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Daily News Blog

28
Feb

Idaho Legislation Advances to Eliminate Even Minimal Protections from Pesticides, including Drift

(Beyond Pesticides, February 28, 2020) State legislators in Boise, Idaho have advanced House Bill 487, An Act Relating to Pesticides and Chemigation, out of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee. If passed, the statutory alterations in this bill would, according to the Idaho Statesman, loosen some rules on aerial application by crop-dusting airplanes, and reduce state agricultural investigators’ ability to regulate the spraying of pesticides. The legislation replaces sections of current rules and deletes language regarding drift, including “Chemicals shall not be applied when wind speed favors drift beyond the area intended for treatment or when chemical distribution is adversely affected.”

Such changes will exacerbate the already-significant issue of pesticide drift. In an overview of the pesticide dicamba, Beyond Pesticides recently reported on this legislative development, as well as on a precipitating exposure event in an Idaho hops field. Banning of aerial spraying, as has been attempted by some localities, would go a long way toward eliminating the harms of pesticide drift. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is the following: As the problem of drift grows and farmers’ crops and people are put at risk, this legislation attempts to define away serious problems and eliminate protections.

The Idaho legislation would appear to be on a fast track to approval: the bill moved very quickly out of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee (AAC) after testimony, mostly from the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association. It will now go to the full House for consideration — despite grave warnings from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office that the legislation would constrain state enforcement of federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pesticide regulations. Representatives and AAC members Sally Toone and Ryan Kerby requested that the bill be held in committee longer to give members time to read and consider the AG’s nine-page analysis, and to hear further testimony. The Idaho Statesman reports: “It’s unclear whether lawmakers read the full report on the bill. . . . Instead, the committee voted to advance the bill without further testimony, sending it to the House floor.“

Back in 2004, Beyond Pesticides published a “primer” on the phenomenon of pesticide drift that laid out the variety and scale of potential impacts. Drift negatively affects the health of farmworkers and the nearby public (especially children), as well as pollinators, non-target crops, plants, and organisms, and wildlife. Pesticides applied by spraying through the air — whether from an airplane, a drone, a backpack unit, or a truck — are all subject to some degree of drift. Spraying from aircraft presents the most extreme case: up to 40% of the pesticide volume can be lost to drift. Dicamba, alone or in combination with other compounds, is especially prone to it; as reported in February, “It simply does not stay put, no matter how it is applied, but becomes airborne and travels.” Such travel can result in several miles of displacement from the target sites.

The precipitating event in Idaho, in May 2019, was this: a couple of dozen workers in a Canyon County hops field were unexpectedly showered with an aerially delivered fungicide that was meant for a nearby onion field. Beyond Pesticides wrote, “On the heels of this incident, the state agriculture department wrote a letter to the [responsible] crop dusting company, admonishing that — although they were technically not violating application rules — the pilot should have waited to give the farmworkers a chance to vacate the field before unloading the fungicide.” A few months later, a crop dusting association complained to lawmakers that the letter — no fines, no license suspensions or other constraints were involved — amounted to “excessive oversight and regulation.” Soon thereafter, rather than tighten protections for workers and the public through the state’s regulation of pesticide spraying, as public health advocates urged, the legislature chose to create HB487, which would appear to appease agrochemical interests in the state.

Among the bill’s features is the elimination of the terms “faulty” and “careless” from a provision of the state code that says aerial pesticide applicators should not spray in a “faulty, careless, or negligent” manner. In response to one of Rep. Toone’s questions, Deputy Attorney General Katy DeVries wrote that the removal of those terms might expand protections for anyone accused of misuse of pesticides. She added, “The situation could arise where members of the public either ignore or are otherwise unaware of posted pesticide spray notices. Members of the public (i.e., joggers, farmworkers, children) may be present in a spray area. Applicators may still choose to proceed with a spray operation even with people present near the spray area. This action may not necessarily be negligent, but it may fit into the realm of faulty or careless if the application results in human exposure.”

The current statute allows the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to discipline crop-dusting pilots who apply pesticides in a “faulty” or “careless” way, even if the behavior does not meet the higher bar of “negligent.” HB487 would eliminate that latitude. Ms. DeVries noted that the AAC, just weeks ago, struck down several existing rules that regulate aerial pesticide application — rules barring pilots from flying at low altitude over towns, schools, hospitals, or “densely populated areas” without written agreements; flying low over occupied structures without prior notification; spraying pesticides under certain conditions related to wind speed and directions; and the banning of any spraying near designated “hazard areas.” HB487, Ms. DeVries asserted, would further constrain or eliminate the Department of Agriculture’s enforcement authority.

No one from the State Department of Agriculture attended the AAC hearing; the department did submit a bill analysis to the committee outlining the agency’s responsibility to enforce laws regulating pesticide use through a cooperating agreement with the EPA. That document also noted that “State agriculture officials have taken 17 enforcement actions — warning letters, regulatory letters, violations notices or consent agreements — against pesticide applicators in the past five years. . . . Not all resulted in fines or license suspensions. . . . The ISDA [Idaho State Department of Agriculture] has the responsibility to ensure that the use of pesticides will not cause unreasonable adverse effect to human health or the environment.”

At the hearing, approximately 15 people related to the crop-dusting industry testified in support of the bill; exactly one person — Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League — testified in opposition. Mr. Oppenheimer “cautioned the committee to consider whether the law was really being inappropriately enforced, noting that the Idaho Attorney General’s Office found the state had issued only one violation notice under one of the sections the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association wanted lawmakers to remove.”

Those aligned with the crop dusting companies asserted that state agriculture investigators have excessive latitude in assessing violations and fines, and that accused crop-duster pilots have little recourse to appeal such actions. The testimony of two pilots stood out as particularly creative: they claimed that “the stress of adhering to complicated regulations could distract pilots and endanger their lives while flying. ‘It’s a good recipe to get dead,’ said one of the men.” The crop dusting constituency had a vocal supporter in State Representative Gary Marshall, who expressed his displeasure at the mild slap state agriculture officials delivered to the company after the exposure incident in the hops field: “What you’ve described is the very essence of tyrannical government. I can hear James Madison very loudly in my mind. This is the very essence of tyranny.” As the Idaho Statesman coverage of this hearing said, “Lawmakers seemed eager to assist the crop-duster association members.”

Marielena Vega, of the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, has expressed concern that the bill’s changes will “unreasonably limit” the ability of the state to deal with incidents such as the Canyon County hops field incident. She said, “By eliminating ‘faulty’ and ‘careless,’ this legislation makes it more difficult to prove an individual or company misused pesticides. Striking these from the statute would expose workers and the public to greater harm because there are greater legal hurdles to demonstrate negligence.”

Ms. Vega is rightly concerned about HB487. Farmworkers, who labor under very demanding conditions, are very often exposed to pesticides and other chemicals in the course of their work — never mind the other stresses they endure, such as low wages, hard physical labor, injuries, long hours, all manner of weather conditions, and increasingly, threats from U.S. immigration officials. Indeed, the average life expectancy of farmworkers is 39 years, as compared with 78 for the general U.S. population. Beyond Pesticides monitors and evaluates developments in, and advocates for, agricultural justice for those who work to put food on the tables of Americans.

Pesticide drift is among the risks farmworkers, and members of the public, face in nearly any agricultural area. Lawmakers and government agencies at both the state and federal levels ought to be working to protect people from the harms of pesticide use generally, and aerial spraying in particular, given the “reach” of such applications to areas far beyond the intended targets. When lawmakers and agencies fail to protect, the onus is necessarily on the public and civic organizations to insist that they do.

That can be a challenging task, as residents of Lincoln County, Oregon learned when they secured a hard-won local ban on aerial spraying, only to have a circuit court judge strike down the ban on the basis of state pre-emption. (Read more about that case here and here.) Certainly, as in this Idaho case, lawmakers’ prioritizing the ability of crop dusters to deliver their chemical loads over the health of those on the ground, is a particular affront to both common sense and legislative responsibility to constituents.

Beyond Pesticides supports organic agriculture as the solution that protects farmworkers, public health, ecosystems, and natural resources — water, air, and soil — on which all human activity depends. The public can become informed on these issues, and mobilize its influence, with state and local elected officials, and through engagement with and support of non-governmental and civic organizations (such as Beyond Pesticides) that advocate for laws and policies that reduce the risk of pesticide use. One great way to do both of those is to join Beyond Pesticides!

Take Action: Residents of Idaho are encouraged to contact their elected officials. Contact your Idaho state legislator: Click here.

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article240597081.html

 

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27
Feb

Report Finds Top Chemical Companies Making Billions Off Poisoning the Earth

(Beyond Pesticides, February 27, 2020) A new report finds that as birds and pollinators continue to decline, and chronic diseases remain on the rise, the global agrichemical industry is raking in billions of dollars from hazardous pesticides that contribute to these crises. A joint investigation from Unearthed and Public Eye finds that 35% of pesticide sales from the largest agrichemical corporations are made from the most toxic pesticides on the market.

Pesticide production was a $57.6 billion market in 2018, according to the report. While the profits of the industry are privatized, the public health and environmental effects are broad. Studies conducted over the last decade show that the impacts of hazardous pesticide use dwarf the market for these chemicals.

The impact of pesticides on public health results in a drag on the economy. Earlier this year, research from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine found that children’s exposure to organophosphate insecticides was estimated to result in over 26 million lost IQ points and over 110,000 cases of intellectual disability, totaling roughly $735 billion in economic costs each year. A 2019 study from the same scientists determined that endocrine disrupting chemicals, including organophosphates and organochlorine pesticides, were attributable to $340 billion in health care costs annually.

The damage pesticides cause to the natural world also results in significant economic impacts. Pollination alone contributes between $20 and $30 billion in economic value to agriculture each year. A 2016 review, titled The Hidden and External Costs of Pesticide Use, pinned the total environmental costs of pesticide use, including issues like bird and fish kills, loss of pest management by the killing of non-target animals, and pest resistance to pesticides to result in at least $39.5 billion in economic costs annually.

The report from Unearthed and Public Eye finds that the five major chemical companies represented by the trade association Croplife, including BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Corteva Agriscience, FMC, and Syngenta/ChemChina, sold roughly $37 billion worth of pesticides in 2018, comprising 65% of the global market. Of that group, the investigation found that 10% of leading product income from Croplife members came from chemicals considered highly toxic to bees by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Focus of the report centered around the outsized influence Croplife members have on the sale of “highly hazardous” chemicals around the world, as defined by Pesticide Action Network International. In high income developed countries, Croplife companies’ sales of highly hazardous pesticides accounted for 27% of its market share, but in lower income developing countries, hazardous pesticide sales were nearly 50%. This is especially concerning in countries like Brazil, which is home to some of the most biodiverse areas in the world. Since the election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonoro, pesticide approvals in that country have skyrocketed.

While it is certainly important to restrict use of the most toxic pesticides on the market, what is truly needed is an end to pesticide dependency. The ongoing success of organic agriculture shows that we can transform our farming systems from an economic drain on ecosystem services and public health to one that fosters biodiversity, delivers more nutritious foods, and adds to economic growth.  Under organic, use of a limited list of least-toxic pesticides is allowed only under the conditions determined by a comprehensive organic systems plan.

If you’re concerned about the use of pesticides on Brazilian biodiversity and imported foods, consider joining Beyond Pesticides’ boycott of Brazilian food products. And to hear more about the connection between pesticide use and adverse economic impacts, considering attending Beyond Pesticides National Pesticide Forum, where Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, of the NYU research team will provide a keynote talk on his research.  

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

Source: Unearthed 

 

 

  

 

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26
Feb

Tell Your Congressional Representative to Support the Agriculture Resilience Act

(Beyond Pesticides, February 26, 2020) Agriculture both suffers from the impacts of the climate crisis and contributes significantly to global warming. Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine has introduced H.R. 5861 aimed at achieving a 50% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2040, relative to 2010 levels.

Tell Your Congressional Representative to Cosponsor H.R. 5861.

July of 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high (over 415 ppm) was during the Pliocene period – between 5.3 and 2.6 million years ago. We have seen changing precipitation and temperature patterns, resulting in flooding of some agricultural regions and droughts in others, crops and livestock varieties no longer suited to the geographical area where they have been produced, and new problems with insects, weeds, and disease.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use contributes about 23% of total net anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, organic production can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon in the soil.

Regenerative organic agriculture reduces emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. In nonorganic, chemical-intensive agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions result from the use of nitrogen fertilizer, synthetic herbicides and insecticides, fossil fuel consumption associated with farm equipment, and the transportation of materials and products to and from the farm. The manufacture of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is a major source of energy use in chemical-intensive agriculture–the manufacture and use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers alone are responsible for as much as 10 percent of direct global agricultural emissions. This is important because pound-for-pound, nitrous oxide is 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the planet.

Besides reducing energy use, organic agriculture helps combat climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. Organic agriculture also produces farms resilient to climate change because high soil organic matter content and mulching help to prevent nutrient and water loss. In addition, organic agriculture increases biodiversity, which is needed to meet the challenges of new insects, diseases, and weeds.

 The best time to have addressed global warming was 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now. Organic, regenerative agricultural practices help mend the earth from the ground up. Rep. Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act establishes specific goals and responsibilities in order to “accelerate the ability of agriculture and the food system to first achieve net zero carbon emissions and then go further to be carbon positive by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Tell Your Congressional Representative to Cosponsor H.R. 5861.

Letter to Congress

Agriculture both suffers from the impacts of the climate crisis and contributes significantly to global warming.  I am writing to ask you to cosponsor H.R. 5831, which is aimed at achieving a 50% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2040, relative to 2010 levels.

July of 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high (over 415 ppm) was during the Pliocene period – between 5.3 and 2.6 million years ago. We have seen changing precipitation and temperature patterns, resulting in flooding of some agricultural regions and droughts in others, crops and livestock varieties no longer suited to the geographical area where they have been produced, and new problems with insects, weeds, and disease.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use contributes about 23% of total net anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, organic production can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon in the soil.

