeling will change consumers’ minds about their products, or move them towards safer products. This happened in the EU earlier this year, as chemical giant BASF reluctantly chose to pull out of the EU market because, “Biotechnologies are not accepted enough in many parts of Europe by the majority of consumers, farmers and political leaders. That is why it does not make sense economically to continue to invest in products aimed exclusively at this market,” a BASF spokesperson said.

In coordination with this move, the company decided to redouble its efforts here in the U.S. If money is any indication of how important BASF views the American market, the company has contributed around $2 million dollars to the “No” campaign.

“Prop 37 would provide arbitrary exemptions to certain foods”

It does provide for exemptions, but they are not arbitrary because they make sense and are consistent with other laws. While there are strict rules governing what’s listed on the products we buy at the grocery store, there are currently no laws requiring restaurants or bake sales to do the same, and Prop 37 does not wade into this territory. For meat, cheese, milk and eggs, Prop 37 doesn’t require these products to be labeled if they were fed a GE diet, but this aligns with other worldwide GE labeling laws. The Organic Consumer’s Association asks, “Would the NO on 37 campaign have preferred a stricter law than the international standard for GMO labeling?” In terms of alcohol, the labeling of alcoholic beverages is regulated under different laws than food, and because California initiatives can only apply to one subject, Prop 37 does not include alcohol. There should be no argument over whether organic food should be exempt from any labeling, because by definition organic foods are not allowed to contain any GE ingredients.

“Prop 37 is not necessary because GE products have been proven safe”

Beyond Pesticides, as a clearinghouse for scientific studies and information on the hazards associated with the growth of GE products, repudiates this claim. Study after study has shown GE crops and GE products to be dangerous to human and environmental health. Studies have observed that GE foods may cause some common toxic effects, such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive issues and may alter hematological, biochemical parameters. World renowned geneticist and biophysicist, and co-founder of the International Science Panel on Genetic Modification, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, has cited numerous observations on the adverse impacts of GE foods, including severe inflammation in the lungs in mice, liver and kidney toxicity, damage to the organ system of young rats fed GE potatoes, and severely stunted pups. A 2008 study reported that GE corn fed to mice significantly reduced their fertility over three to four breeding cycles within one generation. The most recent study showing that GE corn causes cancer in rats may be controversial, but it underscores the need for a precautionary approach to this issue.

In terms of effects on the environment, in April researchers at Portland State University found that GE corn modified to express the insecticidal soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) negatively affected beneficial soil life. Their results revealed a decreased presence of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, which are important for nutrient and water uptake, in the roots of Bt corn when compared to non-Bt corn. Experts have recently warned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that “rufuges” of non-GE crops should be increased due to the growing threat of insect resistance to Bt corn. Moreover, a study early last month by researcher Charles Benbrook, PhD, shows that GE crops have significantly increased pesticide use and weed resistance, contrary to industry claims that the technology would reduce herbicide applications.

For a further debunking of the claims by Prop 37 opponents, the Organic Consumers Association has a concise article on the subject. If you’d like to take further action before the election, consider volunteering for California Right to Know’s phone bank.

We’d love to take all day dismantling the arguments by the “No” advocates, but time is running out, and the question is simple: Do you have a right to know if the food you purchase contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients?

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

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01
Nov

U.S. EPA Fails to Protect Salmon from Dangerous Chemicals

(Beyond Pesticides, November 1, 2012) Conservation groups and fisherman have filed lawsuits against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanding that pesticide restrictions be implemented around salmon streams. Regulatory buffers surrounding streams and watersheds have not been fully implemented by EPA, though it is required to by law. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which promotes sustainable fisheries, recovery of protected species, and the health of coastal marine habitats, commented that common pesticides should not be sprayed within 500 to 1000 feet of waterways. Its comments focused on the impacts of chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion, which jeopardize the health of federally protected salmon species. Despite this and other evidence that supports the need for buffer zones, EPA has withheld action until the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resolves the case.

EPA is mandated by law to protect dwindling species like salmon under the Endangered Species Act. Salmon, in particular, are a good indicator of how well we are taking care of both the marine and terrestrial ecosystems, because they live in streams, lakes, rivers, estuaries, and open ocean. They are also extremely sensitive to changes in water quality and upstream changes to the river flow, turbidity, and temperature. It goes to show that generally, the more pristine, diverse and productive the freshwater ecosystem is, the healthier the salmon stocks. Declines to juvenile salmon populations indicate failing ecosystem health and have dramatic impacts up the food chain as salmon are the primary food source for terrestrial fauna, ranging from eagles, ducks and songbirds to brown bears and grizzlies. Thus, by failing to implement buffer mandates EPA is responsible for endangering salmon and ecosystem health under the Endangered Species Act.

While EPA has requested that chemical companies change their pesticide product labels voluntarily to include buffer requirements, Dow AgroSciences, Makhteshim Agan, and Cheminova have refused to take the request seriously. Primarily, they believe that the comments made by NMFS will not hold up in court. EPA can force these chemical companies to change their labels by cancelling existing labeling and issuing new ones, but it would have to prove in federal court that the conclusions made by the NMFS are correct, and officials are reluctant to be involved in a long court battle. Pesticide manufacturers have already requested that the judge throw out the 2008 biological opinion by NMFS on spraying common pesticides near waterways. Credit is due to NMFS for standing by its study and for its concern for endangered species. All things considered, the biological impact cannot be overlooked by the judge. When asked by a 4th Circuit judge about the economic effects of buffers, attorney Mark Haag said, “The determination of jeopardy is based on biology. It’s not based on economic impact.”

Needless to say, label changes are piecemeal efforts that do not address the larger problem that toxic pesticides pose to human health, wildlife, and environmental integrity. Beyond Pesticides calls for the full protection of endangered species through strong legislation that supports least-toxic chemical use. Throughout the years, chemicals have been poisoning our foods and sickening our children. Those chemicals cited by the NMFS are all organophosphates, which is a group of highly toxic insecticides that affect the functioning of the nervous system.

Chlorpyrifos is acutely toxic to bees, birds, mammals, aquatic life, and certain species of algae. Poisoning from chlorpyrifos may affect the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system as well as a skin and eye irritant. A study of children exposed to chlorpyrifos in utero found that extensive and unusual patterns of birth defects, including brain, nervous system, eyes, ears, palate, teeth, heart, feet, nipples, and genitalia. The published literature and EPA documents contain reports that identify similarities in defects found in test animals and children exposed to chlorpyrifos. There are also a wide range of adverse environmental effects linked to chlorpyrifos, including toxic to: beneficial insects, freshwater fish, other aquatic organisms, bird, a variety of plants, soil organisms, and domestic animals. It has been shown to bioaccumulate in fish and synergistically react with other chemicals.

Diazinon is a moderately acutely toxic broad-spectrum insecticide. Like chlorpyrifos, diazinon affects the nervous system through the inhibition of AchE, an enzyme needed for proper nervous system function. Diazinon is easily absorbed through the skin, and is synergistic with other chemicals, including pyrethrins and certain chemicals used in pharmaceuticals. Repeated exposure to low doses may cause muscle twitching, anorexia, malaise, depression, irritability, confusion, anxiety, and dizziness. Damage to the pancreas has developed in some people and in laboratory animals exposed to large amounts of diazinon. Diazinon is also considered a mutagen, as long-term exposure may damage the developing fetus or cause birth defects, nerve damage, and/or liver damage.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified malathion as a toxicity class III pesticide, bearing the signal word “Caution.” Despite the fact that malathion is one of the less acutely toxic synthetic pesticides, numerous human poisoning have been reported. It is slightly toxic via the oral route and dermal route. Malathion is rapidly and effectively absorbed by practically all routes, including the gastrointestinal tract, skin, mucous membranes, and lungs. Animal studies indicate it is eliminated through urine and feces, with a reported half-life of approximately 8 hours in rats and approximately 2 days in cows. All organophosphate pesticides act on the body, particularly the nervous system in the same way and their effects are cumulative, which raises questions about multiple exposure to these chemicals through many uses in and around homes and food production.

EPA’s failure to protect endangered species, human health and ecosystem integrity needs to be addressed, if only by implementing buffer zone requirements for toxic pesticides. In the long-term, focus should be guided towards least-toxic pest management methods that are proven effective, cheap, and safe!

Source: Capital Press
Photo source: The Bay Institute

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

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30
Oct

Avoid GE Tricks by Buying Organic Treats

(Beyond Pesticides, October 31, 2012) On Halloween, scarier things then spooky ghouls and goblins may be lurking in places that you don’t expect; places like your child’s candy bag. Over 80% of processed food in the U.S. contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, and most major candy products are no exception. As responsible parents and adults, none of us willingly intend to pass out candy that contains GE ingredients to our children, but as it currently stands we don’t have the right to know whether we are or not. However, nobody wants to be “those neighbors” who give out pennies or pamphlets instead. Luckily, alternatives like candy with all organic ingredients can keep trick-or-treaters happy and give you piece of mind.

