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New Rule on Conventional Aquaculture Raises Concern for Environment, Organic Standards

(Beyond Pesticides, June 16, 2011) The Department of Commerce, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service, announced late last week a final aquaculture policy which would ease restrictions to make it easier to farm fish in federal waters, drawing criticism from environmental groups due to the harmful environmental impacts of raising fish in pens in open waters.

According to Food and Water Watch, offshore aquaculture follows an industrial agriculture model which grows thousands of animals in a confined environment. For fish, however, this confined space is in the ocean, meaning all of the waste products from the operation flow directly into the ocean. This includes excess feed and chemicals that are used, such as antibiotics and pesticides, to treat or prevent disease that occurs when fish are in confinement. Another major concern is the possibility of escaped farmed fish, which can compete with and interbreed with wild fish.

Though the Department of Commerce and NOAA are pushing these new policies as a way to “meet the growing demand for healthy seafood,” factory fish farming, as Food and Water Watch points out, is primarily focused on carnivorous fish including salmon and tuna. These carnivorous fish require a massive amount of protein, which comes from small wild fish, including anchovies, herring, mackeral and sardines in the form of processed fishmeal, fish oil and feed pellets. It can take over six pounds of wild fish feed to add one pound of weight to farmed carnivorous fish. In 2006, over 90% of the commercially caught small wild fish were consumed by the aquaculture industry, which only exacerbates over-fishing.

The domestic aquaculture industry (both freshwater and marine) currently supplies about five percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. The cultivation of shellfish, such as oysters, clams, and mussels, comprises about two-thirds of U.S. marine aquaculture production. Salmon and shrimp aquaculture contribute about 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Current production takes place mainly on land, in ponds, and in states’ coastal waters.

Currently, there are no organic aquaculture standards other than the National Organic Program (NOP) standards for livestock production which must be followed for any animal or product sold with the USDA organic seal. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) however is working on guidelines for organic aquaculture. An Aquatic Animal Task Force was formed in 2000 in order evaluate both aquaculture and wild caught aquatic animal operations to assess the feasability of developing organic production and handling standards.

Organic aquaculture still has many of the same problems as conventional aquaculture. Depending on the outcome of current NOSB work, there may be fewer synthetic inputs, however fish will still be exposed to pollutants that are present in the water, will still create waste and feeding carnivorous species will still be a problem.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any other environmentally responsible options for aquaculture at this point. Even in a closed, land-based system, such as tanks and ponds which seemingly has fewer problems, there are still many similar issues we need to address. We will still need to figure out where feed for the fish will come from, what to do with the waste products, a way to prevent escape, and how to keep fish healthy in a confined system without the use of toxic chemicals.

Sources: NOAA Press Release, Care2



Pesticide-Food Guides Highlight Importance of Eating Organic for Health, Workers and the Environment

(Beyond Pesticides, June 15, 2011) This week’s release of the new Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce (Dirty Dozen/Clean 15) by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which focuses on pesticide residues on conventional produce, highlights the importance of eating organic fruits and vegetables to minimize personal exposure to toxic pesticides. Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide complements the EWG list, going beyond residues on food to examine the impacts of the pesticides used to grow conventional produce on the health of farmworkers and rural communities, water quality, honey bees and wildlife poisoning, and more. Both Beyond Pesticides and EWG encourage shoppers to choose organic food whenever possible.

To create their seventh edition of the Shopper’s Guide, analysts at EWG synthesized data collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most samples are washed and peeled prior to being tested, so the rankings reflect the amounts of the chemicals likely present on the food when is it eaten.

Apples, celery and strawberries top this year’s “Dirty Dozen” list. Making an appearance in the guide for the first time is the herb cilantro, which had never been tested by USDA until now. The data showed 33 unapproved pesticides on 44 percent of the cilantro samples tested, which is the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded since EWG started tracking the data in 1995. Onions, sweet corn and pineapple received the best ratings on the “Clean 15” list.

“It is unfair that consumers are forced to shoulder the burden of ensuring that the food they choose for their families is not contaminated with dangerous levels of pesticides, rather than the government agencies charged with this responsibility. People have a right to healthy food regardless of income,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “Exposure to legal levels of pesticides has been linked to ADHD, cancer and other health effects. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should not be approving hazardous pesticides when organic alternatives exist.”

