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District Court Ruling Challenges EPA’s Enforcement Process on Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, September 13, 2011) A recent federal district court ruling is the latest in the series of setbacks against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA’s) ability to enforce the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The decision could affect at least five Stop Sale, Use or Removal Orders (SSUROs) issued to pesticide manufacturers since 2006. Even though the case hinged on a procedural issue, the ruling is another hindrance for the agency’s struggle to take action on registered pesticides that it believes are in violation of FIFRA without launching a formal cancellation process, a process that EPA has historically sought to avoid because it views it as lengthy and costly. While this case may hinge on the narrow need for rulemaking to delegate proper enforement authority under FIFRA, advocates have urged the agency’s broader use of its cancellation authority in an effort to bring the chemical industry in line with public health and environmental standards and sound science. With more rigorous use of its cancellation authority, pesticide manufacturers will have a difficult time with its challenges in the face of administrative findings by the agency. and over time ensure a higher degree of compliance.

The case, American Vanguard Corporation (AMVAC) v. Jackson was filed by the company American Vanguard, which claims that it lost $20 million in annual business when its pesticide product, pentachloronitrobenzene (PCNB) was issued a stop order. EPA signed the order on August 12, 2010 after it became aware of an impurity in the golf course pesticide. PCNB exposure is associated with thyroid hypertrophy and hepatocellular hypertrophy and hyperplasia in rats, and these are the primary effects used to evaluate human health risks. Because of its effects on the thyroid gland, specifically in enhancing secretion of thyroid hormone, PCNB is suspected of being an endocrine disruptor. PCNB is also classified as a possible human carcinogen.

Under Section 13(a) of FIFRA, EPA may issue a SSURO to any person who owns, controls, or has custody of a pesticide or device that the agency has reason to believe is in violation of any FIFRA provision or has been or is intended to be distributed or sold in violation of the act. EPA may issue such orders based on only a reasonable belief of a FIFRA violation.

However, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the AMVAC case ruled that the division of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) waste and chemical division that has routinely issued SSUROs for the agency since 2006 has done so without delegated authority under the pesticide law, rendering such orders invalid.

The judge in his Aug. 17 order determined that the waste and chemical had never received delegated authority by the assistant administrator of OECA. The ruling said EPA must go through a formal rulemaking process to re-delegate the authority to the director of the waste and chemical decision.

The ruling would affect orders issued through the office at EPA headquarters but not those issued by the EPA regions, including the most recent order to stop the sale and use of the herbicide Imprelis, which is responsible for a rash of tree deaths across the Midwest, amounting to millions of dollars’ worth of damage. Because EPA Region III issued the order, it is unaffected by the AMVAC ruling, which only impacts orders issued by EPA headquarters’ waste and chemical division of OECA.

In a 2009 FIFRA Enforcement Response Policy document issued by OECA’s waste and chemical enforcement division, the agency says, “A SSURO is among the most expedient and effective remedies available to EPA in its efforts to prevent illegal sale, distribution and use of pesticides,” because it does not require the agency to go through the courts and is generally an easier enforcement channel to go through than seizure of a product.

Source: Inside EPA



Use of Soil Fumigant Still High Despite Ban

(Beyond Pesticides, September 12, 2011) While the fight continues over the use of toxic methyl iodide in California, new research is showing that the banned chemical methyl bromide, which methyl iodide was intended to replace, is continuing to be used in alarming amounts across the state due to a sizeable loophole in the regulations. While some may argue that this is simply a consequence of the controversy surrrounding methyl iodide, those concerned with human health and the environment point out that it is irresponsible and counterproductive to replace a devastating environmental contaminant with a highly toxic human carcinogen, especially when there are more responsible alternatives to both which can be employed.

Most methyl bromide is used to fumigate, or sterilize, agricultural soils, especially those growing strawberries, though it is used for other crops as well. It is also used in high amounts as a structural fumigant to eradicate indoor pests. The most common applications of this kind are for residential termite treatments and for insects in food storage facilities.

An investigation by New America Media has found that use of methyl bromide in California in 2009 was still at nearly 50% of levels from ten years prior, before the supposed ban was enacted. Counties that produce a high volume of strawberries saw an even smaller decline over that decade. Monterey County saw a drop of only 24%, while use in Santa Cruz County declined by 41%. The County of San Luis Obispo actually saw an increase over the ten year period, from 110,000 pounds applied in 1999 to 125,000 pounds in 2009.

Methyl Bromide has been nominally banned in industrialized countries by international treaty. The ban, which was included as part of the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances, is legally binding on all signatories to the treaty, of which the United States is one, having signed in 1987. It is also banned under federal law, as outlined in the Clean Air Act. These laws mandate that the substance be phased out according to a precise schedule, with 100% phase-out to be achieved by January 1, 2005. However, due to the “critical use exemption” (CUE) stipulation of the laws, which allows the chemical to continue to be used when there are no feasible alternatives, application rates have remained persistently high.

The substance has been banned due to its significant capacity to deplete the ozone layer of the atmosphere, which protects organisms living on the earth’s surface from damaging ultraviolet radiation. Additionally, acute exposure to humans, including those who spray the chemical, has been shown to cause eye and skin irritation as well as damage to the neurological, reproductive, and endocrine systems. Just two weeks ago, EPA acknowledged that, due to health concerns, there had been a violation of the civil rights of Latino school children in agricultural areas of California where methyl bromide was being applied, although the agency unfortunately offered no substantive relief to the individuals affected.

There has also been recent controversy over the proposed chemical replacement for methyl bromide in structural fumigation, sulfuryl fluoride. Due to concerns of fluoride overexposure, EPA cancelled sulfuryl fluoride use on stored food products in January of this year. Some environmental advocates worried that this could lead to a resurgence of reliance on methyl bromide CUEs, however, others, including EPA itself, do not believe that this will be the case and instead point to the wealth of other safer alternatives to control stored food pests, such as temperature manipulation.

The fact is that viable alternatives do already exist for all applications in which methyl bromide had been relied upon in the past, making CUEs entirely unnecessary. Organic strawberry growers are currently farming successfully in California without the environmental hazards of methyl bromide or the toxic dangers of methyl iodide. To learn more about organic food and farming see our organic webpage.

Source: Huffington Post



Dow Seeks Approval of New Soybean Resistant to Multiple Herbicides

(Beyond Pesticides, September 9, 2011) Despite rising concerns over the side effects of herbicide tolerant, genetically engineered (GE) crops, Dow AgroSciences has recently asked for approval of a new GE soybean variety that will be the first ever to be simultaneously resistant to three different pesticides. The soybean variety, which the company is calling “Enlist,” is designed to compete with Monsanto’s line of “Roundup Ready” crops, which are engineered to be resistant to the company’s glyphosate formulation. The Enlist soybean will be resistant to glyphosate as well as glufosinate and 2,4-D.

Antonio Galindez, CEO of Dow AgroSciences, told Reuters that the Enlist system is the company’s “most important project ever.” This is likely due to the company’s ambitious target of taking over Monsanto’s dominance of the GE market in American agriculture. Herbicide tolerant (HT) Roundup Ready crop varieties have become nearly ubiquitous in the corn, cotton, and soybean seed markets.

Dow will market the product as a replacement for Roundup Ready soybeans. If farmers are finding that weeds in their fields are not responding to applications of Roundup, Dow will argue, then planting Enlist soybeans will allow them to spray a combination of chemicals in order to eradicate the resistant weeds.

Research is increasingly showing that herbicide resistant crops are allowing farmers to rely on a single pesticide and apply it in such great amounts that weeds are also evolving herbicide resistance. This is causing significant problems for farmers as they are forced to either fall back on more toxic chemicals or resort to mechanical methods to control the weeds. Either course is likely to cost farmers more time and money to deal with the tenacious invaders.

While the new soybeans may be a boon to farmers at first, critics point to the likelihood that increasing applications of any chemical, no matter how toxic or in what kind of mixture it comes, will simply lead to weeds evolving resistance to that chemical as well. If the Enlist system is widely adopted, it will likely be only a matter of time before weeds become resistant to glufosinate and 2,4-D as well as glyphosate.

Additionally, the Enlist soybeans are particularly of concern due to the likelihood that their adoption will increase applications of 2,4-D, a highly toxic chemical which has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, endocrine disruption, and kidney and liver damage. It is also neurotoxic and is toxic to beneficial insects (such as bees), earthworms, birds, and fish. Scientific studies have confirmed significantly higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for farmers who use 2,4-D than those who don’t. It is the fifth most commonly used herbicide in the agricultural sector and total annual usage in the U.S. tops 40 million pounds.

Glyphosate is also cause for continued concern, as it has been linked to a number of serious human health effects, including increased cancer risk, neurotoxicity, and birth defects, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. One of the inert ingredients in product formulations of Roundup, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), kills human embryonic cells. It is also of particular concern due to its toxicity to aquatic species as well as instances of serious human health effects from acute exposure.

Simply spraying more and different pesticides of increasing toxicity will not solve the problems inherent in a system of agricultural production that relies on monocultures and chemical management rather than harnessing the power of natural systems and cycles. Industrial agriculture requires such intense management because it ignores the processes of the natural world and instead creates perfect breeding grounds for pests and disease. The only way to get away from the cycle of chemical dependence is to alter the way that the land is managed. Organic agriculture provides an alternative management system that reduces the need for external inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers through utilizing natural systems to enhance soil fertility and manage pests and disease.