Halloween candies can contain a wide variety of GE ingredients. According to Green Halloween the top GE ingredients in candy are sugar (GE sugar beets), high fructose corn syrup (GE corn), corn starch (GE corn), soy lecithin (GE soy), soybean oil (GE soy), modified food starch (GE corn), fructose, dextrose, glucose (GE corn, cottonseed oil (GE cotton), and canola oil (GE canola). GE crops have become ubiquitous in U.S. agriculture with 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S., according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Studies reveal that GE foods may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive issues and may alter hematological, biochemical parameters. A recent study also found that the use of herbicides has increased in GE crop production which has led to mounting numbers of herbicide resistant weeds.

As more and more GE crops enter our food supply, it is becoming harder to find food and treats that do not contain GE ingredients. Reading ingredient labels can also be confusing and time consuming when you are shopping at the grocery store. The easiest way to make sure the candy you buy has no GE ingredients is to purchase USDA organic certified products because by law organic food should not contain GE ingredients. Also, by purchasing organic candy you will reduce trick-or-treaters exposure to pesticides.

Shoppers can also use the Green Halloween and the Non-GE project’s “Guide to a Non-GE Halloween” and Veritey’s list of non-GE candy to help you find GE-free candy. Veritey’s founder Amy Ziff also recently put out this list of GE free treats in a Huffington Post article:

1. Endangered Species individually-wrapped chocolates — in dark chocolate, rainforest mint, chocolate cashew and more. These chocolates are good-tasting (some even have nuts), individually-wrapped, and reasonably priced. The company donates 10 percent of net profits to supporting species, habitat and humanity.

2. Maple candies — the positive thing about these treats is that they’re 100 percent made from organic maple syrup, which has some potential health benefits, and is nutritionally better and less processed than refined sugar. However, it’s also still a very sweet sugar to your system. And these candies are not individually-wrapped, so you’ll have to save them for trick-or-treaters you know well.

3. Yummy Gummy Candies — this is a candy that’s free of common allergens like peanut, gluten and soy and is also free of dyes, corn syrup, GEs and more.

4. Annie’s — gummy snacks or pretzels or cheddar crackers in snack-size packs for something savory. All Annie’s items are non-GE.

5. Trader Joe’s Organic Pops –these are individually-wrapped lollipops that use natural food coloring from vegetable colors, specifically red cabbage, purple carrots, tumeric and annatto, to keep their candies real.

For residents of California buying candy that has no GE ingredients could become much easier if proposition 37, which would require mandatory labeling on GE foods, passes in the upcoming November election. This ballot initiative would give Californians the same right that citizens in over 40 countries around the world, including all of Europe, Japan, and China, have that allows them to know if they are eating GE food. This ballot initiative is facing extreme opposition from corporations such as Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer, and other food industry companies who have raised over $35 million to defeat this initiative, compared to the $4 million raised by the propositions supporters. This flood of corporate money has tightened the race. According to California polls, support for proposition 37 has gone from a 2-1 margin in support for the initiative to a close 44% in favor and 42% opposed.

This tightening of the race is a testament to the problems of corporate money in politics. A March survey revealed that 91% of consumers favor labeling for GE foods, with 81% of those ‘strongly’ in favor of enacting these requirements. Given the current partisan divide in the country, this represents a remarkable consensus from consumers.

If you’d like more information on choosing foods without pesticides and GE ingredients, visit our guide to Eating With a Conscience.

Source: The Huffington Post

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

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26
Oct

Goat Weeding Takes Off in Durango, Colorado

(Beyond Pesticides, October 25, 2012) Eight miles south of Durango, Colorado in a 65-acre plot of barren land an unusual set of guests has set out to manage weeds, restore soils, and improve land quality. Land owner Kim Craden, who shares the land with Chevron Corp, has contracted Lani Malmberg, board member of Beyond Pesticides, with her herd of 850 goats to help restore their property. This follows the recent ordinance that eschews chemical fertilizers and pesticides in favor of an organically maintained system on public land.

Until recently, the land in question had hosted a holding pond owned by Chevron and used for the oil exploration and production of wastewater. It had been grandfathered into statewide rules governing wastewater management, until a riding arena was built just across the road. When faced with bringing the pond into compliance with state security, signage, and fencing requirements, Chevron decided to close the pond, reclaim the land, and restore the surrounding area. They contracted Ms. Malmberg, who had already worked for city and county governments, the Department of Defense, federal public land agencies, and numerous private ventures. Needless to say, her herd of goats has an impressive track record.

Ms. Malmberg has been in the goat business since 1997. As a graduate student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, she was fascinated by goats and how they could be used for chemical-free land restoration. When she completed her Masters of Science, she bought a herd, which now ranges on the edge of 1,200 heads of goat. The co-owner of “Ewe4ic Ecological Management” and “Goat Green,” Ms. Malmberg has made a business out of managing unwanted vegetation and erosion, reseeding, restoring soils, and reducing fire threat using her herd of goats.

Beyond Pesticides has long been an advocate for the use of goats and grazing animals as a least-toxic solution for weed management. Goats are often more efficient at eradicating weeds, and are more environmentally sustainable than using harmful pesticides and chemicals. The process works as follows: Working around five miles of land per day, the goats consume everything from shrubs and weeds to thistles and poisonous plants. Their journey takes them up hills and down gullies that are too steep for mowers or machines. As they eat, the goats ensure that weeds do not go to seed. By snapping off flower heads and eating off all the leaves, weeds cannot photosynthesize sunlight to build a root system. Goats also boost soil health in two important ways: 1. fertilizing soils with their nutrient-rich feces and urine, and 2. tilling hard drought-stricken soils with their hooves. At the end of the contract, the soils are ready to be reseeded for spring. This growing movement has gained attention around the nation.

For more information on natural, non-chemical land management strategies, read “Successfully Controlling Noxious Weeds with Goats: The natural choice that manages weeds and builds soil health” and see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes page.

Source: The Cortez Journal
Photo Source: Ewe4ic Ecological Services

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

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25
Oct

Judge Halts GE Crops on Southeastern Wildlife Refuges

(Beyond Pesticides, October 25, 2012) In stark contrast with last week’s decision in the midwest, a federal court ruled in favor of halting cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in all national wildlife refuges in the Southeastern U.S. on Tuesday. The suit, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Beyond Pesticides, is a part of a series of legal actions taken against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (FWS) for entering into cooperative farming agreements for GE crops on wildlife refuge sites without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and refuge management laws.

This latest ruling bars FWS from entering into cooperative farming agreements for GE crops on the 128 refuges across eight states, including the 25 refuges currently growing GE crops. The requirement of environmental reviews will likely prevent the planting of crops in 2013 and 2014, and may result in a permanent end to the practice, as native successional grasses reclaim fallow refuge tracts.

This ruling is the third in a series of victories against FWS. In March 2009, the same groups won a similar lawsuit against GE plantings on Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. In 2011, the groups forced a legal settlement ending GE planting on refuges throughout the 12-state northeast region. However, in a separate ruling on October 15 this year, the same federal district judge, James Boasberg ruled that the FWS Environmental Assessment for GE planting in the Midwest region was adequate.

“How GE crops can be judged to carry significant environmental impacts in the Southeast and not in the Midwest is difficult to understand and accept,” said Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney with the Center for Food Safety. “However, short of a much-needed nationwide settlement, this is good news in our fight to end the growing of GE crops on our nation’s wildlife refuges.”

Federal District Court in the District of Columbia will hear arguments on November 5 on additional remedies that may be required to mitigate environmental damage on the Southeast refuges from GE crops already planted, including such measures as a ban on pesticide spraying, enlarged buffers, and steps to prevent trans-genetic contamination. FWS had unsuccessfully tried to argue the suit was moot because the planting season was over and the agency foresaw no new illegal plantings.

“While we are happy with the result, we are disappointed that the government needlessly prolonged this litigation,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass, noting that the government had tacitly conceded the merits of the suit in its court filing last spring. “The simple point we are making in case after case is that genetically modified crops have no legitimate role on a national wildlife refuge.”

While national wildlife refuges have allowed farming for decades, the practice is losing support among refuge managers, especially since some crops, such as soybeans and corn, are available mainly in GE strains. Refuge policy states that GE crops should not be used except when essential to accomplish a refuge purpose –a test that is extremely difficult to honestly meet. The lawsuits stress that the GE crops actually conflict with the protection of wildlife, the main purpose of the refuges. GE crops also require more frequent and increased applications of toxic herbicides, which has fostered an epidemic of “super weeds” as weeds have mutated. In addition, GE farming has led to uncontrolled spread of the engineered DNA to conventional, organic crops and wild relatives, in effect contaminating the wild from federal wildlife preserves.

For more news and information, see Beyond Pesticides’ genetic engineering page.

Source: PEER Press Release

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

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24
Oct

Pediatricians Say Organic Foods Reduce Kids’ Pesticide Exposure

(Beyond Pesticides, October 24, 2012) The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) has weighed in on the organic food debate recognizing that lower pesticide residues in organic foods may be significant for children. The Academy also notes that choosing organic is based on larger environmental issues, as well as human health impacts like pollution and global climate change. This is the first time the AAP has made a statement on organic foods, concluding that the most important thing for children is to eat a wide variety of produce, and that pediatricians should talk to their patients about the potential health and environmental benefits of choosing organic.