Consumers who choose five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG’s Clean 15 list rather than from the Dirty Dozen can lower the volume of pesticides they consume by 92 percent, according to EWG’s calculations. They will also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking five servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most-contaminated products would result in consuming an average of 14 different pesticides a day. Choosing five servings from the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables would result in consuming fewer than two pesticides per day.

While choosing certain fruits and vegetables will limit your personal exposure to pesticides, many of these crops are still grown with pesticides that contaminate the environment and present health hazards. Many “clean” fruits and vegetables are treated with pesticides that are known to poison farmworkers and that are linked to cancer, Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases in rural communities. Children of farmworkers are also at risk. Other fruits and vegetables may not be contaminated with pesticide residues at the point of sale because they have washed off in the fields and contaminated drinking water. Because the USDA/FDA residue data is based on washed and peeled produce, many are considered clean, simply because the contaminated skin is not eaten, as is the case with onions, corn and pineapple. Both onions and sweet corn are commonly treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, the insecticides linked to colony collapse disorder and declining honey bee health.

Conventional onions, the best rated crop on the Clean 15 list, show low pesticide residues on the finished commodity, however there are 63 pesticides with established tolerances for onions: 26, acutely toxic, create a hazardous environment for farmworkers, 60 linked to chronic health problems like cancer, eight contaminate streams or groundwater, and 54 poison wildlife. While not all the pesticides on the list are applied to every onion, there is no way to tell which pesticides are applied to any given piece of conventional produce on your store shelf. Learn more about these hazards and why choosing organic food is the right choice with Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide.

“Pesticides, while designed specifically to kill certain organisms, are also associated with a host of very serious health problems in people, including neurological deficits, ADHD, endocrine system disruption and cancer,” said Andrew Weil, MD, Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and a renowned medical expert on natural health and wellness. “My advice to consumers is to whenever possible avoid exposure to pesticides, including pesticide residues on food.”

For more information on the health effects of pesticide exposure, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database. For more information on pesticides and the foods you eat, see the EWG’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce and Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience.



Feds To Gather Data on Nanomaterials

(Beyond Pesticides, June 14, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to obtain information on nanoscale materials in pesticide products, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released draft guidelines to industries about when the use of nanomaterials might trigger regulatory interest. These two actions announced last week will aim to clarify the role that extremely small materials can play in items such as cosmetics and food production and packaging and gather environmental and human health related data.

According to EPA, the agency will gather information on what nanoscale materials are present in pesticide products to determine whether the registration of a pesticide may cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health. The proposed policy will soon be open for public comment.

“We want to obtain timely and accurate information on what nanoscale materials may be in pesticide products,“ said Steve Owens assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “This information is needed for EPA to meet its requirement under the law to protect public health and the environment.”

EPA states that it recognizes that nanoscale materials have a range of potentially beneficial public and commercial applications, including pest control products. However, nanosized materials, now incorporated into many consumer products, including paper wrapping, clothing and cosmetics, are currently not regulated and have not been assessed for hazards that have the potential to impact public health and the environment.

The new guidance will propose a new approach for how EPA will determine whether a nanoscale ingredient is a “new” active or inert ingredient for purposes of scientific evaluation under the pesticide laws, when an identical, non-nanoscale form of the nanoscale ingredient is already registered under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). This approach, according to the agency, will help ensure that EPA is informed about the presence of nanoscale ingredients in pesticide products and allows a more thorough review of the potential risks. Comments on the Federal Register notice will be accepted until 30 days after publication. The notice will be available at www.regulations.gov in docket number EPA–HQ–OPP–2010-0197.

EPA’s new guidance on nanotechnology has been delayed for almost one year after the agency first submitted its draft proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Environmental advocates have attributed the holdup to industry lobbying against an interpretation of FIFRA Section 6(a)(2) that would require the presence of a nanoscale material to be reported to the agency under FIFRA Section 6(a)(2) for environmental effects. The requirement would apply to already registered products, as well as products pending registration. However, pesticide manufacturers routinely fail to inform EPA when their products contain nanoscale particles. Consumers are left in the dark about their potential exposure since these products are currently being marketed under ambiguous labels.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) named certain characteristics, such as the size of nanomaterials used and their properties, that may be considered when trying to identify applications of nanotechnology in products. A number of organizations, as well as government, academic and private sector scientists, have considered whether the small size of nanoscale materials or the unique or enhanced properties of nanoscale materials may, under specific conditions, pose new or increased hazards to humans and the environment. FDA’s draft guidance, “Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology,” is available online and open for public comment. According to the FDA, it represents the first step toward providing regulatory clarity on the FDA’s approach to nanotechnology. For products subject to premarket review, FDA intends to apply the points contained in the draft guidance, when finalized, to better understand the properties and behavior of engineered nanomaterials. For products not subject to premarket review, the FDA will urge manufacturers to consult with the agency early in the product development process.