Regenerative organic agriculture reduces emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. In nonorganic, chemical-intensive agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions result from the use of nitrogen fertilizer, synthetic herbicides and insecticides, fossil fuel consumption associated with farm equipment, and the transportation of materials and products to and from the farm. The manufacture of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is a major source of energy use in chemical-intensive agriculture–the manufacture and use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers alone are responsible for as much as 10 percent of direct global agricultural emissions. This is important because pound-for-pound, nitrous oxide is 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the planet.

Besides reducing energy use, organic agriculture helps combat climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. Organic agriculture also produces farms resilient to climate change because high soil organic matter content and mulching help to prevent nutrient and water loss. In addition, organic agriculture increases biodiversity, which is needed to meet the challenges of new insects, diseases, and weeds.

The best time to have addressed global warming was 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now. Organic, regenerative agricultural practices help mend the earth from the ground up. Rep. Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act establishes specific goals and responsibilities in order to “accelerate the ability of agriculture and the food system to first achieve net zero carbon emissions and then go further to be carbon positive by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Please cosponsor H.R. 5831.

Thank you.

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26
Feb

Announcing | Cultivating Healthy Communities: Growing Biodiversity and Eliminating Toxics as Regenerative Climate Solutions | April 17-18

(Beyond Pesticides, February 25, 2020) Beyond Pesticides announces the 38th National Forum, co-convened with the City of Boulder, Colorado, Friday and Saturday, April 17-18, 2020 in Boulder.

Our food system and landscaping practices are contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss. What if the systems that created these problems hold the key to solving them? Join scientists, policymakers, grassroots organizers, educators, writers, artists, and hands-on practitioners to share ideas and create transformative solutions.

Register today! 

See the Forum overview here — more information to come!

Register today!

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24
Feb

Longest Field Trials Show Organic Practices Yield Higher Returns than Chemical-Intensive Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, February 24, 2019) With more than 90% of total pesticide use deployed in agriculture, organic farming is the keystone solution to the myriad health, environmental, and biodiversity harms of pesticides. A transition to organic and regenerative farming practices — across which there is great overlap — is critical and a tall order, given the entrenched, chemically intensive practices that currently dominate in the U.S. and much of the world. A long-standing research effort by the storied Rodale Institute — the Farming Systems Trial, which began in 1981— is demonstrating that organic agriculture is not only a nontoxic solution, but also, an economically viable one that is critical to a sustainable future.

Through the Farming Systems Trial (FST), the Rodale Institute has collected data on crop yields, soil health, energy efficiency, nutrient density of drops, and water use and contamination in organic and conventional systems managed with different levels of tillage. Among the findings of the nearly 40-year research project are these:

  • after a five-year transition period, organic yields are competitive with conventional yields
    • in drought years, organic yields are as much as 40% higher than conventional yields
  • farm profits are 3–6 times higher for products from organically managed systems
  • organic management systems use 45% less energy than conventional, and release 40% fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere
  • organic systems leach no toxic chemicals into waterways
  • organic systems build, rather than deplete, organic matter in soil, improving soil health

The trial website page notes that “organic matter and thus soil health in organic systems continuously increases over time. Soil health in conventional systems remains essentially unchanged.” (See a detailed report from FST at the 30-year project mark here, and a brochure on the project here.)

The Rodale profitability outcome comports with that of a 2018 study on regenerative farming, as compared with conventional, chemical farming. The Farming Systems Trial project conclusions also reinforce those of a 2017 United Nations report; a 2016 report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems; and a University of California, Berkeley study in 2014. The benefits of organic agriculture were discussed nearly a decade ago in an article from the Rodale Institute, republished in Beyond Pesticides’ journal, Pesticides and You.

Begun in 1980 by founder Robert Rodale and created to yield practical data for farmers wanting to transition from conventional to organic practices, the FST is now significantly expanded from its early days. At the main Rodale campus in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, the trial occupies 12 acres, with 72 distinct plots. It is divided into three overarching management systems: Conventional Synthetic, Organic Manure, and Organic Legume. Each system’s area is then divided into those utilizing tillage and, for the organic plots, reduced (alternate-year) tillage practices.

The practices employed under each of the three systems are described on the Rodale FST website: “Conventional Synthetic represents a typical U.S. grain farm. It relies on synthetic nitrogen for fertility, and weeds are controlled by synthetic herbicides selected by and applied at rates recommended by Penn State University Cooperative Extension. . . . Organic Manure represents an organic dairy or beef operation. It features a long rotation of annual feed grain crops and perennial forage crops. Fertility is provided by leguminous cover crops and periodic applications of composted manure. A diverse crop rotation is the primary line of defense against pests. . . . Organic Legume represents an organic cash grain system [in part because it represents the 70% of U.S.-grown crops that are grains]. It features a mid-length rotation consisting of annual grain crops and cover crops. The system’s sole source of fertility is leguminous cover crops and crop rotation provides the primary line of defense against pests.”

FTS is designed to be a long-term study that can capture episodic events, such as drought, longer-term weather effects, and changes in soil biology over time, as well as current management practices. The FTS looks to mimic standard agricultural approaches, so in 2008, genetically engineered (GE) crops and no-till practices were introduced to some conventional plots.

Once upon a time all agriculture was organic, but with the rise of chemical management in the mid-20th century, organic growing all but disappeared, but for intrepid “back to nature” growers. Since the 1970s, and especially since the early 1990s, organic farming has steadily grown alongside Americans’ awareness of the health and environmental harms that conventional, chemically intensive agriculture imposes. An additional, but underreported, aspect of pesticide use is its relative inefficacy in some instances. Some pesticides just do not work all that well. In addition, as Beyond Pesticides wrote in 2019, “pesticides’ actual utility is both inflated and severely limited, given the issue of resistance.”

Whatever chemical compound may work — for a given pest, on a given crop — may not work a year, or two, or three years hence, because pests (whether insects or weeds) will ultimately develop resistance to any substance to which they are repeatedly exposed. For example, when a target weed develops resistance to an herbicide, conventional agriculture responds — thanks to the chemical industry and its aggressive marketing and near hegemony on some seeds, such as soybeans — by using yet another herbicide, or doubling down with paired herbicides, or rolling out an herbicide-plus-GE-seed combination to try to stave off the pest. This “resistance and response” dynamic is a unidirectional progression along an increasingly poisonous and unsustainable path.

Beyond Pesticides wrote, in 2019, “Chemical interventions to ‘control’ pests of any sort, beyond all the potential toxicity issues, fundamentally cause imbalances in micro and macro ecological systems. . . . Fraught as it is with negative impacts on human and environmental health, including the mounting resistance issues, chemically intensive agriculture should be understood as a sign of the ineffectiveness of conventional, chemical approaches to pest control.”

Organic agriculture represents a range of management approaches; the most-codified and well-known signal of adherence to organic protocols is “Certified Organic,” a USDA label backed by a certification system that verifies that producers or processing facilities are in compliance with the National Organic Standards. Broadly, those rules say that certified organic food “must be produced without the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum- or sewage-based fertilizers, herbicides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones or irradiation. Certified organic farms must also adhere to certain animal health and welfare standards, not treat land with any prohibited substances for at least three years prior to harvest.”

According to the most recent data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the U.S. had more than 14,000 organic farms in 2016 — a 56% increase from 2011. Approximately 1% of the 911 million total U.S. acres of farmland is managed organically, which means that the task of conversion to organic and regenerative agriculture is significant. States with the greatest organic acreage in 2016 were California (by a wide margin, representing 21% of all U.S. certified organic farmland), followed by Montana, New York, and Wisconsin. California also led in the number of organic farms, with New York, Wisconsin, Maine, Iowa, and Pennsylvania also registering high on that list. Proportional to total farmland area, Vermont, California, Maine, and New York had the largest shares of certified organic acreage. Except for those states, the U.S. lags far behind some countries that have achieved more than 10% of farmland managed organically: Australia boasts the largest land area devoted to organic production, followed by Argentina and China.

Growth in the number of organic producers, organic acreage, and organic sales has responded to public demand for clean and healthful food. According to Bloomberg, Organic Trade Association Executive Director Laura Batcha said in 2019 that “young families are among the drivers in the organic market as they seek to avoid residues of chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones on food.” The Pew Research Center reported, “In 2015, the Organic Trade Association estimated U.S. organic retail sales at $43 billion, representing double-digit growth in most years since 2000.” U.S. farm and ranch commodity sales rose by 23% from 2015 to 2016 alone. This level of demand bodes well for the momentum of organic.

The higher prices that organic products enjoy in the marketplace are no doubt one reason for Rodale’s result — “farm profits are 3–6 times higher for products from organically managed systems.” Higher profitability for farmers is certainly a strong “selling” point for conversion to organic, and can represent a bulwark against the stressors farmers are experiencing, including consolidation, “graying” of farmers, development pressures, rising input costs, and insufficient generational transfer of land. Stressors on agriculture are even more pronounced currently, given the Trump administration tariffs that are negatively affecting U.S. farms.

Increased farmgate prices for organics, which are good for producers, can also be a strain on consumers who cannot afford organics at current pricing. Beyond the purchasing experience of the individual consumer, the simple differential between retail organic and non-organic prices does not tell the whole, systemic story. As Beyond Pesticides wrote about back in 2011, the accounting of the cost of conventional food production does not include the cost of the many externalized, negative health and environmental outcomes related to that production. “Some researchers calculate the adverse impacts to health and the environment to be as much as $16.9 billion a year [which is no doubt higher in 2020]. We still pay these costs, just not at the grocery checkout counter. Instead, we see these costs in the form of higher taxes and medical bills, and decreased quality of life due to environmental pollution.”

Organic production all but eliminates these externalized costs, making organic food — in the aggregate — far more affordable. Too, the “scaling” phenomenon will work in agriculture as it does elsewhere: as more acres are put into organic production, and supply lines and the marketplace retool and scale up to accommodate consumer, producer, and processor needs, prices can be expected to shift downward somewhat in the longer term. As with all economic transitions, there is an uncomfortable “between paradigms” period. But as in other realms, a “just transition” to organic, to protect agricultural workers and low-income consumers, is another important aspect of agricultural justice, and should be an important goal that is supported by appropriate federal and state policies.

Organic agricultural practices, which reject the use of harmful pesticides, are capable of the benefits the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial is demonstrating. Such practices protect human and animal health, and support functional ecosystems and biodiversity. Widespread adoption of organic and regenerative agriculture can also lift human agro-activity out of its current chemical dead-end. The public has an important role to play in this transition: learn more about organic agriculture, advocate for it, and “vote” for organics by creating market demand for organic food.

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

Sources: https://rodaleinstitute.org/science/farming-systems-trial/ and https://www.cornucopia.org/2015/07/30-year-old-trial-finds-organic-farming-outperforms-conventional-agriculture/?fbclid=IwAR3RDJsezWtb9xQ8QeMjtMzA_iYGDTWKTNDwovK7Wj8PW4bHvwojEycQWpg

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21
Feb

Minnesota Introduces Bee-Friendly Pesticide Legislation and Fights for Local Rights

(Beyond Pesticides, February 21, 2020) Last week in Minnesota, state Representative Jean Wagenius introduced measure H.F. 1255 that would give cities the opportunity to ban local use of bee-lethal pesticides. This is the latest in a series of attempts to fight state pesticide preemption, an industry-promoted law that prevents localities from restricting pesticide use more stringently than the state. In the face of inaction at the federal and state levels, advocates and legislators in Minnesota are attempting to regain local control to help save their declining, Midwestern pollinators. Representative Wagenius says about the measure, “Minnesotans should be able to protect pollinators if they want to. We value local control in this state, and we always have.”

H.F. 1255 will allow cities to opt into a blanket ban of pesticides determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be hazardous to bees. Pesticides with an EPA bee-advisory box are listed on the state’s Department of Agriculture website and referred to as “bee-lethal” by Minnesota legislators. Patrick Hanlon, director of environmental programs for the city of Minneapolis, says cities would work with Department of Agriculture, businesses, and residents that might be impacted by these restrictions before enacting the bill.

Local advocates have pointed to the issue of declining pollinators since 2013 when three beekeepers in Minneapolis lost their honey bee hives from acute pesticide poisoning. They built a powerful coalition and passed a city resolution declaring Minneapolis a “pollinator-friendly city” which, among other things, directed the City of Minneapolis to lobby for local control. 39 more cities in Minnesota have since declared themselves “pollinator-friendly” – more than any other state. The momentum in this movement is growing as bad news for pollinators continues to break.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources surveyed over 63 prairie sites for 13 known native butterflies from 2014-2016 and, disappointingly, found only 6 of those species. The agency has also estimated that Minnesota’s state bee, the endangered rusty patch bumblebee, lost 90% of its population over the past 20 years.

“For some folks, it’s a moral issue, and for others it’s a financial issue,” Rep. Wagenius told ABC News. “We’ve have had a lot of our beekeepers take their hives to California.”

For the past seven years, Minneapolis Representative Jim Davnie attempted to push for a “half preemption” bill that only restored local control to Minnesota’s four largest cities: Minneapolis, Rochester, St. Paul, and Duluth. However, powerful industry pushback has stalled any progress. Opposing forces cite a “hard-to-navigate” patchwork of rules and inability to control invasive species such as the emerald ash-borer.

State Representative Rick Hansen says pesticide users and manufacturers have made “apocalyptic arguments” for over 30 years about the negative impact of banning certain chemicals. He told the Star Tribune, “Well, in the meantime bad things have been happening and things are falling apart.”

While this measure indicates a positive step for protecting pollinators, Beyond Pesticides represents concerns such as EPA’s inadequate labeling for honeybee protection and the limited scope of the bill. More than negatively impacting pollinators, toxic pesticides also harm children and contaminate Minnesota’s drinking water.

Beyond Pesticides celebrates Minnesotan advocates making headway in different areas, (for example, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board ended the use of glyphosate (RoundUp) and created a pesticide advisory committee to inform reductions in the use of toxic pesticides) but sweeping reform needs to come from the federal level. For pollinator-specific legislation, local and national advocates can support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (H.R.1337), which will not only cancel specific bee-toxic pesticides, it will also reshape the EPA process for permitting pesticides to be used in our communities and homes in the first place. Under this bill, pesticides that pose risks to pollinators will undergo a higher level of review by a board of unbiased pollinator experts. If these experts, who will not have conflicts of interest with the chemical industry, determine a pesticide is too toxic, then it will be removed or never allowed on the market in the first place.