There have been conflicting media reports of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recent report on organic foods, published online in Pediatrics. However, the academy is clear that organic foods do provide health advantages by way of reducing exposure to pesticides, especially for children, even reporting “sound evidence” that organic foods contain more vitamin C and phosphorus. According to the report, “in terms of health advantages, organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Organic farming has been demonstrated to have less environmental impact than conventional approaches.” It also goes on to note that organic farming can be competitive and yields comparable to those of conventional farming techniques. AAP recommends that “pediatricians should incorporate this evidence when discussing the health and environmental impact of organic foods and organic farming while continuing to encourage all patients and their families to attain optimal nutrition and dietary variety.”

The report is described as a clinical report reviewing the health and environmental issues related to organic food production and consumption. It defines the term “organic,” reviews organic food-labeling standards, describes organic and conventional farming practices, and explores the cost and environmental implications of organic production techniques. It also examines the evidence available on nutritional quality and production contaminants in conventionally produced and organic foods.

“At this point, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person’s health over a lifetime, though we do know that children – especially young children whose brains are developing – are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures,” said Joel Forman, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health and one of the lead authors of the AAP clinical report. “Pediatricians want families to have the information they need to make wise food choices,” said Dr. Forman. “We hope that additional research will improve our understanding of these issues, including large studies that measure environmental exposures and neurodevelopment.”

On Nutritional Content
In its analysis, the AAP notes that research comparing the nutritional value of conventionally grown produce and organic produce is “not definitive,” citing that nutritional content is affected by various factors including geographic locations, soil characteristics and climatic conditions. The report finds that better quality research that accounts for these many variables is needed to make accurate comparisons, and concludes that at this time, there is no convincing evidence of a substantial difference between the nutritional content of organic and conventional foods.

On Milk and Meat
The AAP also notes here that due to variability in cattle breeds and genetics, comparisons of milk composition must be “interpreted with caution.” In reviewing the scientific literature, AAP finds little significant differences in compositions, but organic milk does have slightly more protein than conventional milk, and milk derived from organic and non-organic low input systems yield milk higher in conjugated linoleic acid. AAP also notes that hormone supplementation, which is prohibited in organic, does not adversely impact nutritional composition of conventional milk, but the “biological effects in humans, if any, are unknown.” Furthermore, AAP states that studies are needed to investigate the risks to women who eat hormone-treated animals and the development of breast cancer. The AAP calls for large, well-designed, prospective cohort studies that directly measure environmental exposures, such as estrogen at low levels, to understand the impact of hormonal exposure of children through milk and meat.

On Antibiotics
On the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, AAP notes that the evidence is clear that the use of these agents can promote the development in drug-resistant organisms, which can then spread through the food chain. Organic farming, which prohibits the use of nontherapeutic antibiotics, therefore reduces this threat and, by extension, lowers the risk of human disease caused by drug-resistant organisms.

On Environmental Impacts
Organic farms use less energy and produce less waste, have soils with higher organic quality and water retention. A review of studies found that organic systems can have comparable productivity to conventional fields, while using less pesticides and reducing environmental pollutions.

A recent survey reveals that organic is, in fact, growing. Organic growers in the U.S. sold more than $3.5 billion organically grown agricultural commodities in 2011. Contrary to reporting on the recent Stanford University study that mischaracterized the value of purchasing expensive organic food, the study found that consumers are exposed to elevated levels of pesticides from conventionally grown food. The reporting ignored the study’s reference to pesticide residues on chemically grown food, as well as the broader benefits of organic practices that protect farmers and farmworkers, air and water quality, wildlife and biodiversity. Organic foods have been shown to reduce dietary pesticide exposure and children who eat a conventional diet of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of organophosphate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet. Studies have found additional health benefits to eating organic. A ten-year University of California study, which compares organic tomatoes with chemically grown produce, finds that they have almost double the quantity of disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids. A comprehensive review of 97 published studies comparing the nutritional quality of organic and conventional foods shows that organic plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) contain higher levels of eight of 11 nutrients studied, including significantly greater concentrations of the health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants. A study by Newcastle University, published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, finds that organic farmers who let their cows graze as nature intended are producing better quality milk.

In addition, the adoption of organic methods, particularly no-till organic, is an opportunity for farming both to mitigate agriculture’s contributions to climate change and to cope with the effects that change has had and will have on agriculture. Good organic practices can both reduce fossil fuel use and provide carbon sequestration in the soil through increased soil organic carbon. Higher organic soil carbon levels then increase fertility and the soil’s ability to endure extreme weather years.

Beyond Pesticides advocates in its program and through its Eating with a Conscience website choosing organic because of the environmental and health benefits to consumers, workers, and rural families. The Eating with a Conscience database, based on legal tolerances (or allowable residues on food commodities), describes a food production system that enables toxic pesticide use both domestically and internationally, and provides a look at the toxic chemicals allowed in the production of the food we eat and the environmental and public health effects resulting from their use. For more information on the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page.

Source: American Academy of Pediatricians Press Room

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

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23
Oct

Latest Study Again Links Pesticides to Bee Die-Offs

(Beyond Pesticides, October 23, 2012) It’s a story we’ve heard for far too long. Research published yesterday in the journal Nature concludes that when bees are exposed to pesticides their colonies have a greater propensity to fail, again raising the urgent need for regulatory action to protect pollinators. This study adds to the body of science that shows toxic pesticide dependency in agriculture is undermining our food supply.

Concerned citizens Take Action! Join us this Thursday, October 25th at Noon outside EPA Headquarters (340 12th St NW (12th and Pennsylvania Ave)) for a rally to tell EPA that it must act to protect pollinators now.

The rally will feature speakers from various nonprofit and environmental organizations, commercial and urban beekeepers, film documentarians and more, including:

• David Hackenberg, Commercial Beekeeper, PA
• Jay Feldman, Executive Director, Beyond Pesticides
• Peter T. Jenkins, Attorney/Consultant, Center for Food Safety
• Jim Doan, Commercial Beekeeper, NY
• Maryam Henein, Director “Vanishing of the Bees”
• Meme Thomas, Baltimore City Beekeeper
• Kevin Hansen, Director of “Nicotine Bees” and Sierra Club Representative

The Nature study, “Combined pesticide exposure severely affects individual- and colony-level traits in bees,” followed 40 bumblebee colonies for four weeks.

While the study only focused on bumblebees, Prof. Douglas Kell of The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council notes, “Bumblebees play an important role in pollination, working earlier in the morning and later into the evening than many bees. Understanding the threats to all insect pollinators is vital if we are to ensure we mitigate the impact of their decline on the production of agricultural and horticultural crops. The results of this study contribute to a wider initiative to help inform strategies for securing the futures of all insect pollinators.”

The research reveals that chronic exposure to two commonly-used pesticides, the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, and the synthetic pyrethriod λ-cyhalothrin (LC), at field level concentrations impairs natural foraging behavior and increases worker morality. Neonicotinoids, such as imidacloprid, are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through the pollen, nectar, and gutation droplets from which bees forage and drink. Synthetic pyrethriods such as LC are sprayed directly on crops, including their flowers, where bees can become topically exposed. The authors note, “Foraging bees are thus simultaneously exposed to both chemicals in the field, making them excellent candidates to investigate the potential for combinatorial effects of pesticide exposure.”

The study was designed to mimic real world conditions bees are exposed to in the field. Forty colonies were split into four groups: ten colonies not exposed to any pesticides were used as a control, ten were exposed to only imidacloprid, ten were exposed only to LC, and ten were exposed to a mixture of imidacloprid and LC. The pesticides were administered via a feeder box; however, the bees were not forced to visit the treated material and could forage freely in the fields nearby.

Of the colonies exposed to imidacloprid, there was a decrease in birth rates for worker bees, and a higher proportion of foragers failed to return to the nest. A decrease in foraging success means that bees will bring back less pollen. Less pollen means less food for bees, which would match up to the lower birth rates of worker bees seen in the study. These results correspond closely to two studies published earlier this year in the journal Science. The first, titled “A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees,” revealed that the honeybees exposed to the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam were less likely to return to the hive after foraging. The second, titled “Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production,” shows that bumble bee colonies exposed to imidacloprid suffer an 85% reduction in the production of new queens compared to unexposed colonies.

For colonies exposed solely to LC, and those exposed to both pesticides, there is a much higher rate of dead worker bees, with 43% of the workers living less than 4 days after birth. This means that colonies are putting a significant amount of effort into nursing bees that were not able to contribute to the future growth of the hive. Colonies exposed to both pesticides fare the worst in the study. Authors note, “Indeed, M colonies in our study were consistently negatively affected in all our measures of worker behavior, suffered the highest overall worker losses (worker mortality and forager losses), which were twice as great as for control colonies, and two colonies did in fact fail.”

The authors of the study go on to note that traditional risk assessments only preform tests on one pesticide at a time. This fact is true in the U.S.; EPA does not require registrants to study the possible synergistic effects of pesticide combinations, even though bees in the field are exposed to multiple pesticides through a number of different routes.

Moreover, EPA does not require studies on the chronic toxicity of pesticides for non-target insects such as pollinators. While this study spanned four weeks, with many effects only taking place after several days of exposure, EPA only requires a 96-hour test to be performed. While the agency is supposed to require a field study before a chemical is approved, in terms of neonicotinoids no acceptable field studies on pollinators have been performed to date.