“With this guidance, we are not announcing a regulatory definition of nanotechnology,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “However, as a first step, we want to narrow the discussion to these points and work with industry to determine if this focus is an appropriate starting place.”

Similar statements were also release by the White House in coordination with announcements by EPA and FDA, entitled “Policy Principles for the U.S. Decision-Making Concerning Regulation and Oversight of Applications of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials” issued jointly by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of Management and Budget, and the United States Trade Representative.

Nanotechnology, the science involving manipulation of materials on an atomic or molecular scale, is an emerging technology with a broad range of potential applications, such as increasing bioavailability of a drug, improving food packaging and in cosmetics. There are hundreds of products currently on the market that contain nanomaterials of various types and functions, the most popular application being the use of nanosilver as an antibacterial substance in many consumer products. Given this, the federal government at this point is playing a game of ‘catch-up.’ Studies have shown that nanosized materials are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and can accumulate in the brain, under and skin and other compartments of the body. Others have found that clothing treated with nanomaterials leach from these materials during laundering and enters the wastewater treatment system and the environment. Much is unknown on the fate of these materials in the human body and the environment,t and scientists and researchers are becoming increasingly concerned with the potential impacts of these particles. A recent study by scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) and the European Union (EU) highlight the major regulatory and educational issues that they believe should be considered before nanoparticles are used.

Last year, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation directing the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to prohibit engineered nanomaterials from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible. While there is overwhelming agreement to prohibit nanotechnology in organics generally, there is still confusion over the definition of what exactly should be prohibited and how to prohibit nanotech products in the organic industry. The recommendation deals specifically with engineered nanomaterials and purposefully omits those that are naturally occurring. Further it would block petitions seeking an exemption and keep nanomaterials out of food packaging and contact surfaces. The board adopted the following definition:

“Engineered nanomaterials: substances deliberately designed, engineered and produced by human activity to be in the nanoscale range (approx 1-300 nm) because of very specific properties or compositions (eg. shape, surface properties, or chemistry) that result only in that nanoscale. Incidental particles in the nanoscale range created during traditional food processing such as homogenization, milling, churning, and freezing, and naturally occurring particles in the nanoscale range are not intended to be included in this definition. All nanomaterials (without exception) containing capping reagents or other synthetic components are intended to be included in this definition.”

The International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) and a coalition of consumer, health, and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, filed a legal petition on May 1, 2008 with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), demanding the agency use its pesticide regulation authority to stop the sale of 250+ consumer products now using nanosized versions of silver. The legal action is the first challenge to EPA’s failure to regulate nanomaterials. In November 2008, EPA determined that ICTA’s petition “raises serious issues that potentially affect private and public sector stakeholders” and opened a 60-day period for public comment. At that time, EPA said it would review the petition and any comments received “before deciding how best to respond to the petition.”

Washington Post
EPA Press Release




Report Finds Regulators Mislead Public on Glyphosate and Birth Defects

(Beyond Pesticides, June 13, 2011) A new report released early last week shows that industry regulators have known for a long time that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world’s best selling herbicide, RoundUp, causes birth defects. The report, “RoundUp and Birth Defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?” published by Earth Open Source, says that regulators misled the public about the safety of glyphosate for over 20 years.

According to the report, the German government has known since 1998 and the EU Commission’s expert scientific review panel has known since 1999 that glyphosate causes malformations. As recently as last year, however, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety told the Commission that there was no evidence of glyphosate causing birth defects. Meanwhile, these actions by industry and regualtors that have kept the public in the dark, the authors point out, has seriously endangered public health.