Beyond Pesticides is currently involved in multiple lawsuits involving Roundup Ready and other GE crops. The first lawsuit is filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and seeks to end cultivation of GE crops on twenty-five national wildlife refuges across the U.S. Southeast. The suit is the latest step in a campaign to banish GE crops from all refuges. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 12, 2011 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Beyond Pesticides, the federal suit charges that FWS unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GE crops in eight states without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and in violation of FWS policy. This is the third in a series of lawsuits filed by CFS and PEER challenging FWS’s practice of permitting GE crops on wildlife refuges. In 2009 and 2010, the groups successfully challenged approval of GE plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware – Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – which forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern region.

In another case involving GE crops, attorneys for CFS, Earthjustice, Beyond Pesticides, and others filed a lawsuit against USDA in March 2011, arguing that the agency’s unrestricted approval of GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa violates the Endangered Species Act. USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GE alfalfa in January, despite contamination risks it poses to both organic and conventional farmers.

For more news and information on “Roundup Ready” and other GE crops, see Beyond Pesticides’ genetic engineering page.

To learn more about alternatives to industrial agriculture and chemical dependence, visit our organic food and farming page.

Source: Reuters

Image credit: USDA



EPA Cancels Prairie Dog Poison in Four States; Moves Forward with Rodenticide Actions

(Beyond Pesticides, September 8, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final cancellation order on August 8, 2011 for Rozol Prairie Dog Bait following a court order issued on July 27, 2011, which finds that EPA failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). As required by the court order, the blood-thinning pesticide Rozol (chlorophacinone) is no longer allowed for use in four states, including Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota, as of August 8, 2011 pending the completion of the endangered species consultation with the two agencies.

Rozol is an anti-coagulant rodenticide in the chemical class of indandiones. It works by blocking vitamin K-dependent synthesis of the blood clotting substance prothrombin. Animals that ingest anti-coagulant rodenticides suffer from the following list of immediate toxic effects: nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood in urine and feces; bruises due to ruptured blood vessels; and skin damage.

Rozol may still be used in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. However, Lipatech, the manufacturer of Rozol may not sell or distribute existing stocks in its possession and control unless they have been relabeled to eliminate the portion of the label authorizing use in the four canceled states.

Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, told Salina Journal that he is discouraged by the order and is concerned that the report from FWS will only focus on species on the endangered species list while overlooking other at-risk species in need of conservation. The group has been active in reintroducing the endangered black-footed ferret in Logan County, Kansas.

Meanwhile, EPA also announced that it is moving forward with actions introduced in June to ban the sale to consumers of the most toxic rat and mouse poisons, as well as consumer rodenticide products that use loose bait and pellets.

EPA is convening a meeting of the agency’s science advisory committee this fall to obtain input on a Notice of Intent to Cancel (NOIC) certain rodenticide products that have not adopted the agency’s new safety measures. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) will consider the effect of the proposed cancellations on health and the environment, and will review the scientific assessment underlying EPA’s NOIC. The NOIC will discuss why the agency believes certain rodenticide products no longer meet the pesticide statute’s registration standard and may cause unreasonable adverse effects on human health and the environment when used in accordance with the label and accepted widespread practice. EPA will seek comments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the SAP prior to issuing the NOIC to the manufacturers of the nonconforming rodenticide products.

The public will have an opportunity to provide comment at the FIFRA SAP meeting, which is scheduled to be held on November 29 through December 1, 2011 in EPA’s Potomac Yard South Building in Arlington, Virginia. For details, see EPA’s announcement of this meeting in the September 7, 2011 Federal Register.

EPA gave manufacturers of rodenticide products three years to develop and adopt the risk reduction measures. All but three manufacturers have done so voluntarily (Reckitt Benckiser Inc. makers of D-Con, Fleeject, and Mimas; Spectrum Group makers of Hot Shot; and Liphatech Inc. makers of Generation, Maki, and Rozol rodent control products). EPA will pursue cancellation against these manufacturers’ affected products in accordance with FIFRA.

There are several shortcomings to the new restrictions. Human and wildlife exposures to these toxic chemicals, though slightly minimized, would nevertheless continue because of their continued availability for use in agricultural production and to pest control operators. These rodenticides will still be available for use in residential settings, but only by professional pest control applicators, which means residential exposures continue, albeit at slightly lower levels. The compounds will also be allowed for use in agricultural settings; however, bait stations will be required for all outdoor, above-ground uses to reduce exposure to children, pets and wildlife.

Beyond Pesticides believes that integrated pest managemeny (IPM) is a vital tool that aids in the rediscovery of non-toxic methods to control rodents and facilitates the transition toward a pesticide-free (and healthier) world. Sanitation, structural repairs, mechanical and biological control, and pest population monitoring are some IPM methods that can be undertaken to control rodents. For more information on IPM, visit our IPM program page and our Safer Choice page.

To learn more about rodenticides, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Rodenticides fact sheet.



New Issues Arise Over Methyl Iodide Use

(Beyond Pesticides, September 7, 2011) California’s approval of the dangerous and controversial agricultural chemical, methyl iodide, suffered serious questions with the release of new documents showing the fumigant’s registration process was flawed. The documents, which were made public as part of a lawsuit challenging the state’s approval of the chemical, show the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) cut and pasted calculations from different risk assessments in order to come up with a less stringent set of restrictions on the chemical’s use.

Earlier this year, several environmental groups sued the State of California for approving the agricultural use of methyl iodide. Methyl iodide is known to cause miscarriages, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer, and is applied to crops like strawberries and peppers. It was approved by California state pesticide regulators in December as an alternative to methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical being phased out under international treaty. Environmental advocacy groups and other opponents of methyl iodide use in the state have released documents detailing dissension in the ranks of DPR over the risk assessment of methyl iodide and its subsequent approval. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law group, sued DPR in an attempt to reverse the state’s approval of the chemical. The ongoing court case helped reveal documents showing DPR manipulated data and that department scientists were worried risk managers minimized health dangers and didn’t take strong enough steps to mitigate the threats. One of the released documents, a memo from one disapproving DPR scientist, chastised the agency for its cut-and-paste approach to calculations determining how big buffer zones should be to protect public health.

The primary state toxicologist’s memo called management’s approach a “mix and match,” and wrote that he was “puzzled by some of the numbers cited in the draft regulation on methyl iodide for inhalation exposure. They appear to have been extracted from different methyl iodide risk assessment methodologies that are not interchangeable.” The memo went on the state, “It is not scientifically credible to select a value or assumption from one (risk assessment calculation) and combine it with a value or assumption from another.”

DPR management’s mixing and matching was used to show that fields sprayed with methyl iodide would require smaller buffer zones. The highest level of protection scientists investigated would have required buffer zones of several hundred feet to several miles around affected fields. DPR acknowledged in the new documents that this level of protection “was recommended by scientists” but still chose to reduce the buffer zones, saying that such requirements would be “excessive” and cause hardship on methyl iodide manufacturer, Arysta, “due to its economic viability.” Two lead DPR scientists who warned of methyl iodide’s risks have since left.

In addition to reducing buffer zones, California’s DPR chose to outright ignore warnings from its own scientists regarding methyl iodide’s effects on pregnant women, children, and infants. The risk assessment report notes several times that the department had not tested methyl iodide for neurological damage to fetuses. DPR scientists recommended that “an additional ‘safety factor’ of 10 is needed to take the post-natal neurotoxic effects into consideration..” In the end, DPR scientists recommended that California set its limit for methyl iodide at 2 parts-per-million in order to reduce chances of miscarriage. However, EPA and Arysta chose to allow 10 parts-per-million, much more than the recommended level.

Environmental and health activists, including Beyond Pesticides, have long questioned California’s rationale for approving methyl iodide over the warnings of DPR’s own scientists. Although industry influence was suspected in the decision, there was no proof until these documents came to light, showing that DPR managers changed recommended exposure levels to suit the preferences of methyl iodide’s manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience.

Just last week, EPA entered into an agreement with DPR to resolve a civil rights complaint from 1999 which alleged that the department’s renewal of methyl bromide in 1999 discriminated against Latino school children whose schools are located near agriculture fields. The complaint alleged that CDPR’s annual renewal of the registration of methyl bromide in 1999 discriminated against Latino school children based on the health impacts of this pesticide. As a result of the settlement, DPR has agreed to install additional monitors for methyl bromide near those schools and conduct outreach to the Latino community around pesticide use and safety. Methyl iodide will pose just as great a risk to children, farmers and residents alike.

Anti-methyl iodide activists, who recently flash-mobbed California Gov. Jerry Brown’s Facebook and Twitter accounts in addition to staging protests at the state Capitol, hope the EPA-DPR settlement on methyl bromide will push Gov. Brown to reconsider methyl iodide’s approval. While there are no signs that will happen, with revelations like this, the Earthjustice case against methyl iodide’s rushed approval appear to grow ever stronger. Due to the dangers of methyl iodide, both Washington state and New York have refused to allow its use, even though the EPA has approved it.

Like other synthetic pesticides not exempted on the “National List of Allowed Synthetic Substances,” methyl iodide is prohibited in organic production under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). However, some “organic” strawberry growers are buying strawberry starts, which have been previously grown in soil treated with methyl iodide prior to being planted at the organic strawberry farm. Beyond Pesticides believes that a new guidance document under consideration by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) will correct this problem.

Under OFPA, organic growers must plant seedlings that are certified organic unless they are not “commercially available.” Otherwise, they may plant annual seedlings that are not certified organic, but are grown without substances that are prohibited in organic production. In the case of perennials, they must be grown for a full year before they may be sold as organic. Strawberries are technically perennials, but are planted each season and treated as annuals by most growers. Regardless of whether strawberries grown as annuals are treated as annual planting stock or perennial stock, they must be held subject to commercial availability standards, and produced without prohibited substances. Advocates must apply pressure to create incentives to ensure the commercial availability of organic inputs and ensure the integrity of the organic label. Read Beyond Pesticides’ comments to NOP on its Draft Guidance on Seeds, Annual Seedlings, and Planting Stock in Organic Crop Production and learn more about organic integrity on our organic food program page.