EPA failed to follow its own regulations when it granted a conditional, or temporary, registration to the neonicotinoid clothianidin in 2003 without required data establishing that the pesticide would have no “unreasonable adverse effects” on pollinators. EPA continues to allow the use of clothianidin nine years after acknowledging that it had an insufficient legal basis for initially allowing its use. In July, France banned the use of the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam in order to protect pollinators, but EPA has effectively told pollinators to buzz off. Several U.S. policymakers, including Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), Senators Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have expressed their concern to EPA, but EPA has refused to budge, denying a petition by millions of concerned citizens that would recognize that bees face an “imminent hazard.”

So we’re bringing the fight to EPA’s front door. With one in three bites of food dependent upon pollination, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Join us this Thursday, October 25th at Noon and let EPA know it’s not okay to put our pollinators, our food supply – our future at risk.

If you’re interested in learning more about the research involving the recent global decline of pollinators, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinator Protection page to learn what the science shows.

Source: PhysOrg

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

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22
Oct

Court Rules GMOs OK On Wildlife Refuges

(Beyond Pesticides, October 22, 2012) A lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) practice of permitting genetically engineered (GE) crops on wildlife refuges was dismissed by a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Beyond Pesticides, charged that FWS unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GE crops in 54 national wildlife refuges in various states without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and in violation of FWS policy.

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U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C. rejected the plaintiff’s arguments, ruling that the “agency’s actions were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which oversees 150 million acres of refuges, allowed farmers to plant GE corn and soybeans on a limited basis in eight Midwestern states. The plaintiffs — Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Cornucopia Institute — claimed the decision violated environmental law. Farming has long been used on national wildlife refuges for multiple purposes like habitat restoration, which involves destroying invasive species to make room for native plants. However, in recent years, refuge farming has been converted to GE crops because the agency claims GE seed is the only seed farmers can obtain today. These GE crops are mostly engineered for a single purpose: to be resistant to herbicides, mainly Monsanto’s ubiquitous Roundup. Because the crops are tolerant to herbicides, their plantings lead to more frequent applications and increased amounts of toxic herbicides. This overreliance on herbicides used in GE cropping systems has fostered an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” in the past decade as weeds have mutated. A study by University of Notre Dame, scientists found that streams throughout the Midwest are contaminated with GE materials from corn crop byproducts, even six months after harvest. While the long-term health effects of consuming GE food are still unknown, GE crops are known to contaminate conventional non-GE and organic crops through “genetic drift” and take a toll on the environment by increasing resistant insects and weeds, contaminating water and affecting pollinators and other non-target organisms.

Earlier this month, a study published by Washington State University’s research professor Charles Benbrook, PhD, reported that the use of herbicides in the production of GE herbicide-tolerant crops -cotton, soybeans and corn- has actually increased, producing resistant weeds, contrary to industry claims that the technology would reduce pesticide applications. This year, Beyond Pesticides wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that the introduction of new varieties of GE crops was “severely misguided and lacking forethought.” Plans are in the works to introduce 2,4-D GE corn into the environment thereby creating a new generation of resistant weeds, leaving a legacy of resistant “superweeds” and a retrogression to even more toxic herbicides to control these weeds. 2,4-D, which constituted half of the ingredients in “Agent Orange,” used to defoliate forests and croplands in the Vietnam War, is a chlorophenoxy herbicide. Scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and malignant lymphoma.
FWS officials in the Midwest were aware that refuges in eastern states had been sued over allowing GE crops on these protected lands, and developed an environmental assessment of the practice. This was the third in a series of lawsuits filed by PEER and CFSchallenging FWS’s practice of permitting GE crops on wildlife refuges. In 2009 and 2010, the groups successfully challenged approval of GE plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware – Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – which forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern region. In settling the suit, FWS promised to revoke any authorization for further GE agriculture at Bombay Hook and the four other refuges with GE crops: the Rappahannock River Valley Refuge and the Eastern Shore of Virginia Refuge, Montezuma Refuge in New York and Blackwater Refuge of Maryland, unless and until an appropriate NEPA analysis is completed – a condition that has yet to be met for GE agriculture on a National Wildlife Refuge. The federal government would not agree to end GE agriculture in refuges nationally, which prompted new litigation in other regions where as many as 75 other national wildlife refuges now growing GE crops are vulnerable to similar suits.

The agency originally preferred taking no action, which would have allowed GE crops to continue being grown in refuges for multiple purposes. In the final version of its environmental analysis, FWS instead chose to only allow transgenic crops to be grown for five years per tract, and only for habitat restoration objectives. This lawsuit challenged that the agency’s analysis did not adequately consider the impact of increased herbicide usage on water and endangered species. It also argued the analysis should have more closely looked at possible development of weeds resistant to glyphosate herbicides and cross pollination between transgenic and conventional crops. This suit hoped to enjoin the cultivation of GE crops in the Southeast Region until and unless a new approval decision is made based on a rigorous review of all potential impacts in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by NEPA. Meanwhile, unless practices and FWS policy on the refuges change, the plaintiffs will continue to challenge the cultivation of GE crops on refuges across the country.

Judge Boasberg found that the FWS sufficiently studied these concerns and countered the arguments with scientific studies and mitigation measures. “FWS’s conclusions may not be what plaintiffs wish, but it cannot be gainsaid that they took a hard look at the issues,” the judge said.

Currently, there are commercially available Roundup-tolerant seed varieties for corn, soybeans, canola, sorghum, and cotton, in addition to sugar beets, and recently USDA-allowed Roundup-tolerant alfalfa. Due to serious questions regarding the integrity of USDA’s environmental evaluations, public interest groups, led by the Center for Food Safety and including Beyond Pesticides, have filed suit against the agency to stop its full deregulation of GE alfalfa.

For more on genetically engineered agriculture read Beyond Pesticides’ article “Ready or Not, Genetically Engineered Crops Explode on Market” on our Genetic Engineering program page.

Source: Capital Press
Photo Credit: Food Safety News

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

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19
Oct

Delaware Students Outraged at Negligent Pesticide Policies

(Beyond Pesticides, October 19, 2012) School is a place where children need a healthy body and a clear head in order to learn. Despite a successful trend toward nonchemical strategies, pesticides remain prevalent and are widely used today in universities, schools, and daycare facilities. Kelsey Crain, an undergraduate student at University of Delaware, first became aware of the issue when, “I noticed there was this weird rash on my legs which wasn’t there before I was on The Green.” Kayla Iuliano, Crain’s friend and reporter at the student-run University of Delaware Review, probed the University about why there was no notification, and in return was given standard bureaucratic prose: “University Spokesman John Brennan stated in an email message that workers are not required to post signs when areas are sprayed because the chemicals are not harmful when used properly, and personnel are trained in how to apply them,” she wrote in the University of Delaware Review. “He said the sprays are commonly used commercial products and are registered for use with the Environmental Protection Agency. ‘They are recognized in the industry as safe when applied as directed’.”

The pesticide widely applied to the Green is called “PowerZone,” which is composed of 41.98 percent MCPA 2-ethylhexyl ester, or Mecoprop, according to its product label. This so-called “safe” chemical is considered a “possible” carcinogen, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Center for Disease Control. Mecoprop labels indicated that grass treated with the chemical should be allowed to set for a period of 48 hours and that immediate exposure to mecoprop can cause symptoms like burning skin and eyes, nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

Unfortunately, neither the university nor the state of Delaware require pesticide applicators to post signs that notify of spraying, which means that even after pesticides have just been sprayed, students may be walking, sitting, and lying in toxic pesticides that should be allowed at least a few hours to properly dry. Students that use the common area are completely unaware of the risks; the university and state have failed to protect them from these toxic pesticides.

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 can cause cancer, 13 are linked to birth defects, 21 can affect reproduction and 15 are nervous system toxicants. The most popular and widely used lawn chemical, 2,4-D, which kills broad leaf weeds like dandelions, is an endocrine disruptor with predicted human health hazards ranging from changes in estrogen and testosterone levels, thyroid problems, prostate cancer, and reproductive abnormalities. 2,4-D has also been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other lawn chemicals like glyphosate (Roundup), have also been linked to serious adverse chronic effects in humans. Many pesticides affect the immune system, which can result in increased problems with allergies, asthma, hypersensitivity to chemicals and a reduced ability to combat infections and cancer. A study found organophosphate pesticides cause genetic damage linked to neurological disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

Chemical-intensive pest control tends to ignore the causes of pest infestations and instead relies on scheduled pesticide applications or unnecessary toxic chemical use. Pesticides typically provide a temporary fix and are ineffective over the long-term. In addition, the most common insects are now resistant to many insecticides. Because certain insects and toxic pesticides pose a health risk to children, schools need to implement a comprehensive school IPM program to prevent and manage pest problems. A comprehensive IPM program utilizes pest prevention and management strategies that exclude pests from the school facility through habitat modification, entry way closures, structural repairs, sanitation practices, natural organic management of playing fields and landscapes, other non-chemical, mechanical and biological methods, and the use of the least-toxic pesticides only as a last resort.