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

Sources: Star Tribune, ABC

 

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20
Feb

Bader Farms Wins $265 Million in Lawsuit Against Bayer’s Monsanto, BASF

(Beyond Pesticides, February 20, 2020) Missouri’s largest peach farm, Bader Farms, is set to receive $265 million in compensation from two multinational agrichemical companies after the companies’ dicamba-based weed killers caused widespread damage to the farm’s fruit trees. Bayer’s Monsanto and BASF were found to be responsible for negligence in the design of their dicamba herbicides, and failure to warn farmers about the dangers of their products. The jury determined that the joint venture between the two companies amounted to a conspiracy to create an “ecological disaster” in the name of profit.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Bayer Monsanto’s release of a new line of genetically engineered (GE) seeds designed to tolerate repeated spraying of dicamba. With glyphosate resistant ‘super-weeds’ widespread and threatening GE farmer’s yields, the company aimed to redeploy dicamba, one of the oldest herbicides in the market, on cotton and soybeans throughout the U.S. Knowing the propensity of dicamba to drift for miles off site, Bayer’s Monsanto promised a new product line with much lower volatility.  But as the company was waiting on approval for this product by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it nonetheless began selling its dicamba-tolerant seeds.

This led to widespread reports of non-target crop damage, as farmers began illegally spraying older dicamba formulations, including those produced by BASF, on the new GE crops. Bayer’s Monsanto rejected any accountability for the actions they perpetuated. Bader Farm’s lawsuit argued that the company could have prevented the problem had they not released the GE seeds prior to the EPA-approved formulation.

While BASF and Bayer’s Monsanto were found liable of conspiring to create an ecological disaster, nontarget drift and damage did not stop when the companies received final EPA approval for their new dicamba formulations. Emails obtained by reporters at the Arkansas Democrat and Chronicle showed that field trials conducted alongside Bayer’s Monsanto found high levels of volatility and drift from the supposed low drift formulation. Despite the company’s close involvement in field testing, Bayer’s Monsanto balked at a more protective buffer zone of 443 ft, pushing instead for one set at 57 feet. EPA scientists agreed with the more protective buffer, but were apparently overruled by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

This is the second instance in recent history where stricter regulations may have helped the agrichemical industry avoid or avert litigation. In the context of lawsuits that may cost Bayer $10 billion, EPA’s reapproval of glyphosate without any cancer warning label was compared to the Surgeon General approving cigarettes without a warning label. “Imagine if there was no tobacco settlement and that cigarettes were still sold without a Surgeon General warning label,” said Bloomberg reporter Adam Allington on twitter. “People would be suing left and right over product defect claims, and failure to warn. And they would be winning.”

USDA could have refused (as Beyond Pesticides urged) or delayed approval of dicamba-tolerant GE seeds without a corresponding herbicide, and EPA could have imposed stricter buffers after damage reports became widespread. But in comedic and tragic irony, the agrichemical industry’s ability to run roughshod over U.S. regulatory systems has led to significant liability within the U.S. justice system.

Reports indicate that the Bader Farms lawsuit was a trial balloon for a rash of similar suits against the two companies waiting in the cue, much like the first glyphosate cancer case with California landscaper Dewayne Johnson. The jury verdict, $15 million in actual and $250 million in punitive damages, will be appealed by the companies.

While hope springs eternal that agrichemical companies will change their approach and embrace a method of crop production that does not poison land and harm public health, it is critical that we call out regulators like EPA for their failure to follow sound science. Although the agency itself not on trial, EPA remains complicit in the continued use of hazardous dicamba. Help us send a message to EPA today: Do Your Job to Protect Health and the Environment.  

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

Source: Reuters

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19
Feb

Experts Identify Fireflies as the Latest Victim of the Ongoing Insect Apocalypse

(Beyond Pesticides, February 19, 2020) The ongoing insect apocalypse isn’t sparing the iconic firefly. In an article published this month, “A Global Perspective on Firefly Extinction Threats,” experts are sounding the alarm over declines in fireflies attributed to habitat loss, light pollution, and indiscriminate pesticide use. “Our goal is to make this knowledge available for land managers, policy makers and firefly fans everywhere,” said study co-author Sonny Wong, PhD, of the Malaysian Nature Society to USA Today. “We want to keep fireflies lighting up our nights for a long, long time.”

Although there is scant monitoring data on firefly populations, studies that have been conducted over the last decade, alongside anecdotal reports and expert opinion, have led to international concern. To assess conservation status and threats to firefly species, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established a Firefly Specialist Group. The study, part of the specialist group’s investigation, surveyed firefly experts from around the world on what they viewed as the primary threats to firefly populations.

Experts specified habitat loss, light pollution, and pesticide use as the three top concerns, though water pollution, tourism, invasive species, and climate change were also discussed as minor contributing factors.

Night-time light pollution, including direct, localized light pollution as well as “sky glow” from various sources, has been inversely associated with firefly abundance. Fireflies use their lights as part of a courtship dance, and studies find that artificial light at night can interfere with a firefly’s ability to find mates and reproduce.

Habitat loss is presents a range of problems for fireflies. Many species prefer specific habitat types, and loss or fragmentation of these landscapes can lead to localized declines. Experts identified urbanization, industrialization, and industrial agricultural as the drivers of habitat loss, with each region of the world experiencing different effects at various intensities.

Pesticide use is particularly pernicious in the context of firefly ecology. While direct contact with pesticide sprays is a concern, exposure in soil and water represent greater hazards. This is because many firefly species lay their eggs in soil, and many spend the first years of their life in aquatic habitats like mangroves and other riparian vegetation (vegetation along the banks of waterways). Pesticides, like the neonicotinoid class of insecticides also implicated in pollinator declines, are known to drift once applied, and persist in soil and waterways.

A majority of corn and soybean seeds are coated in toxic insecticides, and researchers point to a study published last year in Pest Management Science, which found that use of pesticide-treated corn seeds resulted in a 70.4% reduction in firefly abundance compared to control plots that did not use treated seeds. Lastly, because fireflies live most of their lives in their larval stage, feeding on snails and earthworms, pesticides can also indirectly kill-off firefly prey, which ripples up and down the food chain, ultimately reducing firefly populations.

In addition to identifying drivers of firefly declines, researchers also proposed solutions. They encourage the preservation of suitable firefly habitat, control of light pollution, and reduction in pesticide use. These changes may sound difficult at first, but there are efforts underway to address them. The International Dark Sky Association is working to protect night skies for present and future generations. Conservation groups around the country are working to preserve wildlife habitat, and reconnect insect pollinators and other wildlife through safety corridors. The growth of organic agriculture provides a roadmap for a farming future that rejects the industrial model and its rampant pesticide use in favor of a systems approach that enhances insect soil life and promotes biodiversity.

The insect apocalypse is real – pollinators are declining, the bottom is falling out of the foundation of our food chains as mayflies decline, and the night sky may yet lose the soft flicker of fireflies. While efforts to address declines are encouraging, they must be supported by an active and engaged public willing to pressure elected leaders at every level of government to enact these solutions. One first step we can take to protect pollinators, fireflies, and stave off the insect apocalypse is to pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act. Take action today by sending a letter to your Congressional Representative, and following up with a phone call to their office.

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

Source: USA Today, Bioscience  
(Photo Credit Mike Lewinski)

 

 

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18
Feb

Take Action: Trump Administration’s Cuts to Science and the Environment

(Beyond Pesticides, February 18, 2019) As in the in the past, President Trump once more proposes a budget that slashes funding for essential scientific research and environmental protection. His budget proposal includes cuts of nearly 10 percent to Health and Human Services (HHS) and 26 percent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And in the Department of Agriculture (USDA), he would again attempt to cut back on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Climate change appears to be absent.

Tell your Congressional delegation to hold the line on EPA’s budget to protect health, resources, and the economy!

Although agency heads, like Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, support the President’s budget, nonprofit advocates for scientific research and environmental protection are more negative. “The administration’s proposed budget cuts to research risk slowing our nation’s science just when it is reaping benefits for all Americans in the forms of better health, a stronger economy, a more sustainable environment, a safer world, and awe-inspiring understanding,” said Sudip Parikh, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Even as the new coronavirus spreads, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is targeted for a 16 percent reduction. CDC has responsibilities that go well beyond infectious diseases and drug abuse. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, established as part of the Superfund program, is part of CDC that creates toxicological profiles—comprehensive evaluations of toxic chemicals found at toxic waste sites.

The proposed 26 percent reduction in EPA’s budget would eliminate nearly 50 programs, including large cuts to research and development and elimination of funding for the Energy Star program. “Congress should toss this Trump budget into the dustbin of history like they’ve done with the other ones,” said former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who served during the Obama administration and is now head of the Natural Resources Defense Council.  

The U.S. House of Representatives, which is constitutionally invested with the “power of the purse,” will be looking closely at cuts in the proposed budget. “Like the three budgets before this, the Trump budget request will likely face bipartisan opposition, but we can’t take anything for granted. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will fight for funding to support the long-term health and wellbeing of all Americans and reject this reckless budget from President Trump,” said U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine.

Tell your Congressional delegation to hold the line on EPA’s budget to protect health, resources, and the economy!

Letter to Congress

Please support a budget that fully funds scientific research and environmental protection programs.

Although his appointed agency heads support the President’s budget, nonprofit advocates for scientific research and environmental protection are more negative. “The administration’s proposed budget cuts to research risk slowing our nation’s science just when it is reaping benefits for all Americans in the forms of better health, a stronger economy, a more sustainable environment, a safer world, and awe-inspiring understanding,” said Sudip Parikh, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Even as the new coronavirus spreads, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is targeted for a 16 percent reduction. CDC has responsibilities that go well beyond infectious diseases and drug abuse. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, established as part of the Superfund program, is part of CDC that creates toxicological profiles—comprehensive evaluations of toxic chemicals found at toxic waste sites.

President Trump’s proposed 26 percent reduction in EPA’s budget would eliminate nearly 50 programs, including large cuts to research and development and elimination of funding for the Energy Star program. “Congress should toss this Trump budget into the dustbin of history like they’ve done with the other ones,” said former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is now head of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This is false economy. It endangers the American public and its air, land, water, and biodiversity. EPA is responsible for enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act, with a goal of making the nation’s waters fishable and swimmable. EPA enforces the Clean Air Act, which has cleaned up American cities, reducing illness and property damage from smog. And EPA is responsible for overseeing the clean-up of contaminated sites, thus preventing further pollution and illness. The agency also regulates pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

All of EPA’s programs require the application of science to public policy.

EPA has been plagued with budget constraints for many years, but now, with such drastic cuts, programs spearheaded by EPA to protect air, water, people, and wildlife from toxic pollution will suffer–a goal made clear by the Trump Administration. Eliminating resources needed to prevent problems means that more money will need to be spent repairing damage and treating disease.

EPA plays a critical role in reviewing science and implementing laws protecting human health and the environment. Science itself has been under attack by the Trump Administration, as evidenced by its issuance of scientific grant and hiring freezes at EPA and other agencies nationwide, along with a ban on science communications through social media platforms.

Please support a budget that fully funds scientific research and environmental protection programs.

Sincerely,

 

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14
Feb

“Hey Farmer Farmer, Put Away that” Dicamba Weed Killer

(Beyond Pesticides, February 14, 2020) The weed killer dicamba has been blamed for killing or damaging millions of acres of non–genetically modified crops and other plants that have no protection against the compound. Litigation, legislation, and manufacturer machination abound as dicamba damage mounts. The trial in a suit filed in 2016 by a Missouri peach farmer against dicamba manufacturers Bayer and BASF has just begun; an Indiana state laboratory struggles to keep up with demand to evaluate dicamba damage; Idaho lawmakers are poised to weaken rules that protect farmworkers who apply dicamba (and other pesticides) aerially; agricultural officials in Missouri are pressuring the state legislature to increase funding to handle the exploding numbers of dicamba complaints; and Indiana’s legislature is considering two bills aimed at curtailing dicamba drift that kills neighboring crops. This Daily News Blog will round up the plethora of recent news on dicamba — the toxic and destructive culprit behind each of these stories.

In the face of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to mitigate dicamba hazards, states have been scrambling to enact limits on when and how dicamba can be used, amend buffer zones around application sites, and in some cases, ban its use outright. In 2018, Arkansas banned dicamba use from mid-April through the end of October (and survived a Monsanto challenge to the ban). Later that year, EPA stepped in to rule that the herbicide could be used in the state for two years, superseding the state ban.

Originally developed in the 1950s, dicamba is a benzoic acid herbicide that, when absorbed by plant tissue, ultimately causes the plant to outgrow its nutrient supply and die. Plants poisoned by dicamba typically exhibit curled, cup-shaped leaves, and often, stunted growth. Dicamba’s health effects on animal organisms can manifest as developmental, reproductive, neurological, hepatic, or renal harms. It also is a particular threat to birds, insects, fish, and aquatic organisms, as well as to non-target plants.

In late 2016, EPA registered (approved) a new dicamba formulation, with supposedly lowered volatility, for use with genetically engineered (GE), dicamba-tolerant seeds. The dicamba volatility issue is real: it simply does not stay put, no matter how it is applied, but becomes airborne and travels. This new dicamba formulation has added yet another chapter in the entropic spiral of plants’ development of resistance to any pesticide to which they are exposed.

Dicamba complaints to state regulators have burgeoned; Illinois, for example, received nearly 600 dicamba damage complaints as of late August 2019, compared to 246 in 2017 and 330 in 2018. Concerns among farmers have spiked especially since 2016, when Monsanto (now owned by Bayer AG) released its dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds, which led to increased use of a newer generation of dicamba-based herbicides. The marketing of dicamba-dependent seeds was an industry response to the widespread resistance that developed to the earlier glyphosate-based herbicides (Roundup, primarily) and their companion Roundup-tolerant seeds. Dicamba is extremely prone to drifting onto non-target areas, particularly in hot temperatures and/or when applied in an admixture with glyphosate. Mixing dicamba and glyphosate has become increasingly widespread in attempts to manage weeds that are resistant to glyphosate.