Source: High County News
Mother Jones



Low Doses of Pesticides Put Honey Bees at Risk

(Beyond Pesticides, September 6, 2011) Scientists in France have discovered that honey bees are at a higher risk of dying from infection by Nosema ceranae (N. ceranae) when they are exposed to low doses of insecticides. The results, presented in the journal PLoS ONE, support the theory that combining more N. ceranae with high pesticide content in beehives could contribute to colony depopulation.

The French study, “Exposure to Sublethal Doses of Fipronil and Thiacloprid Highly Increases Mortality of Honeybees Previously Infected by Nosema ceranae,” brought together researchers from the Laboratoire Microorganismes: Génome et Environnment and the Laboratoire de Toxicologie Environnment who utilized their respective skills in parasitology and toxicology to assess the effect of pathogen/toxin interactions on bee health. In the laboratory, the researchers chronically exposed newly emerged honey bees, some healthy and others infected with Nosema ceranae, to low doses of insecticides: fipronil and thiacloprid. They found that the infected bees died when they were chronically exposed to insecticides, even at sublethal doses, unlike the healthy bees. This combined effect on honeybee mortality was observed with daily exposure to extremely low doses (over 100 times less than the LD50 or dose needed to kill 50% of the sample population, for each insecticide).

This study shows that interaction between Nosema disease and insecticides represents a significant additional risk for bee populations, and could possibly explain certain cases of excess mortality. This work also finds that insecticide doses considered to be non-lethal have a lethal toxic potential for organisms that are infested with parasites and therefore vulnerable.

Honey bees across the U.S. have been disappearing in what scientists dub Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. CCD has devastated bees and beekeepers around the country in recent years, a phenomenon that that many scientists have tied to the use of the systemic neonicotinoid insecticides widely used in agriculture and gardens. According to the survey, 30% of managed honey bee colonies across the country were lost over the winter. Over the past five years, since the discovery of CCD, annual winter colony losses have hovered near the 30% mark. A report released jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) shows that losses of honey bee populations over the 2010/2011 winter remained abnormally high. The United Nations (UN) also revealed in a report that the collapse of honey bee colonies is now a global phenomenon.

Some European and U.S. scientists postulate that losses of biodiversity and food resources, due to climate change, have intensified the problem. Others believe that a rise in single-crop farming and modification of landscapes, as well as pathogens causing diseases like foulbrood and varroasis are responsible for the problem. While CCD appears to have multiple interacting, a range of evidence points to sub-lethal pesticide exposures and pathogens as important contributing factors. Neonicotinoids , the particularly suspect class of insecticides, especially in combination with the dozens of other pesticides, are found in honey bee hives. The use of chemicals in agriculture has been found to damage bees by weakening their immune systems. Laboratory studies show that some insecticides and fungicides can act together to be 1,000 times more toxic to bees. They can also affect the sense of direction, memory and brain metabolism, and herbicides and pesticides may reduce the availability of plants bees need for food and for the larval stages of some pollinators.

In December 2010, after the discovery of a leaked memo from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) citing flawed and missing scientific data regarding the registration of the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin, Beyond Pesticides, along with beekeepers and other environmentalists, called on EPA to remove clothianidin from the market. EPA responded by defending clothianidin and the agency’s pesticide review process, saying that they “are not aware of any data that reasonably demonstrates that bee colonies are subject to elevated losses due to chronic exposure to this pesticide.” However, the emerging science finds that pesticides like clothianidin and others mentioned above do in fact harm bees. See Beyond Pesticides’ factsheet on the connection between clothianidin and CCD. For more information, on honeybees and pesticides visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinators and Pesticides page.

Please join Beyond Pesticides in celebrating our 30th Anniversary at a reception with live music and screening of “Vanishing of the Bees” on Thursday, October 27, 2011 in Washington, DC. RSVP today.

Source: Environmental Protection Online



Widespread Glyphosate Contamination Detected in Air and Waterways

(Beyond Pesticides, September 2, 2011) The widely used herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been detected in significant levels in rain and rivers in agricultural areas across the Mississippi River watershed, according to two new studies released this month by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The studies’ results raise serious concerns about public exposure and potential environmental damages. Detailed results are available in “Occurrence and fate of the herbicide glyphosate and its degradate aminomethylphosphonic acid in the atmosphere,” published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and in “Fate and transport of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid in surface waters of agricultural basins,” published online in Pest Management Science.

Glyphosate is used in almost all agricultural and urban areas of the United States. The greatest glyphosate use is in the Mississippi River basin, where most applications are for weed control on genetically-modified corn, soybeans and cotton. Overall, agricultural use of glyphosate has increased from less than 11,000 tons in 1992 to more than 88,000 tons in 2007.

The two studies conducted by USGS examine glyphosate content in air and water samples in the states of Iowa and Mississippi across two growing seasons. The results show that glyphosate is detected 60-100% of the time in both air and rain samples. The consistent occurrence of glyphosate in streams and air indicates its transport from its point of use into the broader environment. The frequency of detection in air samples is roughly similar to the levels observed for other common herbicides in the region, but its concentration in rainfall is found to be at higher levels than for any other previously monitored pesticide.

Additionally, glyphosate persists in streams throughout the growing season in Iowa and Mississippi, but is generally not observed during other times of the year. The degradation product of glyphosate, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), which has a longer environmental lifetime, is also frequently detected in streams and rain.

USGS researchers did not examine the implications or monitor the effects of the detected contamination, saying that more research is needed to assess any potential damages to public health or the environment. However, such widespread contamination is cause for significant concern, as glyphosate has been linked to a number of serious human health effects, including increased cancer risk, neurotoxicity, and birth defects, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. Additionally, one of the inert ingredients in product formulations of Roundup, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), kills human embryonic cells. The chemical is also of particular concern due to its toxicity to aquatic species as well as instances of serious human health effects from acute exposure.

“Though glyphosate is the mostly widely used herbicide in the world, we know very little about its long term effects to the environment,” says Paul Capel, Ph.D., USGS chemist and an author on both of the studies. “This study is one of the first to document the consistent occurrence of this chemical in streams, rain and air throughout the growing season. This is crucial information for understanding where management efforts for this chemical would best be focused.”

Monsanto created “Roundup Ready” crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide (with the active ingredient glyphosate). Growing previous Roundup Ready crops such as soy, cotton, and corn has led to greater use of herbicides. It has also led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres throughout the U.S. and other countries where such crops are grown, as well as contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly to U.S. farmers. Because of GE crops, Roundup has become the most popular pesticide ever.

These new studies come on the heels of other recent research showing that glyphosate harms soil and reduces farmland fertility. According to a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, glyphosate impacts the root structure of plants, and 15 years of research indicates that the chemical could be causing fungal root disease.

USGS has submitted the studies to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be included in data that is being considered as EPA reviews the registration of glyphosate. The agency expects the review to be complete by 2015, at which point it will issue a decision to either continue to allow unrestricted use of glyphosate or to put limitations or a ban on the chemical in light of emerging science.

Beyond Pesticides is currently involved in multiple lawsuits involving Roundup Ready and other GE crops. The first lawsuit is filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and seeks to end cultivation of GE crops on twenty-five national wildlife refuges across the U.S. Southeast. The suit is the latest step in a campaign to banish GE crops from all refuges. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 12, 2011 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Beyond Pesticides, the federal suit charges that FWS unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GE crops in eight states without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and in violation of FWS policy. This is the third in a series of lawsuits filed by CFS and PEER challenging FWS’s practice of permitting GE crops on wildlife refuges. In 2009 and 2010, the groups successfully challenged approval of GE plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware – Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – which forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern region.

In another case involving GE crops, attorneys for CFS, Earthjustice, Beyond Pesticides, and others filed a lawsuit against USDA in March 2011, arguing that the agency’s unrestricted approval of GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa violates the Endangered Species Act. USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GE alfalfa in January, despite contamination risks it poses to both organic and conventional farmers.

For more news and information on “Roundup Ready” and other GE crops, see Beyond Pesticides’ genetic engineering page.

Sources: USGS, Reuters



Haitian Farmers Fighting Monsanto and Chemical-Intensive Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, September 1, 2011) In an exclusive Beyond Pesticides’ interview in Mirebalais, Haiti (in the central plateau region of the country) on August 26, 2011 with the head of Haiti’s Mouvman Peyizan Papay [MPP] (Peasant Movement of Papay), a 200,000 member strong organization of small farmers, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste calls for support of food sovereignty in his earthquake-torn country and an end to efforts by Monsanto and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to advance chemical-intensive agriculture in Haiti. Mr. Chavannes and his organization led a protest of 10,000 peasant farmers in 2010 during which they burned Monsanto seed that was donated and being distributed by USAID’s Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources (WINNER) Program.

At the time the seeds were being distributed in 2010, Mr. Jean-Baptiste said Monsanto’s donation is an effort to shift farmer dependence to more expensive hybrid varieties from traditional seeds and will harm the island-nation’s agriculture. He called the donation a new earthquake. Haitian farmers and small growers traditionally save seed from season to season or buy the seed they desire from traditional seed markets, and, as he points out, have been doing this for 200 years.

Monsanto says that it donated “more than $4 million worth of conventional corn and vegetable seeds to be made over the next 12 months [through 2010] in support of reconstruction efforts.” According to Monsanto, the donated seeds include corn, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon. The hybrid corn seeds are treated with the fungicide Maxim XL, which is comprised of fludioxonil and mefenoxam. Other vegetable seeds were treated with thiram, a neurological, reproductive and thyroid toxicant, mutagen and skin sensitizer. The USAID WINNER program was responsible for distributing the seeds through farmer association stores where they were then sold to farmers at a significantly reduced price. Mr. Jean-Baptiste said that the Ministry of Agriculture has been unwilling to share any information with him on specifics of the seed.