In 2002, Beyond Pesticides identified 10,108 school districts, or 59 percent of the school districts in the U.S., in 37 states that have a policy with one or more of the following four criteria: (i) establish an integrated pest management (IPM) program; (ii) provide prior written notification of a pesticide application; (iii) post pesticide use notification signs; and, (iv) prohibit certain toxic pesticide applications. While this report does not evaluate whether all these schools are implementing these policies effectively, it does show the number of schools that have adopted some requirements, either through a state law or local school district policy, toward the protection of children from school pesticide use. Of the approximately 17,000 school districts around the country:
• 26.6% are required to have an IPM policy;
• 43.1% are required to provide prior written notification
• of pesticide use
• 56.7% are required to post pesticide use notification signs
• for either indoor or outdoor applications; and,
• 18.9% have restrictions on certain pesticides.

As of 2010, 21 states address IPM in their laws, but only 15 of these require schools to adopt an IPM program. Of the 21 states, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota, have comprehensive definitions of IPM, and allow only the least-toxic pesticide to be used as a last resort. Four states, Massachusetts, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia, approach the issue of defining least-toxic pesticides. Only two states, Massachusetts and Oregon, prohibit certain toxic pesticides from being used in an IPM program. For example, Oregon IPM law only allows a “low impact pesticide” to be used, which is defined as a pesticide that is not an EPA toxicity category I and II pesticide product (bares the words “Warning” or “Danger” on its label), or contains an ingredient listed by EPA as a known, probable or likely carcinogen. (There is an exemption for a public health emergency.) In addition, pesticides may not be used for routine, preventive purposes. Massachusetts and Maine prohibits the use of aerosol/liquid spray pesticides inside school buildings, with an exception for approved public health emergency situations. Their laws also prohibit the use of known, probably or likely carcinogens as well as products that contain EPA List 1, Inerts of Toxicological Concern. Although its law does not prohibit toxic chemical use, Texas defines “green category pesticides” and West Virginia defines “least hazardous pesticides” as products that EPA considers less acutely toxic. These are listed as toxicity category III and IV pesticide products (bares the word “Caution” on its label), excluding the more toxic categories I and II pesticides. Oregon and Texas also require the school districts’ IPM coordinator to approve the use of higher hazard pesticide applications Maine only allows an indoor pesticide spray application for public health pest problems.

Raising the level of protection across the nation to meet the highest possible standard of protection for children is essential. Schools should be environmentally safe places for children to learn. It often takes a pesticide poisoning, repeated illnesses, or a strong advocate to alert a school district to the acute and chronic adverse health effects of pesticides and the viability of safer pest management strategies. IPM strategies are practical, feasible, and cost-effective tools to reducing student and school staff’s exposure to hazardous pesticides.

We applaud recent efforts by State Senator Gene Davis (D-Utah), who has announced plans to sponsor legislation that requires notification when nearby homes are being treated with toxic pesticides. Pre-notification is a critical step in the right direction to allow people to avoid unwanted chemical exposures. Utah’s current pesticide notification system is voluntary. While pesticide applicators are required to alert their customers of the dangers associated with certain pesticides they apply, residents are not required currently to notify their neighbors when they apply pesticides around their home. Property owners should be informed about the possible contamination of their property and of threats to their family and pets from the application of pesticides.

Take Action: To see what pesticide laws are enacted in your state see Beyond Pesticides’ state pages. Know of a policy that’s not listed, or do you know of efforts to change policy in your state or community? Send an email to [email protected].

Source: University of Delaware Review

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

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18
Oct

Kidney Disease in Sri Lanka Linked to Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, October 18, 2012) A new study pinpoints agricultural pesticides and fertilizers as the likely culprit for an incurable and deadly kidney disease that has afflicted thousands of Sri Lankans. As many as 400,000 people in the north-central region of Sri Lanka may be affected by the chronic kidney disease (CKD), and as many as 22,000 people may have died over the last two decades as a result.

“The reason for the spread is heavy metals in the water caused by the unregulated use of fertiliser and pesticides,” Dr. Channa Jayasumana, from the Faculty of Medicine at the Rajarata University in Anuradhapura, told Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS).

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Sri Lankan government launched an investigation four years ago, testing the local environment and taking blood, urine and tissue samples. The results, which were released this summer in a one-page press release, pointed to cadmium and arsenic. Though cadmium is found in fertilizers, it is illegal to use arsenic-based pesticides in Sri Lanka. Dr. Jayamasumana is one of the doctors that has been engaging in research activities in the epidemic of CKD, and told Beyond Pesticides that they strongly believe that the main cause for CKD is poor quality agrochemicals.

According to a joint investigation by Public Radio International’s The World and the Center for Public Integrity, in the government’s press release, it states that farmers can protect their kidneys by stopping the “indiscriminate use of fertilizers and certain pesticides.” However, little has been done to spread the message to people who need to hear it. The doctors are frustrated with the WHO and the Sri Lankan government for not releasing these findings to the public and not taking action yet.

Dr. Palitha Bandara, the top health official in the North Central Province, told PRI that it is critical that the public’s exposure to the contaminants be reduced immediately “because day by day (they) will accumulate (in) the skin, blood and other peripheral organs, including kidneys.”

Source: PRI’s The World, Inter Press Service News Agency

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

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17
Oct

Parents Cancel Soccer Game Due to Hazardous Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, October 17, 2012) Concerned parents in Durango, Colorado created uproar last week when they discovered a synthetic weed killer containing at least two possible carcinogens would be applied to the athletic fields before Saturday’s games. Though the city enacted the Organically Managed Lands Program last month, the current season’s contracts with pest control companies have not yet been canceled. However, it seems that the efforts of local organizers and the city council have still left an impression on parents, and the city decided to at least postpone all youth soccer games that were scheduled after the spray.

“I believe these chemicals are harmful, and it’s best for my son not to be exposed to them,” said Sheryl McGourty, one of the mothers who, according to The Huffington Post, wrote to Durango Parks and Recreation with her concerns.

The parents in Durango are right to be concerned about potentially exposing their children to chemicals. The herbicide that was slated to be used on the Durango soccer fields, Vessel, has three active chemical ingredients, 2,4-D, dicamba, and mecoprop-p (MCCP). A dog recently died in Utah after inhaling the pesticide Trupower which has the same three active ingredients. 2,4-D and MCPP both have increased cancer risks in association with their use. 2,4-D is especially associated with soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Dicamba is also associated with developmental and reproductive health problems.

These chemicals on their own are all toxic and can have negative health effects but combined they have even greater synergistic effects. What is more alarming is the combination of these chemicals makes them more harmful to human health. Synergistic effects between multiple pesticides and/or other chemicals represent one of the greatest gaps in EPA’s ability to protect the public from the adverse health effects associated with pesticide use and exposure. Given that there are over 875 active ingredients currently registered for use, it is difficult to test all possible combinations.

Pesticides are especially detrimental to the health of children than they are to adults. Children take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems make them more sensitive to toxic exposure. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Academy of Sciences, and American Public Health Association, among others, have voiced concerns about the danger that pesticides pose to children. A growing body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels.

Many communities across the country have taken a stand against the use of toxic pesticides on their lawns and landscapes. Durango’s organic land management policy is based on Beyond Pesticides’ model policy and focuses on developing healthy soil, resorting to minimum risk pesticides only after all other methods of control have been exhausted. This summer, Richmond, CA approved a pesticide reform ordinance targeting the use of toxic chemical pesticides within city boundaries. Washington D.C. also recently passed legislation which restricts the use of pesticides on District property, near waterways, and in schools and day care centers. While stopping short of an all-out ban, Connecticut currently has a statewide prohibition on the use of toxic pesticides on school grounds. The state of New York also acted to protect children by passing the “Child Safe Playing Field Act” in 2010, which requires that all schools, preschools, and day care centers stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing field.

In addition to creating local policies, community members across the country have rallied to stop pesticides from being sprayed. Members of the grassroots group Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) successfully stopped pesticide use on local parks by attending town meetings and discussing their concerns. In Boulder, CO, children lead a rally to protest the approval of two pesticides on city parks.

The actions of the parents and community members in Durango sends a great message to get involved in your local government and voice your concerns to effect change! For more information on what you can do to eliminate unnecessary pesticide use in your community, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Lawn and Landscapes program page.

Sources: Huffington Post, SafeLawns.org

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

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16
Oct

Oregon’s Department of Agriculture Looks to Protect Waterways from Pesticide Runoff

(Beyond Pesticides, October 16, 2012) The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is looking to revamp the way it enforces the 1993 Agricultural Water Quality Management Act in order to decrease the amount of pesticides that end up in the state’s waterways from agricultural nonpoint source pollution. The new plan, which was unveiled last December, will work by taking a firmer approach than the current plan, which on sporadic complaints for enforcement and cooperative action by residents through soil and water conservation districts. While a new plan could benefit the health of Oregon residents and its waterways, it is in danger because politicians and some farmers believe it will be overly burdensome and increase costs.

Oregon is no stranger to problems with pesticide contamination of its water. The state of Oregon has a complex and diverse agricultural economy which ranges from forestry products to seed crops. Oregon also has thousands of miles of waterways. Roughly 15,000 miles of these waterways are listed as impaired, and nearly half of the 11,000-plus miles of waterways in Willamette River basin need more streamside plants, according to a 2009 state report. These plants help reduce the amount of run off by reducing the amount of pesticides that can reach water-ways. Zollner creek, which runs through the flatlands below Mt. Angel Abbey in the Willamette Valley, was found to be contaminated with pesticides, including the chemical diuron, which is harmful to fish and aquatic organisms. The stream has registered high levels of pesticides and fertilizers since the mid-1990s, and contamination levels detected in the Zollner and around Oregon are high enough to cause harm to aquatic life, including native salmon and steelhead.