Considering that Monsanto, as well as other producers of genetically engineered (GE) seeds are now pushing for glyphosate-tolerant crop approval in Europe, this is particularly disconcerting. If the Commission grants the approval as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had done for GE alfalfa and sugar beets in the U.S, there will likely a stark increase in the use of glyphosate and have devastating consequences. Contrary to industry claims that the proliferation of herbicide tolerant GE crops would result in lower pesticide use rates, the data shows that overall use of pesticides has remained relatively steady, while glyphosate use has skyrocketed to more than double the amount used just five years ago.

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.

In 2009, Beyond Pesticides, submitted comments to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) showing new and emerging science which illustrates that glyphosate and its formulated products pose unreasonable risk to human and environmental health, and as such should not be considered eligible for continued registration.

Some of the most widespread uses of glyphosate that have been attracting public attention include its use in invasive weed management and home gardening. The increase of glyphosate use in these areas is directly tied to the larger problem of poor land management, including over grazing, over development, soil compaction and other stressors. Glyphosate has replaced ecologically sound and sustainable cultural practices such as green-mulching and preventive maintenance such as aeration and dethatching.

As researchers scramble to find new ways of chemically coping with weed control and increased weed resistance to chemicals, they overlook the glaring fact that there already exist alternative systems such as organic farming, which erases the need for these drastic measures through its systemic pest preventon approaches. Organic farming can be at least as productive as conventional, chemically-reliant farming while having none of the toxic side effects which create significant risks to ecosystems and human health. To learn more, see our page on organic food and agriculture.

For more information regarding genetic engineering of agricultural crops and the recent controversy surrounding USDA’s approval of several new varieties, including GE alfalfa and GE sugar beets, see our genetic engineering program page and other Daily News blog entries.

Source: Huffington Post



USDA Survey Shows Continued Honeybee Losses Across the Country

(Beyond Pesticides, June 10, 2011) 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 honeybee populations over the 2010/2011 winter remained abnormally high, reflecting continuing damages attributed to colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD, linked to a range of factors and agricultural chemicals, including systemic pesticides, has devastated bees and beekeepers around the country in recent years. According to the survey, 30% of managed honeybee 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. Similar loss percentages for the previous four years reflect this trend: 34% for the 2009/2010 winter, 29% for 2008/2009, 36% for 2007/2008, and 32% for 2006/2007.

ARS entomologist Jeffrey Pettis, PhD, who helped to conduct the survey and has been the agency’s lead researcher on CCD heading up the USDA Bee Research Laboratory, said, “The lack of increase in losses is marginally encouraging in the sense that the problem does not appear to be getting worse for honey bees and beekeepers. But continued losses of this size put tremendous pressure on the economic sustainability of commercial beekeeping.”

Dr. Pettis, quoted by Discovery News, says that, “We averaged 10 percent winter losses before parasitic mites, around 20 percent winter loss when two parasitic mites (Varroa and tracheal mites) arrived in the 1980’s, and now with CCD we are over 30 percent losses in the fall and winter.”

This latest survey, conducted by past AIA presidents Dennis vanEngelsdorp and Jerry Hayes along with Pettis, PhD, had a total of 5,572 respondents, collectively managing an estimated 15% of the country’s 2.68 million honeybee colonies. 31% of the respondents noted colony losses with the bodies of the dead bees missing from the hives – a key indicator of CCD. Beekeepers who noted an absence of dead bees also had significantly higher rates of colony loss, at 61%. Average colony loss for an individual beekeeper’s operation was 38.4 percent.

Average loss by operation represents the percentage of loss in each operation added together and divided by the number of beekeeping operations that responded to the survey. This number is affected more by small beekeeping operations, which may only have 10 or fewer colonies, so a loss of just five colonies in a 10-colony operation would represent a 50 percent loss. Total losses were calculated as all colonies reported lost in the survey divided by the total number of bee colonies reported in the survey. This number is affected more by larger operations, which might have 10,000 or more colonies, so a loss of five colonies in a 10,000-colony operation would equal only a 0.05 percent loss.

The preliminary survey analysis notes that, “This survey only reports on losses that occur during the winter and does not capture the colony losses that occur throughout the summer as queens or entire colonies fail and need to be replaced. Preliminary data from other survey efforts suggest that these ‘summer losses’ can also be significant. Beekeepers can replace colonies lost in the summer and winter by splitting the populations of surviving colonies to establish a new hive. This process is expensive, so replacing 30% of the nation’s colonies annually is not considered sustainable over the long-term.”