In the interview, Mr. Jean-Baptiste voiced concern that the efforts of Monsanto and USAID were undermining traditional, organic peasant agriculture, while advancing a form of industrial agriculture that relies on seeds that require synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. He identified farmers who had used the Monsanto seeds without the synthetic fertilizer that was provided. The yields and quality of the corn were diminished, according to the farmers interviewed.

Mr. Jean-Baptiste expresses a strong belief that peasant organic agriculture is the only form of agriculture that can feed Haiti and the world and fight global climate change. He points to university studies in Europe and the U.S. and the position of the United Nations as additional support for his position.

MPP was founded in 1973 and is Haiti’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to work toward social justice and improving the quality of life in the country. Among the organization’s goals are to improve the environment and soil so that Haiti can regain its food sovereignty and contribute to an efficient management of natural resources such as water, forests, and seeds. For more information or to donate to help the farmers of Haiti, go to mpphaiti.org.



Monsanto GM Corn Falls Prey to Bug It Was Suppose to Thwart, Threatening Organic

(Beyond Pesticides, August 31, 2011) Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in Iowa cornfields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop. The discovery raises concerns that the biotech crops are spawning “superbugs” and calls into question EPA’s allowance of so-called plant incorporated protectants (PIPs).

Fields planted in Monsanto’s Bt corn in some areas of the Midwest are showing damage from the corn rootworm—the very species targeted by Monsanto’s engineered trait. Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann, PhD has discovered that western corn rootworms in four Iowa fields have evolved and can resist the pesticide built into Monsanto’s genetically altered corn seeds. The scientist said the cases were isolated, but he did not know how widespread the problem could become. Farmers in Illinois are also seeing severe rootworm damage in fields planted in Monsanto’s Bt corn. In 2010, Monsanto acknowledged that in industrial-agriculture regions of India, where Monsanto’s Bt cotton is a dominant crop, the cotton-attacking bollworm had developed resistance.

“These are isolated cases, and it isn’t clear how widespread the problem will become,” said Dr. Gassmann in an interview. “But it is an early warning that management practices need to change.”

Monsanto became the first company to sell rootworm-resistant biotech corn to farmers in 2003. The seed contains a gene from the common soil microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, from which crop biotechnology has been used to mine several genes for making insecticidal proteins. One of the genes Monsanto developed makes a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1. It rips apart the gut of the rootworm but its risk to mammals, birds, and most beneficial insects are uncertain. A study published in the May 2011 edition of the journal Reproductive Toxicology found that pregnant women and their fetuses were contaminated with pesticides and metabolites of the herbicide gluphosinate and the Cry1Ab protein of the insecticide based on Bt. Roughly one-third of the corn grown in the U.S. carries Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 gene.

According to Dr. Gassmann, the Iowa fields in which he found rootworms resistant to the Cry3Bb1 toxin had been producing Monsanto’s Bt-expressing corn continuously for at least three years. Dr. Gassmann collected rootworm beetles from four Iowa cornfields with plant damage in 2009. Their larvae were then fed corn containing Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 toxin. They had a survival rate three times that of control larvae that ate the same corn.

Resistance to genetically modified crops is not new. Genetically modified crop known as “Roundup ready” engineered to survive exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a glyphosate-based chemical, has spawned a new generation of Round-up resistance weeds dubbed “superweeds.” These weeds, immune to Roundup, have spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the South and Midwest. In addition to resistant weeds, heavy use of Roundup sprayed on “Roundup Ready” crops appear to be causing harmful changes in soil and potentially hindering yields of crops that farmers are cultivating according to scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Growing previous Roundup Ready crops such as soy, cotton, and corn have also led to greater use of herbicides.

Threat to Organic and Sustainable Agriculture
Until insecticide-producing corn plants arrived, Midwest farmers typically tried to keep pests like the corn borer and the rootworm in check by changing what they grew in a field each year, often rotating between corn and soybeans. That way, the offspring of corn-loving insects would starve the next year. Proponents of genetically engineered crops claim they will reduce pesticide use and increase drought resistance, among other things, but studies have emerged since their widespread adoption in the 1990s that show otherwise. Insect resistance, weed resistance, and cross contamination of other crops have been documented. These impacts threaten the sustainability of agriculture. There has long been a concern that EPA’s allowance of plant incorporated protectants (PIPs) with Bt would lead to the failure of a biological tool used in organic farming systems as an alternative to highly toxic synthetic inputs. Organic farmers have expressed concern since the introduction of PIPs in 2003 that the overuse of Bt, which is inevitable when Bt is genetically engineered into every cell of a plant, will lead to insect resistance and leave many farmers without an important tool of organic agriculture. For more on genetically modified agriculture read Beyond Pesticides’ article “Ready or Not, Genetically Engineered Crops Explode on Market.“

Unfortunately, these new findings add fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto and Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. These insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops have been sold as a silver bullet approach to pest management, increasing grower reliance on the technology and violating a basic tenet of pest prevention and management, which stresses the need for the nurturing of a diverse biological system instead of using single product-oriented approaches year after year that allow pests the opportunity to adapt and develop resistance.

The one sure-fire way you can avoid the genetically modified food is to buy organic or know where your food comes from. Genetically modified crops are not permitted in organic food production. Researchers are continuing to discover the environmental and health benefits of eating and growing organic food. For more information about why organic is the right choice see our Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience guide.

Source: Wall Street Journal



New Study Links Pesticide Exposure to Prostate Cancer

(Beyond Pesticides, August 30, 2011) A new study finds that older men living in California’s Central Valley are more likely to develop prostate cancer if they were exposed to certain agricultural pesticides than those who were not exposed. The study examines exposure via drift rather than occupational exposure, although similar results have been noted in farmworker populations. Exposure to methyl bromide or various organochlorine pesticides increased the risk of cancer by about one and a half times. The study, “Prostate cancer and ambient pesticide exposure in agriculturally intensive areas in California,” was published in the June 2011 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine recruited 173 men between the ages of 60 to 74 from 670 identified by the California Cancer Registry as being diagnosed with prostate cancer between August 2005 and July 2006 in California’s Central Valley. The authors used calendars and questionnaires to determine where they lived and worked between 1974 and 1999, and compared this to historical data of the corresponding area’s agricultural pesticide use from state pesticide use reports and land use records.

In comparison with unexposed persons, increased risks of prostate cancer were observed among persons exposed to compounds which may have prostate-specific biologic effects [methyl bromide (odds ratio = 1.62, 95% confidence interval: 1.02, 2.59) and a group of organochlorines (odds ratio = 1.64, 95% confidence interval: 1.02, 2.63)], but not among those exposed to other compounds that were included as controls (simazine, maneb, and paraquat dichloride).

According to the National Institutes of Health, prostate cancer is the third most common cause of death from cancer in men of all ages and is the most common cause of death from cancer in men over age 75. Prostate cancer is rarely found in men younger than 40. The prostate is a small, walnut-sized structure that makes up part of a man’s reproductive system. It wraps around the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body. Men who are at higher risk include those who: are African-Americans, who are also likely to develop cancer at every age; are older than 60; have a father or brother with prostate cancer; have been exposed to Agent Orange; abuse alcohol; are farmers; eat a diet high in fat, especially animal fat; work in tire plant; are painters; and, have been exposed to cadmium.

This is not the first study to link pesticide exposure to prostate cancer. In 2008, University of California Davis Cancer Center research showed that Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange have greatly increased risks of prostate cancer and even greater risks of getting the most aggressive form of the disease as compared to those who were not exposed. Based on medical evaluations conducted between 1998 and 2006, the study identified twice as many men exposed to Agent Orange with prostate cancer. In addition, Agent Orange-exposed men were diagnosed two-and-a-half years younger and were nearly four times more likely to present with metastatic disease.

For more information on the diseases linked to pesticide exposure, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.



EPA Concludes California Discriminated Against Latino Children in Agreement

(Beyond Pesticides, August 29, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last Thursday that it has entered into an agreement with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) to resolve a civil rights complaint from 1999 which alleged that the department’s renewal of the toxic fumigant methyl bromide in 1999 discriminated against Latino school children whose schools are located near agriculture fields. Per the agreement, CDPR has agreed to expand on-going monitoring of methyl bromide air concentrations by adding a monitor at or near one of the Watsonville, CA area schools named in the original complaint. The purpose of the additional monitor is to confirm that there will be no recurrence of earlier conditions. CDPR will share the monitoring results with EPA and the public and will also increase its community outreach and education efforts to schools that are in high methyl bromide usage areas.EPA says that this is a part of a “backlog” of more than 30 unresolved complaints.

The complaint was filed in 1999 under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 , which prohibits intentional discrimination and discriminatory effects on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance. The complaint alleged that CDPR’s annual renewal of the registration of methyl bromide in 1999 discriminated against Latino school children based on the health impacts of this pesticide. The Office of Civil Rights’ extensive analysis of pesticide use in California from 1995 to 2001, raised concerns that there was an unintentional adverse and disparate impact on Latino children resulting from the use of methyl bromide during that period. This concern was based on the high percentage of Latino children in schools near fields where methyl bromide was applied for the period from 1995-2001.

These measures fall short, however, of actually providing relief to the children and their parents who were affected by the use of methyl bromide. According to the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, who filed the initial complaint on behalf of parents and children in the region, it provides no substantive relief or remedy to the people who were affected. Brent Newell, the groups lawyer told the Huffington Post: “Those school children have since graduated from high school and the EPA gave them no remedy.” The group also points out that EPA could have referred the case to the Department of Justice for prosecution, and failed to inform the families about the findings.