ODA Director Katy Coba and her staff floated the new, firmer approach to water quality late last year: The state would target limited resources to the most polluted streams, ramp up education of landowners and accelerate restoration projects, tapping state and federal subsidies. Over time, trees, shrubs and grasses would shade and cool rivers and filter pesticide and fertilizer runoff, benefiting threatened salmon runs. Before-and-after water monitoring would confirm long-term results. As a last resort, ODA would pursue uncooperative landowners, starting with warnings, instead of relying on outside complaints for enforcement. The department unveiled the proposal in December before the state’s water quality committee, including an aerial photo of the threatened Zollner watershed.

This new plan is seen as an improvement from the old system, which relied on outside complaints and cooperative landowners for improvements, leaving gaps which threatened water quality. An example of the problems this faced was last year Marion County’s soil and water conservation district decided to upgrade water quality along Zollner Creek. Conservation districts are government entities that work with landowners and operators who are willing to help them manage and protect land and water resources on all public and private land. While notices went to 75 farmers and land owners only five responded. Two eventually agreed to soil testing, and “Because of a lack of access on private land and interest by landowners,” the district reported to the state in July, “Efforts would be better spent on other projects.” The patchwork of voluntary projects, and a dearth of river data from years past, make it tough to demonstrate the results that environmentalists, federal regulators – and judges – increasingly demand.

The movement to this new system will be politically challenging for ODA because some farmers and conservation districts see the new proposal as a sign of a more active and intrusive governmental agency. In a January letter, the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts warned that farmers and ranchers might believe districts “are conspiring with ODA to set them up” for water quality violations. ODA, with just six field staff in its water quality program for 38,000 farms needs the conservation districts, which it leans on heavily for information and ground work in order to be successful.

Farmers are also concerned. John Annen, whose family has grown hops for more than a century along Zollner Creek, stated “I’m all for the clean rivers and the fish and all that — they were here before we were…But I don’t want somebody out here telling us what to do.” Farmers were also worried about the cost of creating stronger buffer zones. Federal and state subsidies only cover three-quarters of buffer installation, and while rent payments are supposed to address lost land value, land can range up to $12,000 an acre in the area. However, without proper action, and no matter the cost, pesticide pollution in these streams will affect the health and environment of Oregon residents.
Legislators from both parties are watching ODA closely as the proposal moves forward. If they don’t like what they see, bills to restrict or expand ODA’s authority could pop up in the Legislature next year and the future of this program may be in jeopardy after the November 6th elections.

To eradicate pesticides runoff in our waterways and our environment Beyond Pesticides supports farms that work to transition to organic methods of production. Organic food contributes to better health through reduced pesticide exposure for all and increased nutritional quality. In order to understand the importance of eating organic food from the perspective of toxic pesticide contamination, we need to look at the whole picture —from the farmworkers who do the valuable work of growing food, to the waterways from which we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. Organic food can feed us and keep us healthy without producing the toxic effects of chemical agriculture.

It is important to make your voice heard on organic standards. See Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage for more information on the issues going on right now at the fall NOSB meeting. We will be updating this webpage with our perspectives,, so be sure to check back as new information is added.

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

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15
Oct

Corporate Assault Targets California Voters in Attempt to Stop GE Labeling Proposition

(Beyond Pesticides, October 15, 2012) California’s Proposition 37, which would require mandatory labeling on genetically engineered (GE) foods, is facing a strong challenge as tens of millions of conventional food industry dollars have poured into television advertisements before the November 6th election. Poll results released Thursday by the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and the California Business Roundtable show that 48.3% of respondents would vote yes for the measure on Nov. 6, while 40.2% would vote no.

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Prop 37 was authored by James Wheaton, president of the Environmental Law Foundation. Earlier this year, the California Right to Know campaign gathered 971,126 petition signatures for Prop 37, nearly double the 555,236 signatures required to qualify for inclusion on the ballot. As it currently stands, over 40 countries around the world, including all of Europe, Japan, and China have the right to know whether they are eating GE food. While opponents of the initiative are attempting to mislead the public about the costs of the proposition, an economic assessment from Joanna M. Shepherd-Bailey, Ph.D. of Emory University School of Law reveals that the initiative would not result in any additional expense to the taxpayers of California; Prop 37 is self-enforced and requires no new bureaucracy.

However, money from corporate opponents of Prop 37 is fueling a media blitz, with “10 days of incessant pounding lies,” according to Stacy Malkan, media director for California Right to Know. Opponents of Prop 37 are portraying the labeling measure as a needless burden and waste of money. An image on its website shows a farmer with his mouth taped shut and his body crisscrossed by red tape -even though the proposal imposes no requirements on farmers.

Industry opponents of Prop 37 have now raised over $35 million in comparison to the $4 million raised by its supporters. This is a dramatic shift from earlier in the summer when both campaigns had raised nearly the same amount of money. A majority of the oppositional contributions have come from Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont, Dow, Pepsico, and other major conventional food and chemical companies.

But why are they fighting so hard to prevent a disclaimer on GE products? Because these large corporations know that Prop 37 will not just affect California. Historically, California initiatives have been harbingers of national environmental regulations. If Prop 37 passes it will likely force food processors to label GE products nationwide, since it would be costly and cumbersome to have one set of labels for California and another for the other 49 states. In a recent New York Times article, Michael Pollan notes that Prop 37 could help shift the food movement from focusing on the soft politics of changing consumer choice to engaging in the hard politics of Washington.

While not many studies have investigated the impacts of GE foods on mammals or even humans, the few studies that have looked at the toxicity of GE proteins identify human health concerns. Studies have found that GE foods may cause common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive issues and may alter hematological, biochemical parameters. World renowned geneticist and biophysicist, and co-founder of the International Science Panel on Genetic Modification, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, has cited numerous observations on the adverse impacts of GE foods, including severe inflammation in the lungs in mice, liver and kidney toxicity, damage to the organ system of young rats fed GE potatoes, and severely stunted pups. Another recent study by Gilles-Eric Séralini, PhD, at the University of Caen in France reports that rats fed a diet of Roundup-tolerant GE corn have an increased risk of developing tumors, suffering organ damage and dying prematurely.

GE crops are also harmful to the environment. A recent study published by Washington State University’s research professor Charles Benbrook, PhD, finds that the use of herbicides in the production of three genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops -cotton, soybeans and corn- has actually increased, contrary to industry claims that the technology would reduce pesticide applications. Additionally, multiple studies show that the use of GE crops is leading to the rapid evolution of glyphosate-resistant weed populations.

Beyond Pesticides is a member of the Just Label It campaign and strongly supports voting yes on Prop 37 in California. Given national polls showing 93% of Americans in support of mandatory labeling, Beyond Pesticides believes it is possible to have the same impact here as in Europe, where consumers have known what is in their food since 1997.

As it currently stands, the only way to be certain you are not consuming GE foods is by purchasing products that are certified under the USDA organic certification program. Organic standards prohibit the use of genetic modification in the production and handling of organic food. For more information on the hazards of GE food, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering program page.

Image Credit: The Cornucopia Institute

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

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12
Oct

Pesticide Poisonings Spur Legislation Proposal in Utah

(Beyond Pesticides, October 12, 2012) After reading several cases of pesticide poisonings throughout the state of Utah, State Senator Gene Davis (D-Utah), has announced plans to sponsor legislation that requires notification when nearby homes are being treated with toxic pesticides. Pre-notification is a critical step in the right direction to allow people to avoid unwanted chemical exposures. Utah’s current pesticide notification system is voluntary. While pesticide applicators are required to alert their customers of the dangers associated with certain pesticides they apply, residents are not required currently to notify their neighbors when they apply pesticides around their home.

One recent case to come to light is the Pammi family’s loss of their golden retriever “Rusty” (see image) that they attribute to the toxic herbicides he inhaled after they were applied on their neighbor’s lawn this August. Rusty ingested the product TruPower3, a potent mixture of 2,4-D, mecoprop-p (MCPP-p), and dicamba. Beyond Pesticides was in contact with Mrs. Pammi after the incident, and although there is no way to confirm that Rusty’s death was the result of pesticide exposure, Ms. Pammi provided Beyond Pesticides with this statement from Rusty’s vet:

“The herbicide Trupower, which contains a mixture of 2,4-D, mecoprop-p and dicamba and a class of phenoxy chemicals, has the potential to cause mild to severe signs in dogs depending [on] amount and concentration of the compound ingested. Some of the first signs include Dyspnea, increased salivation, hypermotility of the GI Tract, vomiting, miosis and urinary incontinence. The signs can progress to a nicotinic phase of toxicity if high amounts have been ingested including muscular twitching, ataxia and paralysis including respiratory arrest. Skin contact does not appear to cause these signs only ingestion of the compound.”

This incident prompted Mrs. Pammi to write a heartfelt letter to the Standard-Examiner, questioning the current state of pesticide regulations.