Colony Collapse Disorder is the name given to the mysterious decline of honeybee populations around the world beginning around 2006. Each winter, one-third of the U.S. honeybee population has died off or disappeared (more than twice what is normal). While CCD appears to have multiple interacting causes including pathogens, a range of evidence points to sub-lethal pesticide exposures as important contributing factors. Neonicotinoids are a particularly suspect class of insecticides, especially in combination with the dozens of other pesticides found in honeybee hives. Key symptoms of CCD include: 1) inexplicable disappearance of the hive’s worker bees; 2) presence of the queen bee and absence of invaders; 3) presence of food stores and a capped brood.

Clothianidin and imidicloprid are members of the neonicotinoid family of systemic pesticides, which are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar and gutation droplets from which bees then forage and drink. Neonicotinoids kill sucking and chewing insects by disrupting their nervous systems. Beginning in the late 1990s, these systemic insecticides began to take over the seed treatment market. Clothianidin is Bayer’s successor product to imidacloprid, which recently went off patent. Both are known to be toxic to insect pollinators, and are lead suspects as causal factors in CCD. Together, the two products accounted for over a billion dollars in sales for Bayer Crop Science in 2009. Imidacloprid is the company’s best-selling product and among the most widely used insecticides in the U.S. Starting in about 2004, seed companies in the U.S. began to market seeds treated with a 5-X rate of neonicotinoids (1.25mg/seed, compared with the traditional 0.25 mg/seed).

To hear scientists and professional beekeepers discuss the impact of pesticides on honeybees and other pollinators, see the video of the Pesticides and Pollinators Panel from Beyond Pesticides 29th annual National Pesticide Forum.

Beekeepers reported that, on average, they felt losses of 13% would be economically acceptable. Sixty-one percent of responding beekeepers reported having losses greater than this, reflecting the devastating economic impact of these significant losses on the commercial beekeeping industry. These losses, however, are not only significant for beekeepers and their business, but for all of us. Pollinators serve vitally important roles in agricultural ecosystems, enabling a wide range of crops to grow and provide us with food. If crops are not pollinated, they do not produce fruit and food production declines.

For more information on these issues, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinators and Pesticides page, and see this fact sheet on the connection between clothianidin and CCD.

Sources: ARS press release, Discovery News



EPA Takes Actions to Reduce Risk From Rat and Mouse Poisons

(Beyond Pesticides, June 9, 2011) Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is moving to ban the sale of most toxic rat and mouse poisons, as well as most loose bait and pellet products, to residential consumers decades after these products were first introduced to the public. Though these rules will better protect children, pets and wildlife, the changes do not go far enough for vulnerable populations, because they will still be allowed by pesticide applicators and in agricultural settings. Children are particularly at risk for exposure to rat and mouse poisons because the products are typically placed on floors, and because young children sometimes place bait pellets in their mouths. The American Association of Poison Control Centers annually receives between 12,000 and 15,000 reports of children under the age of six being exposed to these types of products. Beyond Pesticides urges consumers not to use poisons for rodent control indoors, but rather advocates the use of traps and nonchemical exclusion techniques that eliminate food and water sources and entryways.

In 2008, EPA released its final risk mitigation decision for ten rodenticides, with new measures intended to protect children and the public from accidental poisonings as well as to decrease exposures to pets and wildlife from rodent-control products. This came after the Natural Resources Council (NRDC) and the West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) filed a lawsuit in 2004 challenging EPA’s regulations. In 2005, a New York City’s federal court ruled that the EPA failed to protect children from exposure to chemical rat poisons, and failed to require chemical manufacturers to strengthen safeguards. (See Daily News, August 17, 2005.)

Over the past three years, EPA says it has worked with a number of companies to achieve this goal, and there are now new products on the market with new bait delivery systems and less toxic baits. These products reduce hazards to children, as well as pets and wildlife, but still provide effective rodent control for residential consumers.