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in September 2019, “Complicating the picture of dicamba damage is the increasingly common practice of using both it and glyphosate on GE soy and cotton crops — as glyphosate has become more ineffective, given the development of some weeds’ resistance to the compound. In 2015, Monsanto began selling [with EPA approval] another iteration of its genetically engineered (GE) soybean seed, which is tolerant of both compounds. But this seed-plus-double-herbicide protocol has exacerbated the drift problem and resultant plant damage, whether to crops, or to trees and landscapes on nearby private or public lands. Recent research shows that the addition of glyphosate to dicamba herbicides increased concentrations of dicamba in the air by as much as nine times those of dicamba alone.”

Because of dicamba drift, damage to non-target plants and to nearby fields — often other farmers’ crops — has emerged as a very serious issue. The majority of soybeans planted in the U.S. in 2019 were GE, dicamba-tolerant seeds (for use with dicamba). The drift damage is occurring in a huge scale across the “soybean belt,” from Minnesota southward to Arkansas, and the risk of that damage alone can drive farmers to buy dicamba-resistant soybean seeds. Soybeans are the livelihoods of many Midwest farmers, and the drift of dicamba onto untreated, non–genetically engineered, or organic soybean crops — because soybeans are particularly sensitive to the compound — can cause not only crop damage and failure, and economic losses, but also, real animus and social rifts in rural communities.

To wit: the extreme case of the 2017 fatal shooting, as reported by the Arkansas Times, of Arkansas farmer Mike Wallace by Allan Curtis Jones as the two argued over Wallace’s charge that Jones’s dicamba spraying on a nearby field had damaged his soybean crop. In another example, National Public Radio reports that soybean farmer Lewis Flohr of Frankfort, Indiana, who has endured dicamba damage to his crops, “now sees neighboring farms as a potential threat. ‘I flat-out tell people, “I have a lawyer. You know, watch out.”’ His neighbors, he says, ‘think I’m an a**hole.’”

Missouri peach farmer Bill Bader brought his lawsuit against Bayer and BASF back in 2016 after volatile dicamba, drifting onto his orchards from neighboring agricultural properties, caused the loss of 30,000 peach trees, compromised function of his remaining living trees, and huge financial losses. His suit seeks nearly $3 million in damages, and charges that the companies knew that their sale of genetically modified (GE), dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds in 2015 (before the release of a less-volatile version of dicamba in 2017) would cause damage to neighboring farms and potentially drive impacted neighbors to buy the resistant seeds.

The companies refute the claims. According to Investigate Midwest, one of its expert witnesses, Dr. Ford Baldwin (who has previously testified on behalf of Monsanto and BASF), testified that “air in parts of the Midwest and South has become so contaminated with the weed killer dicamba that it has caused widespread damage to soybeans and other crops. . . . So many farmers are spraying so much of the weed killer at the same time that it builds up in the air to high enough levels that it is unable to dissipate. . . . and that, ‘There’s no way you can tell which field it came from. It didn’t just come from one field.’” Among the amusing defense arguments was this, from Jan Paul Miller, legal counsel for Bayer, in the defense’s opening statement: “Crinkling and curling leaves typically symptomatic of dicamba damage . . are just how peach tree leaves look: ‘They cup. They curl. That’s what peach tree leaves do.’”

The investigative reporter Carey Gillam said of the Bader case, “Among the evidence introduced at the Bader Farms trial are internal Monsanto documents showing that the company predicted thousands of drift complaints would occur after its new seed product launch.” There are hundreds of other such “dicamba damage” cases in queue. Ms. Gillam adds, “Bader is only one of a large and growing group of U.S. farmers who say they are the victims of a clearly foreseen chemical catastrophe many years in the making that has ruined crops covering millions of acres of farmland.”

Missouri and Indiana officials are deluged with complaints about dicamba damage, and are trying to keep up with necessary investigations to confirm the causes of farmers’ losses. Missouri’s Department of Agriculture is seeking funding to hire an additional six staffers to handle the load of cases, some of which are four years old. Sammi Jo Freeman, a spokesperson, said, “We had a team that was the right size for an average year of around 100 complaints, and the number of (dicamba complaints) coming in has been the No. 1 complicating factor.” The state backlog stands at nearly 600 cases.

For the past three years, Indiana’s Office of the State Chemist has fielded a barrage of calls about dicamba damaging farmers’ crops. The agency does not have the bandwidth to vet the number of complaints it is receiving — up 300% from 2017. Ping Wan, the office’s lab supervisor, said, “The first issue was we quickly reached our maximum storage capacity. . . . There is not an inch of wall space left.” The office had to buy additional freezers to store the field evidence that awaits evaluation.

NPR coverage says, “Meanwhile, because they’re fully occupied with dicamba complaints, inspectors don’t have time for all their other work, such as routine inspections of pesticide use at schools, golf courses or businesses. ‘I think that most affected states would all agree that it’s not acceptable to continue with this number of complaints. It’s just not acceptable,’ says Leo Reed, another Indiana official who is also president-elect of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials. . . . But the EPA actually extended its approval of dicamba just a year ago, before the 2019 growing season. The agency decided the problems could be addressed with a few new restrictions on how and where dicamba can be sprayed, along with more training for people who use it. . . . Those changes did not fix the problem, Reed says. ‘As a matter of fact, the complaint numbers went up’ in Indiana and several other states.”

Also in Indiana, spurred by the surge in dicamba damage complaints from farmers, the legislature is reviewing two bills that would increase penalties for farmers (or anyone) who misuses pesticides, and make fines even steeper for repeat offenders. The hope is that the actions will reduce the incidence of dicamba drift and the havoc it causes on neighboring parcels. Associate Director for Policy Engagement for the Indiana Farm Bureau Jeff Cummins endorses the bills because farmers don’t want more-extreme action, such as a ban, on these products. He notes, “There are too many bad actors that are operating and paying the current level of civil penalties just as a cost of doing business.”

In a late May 2019 incident, more than two dozen farmworkers in a Parma, Idaho hops field were unexpectedly doused with an aerially sprayed fungicide that was targeted for an onion field across the road. A dozen or so went to the hospital because of the effects of the exposure. Four months later, several of them were still sick from their exposures. On the heels of this incident, the state agriculture department wrote a letter to crop dusting company, admonishing that — although they were technically not violating application rules — the pilot should have waited to give the farmworkers a chance to vacate the field before unloading the fungicide. Fast forward a few months, and a crop dusting association complained to lawmakers of “excessive oversight and regulation.” The Idaho legislature responded by considering a bill that would eliminate “faulty and careless” from a provision of the state code that says aerial pesticide applicators should not spray in a faulty and careless manner.

The volume of complaints and losses associated with dicamba use has not moved the current EPA to address the compound’s toxicity in any significant way. In 2017, it announced changes to the labeling of dicamba products to try to minimize drift; the change made dicamba a “restricted use” pesticide, meaning that only certified applicators can apply it legally. Those changes, as noted by Association of American Pesticide Control Official Leo Reed (above), did not remedy the problem. In 2018, EPA re-registered dicamba for “over the top” application to plants.

Beyond Pesticides reported, in March 2019: “A number of states, including Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois, and Arkansas, have instituted restrictions on [dicamba] use that surpass those accompanying the federal registration of the compound. Texas, Iowa, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, and North Carolina are all eyeing 24(c) requests [for stricter-than-federal controls] for tighter application windows, additional training requirements, better record keeping, new fine structures for violations, and other modifications of the federal label. . . . [But] EPA made a low-key announcement on March 19 suggesting that it may change its handling of requests from states to exert stricter controls on use of pesticides than the federal agency sets out in its registration of the compounds — by disapproving them. This is potentially a big deal because it signals that the agency will be less-kindly disposed to states’ desires to establish either somewhat different parameters of use based on local conditions and needs, or more-stringent regulations on pesticide use than those set out by federal regulators. This issue of preemption of localities’ desires to protect their populations and environment has become an increasingly dynamic frontier at the nexus of pesticide use, health, and environment.”

Beyond Pesticides and other advocates point to organic and regenerative agriculture as the solution that protects farmers’ livelihoods, farmworkers’ and public health, and ecosystem functioning. Ecological pest management strategies, organic practices, and non-chemical solutions are the long-term solution to the current host of threats that pesticides impose. In this moment, advocacy with state and local elected officials, and through non-governmental organizations (such as Beyond Pesticides) may be the most effective ways to secure policies, programs, and incentives to help farmers get off the pesticide treadmill. Learn more about organic agriculture and land management.

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

Sources: https://investigatemidwest.org/ and https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2020/02/06/800397488/pesticide-police-overwhelmed-by-dicamba-complaints-ask-epa-for-help

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13
Feb

EPA Fails to Follow Congressional Mandate to Protect Children from Pesticide Exposure

(Beyond Pesticides, February 13, 2020) Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) in 1996 to increase protections for children from pesticide exposure. Unfortunately, according to a new study published in Environmental Health, the law is not being employed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to its full capacity. For most of the 59 pesticides reviewed by the study, EPA did not apply an additional FQPA safety factor and thereby missed an opportunity to protect children’s health. In fact, FQPA solidified EPA’s reliance on risk assessment calculations and mitigation measures that consistently fall short of adequate levels of protection because of serious data gaps, a failure to consider exposure to mixtures and synergistic effects, and a bias against consideration of alternatives (alternatives assessment)  that show toxic pesticides to be unnecessary. 

FQPA establishes a safety standard applied to all food commodities that considers specific risks for infants and children. The law requires EPA to assess the “aggregate risk” (considering exposure from multiple sources) and “cumulative exposure” to pesticides that have a “common mechanism of toxicity.” FQPA mandates “an additional tenfold margin of safety for the pesticide chemical residue and other sources of exposure shall be applied for infants and children to take into account potential pre- and postnatal toxicity and completeness of the data with respect to exposure and toxicity to infants and children.” The administration can also apply a different level of safety factor given there is a basis of reliable data.

[Note: FQPA explicitly excludes occupational exposure to pesticides as a part of the cumulative risk calculation. Farmworker exposure to pesticides used in agriculture may result in secondary effects to farmworker children, including epigenetic and multi-generational effects.]

Olga V. Naidenko, PhD, vice president for science investigations at Environmental Working Group (EWG), examined the implementation of FQPA-mandated safety margins for 59 pesticides. Dr. Naidenko analyzed risk assessments published by EPA from 2011-2019 for the 12 pesticides used in greatest volume in U.S. agriculture, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 35 pesticides detected on fruits and vegetables by a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2016 to 2018), and 12 organophosphate insecticides that have been reviewed by EPA since 2015.

EPA applied a 10x safety factor to 11 of the 12 analyzed organophosphates. In fact, some of FQPA’s past victories include lower levels of organophosphate residues on produce and a 70% decline in the use of organophosphates between 2000 and 2012. However, this class of chemicals is still stealing IQ points from American children and costing trillions to the U.S. economy. Chlorpyrifos, which has gained much scrutiny due to its ubiquitous use and detrimental impact on the developing brains of children, is the only organophosphate missing a safety factor for children. The paper points out that, remarkably, there is a single paragraph in the chlorpyrifos risk assessment that explains its exception. EPA references a sole, industry-provided experiment as evidence for removing the safety factor.

Of the non-organophosphate pesticides, “In acute dietary, chronic dietary, incidental oral, dermal and inhalation scenarios, respectively, 13, 12, 15, 31 and 41 percent of reviewed pesticides have an additional FQPA factor for these exposure pathways.” These numbers are similar to FQPA protections reported in 2006, a decade after passage, despite a wealth of new research on the toxicity of many of these chemicals. Importantly, even as some of these pesticides do have applied safety factors, the classification is usually designated due to existing data gaps, rather than additional margins of safety to specifically address children’s elevated vulnerability to pesticide effects.

“Given the potential health hazards of pesticides in our food, it is disturbing that the EPA has largely ignored the law’s requirement to ensure adequate protection for children,” said Dr. Naidenko, “The added safety factor is essential to protect children from pesticides that can cause harm to the nervous system, hormonal disruption and cancer.”

The problem is only getting worse. The Trump Administration’s EPA recently stripped away safety factor protections from synthetic pyrethroids, a class of chemicals associated with childhood cancerautism, and other learning disorders. Beyond Pesticides coverage of this change noted, “In reviewing the epidemiological literature on the health impact of this chemical class, EPA looked at hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, but only incorporated two into its determination. The vast majority of studies reviewed by EPA were considered low quality by the agency’s subjective criteria, and effectively ignored.”

Philip Landrigan, M.D., a pediatrician and epidemiologist who is director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College, says, “Based on the strong consensus of the pediatric and the public health communities, the FQPA stated unequivocally that regulation of toxic pesticides must focus, first and foremost, on protecting infants and children. When the EPA fails to apply this principle, children may be exposed to levels of chemical pesticides that can profoundly harm their health.” 

Beyond Pesticides advocates for a fundamental reassessment of how pesticides are regulated. If EPA led with a precautionary approach where chemical approval required peer-reviewed evidence that the product is not harmful to people and the environment, safety factors for children would be unnecessary. Clearly, members of the public cannot currently rely on EPA to act in the best interests of children, all people, or the environment. But they can work to protect children and rid the world of toxic pesticides in other ways:

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

Source: Environmental Working Group, Environmental Health.

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12
Feb

Major Manufacturer of Chlorpyrifos Drops Out of Market, But EPA Continues to Allow Use

(Beyond Pesticides, February 12, 2020) Corteva, a company spun-off from DowDupont, will stop producing chlorpyrifos by the end of this year as a result of declining sales. Despite the move being in the interest of public health, the company is earning little praise from health advocates for what amounts to simply a shrewd financial decision. As news articles on the announcement have noted, Corteva will continue to support Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration of chlorpyrifos, which allows generic manufacturers to continue to sell this brain-damaging chemical.

“Other people are going to continue to profit from harming children,” said Marisa Ordonia, an attorney with the group EarthJustice to Canada’s National Observer. “It is big that such a major player is saying no, we’re not going to do this any more. It’s a great signal that people don’t want brain-damaging pesticides on their food. But we’re going to continue to keep fighting to make sure children and farmworkers are protected.”

At odds is the difference between halting production of chlorpyrifos and cancelling its EPA registration. While Corteva has the ability to voluntarily stop producing its own product, EPA registration permits other generic manufacturers to continue to producing the product. And, over the years, there would be nothing to stop Corteva from reintroducing “new” chlorpyrifos products back onto the market.  