Methyl Bromide, a soil fumigant, is currently being phased out as mandated by the Clean Air Act and international treaty because it depletes the earth’s ozone layer. Rather than using the opportunity to support sustainable, organic practices, and much to the dismay and outcry of scientists, environmental and farmworker groups, California regulators approved the highly potent, carcinogenic fumigant methyl iodide last December. In January, a lawsuit was filed by a coalition of farmworkers and environmental health organizations challenging DPR’s approval of methyl iodide on the grounds that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act that protects groundwater against pesticide pollution. In addition, the suit contends that DPR violated the law requiring involvement of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in the development of farmworker safety regulations and made an unlawful finding of emergency with its request for Restricted Materials status for methyl iodide.

Our food choices have a direct effect on those who grow and harvest what we eat around the world. This is why food labeled organic is the right choice. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, protection of farmworkers and farm families.

For more information on the importance of eating organic food for you, workers and the environment, check out Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience food guide and organic food program page.

Source: EPA News Release, Huffington Post



USDA to Hold Organic Listening Session

(Beyond Pesticides, August 26, 2011) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will hold a free public listening session on the department’s activities related to organic food and farming in order to gather input from farmers, consumers, and other interested parties regarding a wide range of subjects. The agency is hoping to gather more feedback and guidance from stakeholders in the world of organic food and agriculture in order to “help USDA programs examine and prioritize their activities and objectives in order to best serve the organic community.”

The scope of matters on which USDA is hoping to hear comments is very broad and seemingly includes any of the department’s actions which could potentially impact organic growing practices or organic producers. The announcement for the listening session outlined two general areas on which comments can be submitted. The first concerns any activities of the National Organic Program (NOP) that do not relate to matters likely to come before the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Since the NOSB has its own process for soliciting and reviewing public comments at its biannual meetings, NOP is seeking comments on actions that it takes which are independent of the NOSB. These may include the implementation of organic standards, monitoring for compliance, and ensuring the compatibility of organic products from foreign countries.

Secondly, USDA would like to hear comments on the actions of other agencies, outside of NOP, which may nonetheless impact organic food and farming. USDA’s strategic plan states that it has a goal of growing the American organic sector by 25% between 2010 and 2015. In order to accomplish this, multiple agencies across the department will have to analyze their programs and make priorities which will enhance the ability of producers to farm organically and spur the growth of the organic industry.

The session will be hosted by NOP and the USDA Organic Working Group, an internal communications network. It will be held at the USDA in Washington, DC on September 20, 2011. Those who are interested in participating may do so in person by registering to submit oral comments or, if unable to travel to the meeting, by submitting written comments to 2011OrganicListening@ams.usda.gov before October 1st (written comments will not be read at the meeting, but will be read and taken into account by the hosting agencies).

Following the listening session, a full transcript and other related documents will be posted to the USDA website for anyone who was unable to attend.

The process of regulating organic food and agriculture allows many opportunities for public input and represents one of the most open and democratic regulatory systems in the federal government. The NOSB, charged with maintaining the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, is composed of 15 citizen stakeholders from the organic community and meets biannually to review petitions and public comment regarding changes to the National List.



Lyme Disease ‘Epidemic’ Causes Stir on Maine Island

(Beyond Pesticides, August 25, 2011) A growth in tick populations and increase in Lyme disease rates over the past few years on an island in Maine have local health officials scrambling to find a solution to keep the problem at bay. So far this year there have been 20 official cases and over 20 suspected cases that have been treated with antibiotics on the island of Islesboro. In the past eight years, the health center has seen at least 69 cases of Lyme disease out of a population of 600, which according to Islesboro’s Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Committee, constitutes an epidemic. The blame for this ‘epidemic’ has been largely attributed to deer, which serve as the tick’s primary host. There are about 500 deer on the 11-mile-long Island, making it almost as high as the human population. As such, one of the proposed solutions that residents are voting on is to allow gun hunting to reduce the deer herd from 48 to 10 deer per square mile.

Unfortunately, though proposals of the prevention committee focus on prevention and include landscape modification in addition to management of deer and other wildlife, they also recommend the use of pesticides including repellants such as DEET and synthetic pyrethroid compounds such as permethrin, bifenthrin and cyhalothrin.

Conventional pesticides have been ineffective and create risks for people and the environment. For a pesticide to work, it must come in contact with or be consumed by the pest. Although they use vegetation as a launching pad for finding new hosts, ticks do not eat vegetation and are likely to spend most of their lives in sheltered areas, like mouse burrows, where pesticides will not come in contact with them. Thus, applications of poisons to vegetation is not very effective and results in harmful effects on nontarget organisms, including humans.

Furthermore, these pesticides are toxic. For years scientists have raised concerns about the use of DEET and seizures among children, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that there is not enough information to implicate DEET with these incidents. DEET is quickly absorbed through the skin and has caused adverse effects including severe skin reactions such as large blisters and burning sensations. Use of DEET by pregnant woman has been linked to birth defects, and laboratory studies have found that DEET can cause neurological damage, including brain damage in children.

DEET’s synergistic effect with other insecticides is also a major health concern. DEET, when used in combination with permethrin -a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide, likely facilitates enhanced dermal absorption of permethrin and induces symptoms such as headache, loss of memory, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and ataxia, which causes an inability to coordinate muscular movements.

Rather than reaching for the DEET or toxic pesticides such as permethrin to repel and kill ticks, there are some non-toxic techniques that are effective in significantly reducing the population of ticks in a given area. It is important to understand the life cycle of the ticks and their relationship to other animals.

Contact with ticks occurs when we venture into the grassy or wooded areas where they live. They can also be brought into homes on pets that roam outside – especially if pets wander in areas that provide a good mouse habitat. Common mice habitats include woods, bushes, leaf piles, burrows and other areas that provide cover to protect them from their predators. In areas that are potential tick habitats, you should wear light-colored clothing that covers the body (especially your legs) because it makes it easier to spot ticks so they can be removed before they bite.

You should use only unscented deodorant, soap and shampoo. An exception is Packers Tar Soap, which has a natural pine scent and seems to keep ticks from biting once they have been picked up. Similarly, you can try using least-toxic herbal repellants such as oil of lemon eucalyptus and essential oils. The scented oil of lemon eucalyptus masks both carbon dioxide and lactic acid exhalations that alerts the tick to your presence, essentially hiding humans from detection. After you have walked through high grass in a tick infested area, check the entire body for ticks and shower to wash off any ticks that have not yet become embedded.

If you do find an embedded tick, remove it carefully. Protect your hands with gloves or a tissue. Use blunt, curved tweezers, not your bare fingers, and exert pressure on the head of the tick and gently pulling the tick straight out very slowly. Do not twist and do not crush the tick. The body fluids can cause infection if exposed to even unbroken skin. Do not kill the tick while still embedded. Coating with petroleum jelly will block its breathing apparatus and force it to withdraw, usually within 30 minutes. Kill the tick in soapy water or alcohol, clean the wound with antiseptic, and monitor carefully for any signs of infection.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi. It is spread by a number of different ticks, but the deer tick is the most common vector. The white footed mouse usually carries the bacteria. Ticks often reside in the den of the mouse, feed on the mouse’s blood in the early stages of their life and pick up the bacteria. During later feeding on humans, they can pass on the bacteria.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from person to person, but in most cases a bump that looks like a bulls-eye that develops along with a possible rash at the site of the bite or elsewhere on the body. The bump will be red on light skin and look like a bruise on dark skin, and will usually occur within 30 days of a bite. In that time, the person may also develop flu-like symptoms: fatigue, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, and a low fever. In about 25% of cases no rash or bump will develop at all. Anyone bitten by a tick in an area with a high rate of Lyme disease should contact their doctor.

For more information on non-toxic tick control, see our Fact Sheet.

Source: Bangor Daily News



Apple Scab Fungus More Resistant to Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, August 24, 2011) Scientists say the fungus that causes apple scab appears to be growing more resistant to pesticides routinely used to control the fungus, worsening the threat of outbreaks in commercial orchards.

For decades, manufacturers have come up with replacements for chemical mixtures the fungus outwitted. By using a rotating lineup of fungicides from year to year, farmers usually stayed a step ahead of the scab. But the fungus now appears to be overcoming multiple fungicides at once. In a paper published this month in the journal Plant Disease, researchers described samples collected in Indiana and Michigan that are resisting all four of the most commonly used chemical treatments: dodine, kresoxim-methyl, myclobutanil, and thiophanate-methyl.

“We’ve dealt with fungicide resistance over the years, but this time we’re losing three or four different classes of completely unrelated fungicides at the same time,” said Henry Ngugi, PhD, a plant pathologist with Penn State University’s Fruit Research and Extension Center. “We have to literally go back to the drawing board.”

Another ominous sign: The fungus apparently hasn’t developed any new weaknesses while evolving to resist the pesticides, unlike what usually happens in nature, the study found. Anecdotal reports from orchard owners and agriculture extension agents suggest the disease is spreading in parts of the Midwest and Northeast, although the situation can vary from one farm to another. Pesticide resistance and wet spring weather have been ideal for the fungus’ growth and spread.

Just one scab lesion can reduce an apple’s value by 85 percent because it cannot be sold as table fruit. It still can be used for juice, sauce or other products, but that brings much less money. In the moist Upper Midwest, some of the most popular apple varieties — McIntosh, Gala and Fuji among them — are particularly susceptible. Growers apply fungicides up to a dozen times a season to ward off the disease.