A handful of companies do not plan to adopt the new safety measures, however, and EPA intends to initiate cancellation proceedings under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, (FIFRA) the federal pesticide law, against certain non-compliant products marketed by the following companies to remove them from the market:

•Reckitt Benckiser Inc. (makers of D-Con, Fleeject, and Mimas rodent control products)
•Woodstream Inc. (makers of Victor rodent control products)
•Spectrum Group (makers of Hot Shot rodent control products)
•Liphatech Inc. (makers of Generation, Maki, and Rozol rodent control products)

In addition to requiring more-protective bait stations and prohibiting pellet formulations, EPA intends to ban the sale and distribution of rodenticide products containing brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone and difenacoum directly to residential consumers because of their toxicity and the secondary poisoning hazards to wildlife.

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, 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. For least toxic control of mice and other pests visit the alternatives page.

For more information on EPA’s changes for rat and mouse products, see: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/mice-and-rats/

Source: EPA Press Release




Large Knowledge Gap In Nanoagriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, June 8, 2011) In an article published by the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists at the University of Texas, El Paso and a co-investigator for the NSF/EPA University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology warned that, as a new era of nanoagriculture is about to start, very little is known about it from a human and environmental health standpoint. The findings are published in an article entitled “Interaction of Nanoparticles with Edible Plants and Their Possible Implications in the Food Chain.”

Nanoagriculture is the use of nanotechnology to boost the productivity of plants, primarily for food or fuel. The researchers, led by Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, PhD, set out to better understand whether certain plants take up and accumulate nanoparticles, and if so whether this interaction poses problems for the plants–and the animals that eat those plants. The particles also could end up in the environment, settling in the soil, especially as fertilizers, growth enhancers and other nanoagricultural products hit the market. Some plants can take-up and accumulate nanoparticles.

The scientists compiled and analyzed over 100 scientific studies into the effects of nanoparticles on edible plants (including cucumbers, rye, barley, and zucchini), and found that the uptake and buildup of nanoparticles vary widely depending on plant type as well as nanoparticle size and chemical composition, but warned that it is still unclear if these accumulations could be toxic to humans. The researchers state that very few references describe the biotransformation of nanomaterials in food crops, and the possible transmission of the nanomaterials to the next generation of plants exposed to nanomaterials is unknown. The possible biomagnification of nanomaterials up the food chain is also unknown. At the end of their analysis, the researchers are left reporting that they simply couldn’t find many answers.

Last year, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation directing the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to prohibit engineered nanomaterials from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible. While there is overwhelming agreement to prohibit nanotechnology in organics generally, there is still confusion over the definition of what exactly should be prohibited and how to prohibit nanotech products in the organic industry. The recommendation deals specifically with engineered nanomaterials and purposefully omits those that are naturally occurring. Further it would block petitions seeking an exemption and keep nanomaterials out of food packaging and contact surfaces. The board adopted the following definition:

Engineered nanomaterials: substances deliberately designed, engineered and produced by human activity to be in the nanoscale range (approx 1-300 nm) because of very specific properties or compositions (eg. shape, surface properties, or chemistry) that result only in that nanoscale. Incidental particles in the nanoscale range created during traditional food processing such as homogenization, milling, churning, and freezing, and naturally occurring particles in the nanoscale range are not intended to be included in this definition. All nanomaterials (without exception) containing capping reagents or other synthetic components are intended to be included in this definition.

Nanosized particles are super small particles with unique properties that are now incorporated, not only in food production but into many consumer products including paper wrapping, clothing and cosmetics, are currently not regulated and have not been assessed for hazards that have the potential to impact public health and the environment. 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 these some 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.

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. Copper nanoparticles could be released from the treated wood during sawing or machining, cleaning, through normal wear and tear, or from product decomposition, and then become available for potential inhalation or ingestion. Reports stated in early 2009 that over five billion board feet of wood have been treated with its “micronized” copper products, so the potential for consumer exposure to nanoscale copper particles could be quite large.

Source: American Chemical Society



NIOSH Study Confirms Pesticide Drift Hazards Posed by Conventional Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, June 7, 2011) A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and state agency partners finds that pesticide drift from conventional, chemical-intensive farming has poisoned thousands of farmworkers and rural residents in recent years. According to the authors, agricultural workers and residents in agricultural regions were found to have the highest rate of pesticide poisoning from drift exposure, and soil fumigations were a major hazard causing large drift incidents. The study, “Acute Pesticide Illnesses Associated with Off-Target Pesticide Drift from Agricultural Applications — 11 States, 1998–2006,” was published June 6, 2011 in the online edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Using data from NIOSH’s Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks (SENSOR) – Pesticides Program and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the study identifies 2,945 cases of pesticide poisoning associated with agricultural pesticide drift in 11 states. While the study focuses on top agriculture producing states, it provides only a snapshot of the poisoning of farmworkers and other rural residents nationally and around the world. Advocates also point out that pesticide poisoning is often underreported by farmworkers. According to the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation, only one percent of California pesticide illness or injury is reported.