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate class insecticide. Chemicals in this class are known to inhibit the proper nerve functioning by inactivating the enzyme acetylcholine esterase. Acute exposure to chlorpyrifos can result in numbness, tingling sensation, in-coordination, dizziness, vomiting, sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, headache, vision disturbances, muscle twitching, drowsiness, anxiety, slurred speech, depression, confusion and in extreme cases, respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, convulsions, and death. The chemical’s use in agriculture means that the general public is regularly exposed to smaller doses of the chemical in food.

The most concerning impacts of chlorpyrifos are seen in low income, fenceline, minority, and farmworker communities, where working or living near chlorpyrifos-sprayed fields can mean high rates of chronic exposure.

A study from the Columbia Children’s Center for Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University found that children exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos had mental development delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorder problems at three years of age. Concentrations of chlorpyrifos in umbilical cord blood also corresponded to a decrease in the psychomotor development and a decrease in the mental development in 3 year olds.  A follow-up study in 2012 finds that children with high exposure levels of chlorpyrifos have changes to the brain, including enlargement of superior temporal, posterior middle temporal, and inferior postcentral gyri bilaterally, and enlarged superior frontal gyrus, gyrus rectus, cuneus, and precuneus along the mesial wall of the right hemisphere.

In 2016, EPA under the Trump administration reversed an impending ban on the chemical after, records reveal, then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt met privately with Dow Chemical’s CEO. Since that time, EPA and environmental groups have battled out the chemical’s use in the courts (see this previous Daily News for a timeline). In July 2019, the agency announced officially that it would permit continued uses of chlorpyrifos indefinitely.

While EPA continues to fail to meet its namesake charge of protection of the environment, states and countries around the world taking meaningful action. Two years ago, Hawaii became the first state to take action through a phase-out that completely eliminates all use of the chemical by 2022. Soon after  California became the first state to eliminate use through the rulemaking process. In New York, a law passed by the state legislature implementing a ban prior to Hawaii’s was vetoed by Governor Cuomo (D) and shunted to a slower state rulemaking process. Meanwhile, the EU decided not to renew its registration for the chemical, permitting only a short grace period of 3 months for final storage, disposal and use.

The removal of Corteva (DowDupont) from the chlorpyrifos marketplace is indicative of a pattern within the current administration that puts profit at all cost above the health of the American people, and American children in particular, according to advocates. Decisions regarding public health should not be determined by the dictates of the marketplace, but by the sound science in states like NY, CA, and HI, the EU and other countries are following for the benefit of their residents. Help us send a message to EPA that science matters, and the agency must promote scientific integrity over corporate profits by signing your name today.  

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

Source: Reuters, Canada’s National Observer

  

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11
Feb

Toxic Herbicide Atrazine Causes Wasp Gut Microbiome to Develop Pesticide Resistance Across Generations

(Beyond Pesticides, February 11, 2020) A new study, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, homes in on the impact of the toxic herbicide atrazine on wasp gut microbiology and pesticide resistance. Intriguingly, researchers found that exposure to atrazine changed the composition of gut bacteria in individual wasps and shifts in gut flora were heritable. This study not only represents one of the first evolutionary studies on symbiont-mediated pesticide resistance, it also provides fodder for future research regarding the implications of exposure to xenobiotics (i.e., chemical substances like toxic pesticides foreign to an organism or ecosystem) for other gut bacteria hosts – such as honey bees and humans.

Researchers utilized the hymenopteran insect model Nasonia vitripennis to analyze the effect of subtoxic exposure to atrazine across 36 generations. They reestablished a baseline of toxicity by experimenting with concentrations of atrazine to find the level at which 50% of the population died (LC50). During initial trials, some of the wasps were kept in a germ-free (GF) environment. The authors observed a higher mortality rate among the germ-free population, indicating that gut microbes assist with detoxification.  

Early generations of wasps in the study received a field-realistic dose of atrazine (300 ppb) or a subtoxic dose (30 ppb); exposed individuals showed a gut flora composition significantly different from the control group.  The shift in microbiome composition persists across subsequent generations.

“After a single exposure to some chemicals — xenobiotics — the gut microbiome can be permanently affected,” says Robert Brucker, PhD, a senior study author on the paper. “Exposure can have lasting changes to future generations even after an exposure risk is eliminated.”

After the 8th generation of sublethal dosing, there was a significant increase in tolerance to atrazine.  LC50 increased in later generations of the atrazine-exposed population, indicating pesticide resistance. The paper reads, “Our study is one of the few cases to experimentally evolve cooperation between a host animal and rare members of the microbiome to derive new fitness traits within the population.”

Even when wasps are switched to an atrazine-free diet for six generations, the bacterial composition was similar to that of the exposed parents. Overall, researchers observed an increase in microbiota diversity and bacterial load.  The paper concludes, “Taken together, these results support the conclusions that atrazine exposure can shift the host microbiome, the shifted microbiome inherited, and the altered microbiome is unlikely to revert to an ancestral-like microbial community.”

Lead author Dr. Brucker says, “Overall, we demonstrate that resistance to multiple pesticides can arise in a population that is exposed to sub-toxic concentrations, that the microbiome facilitates this resistance, and that it provides resistance against other pesticides to which the host animal has never been previously exposed.”

Atrazine is the second-most-sold pesticide globally. It is an endocrine disrupting chemical that has also been linked to neuropathy and cancer. A 2016 EPA analysis found that atrazine has been detected in 78% of drinking water across the U.S. In 2018, a study found that many communities in the Midwest have seasonal exceedances up to three to seven times the legal limit of atrazine in drinking water. This new study references previous research on human microbiomes that observed similar atrazine-degrading mechanisms in gut flora, opening another realm for potential study in human systems.

Dr. Brucker says his team plans to leverage their findings to develop probiotics that may help honey bees reduce risk related to pesticide exposure. Beyond Pesticides takes the position that, rather than adapt to a chemical-intensive world, the adverse effects to human health and the environmental are not reasonable, especially in light of the availability of nontoxic and natural alternatives. For more on how to make that reality possible, check out our Tools for Change page and keep abreast with our Action of the Week.

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

Source: Cell Host and Microbe, Science Daily

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10
Feb

Take Action: Save the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

(Beyond Pesticides, February 10, 2020) Through the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, pesticide dangers became a major driver for the environmental movement. Perhaps the most effective piece of environmental legislation is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Because NEPA requires a wide-ranging evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of federal actions, as well as alternatives, it serves as a model for environmental decision making. Now key elements of NEPA are under attack by the Trump Administration.

Ask your Congressional Representatives to pressure the White House to retract the proposed changes. At the same time, add your signature to the Beyond Pesticides public comment to Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

NEPA established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) as the agency within the White House that is responsible for carrying out the purposes of the act. The regulations established by the CEQ have persisted through changes in administrations for more than 30 years without major modification. Changes proposed by the Trump Administration’s CEQ threaten this model decision-making process.

NEPA is a procedural law. It sets no environmental standards, but sets a standard for evaluating environmental impacts of proposed federal actions. It requires that federal agencies consider the short-term, long-term, and cumulative impacts of actions and disclose them to the public. Courts have ruled, for example, that registration of a pesticide by EPA is not sufficient to address environmental concerns under NEPA.

The Trump CEQ proposal will weaken NEPA regulations in a number of ways:

  • It will limit the scope of required review to exclude from NEPA review non-federal projects with minimal federal funding or minimal federal involvement.
  • It will remove the requirement for cumulative impact analysis, an important component of NEPA review. This removes the examination of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It advises agencies to evaluate the applicability of NEPA in a way that conflicts with NEPA’s requirement that “the policies, regulations, and public laws of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the policies set forth in this Act.”
  • It defines the universe of “reasonable alternatives” that must be considered in a restrictive way, requiring “economic feasibility” and that they “meet the goals of the applicant.”
  • It establishes tight time requirements for completing environmental assessments –time limits that are not currently met by most assessments. While this may eliminate some wasted time, it also limits the depth of analysis.

Ask your Congressional Representatives to pressure the White House to retract the proposed changes. At the same time, add your signature to the Beyond Pesticides public comment to Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Petition to CEQ

(Comment to CEQ that must be submitted to Regs.gov by March 10. https://www.regulations.gov docket number CEQ-2019-0003)

NEPA requires that federal agencies perform a comprehensive, cumulative, in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of proposed federal actions and alternatives to them. NEPA establishes a standard of decision-making for all federal agencies. CEQ’s proposed changes to NEPA regulations are unacceptable and should be scrapped. They would:

*Unreasonably limit the scope of required review;

*Remove the requirement for cumulative impact analysis and the examination of greenhouse gas emissions;

*Conflict with NEPA’s requirement that “the policies, regulations, and public laws of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the policies set forth in this Act;”

*Define the universe of “reasonable alternatives” that must be considered in a restrictive way, requiring “economic feasibility” and that they “meet the goals of the applicant;” and

*Establish tight time requirements for completing environmental assessments –time limits that are not currently met by most assessments, limiting the depth of analysis.

Thank you for your consideration.

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07
Feb

The Black Institute Shows Higher Pesticide Use in Low-Income Neighborhoods in New York City, Calls for Pesticide Ban in Parks

(Beyond Pesticides, February 7, 2020) Toxic pesticide use in New York City (NYC) parks would get the boot if a bill — Intro 1524 — being considered by the New York City Council passes. The bill “would ban all city agencies from spraying highly toxic pesticides, such as glyphosate (Roundup), and be the most far-reaching legislation to implement pesticide-free land practices in New York City parks,” according to a press release from its sponsors, New York City Council members Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera. The January 29 hearing on the bill in the council’s Committee on Health was preceded by release of an important report from The Black Institute: Poison Parks, which calls out the NYC Parks Department for, in particular, its continued use of glyphosate-based herbicides. It also notes, “Minority and low-income communities suffer from the use of this chemical and have become victims of environmental racism.”

NYC Council members Kallos and Rivera point out, in their joint press release, that Roundup is the pesticide most intensively used by city agencies, and that, “The use of this pesticide poses a health risk for anyone who frequents city parks and playgrounds, as well as, city workers, including city parks employees who come into contact with glyphosate containing chemicals while spraying.” Council member Rivera said: “Our parks and open spaces are critical to our health when our communities have so few of them, so we have to make sure our city is pushing toward making them safer, greener, and more resilient. But no New Yorker should ever have to be exposed to toxic pesticides and it is long past time that our city ban these dangerous chemicals.” Member Kallos added, “Parks should be for playing, not pesticides. All families should be able to enjoy our city parks without having to worry that they are being exposed to toxic pesticides that could give them and their families cancer.”

The Poison Parks report puts its advocacy of nonchemical management of public land in an environmental justice, as well as a public health, context. It defines environmental racism as racial discrimination in: environmental policy-making; the enforcement of regulation and laws; the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and the siting of polluting industries; the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color; and the history of excluding people of color from mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commission[s], and regulatory bodies. It also says that the Environmental Justice movement “has failed to address large-scale environmental practices, funded by big business, [that] disproportionately affect communities of color.”

The report includes data and maps that demonstrate the impacts of such environmental racism, including this from 2017–2018: “In Manhattan, Harlem was disproportionately sprayed in comparison with the rest of Manhattan. When analyzing this data, only locations that included parks, playgrounds, or recreation centers on park land were considered. Of the fifty parks or playgrounds sprayed in Manhattan in 2018, only 8 locations were not in Harlem. Forty-two locations were in Harlem where about 62% of the population is Black or Brown.” (Manhattan boasts more than 100 city parks.)

The Black Institute President Bertha Lewis said, in comments to the New York Daily News, “We understand the movement about climate and pollution going on. Too many times, the effect on black people and brown people and people of color is an afterthought.” The Bronx Chronicle also quotes Ms. Lewis: “Millions of New Yorkers rely on our public parks. Children, seniors, working people, immigrants, and their pets use them every day, but most don’t know the weed killer Roundup™ used in our parks is literally poisoning them. As our report shows, the neighborhoods affected are black and brown communities, such as Idlewild Park in Queens, where 90% of the residents are black. Average New Yorkers can’t just go to a park upstate or [on] Long Island to enjoy the outdoors. Public parks are the backyard for most New York City residents. We have banned plastic bags, we have banned trucks idling, and we have banned Styrofoam™. It is high time we ban the weed killer Roundup™.”

In the Executive Summary, the report cites the long-standing use of Roundup (made by Monsanto, now owned by Bayer AG) by the New York City Parks Department, and says, “Glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup] is slowly poisoning state and city employees, children, the elderly, and pets,” adding that city employees who apply the herbicide are at the greatest risk of harm because of their consistent exposure. The report further decries NYC agencies’ argument that glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup cause no harm because they are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Poison Parks correctly notes that EPA permits toxic pesticides to remain registered (allowed for use) and on the market for years and years because its protocol is to review registrations only every 15 years. Roundup has been on the market since 1974. Its effects had “not been studied since 1993,” according to Poison Parks, which also says that in a 2018 review, EPA repeatedly found “something biased or inadequate in each case reporting a positive correlation between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to glyphosate. At the same time, any report with findings supporting that glyphosate does not cause cancer faced far less scrutiny.”

The report advocates for laws — “below” the federal level, given the state of EPA — that ban the use of glyphosate: “There are safe and healthy methods of reducing weeds without the use of toxic chemicals that threaten [New York] City’s most vulnerable. . . . Parks and recreation areas are timeless community magnets. They provide a place of relaxation and connection to others: a place for children to play, our pets to be free, and opportunity to escape the grind of city life, and need to be protected.” Poison Parks calls on New York City to:

  • cease the routine use of toxic pesticides, including glyphosate herbicides
  • permit, on city-owned land, only the use of safe products with active ingredients approved by the National Organics Standards Board
  • adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) measure that requires public monitoring, record-keeping, and use of nonchemical methods and safer pesticides before consideration of any other treatments

In offering testimony in support of the ban bill — “A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the use of pesticides by City agencies” — Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman said: “By restricting pesticide use on its own property, the City will provide critical protections for community health, particularly for children, the elderly, and vulnerable population groups that suffer from compromised immune and neurological systems, cancer, reproductive problems, respiratory illness and asthma, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, or learning disabilities and autism. We urge this Committee and the New York City Council to adopt Intro 1524, a measure that meets the urgent need for hazard reduction at a time of increasing awareness of the dangers that pesticides pose to human health and the environment, while the federal regulatory system is undergoing a severe reduction in programmatic work, adequate scientific assessment, and, in many cases, a reversal of safety decisions that had been made by the EPA previously.”