Jim Lerew, who grows about 600 acres of apples in York Springs, Pa., said more than half of his crop has scab damage. “It’s definitely the worst … I’ve seen in my lifetime,” he said. Others in the industry say things aren’t so dire. The Michigan Apple Committee is funding research on apple scab but “it’s not something that anyone is panicking about,” executive director Denise Donahue said.

Research has shown that a dependence on chemical-intensive control methods can give rise to resistance. These heavily used chemicals also leave residue behind on apples that consumers eat. The best way to best avoid these chemicals is to eat organic apples.

Fungus management also poses a challenge to organic fruit producers. However, organic systems encourage and enhance preventive techniques including cultural and biological controls which include choosing varieties not susceptible to diseases. Apples in high demand- Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, McIntosh- are very susceptible to fungi and other diseases making them chemical-intensive. Lesser known varieties – Gold Rush, Empire, Prima, RedFree, Golden Delicious- are resistant to common fungi and other blights, but are not popular with consumers. Beyond Pesticides recommends creating a demand for these varieties by purchasing them when available. This can help shift the market away from chemical dependence and encourage farmers to grow more resistant varieties. For more information on resistant varieties and organic cultivation, read our article “Antibiotics in Fruit Production.”

Visit our “Eating with a Conscience” for more information on how our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, protection of farmworkers and stewardship of the environment.

Along with chemical residue on fruits, a number of different fungicides have been shown to cause cases of occupational asthma among workers, including the fungicides chlorothalonil, fluazinam, and captafol. Researchers found that these fungicides cause hypersensitivity responses in workers, causing their airways to be highly sensitive and reactive to the inhaled fungicides resulting in wheezing and breathlessness. Thiophanate-methyl, kresoxim-methyl and myclobutanil used on apples that lend to apple scab resistance are carcinogenic and suspected hormone disruptors. Others, like ziram and maneb have been linked to Parkinson’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Source: Associated Press



Beyond Pesticides’ Back to School Checklist

(Beyond Pesticides, August 23, 2011) It’s that time of the year again for kids to return to the classroom. Unfortunately, children may face unexpected dangers from pesticides, including antibacterial chemicals, used in and around schools. Studies show pesticides can impact a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and hormone systems, even at low levels.

Help create a healthier and safer school environment by checking the following items off your Back to School Checklist.

1. Get Triclosan Out of Schools and Supplies.

The antibacterial chemical triclosan is linked to skin irritation, hormone disruption, antibiotic resistance, and more. Avoid products labeled Microban or “with antibacterial protection” as they may contain triclosan (product list). Ask your school to order triclosan-free soap and school supplies. See Back to School flyer.

Take Action: Bath & Body Works has marketed an entire line of triclosan-containing body care products to teenagers. Tell Bath & Body Works’ CEO: “Stop using toxic triclosan in your products.”

2. Improve Your School’s IPM Program.

Children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure because of their small size and developing organ systems. A strong integrated pest management (IPM) program is one of the best ways to minimize or eliminate children’s exposure to pesticides. See how your state’s School IPM rates.

Take Action: Improve your local school’s pest management policy, both indoors and on school grounds and playing fields. For details, see our School Organizing guide.

3. Be Wary of Bed Bugs.

Pesticides used for bed bugs are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, asthma, neurotoxicity, and more. Plus, they are generally ineffective due to resistance. Fortunately, bed bugs do not transmit disease and can be controlled without toxic pesticides.

Take Action: Bed bug infestation is not limited to bedrooms and hotels, so be sure to check backpacks, clothing and school supplies (like binders, books) for bed bugs regularly. For detailed information on prevention and control, download our Bed Bug factsheet.

4. Look Out for Lice.

Head lice are common, but don’t go reaching for toxic lice shampoos! Products containing lindane and permethrin have been linked to cancer, neurological damage and more.

Take Action: Successful treatment relies on an integrated approach that includes monitoring, prevention, physical removal and heat. Learn more in our Head Lice factsheet.

5. Eat (and Grow) Organic Food.

Organic food is healthier for kids as it reduces pesticide exposure, and better for farmworkers and the environment. School gardens teach children where food comes from and establishes healthy relationships with food and the natural world.

Take Action:
Ask your school to adopt an organic lunch program, starting with organic produce, milk or juice. Try growing food in an organic school garden. For more information, see, “School Lunches Go Organic” and “The Organic School Garden” (or “Grow Your Own Organic Food” for technical advice).



Roundup May Be Damaging Soil and Reducing Yields, Says USDA

(Beyond Pesticides, August 22, 2011) A US Department of Agriculture (USDA) official speaking at an agricultural conference said that the heavy use of Roundup, an herbicide manufactured by Monsanto and used heavily on “Roundup Ready” genetically engineered (GE) crops, appears to be causing harmful changes in soil and potentially hindering yields of crops that farmers are cultivating. Reuters reported that Robert Kremer, PhD, a microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, told the audience at the August 12, 2011 conference sponsored by the Organization for Competitive Markets that repeated use of the herbicide glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup herbicide, impacts the root structure of plants, and 15 years of research indicates that the chemical could be causing fungal root disease.

Dr. Kremer first warned us about his research and questioned the government’s response last year. “This could be something quite big. We might be setting up a huge problem,” Dr. Kremer told Reuters last year. “Science is not being considered in policy setting and deregulation. This research is important. We need to be vigilant.”

Monsanto created “Roundup Ready” crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide (with the active ingredient glyphosate). Growing previous Roundup Ready crops such as soy, cotton, and corn have led to greater use of herbicides. It has also led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres throughout the U.S. and other countries where such crops are grown, as well as contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly to U.S. farmers. Because of GE crops, Roundup has become the most popular pesticide ever.

Problems with Roundup Ready GE crops don’t stop with soil problems and superweeds. Researchers are finding impacts on livestock that eat GE feed as well. Michael McNeill, PhD, an agronomist with Ag Advisory Ltd. in Algona, IA, told Boulder Weekly that he and his colleagues are seeing a higher incidence of infertility and early-term abortion in cattle and hogs that are fed on GMO crops. He adds that poultry fed on the suspect crops have been exhibiting reduced fertility rates too.

Glyphosate is a general herbicide used for eradication of broadleaf weeds. It has been linked to a number of serious human health effects, including increased cancer risk and neurotoxicity, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. One of the inert ingredients in product formulations of Roundup, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), kills human embryonic cells. It is also of particular concern due to its toxicity to aquatic species as well as instances of serious human health effects from acute exposure.

Beyond Pesticides is currently involved in multiple lawsuits involving Roundup Ready and other GE crops. The first lawsuit is filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and seeks to end cultivation of GE crops on twenty-five national wildlife refuges across the U.S. Southeast. The suit is the latest step in a campaign to banish GE crops from all refuges. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 12, 2011 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Beyond Pesticides, the federal suit charges that FWS unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GE crops in eight states without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and in violation of FWS policy. This is the third in a series of lawsuits filed by CFS and PEER challenging FWS’s practice of permitting GE crops on wildlife refuges. In 2009 and 2010, the groups successfully challenged approval of GE plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware – Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – which forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern region.

In another case involving GE crops, attorneys for CFS, Earthjustice, Beyond Pesticides, and others filed a lawsuit against USDA in March 2011, arguing that the agency’s unrestricted approval of GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa violates the Endangered Species Act. USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GE alfalfa in January, despite contamination risks it poses to both organic and conventional farmers.

For more news and information on “Roundup Ready” and other GE crops, see Beyond Pesticides’ genetic engineering page.



Chemical Levels Found to Be Higher in Children from Low Income Families

(Beyond Pesticides, August 19, 2011) Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are exposed to higher levels of a slew of environmental chemicals – some currently used and some long banned – than U.S. children from other socioeconomic backgrounds, finds a study of elementary school children from urban Minneapolis, Minn.

The 7- to 12-year-olds had elevated concentrations of metals, industrial chemicals and markers for pesticides and tobacco smoke in their blood and urine. The results are published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.

These findings agree with other studies reporting higher concentrations of environmental chemicals in children. What is important about this study is that these children were from low-income households where they face additional hardships from poverty. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more vulnerable to health issues, such as asthma and behavioral problems. Exposure to these chemicals may increase this risk even more.

Compared to adults, children eat more food, breathe more air, and drink more fluid than adults per unit of body mass. This increases their intake of potentially harmful chemicals and possibly raises the risk of adverse health effects related to these compounds. In addition, children’s bodies are not fully capable of detoxifying many of these chemicals so they may persist in their bodies longer.

In general, the health problems associated with exposure to the environmental chemicals found in the children may span a wide range of conditions, including cancer, behavior problems and various effects on the immune, nervous and hormonal systems. The study did not address whether the high exposures affected the children’s health.

The researchers measured concentrations for more than 75 chemicals in the blood and urine of 100 children who live in two low-income, high-crime areas of urban Minneapolis. The chemicals measured included phthalates, organochlorine pesticides, organophosphate pesticides, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and volatile organic compounds.

The children studied had higher concentrations of many of these chemicals compared to national surveys of children. Chemical markers indicated about a third of the kids were exposed to tobacco smoke and 10 percent of those routinely to high amounts. Other high exposures included phthalates – which are widely used to soften plastics for medical supplies and consumer packaging – and the metal lead, which still contaminates older buildings and soil.

Interestingly, they observed higher concentrations of some banned chemicals. Many of them – including PCBs and organochlorine pesticides – have been banned for decades. PCBs were widely used in electronic and industrial applications as insulators and stabilizers. Organochlorine pesticides were used to kill insects and control bug populations. Some were banned because of their potential to adversely impact human health. However, they degrade slowly and stick around in the environment for decades after use.

Additional research will need to determine the specific sources and routes of exposures – food, air, dust – of these chemicals and whether they impact the children’s health.