Of the cases attributed to pesticide drift examined in this study, 47% had exposures at work and 14% were children (<15 years). Most experienced “low severity” illness. The overall incidence (in million person-years) is 114.3 for agricultural workers, 0.79 for other workers, 1.56 for non-occupational cases, and 42.2 for residents in five agriculture-intensive counties in California. Soil applications with fumigants are responsible for the largest proportion (45%) of cases. Aerial applications account for 24% of cases. Study findings show that the risk of illness resulting from drift exposure is largely borne by agricultural workers, and the incidence (114.3/million worker-years) was 145 times greater than that for all other workers.

While this study focuses only on acute poisoning due to pesticide drift, an increasing number of studies are linking low level agricultural pesticide exposure to chronic health impacts. Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database features dozens of studies linking common diseases, from asthma and autism to Parkinson’s disease and cancer, to pesticide drift and other agricultural exposures.

Pesticide spray drift is typically the result of small spray droplets being carried off-site by air movement. The main weather factors that cause drift are wind, humidity and temperature changes. Aside from poisoning people and animals, drift can injure foliage, shoots, flowers and fruits resulting in reduced yields, economic loss and illegal residues on exposed crops.

Beyond Pesticides has long advocated that people support a healthy work environment for farmworkers by choosing organic food and supporting the work of farmworker advocacy organizations. For more information going organic for farmworkers and rural residents, as well as for the your family’s health and the environment, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience web guide.



Groups Ask Congress to Save Bats from Lethal Disease

(Beyond Pesticides, June 6, 2011) A broad coalition of conservation, organic-agriculture, anti-pesticide and food-safety groups, including Beyond Pesticides, are calling on Congress to stop the spread of the bat-killing disease which has wiped out more than one million bats, threatening six different species. The letter, sent June 1, 2011, urges Congress to appropriate funds for research and management of white-nose syndrome. Groups are also asking Senators to support the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act, a bill introduced this session by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), to provide a framework and funding mechanism for effectively addressing wildlife disease crises like white-nose syndrome.

Insect-eating bats play an important economic role in agriculture and timber production. A study published earlier this year in the journal Science found that the value of bats’ pest-control services to agricultural operations in the United States ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.

“White-nose syndrome is a wildlife crisis of unprecedented proportions,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which spearheaded the letter. “Left unchecked, the loss of bats is likely to have cascading effects on both the human and natural worlds for generations to come.”

Since 2006, the newly emergent white-nose syndrome has spread across the Northeast and now is infecting and killing bats from Nova Scotia to the Midwest and South. So far, it has been found in 17 states and four Canadian provinces. States and provinces reporting either the disease itself or the presence of the disease-causing fungus are: Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

“Bats are friends to farmers — particularly organic farmers,” says Ms. Matteson. “They eat thousands of tons of insects each year, and without them growers will need to use more pesticides or risk more crop losses. American agriculture can’t afford to lose these valuable bats.”

Earlier this spring, Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) proposed an appropriation of $10.8 million in 2012 for white-nose syndrome research, coordination and management. This figure is what the Department of the Interior reports spending since 2007 on responding to the bat disease. Bat scientists and agency biologists widely agree that lack of funding has seriously hampered a swift, effective response to the disease.

Many scientists believe that white-nose syndrome is caused by a cold-loving fungus that thrives on hibernating bats. Six species, so far, have proven susceptible. Biologists fear that all two dozen or so of the hibernating bat species in North America may eventually be devastated by white-nose syndrome. Already, at least three bat species are virtually extinct in the Northeast, where the disease has been present the longest. The disease has many of the hallmarks of a novel pathogen. Researchers think it was likely introduced recently to the United States, possibly on the boots or gear of a cave visitor who inadvertently brought the fungus from Europe. Bats in Europe have been found with the fungus but do not appear to become ill.