The issue is made more urgent, for New York City and for many, many municipalities and states, because most environmental regulation below the federal level in the U.S relies heavily on the determinations of EPA. Under the Trump administration, federal environmental regulation generally, and regulation of pesticides, in particular, have been dramatically weakened; this administration and its EPA clearly advantage agrochemical and other industry interests over the health of people and ecosystems. The consequent loss of public trust in federal agencies broadly, and EPA in particular, reinforce the need for localities to step up and protect local and regional residents and environments.

The bill, which was first proposed in 2015 after Member Kallos heard from students at NYC Public School 290 about their worries about the toxicity and health impacts of pesticides on people and animals, would also establish a 75-foot protective buffer between any natural body of water and permitted pesticide use. On January 29, bill sponsors Kallos and Rivera, and 34 NYC Council colleagues sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, requesting that he put a moratorium on the use of toxic pesticides “until policies and procedures can be codified by the City Council and relevant agencies.”

Mr. Feldman’s comments at the Committee on Health hearing included: “With glyphosate being the poster child for unacceptable, hazardous pesticide use around our children and families, this legislation is critically needed to protect the residents and the environment of New York City, and advance the adoption of organic land management practices in parks and playing fields. . . . The approach to land care specified by this legislation identifies an allowed substance list to ensure that the products and practices used are compatible with the organic systems that protect people and local ecology. It is this approach to pesticide reform that will effectively stop the unnecessary use of hazardous pesticides applied in parks and public spaces throughout the city. While addressing urgent local concerns related to public and worker health and the environment, passage of this law in New York City will make an important contribution to reversing the escalating crises in biodiversity, including pollinator declines, and the climate crisis — which are exacerbated by petroleum-based, synthetic pesticides, the release of carbon into the environment, and the lost opportunity to sequester carbon in organic soil systems.”

Members of the public who live in New York City are encouraged to contact their representatives on the City Council to ask for passage of this legislation to protect the city’s people, workers, and environment. Read more about the organic, regenerative systems of land management for which Beyond Pesticides advocates in the article, in the Summer 2019 issue of its journal, Pesticides and You, “Organic Systems: The Path Forward.”

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

Sources: https://theblackinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TBI_Poison_Parks_Report._010820_FINAL.pdf and https://benkallos.com/press-release/toxic-pesticides-ban-parks-proposed-new-york-city-council-members-kallos-and-rivera-0

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06
Feb

Farmer Takes Bayer/Monsanto to Court for Crop Damage Caused by the Herbicide Dicamba

(Beyond Pesticides, February 6, 2020) Bill Bader, a Missouri peach farmer, is taking on agrichemical giants for damages to his crops, allegedly caused by the volatile herbicide dicamba drifting from neighboring properties. Mr. Bader says that not only did he lose over 30,000 trees, his remaining peaches are now smaller and his trees are less productive. According to Bader, the damage has cost him $20.9 million for which he seeks restitution. The case is claiming that Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, and German partner company BASF knew that the sale of their products would result in crop damage due to drift, but sold dicamba-resistant cotton and soybean seeds anyway. The companies deny the claims.

Dicamba is a benzoic acid herbicide that exerts an auxin-like growth regulatory effect when absorbed by plant tissue, ultimately causing the plant to outgrow its nutrient supply and die. Originally developed in the 1950’s, dicamba has become more popular as crops become resistant to glyphosate. It is extremely volatile and prone to drift. Soybeans are particularly sensitive to dicamba, and drift damage can pit neighbor against neighbor in rural communities. Risk of crop damage alone can drive farmers to buy dicamba-resistant soybean seeds. In addition to injuring crops, dicamba drift is harming ecosystems and habitat for birds.

The case alleges that Monsanto and BASF understood the sale of genetically modified, dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds in 2015, before the release of a less-volatile version of dicamba in 2017, would cause damage to neighboring farms and potentially drive impacted neighbors to buy the resistant seeds. According to the lawsuit, farmers illegally sprayed BASF’s older versions of the herbicide on resistant crops between 2015-2016.

“The damage occurring was part of the plan,” said plaintiff attorney Billy Randles in an opening statement. “The damage was an essential element of selling this product.” Randles said that Monsanto could not control the product in their own greenhouse pointed to internal company discussions where the defendants “so thoroughly anticipated the problem” that they came up with a term for those who were impacted: “driftees.”

Investigative reporter Carey Gillam noted of the case, “Bader is only one of a large and growing group of US farmers who say they are the victims of a clearly foreseen chemical catastrophe many years in the making that has ruined crops covering millions of acres of farmland. Other lawsuits making similar claims have been filed on behalf of farmers from Mississippi, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, and several other key farming states.”

As a result of these lawsuits, some states like Arkansas and Missouri have attempted to enact cutoff dates for use to avoid extreme volatility in summer heat. However, many states still lack policies, and those that are in place do not completely prevent the damage caused by drift. Farmers and regulators alike are part of a phenomenon of  “dicamba fatigue” where the high number of incidents and lack of action related to reporting are driving individuals to stop bothering to report.

Mr. Bader’s dying peach tree leaves tested positive for dicamba, and he says his 5,000-acre family farm is struggling to survive. His farm grows 5-6 million pounds of peaches as well as corn, soybeans, berries, apples, and tomatoes.

Jan Paul Miller, the lawyer who gave Bayer’s opening statement, told the court, “Those losses have nothing to do with dicamba sprayed over Xtend seed,” but rather were caused by root rot disease on the farm. The crinkling and curling leaves typically symptomatic of dicamba damage, he argued, are just how peach tree leaves look: “They cup. They curl. That’s what peach tree leaves do.”

Additionally, Mr. Miller responded to accusations that Monsanto had not conducted enough testing on its product by pointing to the eventual approval of the product by regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As Beyond Pesticides has regularly said, while EPA’s approval of a pesticide is often used as a defense for the “safety” of a chemical, advocates say the highly flawed regulatory system does not conduct adequate testing.

Evidence presented at trial shows that Monsanto employees avoided further testing by University researchers in 2015 by telling them that they did not have enough product. In an email discussed in court last week, a Monsanto employee wrote as he forwarded the email to a fellow member of the technology development team, “Hahaha difficulty in producing enough product for field testing. Hahaha bullshit.”

Steve Smith, the director of agriculture at world’s largest canned tomato processor, Red Gold Inc., testified at the trial that Monsanto had many warnings regarding the risk dicamba posed to farmers. Mr. Smith was a member of an advisory council to Monsanto on dicamba. “We told them (Monsanto) over and over again it was not a good idea,” said Smith in an interview with Sierra, “They keep saying it’s a matter of educating the growers. But the problem is not education; the problem is chemistry.” Separately, Mr. Smith’s personal fruit trees were demolished by dicamba drift. Mr. Smith has lobbied for tighter restrictions on the new dicamba system, leading a coalition to act on the issue.

On February 3, the first official from BASF testified via video. Gary Schmitz, tech service regional manager for the Midwest, told the court that, while BASF advised farmers there would be no yield loss related to dicamba drift in 2017, privately the company informed applicators that any drift would cause yield loss.

Mr. Schmitz wrote in an email to another BASF employee, “I was always told never to admit guilt.” According to the testimony, he had been making edits to the training document regarding telling investigators to withhold their opinion from potential ‘driftees.’ Mr. Schmitz claimed that even with the cupping symptomology, crops would not suffer yield loss.

In court, Mr. Schmitz still backed that assertion despite record amount of drift cases in the U.S. While Mr. Schmitz admits that BASF received over a dozen complaints from abutting neighbors near production in Shellbyville, IL, he claims that the issue was with the application, not the product. Monsanto executives, similarly, claim that when the product XtendiMax with VaporGrip is applied according to the label, it does not cause any adverse effects.

In contrast to that statement, Dr. Boyd Carey, regional agronomy lead at Bayer, testified last week that, “We anticipated it might happen.” 

The trial is likely to extend over the next three weeks.

Given the volatility of dicamba, it is evident that more regulation is needed. Current policies in place must be reevaluated. EPA must begin following the precautionary principle, taking measures to assess for harm before approval. Beyond Pesticides encourages farmers wishing to jump off the pesticide treadmill to adopt organic approaches that do not perpetuate a cycle of pesticide resistance, eliminating the need for these harmful chemicals, mixes of them, and risk of drift. Those impacted by pesticide drift can refer to Beyond Pesticides’ webpage on What to Do in a Pesticide Emergency, and contact the organization for additional information.

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

Sources: Sierra, Journal Star, In These Times  

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05
Feb

In a Landscape Context, Organic Cropland Provides Refuge to Biodiversity and Is More Profitable than Chemical-Intensive Sites

(Beyond Pesticides, February 5, 2020) A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms that organic agriculture provides refuge for biodiversity in an increasingly toxic, chemical-intensive landscape and that organic sites are more profitable than chemical-intensive agriculture despite slightly lower average crop yields (depending on crop type). Considering the impact of landscape context, the value of organic agriculture to biodiversity increased when surrounded by large chemical-intensive fields, but profitability slightly decreased. Small, organic farms near urban centers, for example, can be more profitable than large organic farms in remote areas.

Researchers conducted a global meta-analysis considering the relationship between landscape context and biotic abundance, biotic richness, crop yield, and profitability. They used landscape metrics that “reflected composition (amount of land cover types), compositional heterogeneity (diversity of land cover types), and configurational heterogeneity (spatial arrangement of land cover types).” Datasets from 148 different studies spanned 60 crops on six continents across a range of farming practices and landscape types. Profitability data only related to US crops.

Organic sites had 34% higher biodiversity than chemical-intensive crops. This should come as no surprise, as mono-cultural croplands have become increasingly large and increasingly toxic to organisms such as pollinators and birds in the last few decades. Organic agriculture uses a precautionary approach to toxic substances, thereby allowing biodiversity to thrive. For example, a recent study from Finland illustrated how organic animal farms can, in fact, improve wild bird abundance.

“A landscape with large field sizes might be an indicator of agricultural intensification in general, with many fields with only one crop and heavier pesticide and herbicide use,” said Olivia Smith, PhD, lead author on the study. “That’s a place where there’s not a lot of natural habitat animals can use. An organic farm on that kind of landscape becomes a refuge for species.”

Profits from organic were on average 50% higher than conventional agriculture. Consumers who care about avoiding toxicity, especially families with young children, are driving a surge in organic agriculture. In the U.S., demand far outpaces the supply. As desire for organic food grows, so do the number of organic farms in the U.S. While the number of farms in the U.S. is generally on the decline, the number of organic farms increased 27% between 2012 and 2017, according to data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This study finds that profitability for organic slightly decreased as field size increased in rural areas. “The areas that get the greatest price premium for organic food are those that have small field sizes, which are often located in more urban areas that are more connected to large consumer bases,” said David Crowder, PhD, another author on the paper. “For example, all else being equal, an organic farmer who is in the middle of Iowa may not do nearly as well as an organic farmer near Seattle where there are more consumers willing to pay higher prices for organic food.”

As biodiversity is crashing down across the planet and scientists warn that humans are driving the sixth mass extinction, it is critical to invest in organic farms that provide refuge for beleaguered organisms. What more, it is time to phase out toxic chemicals that make vast swaths of land uninhabitable to pollinators and toxic to migrating birds. Ask your elected representative in Congress to support pollinators by co-sponsoring Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA). If they are already a cosponsor, use the occasion to thank them for their leadership on this critical issue.

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

Source: WSU Insider, PNAS

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04
Feb

EPA Set to Reapprove Cancer-Causing Glyphosate and Bee-Toxic Neonicotinoids

(Beyond Pesticides, February 4, 2020) It was a good day for Bayer/Monsanto. The chemical company’s weed killer glyphosate and its neonicotinoid insecticides are set for reapproval by the U,S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to interim decisions published last week. EPA reapproval of human carcinogens and chemicals contributing to the pollinator crisis is disappointing for health and environmental advocates, but not surprising to those watchdogging the agency during the current administration. “This is how a captured agency behaves,” said Beyond Pesticides community resource and policy director Drew Toher. “When EPA’s decision making repeatedly reflects the exact wishes of the chemical industry, public trust erodes, and we must look to new policy mechanisms that support the protection of health and the environment.”  

On Glyphosate

EPA’s glyphosate decision document glosses over the hazards of the chemical and is requiring very few new safety measures when using the herbicide. These measures are focused on agriculture, including minor label changes around drift, guidelines on resistance management, and a label advisory indicating the chemical is toxic to plants and may adversely impact pollinator foraging. The restrictions fail to match those proposed by Health Canada in 2015, which included buffer zones and restricted entry intervals.  

The agency is determined to avoid consideration of end-use formulations sold to consumers, which science has shown can be more toxic that the active ingredient glyphosate alone. Full formulation testing is the key to understanding the difference between a finding from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is carcinogenic, and EPA’s lackluster review.

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in comments joined by sixteen health, environmental, farmer, and farmworker organizations: “EPA’s myopic review and response to the dangers posed by glyphosate does a disservice to American farmers, farmworkers, and commercial landscapers wishing to use least-toxic products that do not put them at risk of health impacts, and consumers aiming to make the safest choice in regards to what to feed their family and how to manage their yards.”

While EPA has given glyphosate the greenlight, Bayer, its major manufacturer, is mired in class-action cancer lawsuits, and currently in settlement talks rumored to reach over $10 billion. As Bloomberg reporter Adam Allington wrote of EPA’s decision on twitter, “Imagine if there was no tobacco settlement and that cigarettes were still sold without a Surgeon General warning label. People would be suing left and right over product defect claims, and failure to warn. And they would be winning.”

On Neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoids are a chemical class comprised of several different pesticide active ingredients. EPA’s review covered the most frequently used, including acetamiprid, clothianidin/thiamethoxam, dinotefuran and imidacloprid. Despite finding widespread harm to pollinators, birds, and aquatic organisms, the agency is only requiring limited changes around application timing and amounts. It is eliminating use of imidacloprid on residential turf for grubs, and according to a release will be requiring “language on the label advising homeowners not to use neonicotinoid products.” Thus, the agency appears to be approving a product for sale it does not wish people to use.

EPA’s assessment is counterintuitive at every step. With widespread pollinator declines linked to neonicotinoid insecticides since the mid-2000s, a growing understanding of the role these systemic insecticides play in the insect apocalypse, and similar declines in bird populations, the agency, according to advocates, has embraced not protection, but the destruction of the shared environment. While U.S. regulators continue to embrace chemical-dependency, Canada and the European Union acted decisively to eliminate neonicotinoids.

Moving Forward

In the face of inaction from federal regulators, Congress must step in to address this issue. The Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA), currently with 73 cosponsors in the House, would place another layer of review on EPA’s assessments by an independent panel of experts not subject to the influence of the pesticide industry. Under this legislation, experts would consider impacts outside of EPA’s current reviews, including indirect, ecosystem-wide effects to pollinators and their habitat, pesticide synergism, and the availability of alternative products on the market. Click here to tell your rep to join as a cosponsor to SAPA.

While continuing efforts to address our broken pesticide regulatory system, advocates can work towards state and local legislation that not only eliminates glyphosate and neonicotinoids, but the full range of toxic pesticides EPA continues to approve. Go to Beyond Pesticides Tools for Change webpage for resources and a model policy to pass in your community. Individual choices also matter – use Beyond Pesticides’ ManageSafe page to eliminate the need for toxic pesticides, and support organic certified products, which never allow the use of glyphosate, neonicotinoids, and other hazardous synthetic pesticides.

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

Source: EPA press releases (neonicotinoids, glyphosate)



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03
Feb

Save Mayflies and the Ecosystems that Depend on Them

(Beyond Pesticides, February 3, 2020) In more bad news from the insect world, recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals a precipitous decline in numbers of mayflies where they have been historically abundant. The research finds that in the Northern Mississippi River Basin, seasonal emergence of burrowing mayfly (genus Hexagenia) adults declined by 52% from 2012 to 2019; in the Western Lake Erie Basin, from 2015 to 2019, the reduction was a shocking 84%. Neonicotinoid insecticides are a significant factor in this decline because mayflies are extremely vulnerable to their impacts, even at very low exposure levels.

Ask Congress to tell EPA, USDA, and the Department of Interior to develop a joint effort to ensure that its decisions and compliance with its authorizing statutes address the crisis of the threat to mayflies.

Ephemeroptera to entomologists—“mayflies” to the rest of us—is an insect order comprising keystone species, on which other species in an ecosystem are very dependent, and without which, the ecosystem would undergo drastic change. The plummeting mayfly “count” is especially alarming because mayflies are a critical, primary food source in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and provide an important ecological service. As the research study notes, “Seasonal animal movement among disparate habitats is a fundamental mechanism by which energy, nutrients, and biomass are transported across ecotones. A dramatic example of such exchange is the annual emergence of mayfly swarms from freshwater benthic [lake or river bottom] habitats. . . . Annual . . . emergences represent the exchange of hundreds of tons of elemental nutrients, thousands of tons of biomass, billions of organisms, and trillions of calories worth of energy to the surrounding terrestrial habitat. . . . A single emergence event can produce 87.9 billion mayflies, releasing 3,078.6 tons of biomass into the airspace over several hours.” According to Purdue University ecologist Jason Hoverman, PhD, “Mayflies serve critical functions in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their important role as prey, reductions in their abundance can have cascading effects on consumers throughout the food web.” Without this critical keystone species, an important food source and nutrient recycler would be lost.

Thus, although neonics are directly toxic to many insects, the role of pesticides in destabilization of ecosystems is not necessarily direct. Beyond direct toxicity, pesticides can significantly reduce, change the behavior of, or destroy populations of plants and animals. These effects can ripple up and down food chains, causing what is known as a trophic cascade. The loss or reduction of populations at any trophic level—including amphibians, insects, or plants—can result in changes that are difficult to perceive, but nonetheless equally damaging to the stability and long-term health of an ecosystem.

Three phenomena account for most of the decrease in mayfly populations: (1) dramatically increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides, to which mayflies are highly sensitive; (2) algal blooms, especially in Lake Erie, caused primarily by runoff of agricultural fertilizers and other nutrient-dense pollutants; and (3) the warming impacts of the climate crisis, which include higher water temperatures that can wreak havoc with the development of these tiny creatures.

Because the threats to mayflies cut across regulatory boundaries, it is important for federal agencies to cooperate in protecting them. Action must be taken to protect vulnerable waterways from neonicotinoid contamination. The frequency of detections in U.S. waterways cannot be overlooked. Such routine detections, even at low levels, indicate that our waterways are being overloaded with mobile and persistent chemicals at highly elevated concentrations.  Thus far, little action has been taken to restrict the use of these chemicals in response to the independent scientific literature and EPA risk data that identify direct threats to aquatic invertebrates, as well as indirect threats to higher trophic organisms. Federal benchmarks based on testing on insensitive species are not protective of more sensitive species. Similarly, action is needed to prevent runoff from agricultural fields and feedlots and adopt climate-friendly policies.

Ask Congress to tell EPA, USDA, and the Department of Interior to develop a joint effort to ensure that its decisions and compliance with its authorizing statutes address the crisis of the threat to mayflies.

Letter to Congress

I am writing to call your attention to a serious ecological problem that requires a coordinated effort across government agencies.

Recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals a precipitous decline in numbers of mayflies where they have been historically abundant. In the Northern Mississippi River Basin, seasonal emergence of burrowing mayfly adults declined by 52% from 2012 to 2019; in the Western Lake Erie Basin, from 2015 to 2019, the reduction was a shocking 84%.

The plummeting mayfly “count” is alarming because mayflies are a critical, primary food source in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and provide an important ecological service. As the research study notes, “Seasonal animal movement among disparate habitats is a fundamental mechanism by which energy, nutrients, and biomass are transported across ecotones…A single emergence event can produce 87.9 billion mayflies, releasing 3,078.6 tons of biomass into the airspace over several hours.”

According to Purdue University ecologist Jason Hoverman, PhD, “Mayflies serve critical functions in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their important role as prey, reductions in their abundance can have cascading effects on consumers throughout the food web.” Without these critical keystone species, important food sources and nutrient recyclers would be lost.

Three phenomena account for most of the decrease in mayfly populations: (1) dramatically increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides, to which mayflies are highly sensitive; (2) algal blooms, especially in Lake Erie, caused primarily by runoff of agricultural fertilizers and other nutrient-dense pollutants; and (3) the warming impacts of the climate crisis, which include higher water temperatures that can wreak havoc with the development of these tiny creatures.

Because threats cut across regulatory boundaries, it is important for federal agencies to cooperate in protecting mayflies. U.S. waterways are being overloaded with mobile and persistent chemicals at highly elevated concentrations.  Little action has been taken to restrict the use of toxic chemicals despite independent scientific literature and EPA risk data that identify direct threats to aquatic invertebrates, as well as indirect threats to higher trophic organisms. Similarly, action is needed to prevent runoff from agricultural fields and feedlots and adopt climate-friendly policies.

Thank you,

 

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31
Jan

Trump Administration Hands Over Clean Water Standards to Agrichemical, Construction, and Mining Industry

(Beyond Pesticides, January 31, 2020) In the latest of a long litany of destructive decisions by the Trump administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced on January 23 the establishment of a new weaker federal rule on protection of U.S. waterways, which replaces the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that the agency repealed in September 2019. In an obeisant gesture to industrial interests — the agrichemical, construction, and mining sectors — Mr. Wheeler chose to announce the replacement rule, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, at a Las Vegas National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show. This decision will significantly weaken protections by drastically reducing the number of U.S. waterways and acreage of wetlands protected, and by jettisoning proscriptions on activities that threaten waterways from a variety of pollution harms.

President Obama’s WOTUS, aka Clean Water Rule, has provided protections from pesticide runoff and other pollutants to millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams. According to Administrator Wheeler, “‘All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government. . . . Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C. and the states. And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters fall solely under the states’ jurisdiction.’” Whereas, the Obama-era rule protected approximately 60% of U.S. waterways — protecting drinking water sources for roughly one-third of the nation — the new rule is expected to reduce dramatically the number of waterways protected.

The WOTUS rule was created to provide greater protections from pollution, and to “bring clarity to decades of political and legal debate over which waters should qualify.” The rule included many smaller waterways and wetlands that function as recharge areas or tributaries to larger water bodies. There was, of course, blowback from business interests, which generally considered it an act of federal overreach; indeed, 27 states sued to block the rule. Those who opposed that rule complained largely about the scope, in that it applied to those smaller waterways and wetlands. The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural groups were particularly strident in their objections. Common sentiment was captured by a comment from a representative of the federation: “When you take private property rights from a man who’s worked all his life, that is very intrusive to him and it’s something he just can’t stand for.”

Critics of the 2015 WOTUS rule also objected to provisions that limited agricultural and industrial “freedom to pollute.” The New York Times described some features of WOTUS: “Under the Obama rule, farmers using land near streams and wetlands were restricted from doing certain kinds of plowing and planting certain crops, and would have been required to apply for permits from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers that could have run off into those water bodies.” The new Navigable Waters Protection Rule will remove those requirements, as well.

The new rule will exempt “ephemeral” waterways — those that may be vernal or seasonal, or form after significant rainfall — as well as farm water ponds, underground water passages, groundwater, waste treatment systems, and prior converted croplands, exposing them to greater degrees of fouling and the “downstream” impacts of that. The new rule identifies four categories to which it extends federal protections: large navigable waters (e.g., the Mississippi River), lakes and ponds, tributaries, and major wetlands. When the new rule goes into effect in March, an immediate impact will be that polluters will not need to secure permits to dump potentially harmful substances (think agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, fossil fuel-based products, chemicals, industrial waste) into many streams and wetlands.

Objection to the rollback and new rule is rife. In 2019, 14 states sued EPA, challenging that the proposed WOTUS rollback would ignore law and science, and remove from some waterways basic protections for which the 1972 Clean Water Act was created. In December 2019, the EPA Science Advisory Board’s members (nearly two-thirds of whom were appointed by Trump) posted an online letter saying that the revised definition (of which waterways “count” for federal protection) “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.” The Science Advisory Board, which is tasked with evaluating the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulations, also said the new rule “neglects established science” by “failing to acknowledge watershed systems”; the board also found “no scientific justification” for the exemption of particular waterways from protection.

In addition to its critique of the new waterways rule, in separate letters, the board denounced two other initiatives of the Trump administration’s EPA: its plan to roll back Obama-era rules on tailpipe emissions, and its plan to constrain the use of some scientific data in promulgating regulation — which development Beyond Pesticides has covered.

The board has also criticized that development — to limit the science EPA would use in developing rules related to public health by requiring that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before EPA would consider a study’s conclusions. Critics note that such a rule would hamper enactment of any new regulations related to clean water (and air) because many research studies that would inform such rules necessarily rely on personal health data gathered under confidentiality agreements. The board warned that this “may not add transparency, and even may make some kinds of research more difficult.”

John Gluckenheimer, PhD, who was appointed to the EPA Science Advisory Board in 2019, has said that the new rule is “based upon speculation about what the courts will decide, rather than really having much scientific substance,” and that it ignores “the established science showing that even those wetlands and underground streams have a significant impact on the health of larger bodies.” Response to the board’s letter from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC’s) Jon Devine, an expert in water policy, was unvarnished: “They are saying that the Trump proposal is entirely untethered from the scientific evidence, and that the scientific record for the rule that the administration is trying to replace remains unrefuted and very solid. And any self-respecting scientist is going to say that.”

Former EPA Administrator and now president and CEO of NRDC Gina McCarthy has been vociferous in her critique of the rollback and new rule: “‘So much for the “crystal clear” water President Trump promised. You don’t make America great by polluting our drinking water supplies, making our beaches unfit for swimming, and increasing flood risk. This effort neglects established science and poses substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment. We will do all we can to fight this attack on clean water. We will not let it stand.’”Janette Brimmer of Earthjustice said in a statement that under the new rule, “few protections will remain to stop polluters from dumping toxic byproducts into our waters.” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said, “This is not just undoing the clean water rule promulgated by the Obama administration. This is going back to the lowest level of protection we’ve seen in the last 50 years. This is a staggering rollback.”

The Washington Post reports, “The independent assessments raise questions about the basis for the administration’s push to unspool regulations enacted under President Barack Obama.” The newspaper also cites a comment made by Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who was a member of the EPA Science Advisory Board until September 2019: “It really calls into question to what degree these suggested changes are fact-based as opposed to politically motivated.” Critics further note that this decision — among the nearly 100 other rollbacks of environmental rules under the Trump administration  — may be challenging to undo under a future administration because of the rightward ideological shift in the composition of the Supreme Court.

Beyond Pesticides advocates for organic and regenerative land management systems that protect waterways, conserve water, create less surface runoff, and reduce the need for nutrient input. Advancement of that goal requires the strong voices of the public — particularly in the current political zeitgeist and given the trajectory of recent EPA decision making. Please call and write to elected officials and support NGOs (non-governmental organizations, such as Beyond Pesticides) that are working to protect waterways from pollution, and thus, human and environmental health.

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

Sources: https://www.npr.org/2020/01/23/798809951/trump-administration-is-rolling-back-obama-era-protections-for-smaller-waterways and https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/epas-scientific-advisers-warn-its-regulatory-rollbacks-clash-with-established-science/2019/12/31/a1994f5a-227b-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html

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30
Jan

Croplands’ Toxicity to Pollinators Has Skyrocketed Since the Turn of the Century

(Beyond Pesticides, January 28, 2020) The practice of coating seeds with insecticides, now widely adopted as a result of the agrichemical industry, has created increasingly toxic conditions for pollinators foraging on US cropland, finds a study published in Scientific Reports by Penn State University scientists. The data finds that even as overall volume of insecticide use has decreased, the total “bee toxic load” – a term branded by researchers – has increased markedly due in large part to the use of hazardous seed coatings. The switch from one toxic chemical to another is indicative of a chemically-driven agricultural system that, in order to reverse insect, pollinator and bird declines, must undergo rapid changes over the next several decades.