Image Courtesy Salt Lake City Tribune

Image Courtesy Salt Lake City Tribune

“If alerted, we would have kept our dog inside. This could have been our young daughter. Our neighbor has the right to use a lawn care service. Do we have the right not to have chemicals drift into our yard and cause injury or death? Who monitors and enforces proper use of such deadly chemicals?”

With the support of Sen. Davis, Utahans may see a change. A new proposal could mean more stringent requirements. In order to adequately protect against pesticide drift, Beyond Pesticides recommends that there should be an established buffer zone surrounding residential buildings; one that is at least 300 ft. Citizens should also have the right to be notified 48 hours before application along with the posting of clearly visible signs that must remain posted 72 hours after application. Some may advocate for a requirement that a sign be posed only after the pesticide has been sprayed. However, because exposure can occur within minutes after applying a chemical, this sort of restriction would not be adequate to protect individuals, their children, or their pets. With any future legislation, local Utah communities should be granted the ability to adopt stricter regulations than those passed by the state.

During a typical year in neighborhoods across the country, over 102 million pounds of toxic pesticides are applied in pursuit of a perfect lawn and garden. This figure, up from 90 million pounds in the year 2000, continues to grow despite the growing body of scientific evidence of the public health and environmental consequences. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. In Utah alone, 11,000 pesticide products are in use, making the need for legislation ever more urgent.

While some focus has turned to the potential costs that new legislation would have for companies and their consumers, as well as enforcement difficulties —there are only four full-time inspectors state-wide— proponents have rallied around harrowing stories of pesticide survivors to highlight their need. For example, in 2010 two Utah sisters, 4-year-old Rebecca Toone and 15-month-old Rachel, died after an exterminator dropped fumitoxin aluminum phosphide pellets in burrow holes a mere seven feet from their house. The children’s parents were hospitalized and had difficulty breathing but were later released. While the U.S Environmental Protection Agency has since banned residential uses and restricted non-residential use of the chemical, existing stocks of the product are still allowed to be sold without the updated label restrictions.

Unfortunately, stories like these are widespread. Elva Jenson, neighbor to Sen. Davis, filed a complaint after a lawn care company had sprayed possible carcinogenic pesticides that drifted onto her property during windy conditions. Three months later, the company and applicator were fined a mere $100.

Ultimately, Beyond Pesticides supports the passage of sound IPM and organic policy in communities throughout the country which do not include the spraying of harmful chemicals. States and communities across the country have successfully adopted organic land care ordinances which restrict the use of pesticides both on private properties and in public spaces. Most recently, Richmond, CA approved a pesticide reform ordinance targeting the use of toxic chemical pesticides within city boundaries. Washington D.C. also recently passed legislation which restricts the use of pesticides on District property, near waterways, and in schools and day care centers. While stopping short of an all-out ban, Connecticut currently has a statewide prohibition on the use of toxic pesticides on school grounds. The state of New York also acted to protect children by passing the “Child Safe Playing Field Act” in 2010, which requires that all schools, preschools, and day care centers stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing field.

Property owners should be informed about the possible contamination of their property and of threats to their family and pets from the application of pesticides. As Mrs. Pammi eloquently remarks, “We can be lulled into complacency about things that occur around us until another death sparks outrage and interest in the inappropriate use of herbicides and pesticides.” Beyond Pesticides encourages all residents of Utah to contact their elected representatives and urge them to support more stringent pesticide regulations. The time to act against pesticide use in Utah is now!

Take Action: To see what pesticide laws are enacted in your state see Beyond Pesticides’ state pages. Know of a policy that’s not listed, or do you know of efforts to change policy in your state or community? Send and email to [email protected].

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

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11
Oct

Pesticides Key Contributor in Childhood Diseases, Highlights Need for Policy Change

(Beyond Pesticides, October 11, 2012) A new report highlights the growing body of research that links pesticides to the rampant rise of learning disabilities, childhood cancer and asthma in the United States, and calls for swift policy change to protect future generations. In particular, the report points out that children are more sick today than they were a generation ago, confronting serious health challenges from pesticides and other chemical exposures that their parents and grandparents were unlikely to face. This report underscores the importance of changing the individual chemical assessment approach to regulating pesticides, and integrating a systems approach that incorporates organic principles that strive to eliminate unnecessary pesticide use.

The report entitled, A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence was released by Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN). It draws from academic and government research, focusing on studies published within the past five years, to chronicle the emerging threat of –with over 1 billion pounds applied on farms and homes annually– to children’s health. Children and other sensitive sub-populations are exposed to a “toxic soup” of chemicals whose health impacts are not properly understood and clouded in uncertainties which are not captured in current risk assessments. Knowing this, the take home message from this report is the need to shift from systems that depend of toxic pesticides to systems that incorporate organic principles of pest management.

The studies detailed in this report are just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond Pesticides began tracking similar studies with the launch of the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database (PIDD) in summer 2010, which captures the range of diseases linked to pesticides through epidemiologic studies. The studies in this database supports an urgent need to shift to toxic‐free practices and policies. The constantly updated database is a tool to support efforts to eliminate the continued use of hazardous pesticides in favor of green strategies that emphasize non-toxic and least-toxic alternative practices and products.

Beyond Pesticides has long called for alternatives assessment in environmental rulemaking that creates a regulatory trigger to adopt alternatives and drive the market to go green. The alternatives assessment approach differs most dramatically from the current approach of risk assessment in rejecting uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, but unnecessary because of the availability of safer alternatives. For example, in agriculture, where the PIDD database shows clear links to pesticide use and multiple types of cancer, it would no longer be possible to use hazardous pesticides, as it is with risk assessment‐based policy, when there are clearly effective organic systems with competitive yields that, in fact, outperform chemical‐intensive agriculture in drought years. This same analysis can be applied to home and garden use of pesticides where households using pesticides suffer elevated rates of cancer.

“Protecting our children from harm is the fundamental duty of parenthood, but how can we do this when developmental toxicants are allowed to freely circulate in our economy?” says Sandra Steingraber, ecologist and acclaimed author. “PAN’s report shines a light on a completely preventable tragedy – that an entire generation of children will not reach its full potential. As such, it describes a violation of human rights and a crisis of family life both. For the healthy development of children to become a national priority, we parents must walk ourselves into the political arena and, waving this good report, speak truth to power.”

The report shines a light on the growing links between exposure to pesticides where children, live, learn and play and an array of impacts on the mind and body –including diminished IQ, ADHD & autism, childhood cancers and asthma. In particular, the report points to the following trends across studies:

• The brains and nervous systems of boys are significantly more affected than girls.

• Timing of exposure is critically important. If a child is exposed to even very small amounts of a harmful pesticide during a particular moment of development, the impacts can be severe – and often irreversible.

• Studies link exposure to pesticides during pregnancy to increased risk of childhood leukemia and brain cancer. And children who live in intensively agricultural areas are more likely to have childhood cancer.

“Pesticides can have unique and profound impacts on the developing child, even in very small amounts. The research shows that prenatal exposure to pesticides, in combination with other environmental and genetic factors, can contribute to increased risk of adverse health consequences, such as effects on the developing brain,” said Dr. Tracey Woodruff, Director, Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, University of California San Francisco. “We must take swift action to reduce exposure to harmful environmental chemicals to ensure healthier generations.”

PAN’s report outlines a series of urgent recommendations for state and federal policymakers to better protect children’s health and intelligence, recommendations emphasized by organizations on Tuesday.

“Enough scientific evidence is in – we can’t fail our children. While individual household choices can help, protecting kids from the health harms of pesticides requires real and swift policy change,” said Dr. Marquez, report co-author and staff scientist at PAN. “Dramatically reducing pesticide use, starting with those most hazardous to children, is the best way to protect current and future generations.”

The report points to the need for the following reforms to reduce pesticide use:

• Create stronger policy tools so enforcement agencies can take swift action to pull existing pesticides off the market and block new pesticides when independent studies suggest they are harmful to children.

• Increase investment and support for innovative farmers as they transition away from pesticide use.

• Set and track national pesticide use reduction goals, focusing first on those pesticides that studies show are harmful to children.

• Withdraw harmful pesticide products from use in homes, daycare centers and schools.

• Establish pesticide-free zones around schools, daycare centers and neighborhoods in agricultural areas to protect children from harmful exposures, especially pesticide drift.

On the positive side, the report does highlight states and communities across the country where innovative policies have been put in place to protect children from pesticides where they live, learn and play. From pesticide-free playing fields in Connecticut to protective buffer zones for schools and neighborhoods in California’s central valley and organic school lunch programs in Minnesota, policies designed to keep children out of harm’s way are gaining momentum.

Additionally, a free, open-access webinar 50 Years After Silent Spring: Pesticides, Children’s Health and the State of the Science will explore these latest findings. Emily Marquez, PhD, co-author of A Generation in Jeopardy, will discuss the highlights and findings of the new report, along with Dr. Bruce Lanphear, MD, MPH, senior scientist at the Child and Family Research Institute at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. The webinar takes place today, Thursday October 11th at 10am PST, 1pm EST and requires an RSVP.

Source: Pesticide Action Network

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

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10
Oct

Organic Food Market Continues to Gain Ground

(Beyond Pesticides, October 10, 2012) U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic growers in the United States sold more than $3.5 billion organically grown agricultural commodities in 2011, according to the results of the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey, released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The data shows a general upward trajectory for certified organic production and produce in the U.S. NASS conducted the survey for USDA’s Risk Management Agency to help refine federal crop insurance products for organic producers.

