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24
Nov

Be Merry This Holiday Season with an Organic Christmas Tree

(Beyond Pesticides, November, 24, 2010) ‘Tis the season to be merry, but how merry can it be if your Christmas tree is leaving not so pleasant presents under and on the tree? Toxic pesticides linked to numerous adverse human health effects are used on Christmas trees, with residues contaminating indoor air and surfaces. So for this Christmas season, go green and avoid the toxic chemicals. Visit the Christmas Trees and Pesticides web page to help find an organic Christmas tree near you!

Over 25 million homes in the U.S. bring in a fresh Christmas tree each year. The natural fresh scent of pine has become a hallmark of the season. However, the tree may be hiding other surprises among its needles and branches. Insecticides are commonly used on Christmas trees during its 10 year life span to control pests such as mites, adelgids and aphids which cause cosmetic damage to the trees, thus reducing their value. Herbicides are also used to control weeds surrounding trees. Of the pesticides that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered for use on Christmas trees, most are linked to one or more adverse effects, including cancer, hormonal disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, environmental effects and more. Their use results in exposure to workers, wildlife, and waterways. Beyond Pesticides has compiled a list of 25 pesticides commonly used or recommended for use by state agricultural extension services, including: 2,4-D, bifenthrin, and chlorpyrifos. The Pesticide Induced Diseases Database documents the numerous health effects associated with these pesticides.

North Carolina is one of the top Christmas tree producing states. The Cooperative Extension Service of North Carolina reports that glyphosate continues to be the most widely used insecticide used on Christmas trees with nearly 90 percent being used on the state’s trees in the 2006 season. Bifenthrin is also very popular and a relatively new insecticide, spirodiclofen -shown to have endocrine disruptive and reproductive effects -is also gaining in popularity. The industry will be surveyed again in 2013 about 2012 practices.

Because of concerns about household exposure, Christmas tree growers have been advised by North Carolina officials to use only pesticides “labeled for spraying in the home” after the trees have been harvested. However, the law establishes no such restriction and these pesticides are linked to respiratory and neurological effects. Many of the pesticides registered for Christmas trees have been banned or have always been prohibited in residential settings. While continuing to be used on Christmas trees, chlorpyrifos (Dursban), for example, was taken off the market in 2000 for home use because of its neurotoxic effects.

However, some growers today are using organic techniques. A growing number of farms around the country are going organic, so in many cases an organic tree can be found locally. Beyond Pesticides recommends purchasing an organic Christmas tree or wreath from a local grower, if possible. Links to organic Christmas tree growers are available on Beyond Pesticides webpage. If there isn’t a local organic tree farm in your area, Beyond Pesticides encourages consumers to talk to growers about the pesticides they use and encourage them to go organic.

This holiday season, please consider an end-of-year donation to Beyond Pesticides. Your gift supports our important programs and grassroots advocacy to protect people’s health and the environment. Happy Holidays!

Photo Courtesy Feezers Farm

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2 Responses to “Be Merry This Holiday Season with an Organic Christmas Tree”

  1. 1
    Jill R. Sidebottom Says:

    Organic growers use pesticides too. And these also have adverse health effects and environmental effects associated with them — rotenone is associated with Parkinson’s Disease — spinosad is highly toxic to bees — horticultural oil is a skin irritant and can cause lung problems to the applicator — diatomaceous earth is carcinogenic. Organic Christmas trees use more petroleum products for weed control as you have to mow.

  2. 2
    Beyond Pesticides Says:

    Jill- Organic farmers can only use pesticides after exhausting all other strategies including crop rotation, cultural practices, beneficial species, etc. In contrast, the process for registering pesticides for crops explicitly does not consider the need for the chemical.

    When these pesticides are used, synthetic chemicals can only be used in organic farming and processing if they are approved by the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a process that includes a detailed checklist (http://www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/action/nosb-checklist.htm) of possible health and environmental impacts and considers the need for the chemical.

    Right now, there are about 50 entries included on the “National List” of allowable synthetic materials. These include alcohols used as disinfectants, soap-based insecticides, newspaper weed barriers, and vitamins. On the other hand, there are tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals, including over 200 pesticide “active ingredients,” approved for use in conventional systems, not to mention chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics, sewage sludge and irradiation.

    As mentioned in the article, we have compiled a list of 25 pesticides (http://www.beyondpesticides.org/christmastrees/pesticides.htm) commonly used or recommended for use on Christmas Trees by state agricultural extension services, including: 2,4-D, bifenthrin, and chlorpyrifos. The Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (http://www.beyondpesticides.org/health/) documents the numerous health effects associated with these pesticides.

    We maintain that while there is always room for improvement, organic agriculture is much better than conventional agriculture. When there is a problem with the organic system, there is a process for the public to weigh in on what is allowable in organic production. You can read more about this here: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/action

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