Researchers used information from multiple US databases to determine regional patterns in pesticide use and corresponding toxicity loads to pollinators. Thus the term “bee toxic load” was determined by combining the area of land where insecticides were applied with the total toxicity of the particular insecticide used. To compare the impact of changes in the mode of action of the insecticides used, toxicity data was separated between oral and contact toxicity.   

Findings indicate that from 1997-2012, contact bee toxic load remained steady, while oral bee toxic load increased nine times, despite significant declines in the overall weight of insecticides applied during that time period. This is reflective of the changing approach within chemical farming over the past few decades. While organophosphates, a class of highly toxic contact insecticides, are falling out of use either as a result of regulatory restrictions or shifting economic incentives, neonicotinoids, well known for their adverse impact to pollinators, are being applied in their place.

The most frequent use of neonicotinoids, systemic insecticides that make their way into the pollen, nectar, and dew drops a plant produces, is in the form of seed treatments. Honeybees and other pollinators come in to contact with these poisons primarily through oral contact in nectar and pollen.

As the study finds, between the period of 1997-2012, oral potency of insecticides increased by 16 times, while application rates declined 64%. At the same time, the fraction of U.S. cropland using insecticides increased 78%, from 15% in 1997 to 26% in 2012.

“This dramatic increase in oral-based toxic load is connected to a shift toward widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides, which are unusually toxic to bees when they are ingested,” said study coauthor Maggie Douglas, PhD.

The trend is particularly pronounced in the U.S. Midwest. According to the study, the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed treatments increased oral bee toxic load by 121 times. Worse yet, there is little to no evidence that these seed treatments are actually managing pest problems.

“Several studies have shown that these seed treatments have negligible benefits for most crops in most regions,” said study coauthor Christina Grozinger, PhD. “Unfortunately, growers often don’t have the option to purchase seeds without these treatments; they don’t have choices in how to manage their crops.”

This research, like a similar study on overall pesticide toxicity published last year in PLOS One, provides an important touchstone that highlights well-known problems with the current pesticide regulatory system. However, acute toxicity, either through oral or direct contact, is only one part of the equation. Honey bees and other pollinators also suffer from chronic exposure to these persistent insecticides. Neonicotinoids are well- known for chronic impacts that lead to reproductive damage, impaired mobility and navigation, as well as difficulty with feeding, foraging, memory, and learning. Certain wild species, such as ground nesting bees, are at significant risk of chronic impacts, which studies have already linked to adverse impacts on size, development into adulthood, and longevity.

The only way to reject the chemical farming paradigm that repeatedly cycles through one toxic chemical after another, as they are found to be hazardous andor lack efficacy because of insect resistance, is to (i) support organic systems that rejects this approach, and (ii) promote policies that invest in alternatives. Buy organic whenever possible, and reach out to your member of Congress and urge them to support HR1337, Saving America’s Pollinators Act. For more information on the dangers of neonicotinoid coated seeds, see Beyond Pesticides’ short video Seeds That Poison.

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

Source: Penn State University press release, Scientific Reports

 

 

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29
Jan

Rate of Male Breast Cancer on the Rise in Scotland, Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Suspected

(Beyond Pesticides, January 29, 2020) A study of male breast cancer (MBC) in Scotland reports an alarming, increasing trend of this rare disease – especially in agricultural areas. While only accounting for 1% of diagnosed breast cancer, MBC forms in the breast tissue of men and is often fatal because of delayed diagnosis and lack of research on male-specific treatment. The authors point to risk factors that include increased exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as pesticides, and a need for further study.

Researchers analyzed data from the Information Services Scotland database spanning from 1992-2017. Results showed that incidence of breast cancer in men rose with age, and that the total number and age-adjusted incidence of MBC increased in the last 25 years. Overall, the incidence rose by 38.5%. There was a total of 558 diagnoses in Scotland in the entire period. The trend is clearest in certain regions, including the North of Scotland and some rural areas.

“Within the confines of this observational study, reasons for these regional differences are difficult to reconcile, but potential explanations are offered,” the authors write, “Exposure to environmental compounds that mimic oestrogens (so-called Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals; (EDCs)) might be exacerbated in areas of higher agricultural activity, with potential adverse health consequences. With lifetime exposure to oestrogen a well-established risk factor for breast cancer, it is reasonable to speculate that EDCs may also contribute to this.”

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can, even at low exposure levels, disrupt normal hormonal (endocrine) function. EDCs include many pesticides, exposures to which have been linked to infertility and other reproductive disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and early puberty, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and childhood and adult cancers.

“There has been pretty much a doubling of the incidence over the 25-year period,” Valerie Speirs, PhD, professor of molecular oncology at Aberdeen University, told the Sunday Post, “Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders are areas associated with farming and perhaps the pesticides might be an issue. Some of the pesticides used in agricultural industry may well mimic the effects of some of the hormones that are associated with increased breast cancer risk, and that may be part of the reason we are seeing higher numbers. Endocrine-disrupting agents may impact not just on cancer, but other aspects of health too.”

Kotryna Temcinaite, PhD, research communications manager at the charity Breast Cancer Now, said, “Our Male Breast Cancer Study is now trying to pinpoint the genetic, environmental and lifestyle causes of breast cancer in men, which could enable us to identify those who are at greater risk and what could be done to help lower the chances of developing the disease.”

EDCs represent an under-researched and under-regulated threat to human health. Beyond Pesticides wrote on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s stalled analysis of the risk these chemicals pose, “A persistent critique of EPA’s toxicological assumptions has to do with the “dose makes the poison” concept that underlies conventional toxicology. In fact, researchers have discovered that this concept—that the more exposure, the more extreme the impacts—is not consistently the case across exposures to chemical compounds such as pesticides. Additionally, even very low-level exposures (aka “doses”) can, in some instances, cause more extreme health impacts.”

 A 2017 European study shows that costs of disease burden and health care related to chemical environmental exposures, writ large, may constitute a figure somewhere north of 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP). Advocates say that figure should shock everyone, motivate policymakers to become much more proactive on the chemical regulatory front, and move the public to help raise the alarm on the risks of the use of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals.

Read more from Beyond Pesticides about endocrine disrupting pesticides and chemicals, and ways to protect people from exposures, including eating organically and advocating for better regulatory policies through Beyond Pesticides’ Action of the Week

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

Source: European Journal of Surgical Oncology, The Sunday Post

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28
Jan

Documented Decline of Mayflies, a Keystone Species, Destabilizes Ecosystems

(Beyond Pesticides, January 28, 2020) In more bad news from the insect world, recent research reveals a precipitous decline in numbers of mayflies in territories where they have been historically abundant. Reported by National Geographic and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research finds that in the Northern Mississippi River Basin, seasonal emergence of burrowing mayfly (genus Hexagenia) adults declined by 52% from 2012 to 2019; in the Western Lake Erie Basin, from 2015 to 2019, the reduction was a shocking 84%. Neonicotinoid insecticides are a significant factor in this decline because mayflies are exquisitely vulnerable to their impacts, even at very low exposure levels.

Ephemeroptera to entomologists — and “mayflies” to the rest of us — are a keystone species, one on which other species in an ecosystem are very dependent, and without which, the ecosystem would undergo drastic change. The Latinate name is apt: mayflies are among the most short-lived organisms, with lifespans across the 2,000+ known species lasting from five minutes to one day to a few weeks. Like damselflies and dragonflies, members of an ancient group of insects, the 600 North American species, as do their global kin, make optimal reproductive use of their brief adult lifespans: each female can lay from as few as 50 to as many as 10,000 eggs on the surfaces of water bodies. Those eggs then sink to the lake or river floor, after which they emerge as nymphs and spend up to two years foraging on bottom sediments before appearing as adult mayflies. Read more about the unusual lifecycle of the mayfly here.

The plummeting mayfly “count” is especially alarming because mayflies are a critical, primary food source in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and provide an important ecological service. As the research study notes, “Seasonal animal movement among disparate habitats is a fundamental mechanism by which energy, nutrients, and biomass are transported across ecotones. A dramatic example of such exchange is the annual emergence of mayfly swarms from freshwater benthic [lake or river bottom] habitats. . . . Annual . . . emergences represent the exchange of hundreds of tons of elemental nutrients, thousands of tons of biomass, billions of organisms, and trillions of calories worth of energy to the surrounding terrestrial habitat. . . . A single emergence event can produce 87.9 billion mayflies, releasing 3,078.6 tons of biomass into the airspace over several hours.”

Jason Hoverman, an ecologist at Purdue University, commented, “Mayflies serve critical functions in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their important role as prey, reductions in their abundance can have cascading effects on consumers throughout the food web.” In a Beyond Pesticides Pesticides and You article, “Poisoned Waterways,” the authors put it squarely: “Without this critical keystone species, an important food source and nutrient recycler would be lost.”

In addition, because they thrive only in clean, high-quality water, mayfly populations serve as barometers of water quality, according to Kenneth Krieger, emeritus director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, and an expert on Lake Erie mayflies. The study co-authors conclude, “As ecological indicators, these losses may signal deterioration in water quality and, if current population trends continue, could cascade to widespread disappearance from some of North America’s largest waterways.”

Three phenomena account for most of this dive in mayfly populations: (1) dramatically increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides in recent years in these regions; (2) algal blooms, especially in Lake Erie, caused primarily by runoff of agricultural fertilizers and other nutrient-dense pollutants; and (3) the warming impacts of the climate crisis, which include higher water temperatures that can cause havoc with the development of these tiny creatures. Taken together, these factors are complexes of nasty synergies:
• nutrients in fertilizer runoff feed algal blooms that starve water of oxygen and generate toxic byproducts to which mayflies are susceptible

  • warming waters increase stratification of waters, reducing mixing of nutrients and oxygen among the layers, which can then lead to transient or chronic hypoxia (low oxygen levels) that are lethal to waterway-bottom-dwelling mayfly nymphs
  • the increasing concentrations of pesticides, and neonicotinoids in particular, in freshwater ecosystems exacerbate risks to mayfly populations

One of the most widely used classes of insecticides, neonicotinoids are highly toxic, damaging insects’ central nervous systems, and causing death even at low-level exposures. Neonicotinoids (neonics) are used on millions of acres of U.S. cropland, on nursery plants, and to treat seeds. Because neonics persist in soil and easily become airborne, they can travel to contaminate nearby waterways. Agricultural runoff increasingly includes neonic metabolites. Neonics in Great Lakes tributaries, for example, have registered at levels 40 times those established as protective by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Aquatic Life Benchmark, according to a 2018 study.

In addition to their well-documented harms to bees, neonics represent a grave threat to insects such as mayflies. Indeed, in 2017, EPA identified mayflies as the most sensitive aquatic invertebrate to imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) exposure. An EPA document said, “The potential exists for indirect risks to fish and aquatic-phase amphibians through reduction in their invertebrate prey-base,” e.g., mayflies. For more on the threats of these compounds, see the article, “Poisoned Waterways,” in Beyond Pesticides journal, Pesticides and You.

The loss of mayfly populations means more than just fewer insects for organisms higher on the food chain to consume; impacts can ripple through ecosystems. Although neonics are directly toxic to many insects, the role of pesticides in destabilization of ecosystems is not necessarily direct. In a Pesticides and You article, “Pesticide Use Harming Key Species Ripples through the Ecosystem,” the author explains the dynamics of trophic cascades. “Beyond direct toxicity, pesticides can significantly reduce, change the behavior of, or destroy populations of plants and animals. These effects can ripple up and down food chains, causing what is known as a trophic cascade. . . . The loss or reduction of populations at any trophic level — including amphibians, insects, or plants — can result in changes that are difficult to perceive, but nonetheless equally damaging to the stability and long-term health of an ecosystem.”

Such enormous losses of a keystone prey organism — mayflies — as the study researchers discovered represent a potential trigger of such trophic cascades in the identified watersheds. In the above-referenced article, the mechanisms of such a cascade are described. In that instance, the runoff of an agricultural pesticide (bifenthrin) caused significant downward population pressure on larval macroinvertebrates (including mayfly nymphs). That loss of periphyton-eating species (mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies) initiated a trophic cascade from the top­ down, causing algal blooms. In addition, the pesticide’s impact on the endocrine systems of macroinvertebrates caused an acceleration of the interval to metamorphosis, resulting in earlier emergence and smaller size than is typical.

As the authors wrote in “Poisoned Waterways, “Current federal aquatic life benchmarks for neonicotinoids are potentially underestimating risks. Experts find that standard test organisms used by EPA to establish these benchmarks are orders of magnitude more tolerant of neonicotinoid exposure than [are] other vulnerable species [such as Ephemeroptera], and recommend water levels to be well below the benchmarks set by EPA. In addition, chemical admixtures and potential synergistic effects are not considered in aquatic risk assessments, resulting in unknown risks to species. Stronger action is needed to restrict neonicotinoid contamination of waterways.”

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in 2017, “Action must be taken to protect vulnerable waterways from neonicotinoid contamination. The frequency of detections in U.S. waterways cannot be overlooked. Such routine detections, even at low levels, indicate that our waterways are being overloaded with mobile and persistent chemicals at highly elevated concentrations. . . . Thus far, little action has been taken to restrict the use of these chemicals in response to the independent scientific literature and EPA risk data that identify direct threats to aquatic invertebrates, as well as indirect threats to higher trophic organisms. . . . Federal benchmarks based on testing on insensitive species are not protective of more sensitive species. Given the toxicity of this class of insecticides to non-target, beneficial invertebrates, and the regulatory deficiencies, it is imperative that action be taken to limit their use and presence in waterways in the U.S.”

Given the plethora of harms caused by industrial and agricultural chemical contamination of our water, air, soil, food, and bodies, it is more important than ever that members of the public step up and speak up, contact their local, state, and federal elected officials, and do all they can to advance a shift to less- and nontoxic practices that will protect insects — and all living organisms. Stay current on these issues by following Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News Blog and journal, Pesticides and You, and find organizational resources here.

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

Sources: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/01/mayfly-insect-populations-in-decline/#close and https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/01/15/1913598117

 

 

 

 

 

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