Such research highlights the disproportionate vulnerability of children to toxic exposure and chemical body burden and demonstrates the importance of providing safe environments in children’s daily lives. Places of learning are especially important, since so much time is spent in school as children develop. To learn more about pesticides in schools, including safe alternatives, visit Beyond Pesticides’ children and schools page.

Source: Environmental Health News



Pesticide Implicated in Great Barrier Reef Degradation Receives Extension

(Beyond Pesticides, August 18, 2011) A new report by the Australian government finds that agricultural pesticides are severely damaging the Great Barrier Reef; despite this fact, sugarcane growers have been allowed a six week extension to continue to use the weed killer diuron, which was intially set to be suspended for use on August 13. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan First Report Card estimates that 28,000 kilograms (or approximately 61,730 pounds) of pesticides enter the reef, which is the world’s largest structure made up of living organisms and a World Heritage natural wonder. The findings in the report corroborate previous research on the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

The sugarcane industry claims that the research is based on old data and that there have been significant changes in practices, including cutting back on the use of pesticides. Though the Australian government acknowledges these changes, those improvements have been undermined by Cyclone Yasi. The heavy flooding from Yasi, which ripped through the region earlier this year, likely flushed pollutants out into the reef.

According to the industry, the suspension of the use of diuron would drive up the costs for sugarcane growers because there is no viable alternative to the herbicide. Environmentalists, including Nick Heath, national manager of freshwaters at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia, are disappointed with the decision to extend the use of diuron and point out that sugarcane growers have had eight years to find an alternative.

“It is likely Diuron is poisoning the health of seagrass and coral, further contributing to the current heavy die-off of hundreds of turtles and dugong,” Mr Heath told The Australian. “We call on the federal government to move swiftly to ban this chemical.”

Seventy-five percent of the pesticide pollution on the reef is caused by diuron, says WWF. It has been found up to 60km (or approximately 38 miles) inside the reef and at levels that are toxic to the coral. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies diuron is a known/likely human carcinogen. It is also frequently detected in streams and is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.

Source: The Australian, BBC News



Reps Call on Agencies to Protect Water, Health, Wildlife from Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, August 17, 2011) Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, and Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), the Ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Power, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) urging adoption of new measures to help protect endangered species as the federal government develops rules governing the spraying of pesticides directly into U.S. waters. These new rules would apply to issuance of a Pesticide General Permit (PGP), which would be the first of its kind in the history of the Clean Water Act and would impose limits on the amount of pesticides that enter our streams, rivers, and lakes.

The letters were forwarded to EPA and FWS at a time when Congress is doing all it can to strip the Clean Water Act of its power to protect U.S. waterways. The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 or H.R. 872, already passed by the House earlier this year and recently voted out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, would revoke EPA’s authority to require permits for pesticide discharges into waterways. Click here to send a message to your Senators urging them to stand with you in opposition to this dangerous bill. Soon after H.R. 872 was passed, the Republican-controlled chamber passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, H.R. 2018. The act would prevent EPA from stepping in to enforce clean water standards when it deemed that a state agency was not effectively enforcing the law. The bill would also prevent EPA from refining its existing water standards to reflect the latest science without first getting approval from a state agency. Republican lawmakers are loading up an appropriations bill with over 70 amendments (riders) to significantly curtail environmental regulation in the 2012 Department of the Interior and the EPA spending bill (H.R. 2584), in one of the most extreme attacks on the environment and public health in modern history.

A copy of the letter to the EPA can be found HERE. A copy of the letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service can be found HERE.

EPA has been in the process of developing the permit requirements in accordance with the 2009 court ruling since June 2010. The PGP covers operators who apply pesticides that result in discharges from the following use patterns: (1) mosquito and other flying insect pest control; (2) weed and algae control; (3) animal pest control; and (4) forest canopy pest control. The permit would not cover 1) non-target spray drift, or 2) discharges of pesticides to waterbodies that are impaired for that pesticide. Unfortunately, agricultural runoff and irrigation return flows, responsible for contaminating much of our waterways, are exempt from permitting under CWA and, thus, do not require CWA permits.

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the EPA is required to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service whenever its actions could cause harm to an endangered species. Fulfilling this ESA obligation, the EPA entered into a consultation with NMFS to determine if the Pesticide General Permit would harm endangered species. The NMFS found that the permit as written would threaten the existence of 33 endangered species, including Atlantic and Pacific salmon. According to the Biological Opinion:

NMFS reached this conclusion because as the general permit is currently structured, the EPA would not be likely to know where or when most of the discharges it intends to authorize would occur; if these discharges were resulting in exposures to pesticide pollutants in concentrations, durations or frequencies that would cause adverse effects to ESA listed species or designated critical habitat and would not be in a position to take measures to avoid those adverse effects; or whether the permittees were complying with the conditions of the permit designed to protect ESA listed species and designated critical habitat from being exposed.”

The agency recommended three basic measures that would mediate the impact of the permit. These measures include annual reporting from applicators that discharge pesticides into U.S. waters, monitoring for pesticides in habitats of endangered species, and identification of the pesticides covered by the PGP that would cause the most severe adverse impacts to endangered species. EPA has received these recommendations and is currently in the process of finalizing the permit that should be published this fall. Reps. Markey and Napolitano’s letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urged adoption of measures that would better protect endangered or threatened species from being killed by pesticides sprayed directly into our rivers, streams or lakes.

Reps. Markey and Napolitano also sent a letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe urging his agency to weigh in on the impacts the Pesticide General Permit may have on endangered freshwater species of fish. Despite receiving notice from the EPA requesting a consultation over a year ago, the FWS has yet to complete a consultation and is therefore not complying with its obligation under the ESA. Without FWS input, the EPA will be unable to modify the Pesticide General Permit even though freshwater endangered species may be harmed.

“As American families escape the heat of summer with visits to our nation’s lakes and rivers, they should not have to worry whether the river they swim in or the fish they catch and eat are laden with toxic pesticides,” said Rep. Markey. “We cannot turn a blind eye to water pollution when it jeopardizes the sizeable economic benefits of clean water and healthy wildlife populations – particularly when it comes to animals that are already being threatened with extinction. Every agency in the federal government should do its part to ensure that our most vulnerable species are protected.”



Groups Sue to Halt GE Crops on Southeastern National Wildlife Refuges

(Beyond Pesticides, August 16, 2011) A lawsuit filed in federal court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seeks to end cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops on twenty-five national wildlife refuges across the U.S. Southeast. The suit is the latest step in a campaign to banish GE crops from all refuges. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 12, 2011 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Beyond Pesticides, the federal suit charges that FWS unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GE crops in eight states without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and in violation of FWS policy.

This is the third in a series of lawsuits filed by CFS and PEER challenging FWS’s practice of permitting GE crops on wildlife refuges. In 2009 and 2010, the groups successfully challenged approval of GE plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware – Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – which forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern region.

National wildlife refuges have allowed farming for decades despite the interference by farming with the protection of wildlife and native grasses. In recent years, refuge farming has been converted to GE crops because the agency claims GE seed is the only seed farmers can obtain today. These GE crops are mostly engineered for a single purpose: to be resistant to herbicides, mainly Monsanto’s ubiquitous Roundup. Because the crops are immune, their usage leads to more frequent applications and increased amounts of toxic herbicides. This overreliance on herbicides used in GE cropping systems has fostered an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” in the past decade as weeds have mutated, similar to antibiotic resistance. Farming of GE crops has also led to the uncontrolled spread of the engineered DNA to conventional, organic crops or wild relatives, contaminating the wild.

“GE crops are the last thing that should be introduced onto a national wildlife refuge,” stated PEER Counsel Kit Douglas, who has also filed cases under the Freedom of Information Act seeking detailed information about the Obama “White House Agricultural Biotechnology Working Group” which is working to promote planting GE crops on National Wildlife Refuges. “Under high-level pressure, the Fish & Wildlife Service has to abandon wildlife biology to practice political science.”

Scientists have warned that these engineered, herbicide-resistant crops lead to increased pesticide use on refuges and can have other negative effects on birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife. In the Prime Hook case, Federal District Court Chief Judge Gregory Sleet found that “it is undisputed that farming with genetically modified crops at Prime Hook poses significant environmental risks.”

“These genetically engineered crops are engineered by chemical companies like Monsanto for one purpose: to promote indiscriminate herbicide use and sell more of their herbicides,” said Paige Tomaselli, Staff Attorney with the Center for Food Safety. “Dousing wildlife refuges with herbicides harms wildlife, damages biodiversity, and otherwise undermines the underlying significance of refuges: to serve as a safe haven for wildlife. These herbicide-promoting crops have absolutely no place on our protected national lands.”

If successful, the suit will enjoin the cultivation of GE crops in the Southeast Region until and unless a new approval decision is made based on a rigorous review of all potential impacts in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by NEPA. Meanwhile, unless practices and DOI policy on the refuges change, PEER and CFS will continue to challenge the cultivation of GE crops on refuges across the country.

In another case involving GE crops, attorneys for CFS, Earthjustice, Beyond Pesticides, and others filed a lawsuit against USDA in March 2011, arguing that the agency’s unrestricted approval of GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa violates the Endangered Species Act. USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GE alfalfa in January, despite contamination risks it poses to both organic and conventional farmers.

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

Source: Center for Food Safety



Conversion to Organic Poultry Farming Lowers Risk of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

(Beyond Pesticides, August 15, 2011) Poultry farms that have adopted organic practices and cease using antibiotics have significantly lower levels of drug-resistant enterococci bacteria that can potentially spread to humans, according to a new study published August 10, 2011 in the online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives. The study, led by researchers at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, suggests that organic conversion of U.S. poultry farms can result in immediate and significant reductions in antibiotic resistance for some bacteria.