Organic sales totaled more than $3.53 billion last year, about 0.9 percent of total U.S. farm receipts, and an increase from 2008 reports. The 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey provides acreage, production, and sales data for a variety of certified organic crops and inventory and sales data for selected certified organic livestock commodities. In addition, data on land in farms, participation in federal farm programs, and marketing practices on certified organic farms are included.

The 2008 Certified Organic Production Survey, the first organic production survey conducted by NASS, reported certified and exempt organic farms had $3.16 billion in total sales –$1.94 billion in crop sales and $1.22 billion in sales of livestock, poultry and their products. In 2008, organic farms had average annual sales of $217,675, compared to the $134,807 average for U.S. farms overall. However, the 2008 survey included farms that were not certified as organic, but produce commodities classified as organic. This 2010 survey collected data only from certified organic operations. Similarly, according to a 2011 report from the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and beverages grew from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. According to this report, sales in 2010 represented 7.7 percent growth over 2009 sales. Total U.S. organic sales, including food and non-food products, were $28.682 billion in 2010, up 9.7 percent from 2009.

“This is the first time we have conducted a survey focused solely on the USDA-certified organic producers,” said Hubert Hamer, Chairperson of NASS’s Agricultural Statistics Board. “With this survey’s results, policymakers will be able to better assess the Federal Crop Insurance program and its impact on the organic industry.”

At least 3.65 million acres were used to raise certified organic crops and livestock, approximately 0.4 percent of the 917 million acres of farm and ranchland in the U.S. Crops accounted for $2.22 billion, or 63 percent, of total organic sales, followed by livestock, poultry and their products at $1.31 billion. Mirroring its conventional counterpart, corn leads organic field crops in sales and accounted for more than $101.5 million in 2011. The only other field crops to have more than $50 million in sales were alfalfa dry hay and winter wheat, accounting for $69.5 million and $54 million in sales respectively. When it comes to organic field crops acreage, Wisconsin leads the nation with more than 110,000 acres harvested in 2011. Wisconsin is followed by New York, with organic growers harvesting more than 97,000 acres. California closely follows the Empire state growers with more than 91,000 acres of organic field crops harvested in 2011. These top three states illustrate just how geographically diverse organic crop production is in the U.S.

In addition to looking at organically produced crops, the survey also gathered information on the organically raised livestock, which accounted for $1.31 billion in sales in 2011. Organic milk was the top livestock commodity last year, accounting for $765 million in sales. The other key organic livestock commodities were chicken eggs and broiler chickens, earning $276 million and $115 million in sales respectively.

Despite tough economic times, consumers continue to buy organic products. Most venues now offer organic products so more consumers now have the option of including organic products into their shopping carts. Increased use of coupons, the proliferation of private label brands, and value-positioned products offered by major organic brands all have contributed to increased sales.

Organic foods have been shown to provide numerous benefits to human and environmental health. A recent review conducted at Stanford University sparked headlines nationwide questioning the value of purchasing expensive organic food, despite its findings that consumers are exposed to higher levels of pesticides from conventionally grown food, while also ignoring the benefits of organic food and the hazards of pesticide residues on food, and the broader benefits of organic practices that protect farmers and farmerworkers, air and water quality, wildlife and biodiversity. Organic foods have been shown to reduce dietary pesticide exposure and children who eat a conventional diet of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of organophosphate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet.

There are numerous health benefits to eating organic, besides a reduction in pesticide exposure. Unlike the findings of the Stanford study, research from the University of California, a ten-year study comparing organic tomatoes with standard produce finds that they have almost double the quantity of disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids. A study out of the University of Texas finds organically grown fruits and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals than their conventionally grown counterparts. A comprehensive review of 97 published studies comparing the nutritional quality of organic and conventional foods shows that organic plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) contain higher levels of eight of 11 nutrients studied, including significantly greater concentrations of the health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants. The team of scientists from the University of Florida and Washington State University concludes that organically grown plant-based foods are 25 percent more nutrient dense, on average, and hence deliver more essential nutrients per serving or calorie consumed. A study by Newcastle University, published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, finds that organic farmers who let their cows graze as nature intended are producing better quality milk.

In addition, the adoption of organic methods, particularly no-till organic, is an opportunity for farming both to mitigate agriculture’s contributions to climate change and to cope with the effects climate change has had and will have on agriculture. Good organic practices can both reduce fossil fuel use and provide carbon sequestration in the soil through increased soil organic carbon. Higher soil organic carbon levels then increase fertility and the soil’s ability to endure extreme weather years.

Beyond Pesticides advocates through its Eating with a Conscience website for consumers to choose organic because of the environmental and health benefits to consumers, workers, and rural families. The Eating with a Conscience database, based on legal tolerances (or allowable residues on food commodities), describes a food production system that enables toxic pesticide use both domestically and internationally, and provides a look at the toxic chemicals allowed in the production of the food we eat and the environmental and public health effects resulting from their use. For more information on the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page.

Source: USDA Newsroom

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09
Oct

Local Incidents Raise National Concerns Over Safety of Sewage Sludge as Fertilizer

(Beyond Pesticides, October 9, 2012) Sewage sludge is big business in Channahon, IL, but many residents who live near fields treated with the fertilizer believe they’re the ones paying the price. Farms in the area began applying the “biosolids” in 2010, and residents say that’s when their health issues began, according to Morris Daily Herald.

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Biosolids, otherwise known as sewage sludge, are composed of dried microbes previously used to process wastewater in treatment plants. The material is increasingly being used in conventional agriculture, but its application is explicitly forbidden in organic production. This is because the sludge can contain high concentrations of toxic contaminants, such as pesticides, detergents, estrogenic hormones, antibiotics, dioxins, PCBs, flame retardants, and heavy metals.

Past research gives credence to Channahon residents’ claims of adverse health effects as a result of living near sludge coated fields. A 2002 study revealed the material to be associated with an increased prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus infections, a condition known to cause skin rashes and respiratory problems, for people located in close proximity to biosolid application sites.

“What they are doing is making a toxic dump of our area. It’s disgusting,” said Channahon resident Pat Budd in an interview with Kris Stadalsky of Morris Daily Herald. Residents are particularly concerned about run-off reaching local streams and polluting their well water, although studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found no evidence of this occurring. Additionally, students at nearby schools routinely jog on the road near the farms, and have been seen running through the treated fields.

Channahon resident Mary Lou Bozich was diagnosed with a duodenum tumor this year after having no signs of the tumor the year before. “I just find it very weird that two years ago I had no problem,” Ms. Bozich said to the Herald. “Is it from that (biosolids)? I don’t honestly know. How would they prove it one way or another?”

Resident Pearl Addington makes particular note of the smell emanating from the sludge treated fields. “I have asthma and I can’t even leave my house,” she said to the Herald, “I am scared (because) I can’t breathe.” Although EPA requires sewage sludge to be immediately incorporated into the soil, in the words of Jeff Hutton of the Illinois EPA (IEPA), “[T]here’s still going to be an odor. Odors are hard to quantify.”

According to the Herald, of the 400 thousand tons of sewage sludge produced in Illinois, 75 percent of it is used in conventional farming, and a total of 280 acres of Channahon are now treated yearly with the material. Spreading companies are paid around $15 per cubic yard to haul away the treated sludge from Metro Chicago’s Water Reclamation District, and during an application up to 70 trucks will line up around a field to dump the material. The Herald indicates that a local company applies between five and ten dry tons of per acre of farmland. Some residents believe that the biosolid industry is more about making a profit than the health of local citizens. “There’s an enormous amount of money here,” said Pat Budd.

Studies are revealing disturbing trends associated with the use of sewage sludge. A 2009 study out of Sweden and a 2011 study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology indicate that sewage sludge may be contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. A 2010 study shows that when biosolids containing the chemical triclosan are applied to agricultural fields there is a potential for the material to break down into dioxin, a highly carcinogenic substance linked to decreased fertility, weakened immune system functions, altered sex hormones, miscarriages, and birth defects.

Sewage sludge also has a detrimental impact on the environment. Beyond Pesticides recently reported on how nanoparticles in biosolids, present due to their use in sunscreen, lotions, and cosmetics, and certain diesel fuels, can effect plant growth and development. The nanoparticles in sewage sludge can block leguminous crops from forming a symbiotic relationship with the beneficial bacteria that allow it to fix nitrogen from the air. This could cause farmers to apply increasing amounts of synthetic fertilizers to make up the difference. Additionally, sludge nanoparticles were shown to be taken up by the plant and located in the edible pods of soybeans, with unknown human health effects.

You can show that you disagree with the use of sewage sludge in agriculture by eating certified organic food, which does not allow the use of dried municipal waste microbes in its production. Additionally, be wary of any lawn fertilizers which claim to be “organic” or “natural” but list ingredients such as “biosolids,” “dried microbes,”, or “activated sewage sludge,” To find out more about the benefits certified organic products and production systems, visit Beyond Pesticides’ organic food program page, and keep up to date on the upcoming October 15-18, 2012 National Organic Standards Board meeting at our Keeping Organic Strong action page.

Source: Morris Daily Herald

Photo Credit
: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

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

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