The non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production accounts for nearly 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States. Typically, low levels of antibiotics are administered to animals through feed and water to prevent disease and promote growth. This is generally done to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions, as is common in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and to fatten livestock to get them to market sooner. Antibiotic use is prohibited in the production of all animal products labeled organic.

“We initially thought we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices. But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock of birds that was produced after the transition to organic standards,” explained Amy Sapkota, PhD, an assistant professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. “It is very encouraging.”

Dr. Sapkota and her team investigated the impact of removing antibiotics from U.S. poultry farms by studying 10 conventional and 10 newly organic large-scale poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. They tested for the presence of enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed, and water, and tested its resistance to 17 common antimicrobials.

“We chose to study enterococci because these microorganisms are found in all poultry, including poultry on both organic and conventional farms. The enterococci also cause infections in human patients staying in hospitals. In addition, many of the antibiotics given in feed to farm animals are used to fight Gram-positive bacteria such as the enterococci. These features, along with their reputation of easily exchanging resistance genes with other bacteria, make enterococci a good model for studying the impact of changes in antibiotic use on farms,” Dr. Sapkota said.

While all farms tested positive for the presence of enterococci in poultry litter, feed, and water as expected, the newly organic farms were characterized by a significantly lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant enterococci. For example, 67 percent of Enterococcus faecalis recovered from conventional poultry farms were resistant to erythromycin, while 18 percent of Enterococcus faecalis from newly organic poultry farms were resistant to this antibiotic.

Dramatic changes were also observed in the levels of multi-drug resistant bacteria (organisms resistant to three or more antimicrobial classes) on the newly organic farms. Multi-drug resistant bacteria are of particular public health concern because they can be resistant to all available antibiotics, and are, therefore, very difficult to treat if contracted by an animal or human. Forty-two percent of Enterococcus faecalis from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant, compared to only 10 percent from newly organic farms, and 84 percent of Enterococcus faecium from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant compared to 17 percent of those from newly organic farms [see figure].

“While we know that the dynamics of antibiotic resistance differ by bacterium and antibiotic, these findings show that, at least in the case of enterococci, we begin to reverse resistance on farms even among the first group of animals that are grown without antibiotics, said Dr. Sapkota. “Now we need to look forward and see what happens over five years, 10 years in time.” Sapkota said she expects that reductions in drug-resistant bacteria on U.S. farms that “go organic” are likely to be more dramatic over time as reservoirs of resistant bacteria in the farm environment diminish.

Last November, the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety released a similarstudy that documents the comparative rates of salmonella contamination in both feces and feed at organic and conventional broiler poultry farms in North Carolina. There were three organic and four conventional farms included in the study, all owned by the same company. The researchers found that, in examining fecal samples, 38.8% of those from conventional farms contained salmonella, compared with only 5.6% from organic farms. For feed, the results were similar: 27.5% of feed on the conventional farms had salmonella, while only 5% of organic feed was contaminated. The study also examined the prevalence of salmonella that are resistant to antibiotic treatment and compared the results of organic versus conventional. The results show that resistance to the antibiotic streptomycin is 36.2% at conventional farms, compared to 25% at organic. Perhaps even more significant, multi-drug resistance to six different antibiotic treatments (ampicillin, streptomycin, amoxicillin, cephalothin, ceftiofor, and cefoxitin) is at 39.7% on the conventional farms, whereas none of the organic birds show resistance to this combined treatment.

In May 2011, a coalition of environmental and public health groups filed a lawsuit against the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require the agency to enforce strict standards regarding the routine use of antibiotics in livestock feed. The suit, filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls on FDA to implement regulations based on its own findings that the routine use of low doses of antibiotics in animal feed presents increased risk for the development of resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance is a serious public health issue, since it can lead to infections that are difficult or impossible to treat. When they are used in small doses, such as in livestock feed or antimicrobial hand soaps containing triclosan, the drugs kill a small amount of the microbial population, but the ones that survive evolve immunity to the treatment and pass this on to future generations. These resistant populations can then grow and eventually come in contact with humans, putting the general public at risk of untreatable infection.

To learn more about the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticide’s organic program page.



New Research Aims To Identify Nanosilver’s Toxic Trigger

(Beyond Pesticides, August 12, 2011) Researchers have begun investigating silver nanoparticles, or nanosilver, in order to discover what exactly makes the particles toxic to the environment. Although scientists have long been concerned about the evidence of toxicity of nanosilver to both human health and the natural environment, research so far has been unclear on which properties of the particles actually make them toxic. The dangers may stem from the nanoparticles themselves, but they may also be due to the silver ions that the particles shed.

Previous attempts to distinguish nanoparticles from silver ions have proven unfruitful, as they have been unable to fully separate the two. However, a new method developed by researchers in China aims to use an older technique called cloud point extraction and apply it to the nanosilver in order to separate the ions from the particles. This will enable researchers to identify whether consumer products, as well as environmental samples such as wastewater, containing nanosilver actually contain nanoparticles or if they contain silver ions. The method will need to be refined further in order to adequately examine the very small nanosilver concentrations that are most often found in the environment, such as in wastewater or surface water, but scientists are hopeful that the new method will enable them to more accurately study the components of nanosilver and identify the trigger that makes it toxic.

Nanosilver, used as an antibacterial agent in many products, is much more toxic than regular silver and can cause damage in new ways. Concerns over nanosilver were first raised by national wastewater utilities in early 2006. A 2008 study shows that washing nanosilver socks releases substantial amounts of the nanosilver into the laundry discharge water, which will ultimately reach natural waterways and potentially poison fish and other aquatic organisms.

Nanosized particles are super small particles with unique properties that are now incorporated in food production as well as into many consumer products including paper wrapping, clothing and cosmetics, are currently not regulated and have not yet been assessed for hazards that have the potential to impact public health and the environment. They are increasingly being used as pesticides as, due to their small size, these nanoparticles are able to invade bacteria and other microorganisms and kill them. As these tiny materials hit the market, there are huge gaps in what scientists know about their properties. Earlier this year, the California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) asked in-state nanotechnology companies and researchers to share how they are keeping tabs on several nano-sized metals, as evidence continues to emerge that these substances may have long-term implications for the environment. Some studies have shown that some of these nanomaterials are turning up in end-stage sewage sludge, raising questions about long-term environmental problems. Other nanomaterials can be making their way to the water supplies.

Nanotechnology is a powerful new platform technology for taking apart and reconstructing nature at the atomic and molecular level. Just as the size and chemical characteristics of manufactured nanoparticles can give them unique properties, those same new properties –tiny size, vastly increased surface area to volume ratio, high reactivity– can also create unique and unpredictable human health and environmental risks. Scientists and researchers are becoming increasingly concerned with the potential impacts of these particles on public health and the environment. A study by scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) and the European Union (EU) highlights the major regulatory and educational issues that they believe should be considered before nanoparticles are used in pesticides.

At its October 2010 meeting, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation directing the USDA National Organic Program to prohibit engineered nanomaterials from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible. The NOSB, the expert citizen advisory panel set up by Congress to advise the USDA on organic policy, reviews materials and provides recommendations to the NOP on what should be allowed and prohibited in organic agriculture and processing, as materials and methods change over time. Organic advocates, members of the organic industry and the NOSB are concerned that engineered nanomaterials could contaminate organic food and fibers.
Source: Chemical & Engineering News



Research Shows Commonly Used Pesticides Produce Greater Toxic Effect When Mixed

(Beyond Pesticides, August 11, 2011) A combination of eleven different kinds of commonly used pyrethroids were tested on mice in a new study which found that, at real-world exposure levels, the insecticides can produce heightened toxicity that is equal to the sum of each insecticide’s individual effect. The mixture of similar-acting insecticides works by over-stimulating electronic channels in the mouse’s brain cells and eventually causing death. This study adds to the growing body of research on the toxicity of pesticide combinations in nature and showcases the need for policy change because the current risk assessment approach to regulating pesticides fails to look at chemical mixtures and synergistic effects.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates on a chemical-by-chemical basis, but as this study demonstrates, interacting chemicals can have synergistic effects at very low levels, where a “chemical cocktail” of multiple interacting chemicals combine to have greater effects than expected. Pesticides can also have a cumulative “toxic loading” effect both in the immediate and long term.

Researchers exposed mice brain cells to eleven different food-use pyrethroid insecticides either singly or in a mixture in the study entitled ”Additivity of pyrethroid actions on sodium influx in cerebrocortical neurons in primary culture.” The pyrethroid compounds tested include: deltamethrin, β-cyfluthrin, cypermethrin, permethrin, bifenthrin, esfenvalerate, λ-cyhalothrin, tefluthrin, fenpropathrin, resmethrin and S-bioallethrin. They are mainly used to control pests on food crops, and are toxic to insects and humans in the same way. They work by targeting vital electrical channels in certain types of brain cells. The chemicals stimulate the electrical signals moving into the cells, which changes neuron function and ultimately leading to paralysis and death.

Pyrethroids are synthetic versions of pyrethrin, a natural insecticide found in certain species of chrysanthemum. Pyrethroids are suspected endocrine disruptors, have been linked to certain cancers, and are particularly dangerous to aquatic life even at low concentrations. Despite the fact that there are plenty of effective pest control methods that are not nearly as toxic, these insecticides are some of the most popular household pesticides, available in the form of powders and sprays to control ants, mosquitoes, fleas, flies, and cockroaches. As research unfurls, particularly on the combined effects that these insecticides have, the high-volume uses of pyrethroids are major cause for concern to human and environmental health.

Source: Environmental Health News