Because one would expect bats’ immune systems would have evolved a way to deal with fungus and other pathogens entering the body during hibernation, others believe that the disease may be linked to toxic chemicals or another environmental factor, either alone or in combination with the fungus.

“Adequate funding for research is desperately needed to give scientists the best shot at finding a cure,” says Ms. Matteson. “Meanwhile, federal and state wildlife agencies need funding help also, so they aren’t shifting scarce monies away from other important wildlife issues just to barely keep up with this fast-moving epidemic.”

Other groups that signed on include Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Center for Food Safety, Local Harvest, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Northeast Organic Farming Association—Connecticut, Northeast Organic Farming Association—Vermont, Organic Consumers Association, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange).

To learn more about bats and white-nose syndrome go to http://www.saveourbats.org.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity Press Release



Despite Industry Claims, Herbicide Use Fails to Decline with GE Crops

(Beyond Pesticides, June 3, 2011) According to the 2010 Agricultural Chemical Use Report released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), use of the herbicide glyphosate, associated with genetically engineered (GE) crops, has dramatically increased over the last several years, while the use of other even more toxic chemicals such as atrazine has not declined. Contrary to common claims from chemical manufacturers and proponents of GE technology that the proliferation of herbicide tolerant GE crops would result in lower pesticide use rates, the data show that overall use of pesticides has remained relatively steady, while glyphosate use has skyrocketed to more than double the amount used just five years ago.

The 2010 Agricultural Chemical Use Report shows that, in the states surveyed, 57 million pounds of glyphosate were applied last year on corn fields. Ten years prior, in 2000, this number was only 4.4 million pounds, and in 2005, it was still less than half of current numbers at 23 million pounds. Intense corn growing regions have experienced an even greater increase in glyphosate applications. Glyphosate use in the state of Nebraska increased by more than five times in just seven years, going from 1.25 million pounds applied in 2003 to more than seven million pounds last year.

GE proponents have often said that, even if farmers are increasingly reaching for glyphosate, this simply means that they are using less of more toxic weed killers like atrazine. However, the data tell a different story. In 2000, 54 million pounds of atrazine were applied across surveyed states. With glyphosate use increasing by more than five times between 2000 and 2005, atrazine use should have significantly declined over this period. However, the total pounds applied actually increased by more than three million, to 57.4 million total pounds applied across surveyed states in 2005. By 2010, atrazine use had just barely declined, with 51 million pounds still being applied, only slightly less than the 57 million pounds of glyphosate applied. Such widespread use of atrazine is a concern due to the chemical’s links with serious human health effects, including birth defects and disruption of the endocrine and reproductive systems. Additionally, it is a major threat to wildlife as it can harm the immune, hormone, and reproductive systems of aquatic species.

The rise in glyphosate applications has almost certainly come as a result of farmers increasingly planting GE crops such as corn and soybeans, which are engineered to be resistant to the chemical. In this way, farmers can apply the chemical on a vast scale across their fields while not having to be careful that they don’t hit their crops. The most common commercial line of these GE seeds is Monsanto’s line of Roundup Ready crops, named for the company’s glyphosate formulation Roundup, though there are also several other commercially available products, such as Bayer CropScience’s GlyTol technology.

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), is of particular concern due to its toxicity to aquatic species as well as instances of serious human health effects from acute exposure.

Coupled with the dramatic rise in glyphosate applications has been the spread of wild plant species that are resistant to the herbicide. Over-application and over-reliance by farmers on glyphosate to solve all of their weed problems has led to the proliferation of so-called “superweeds” which have evolved to survive the treatments through repeated exposure. The most common species which have evolved these traits include pigweed (palmer amaranth), mare’s tail, and ryegrass. The spread of resistance is what has led farmers to increasingly rely on more toxic alternative mixtures including weed killers like atrazine. There has also been an increased push by chemical companies to engineer seed varieties that are resistant to multiple herbicide treatments, such as glyphosate and 2,4-D, or glyphosate and acetochlor.

As researchers scramble to find new ways of chemically coping with increased weed resistance, they overlook the glaring fact that there already exist alternative systems such as organic farming, which erases the need for these drastic measures through its systemic pest preventon approaches. Organic farming can be at least as productive as conventional, chemically-reliant farming while having none of the toxic side effects which create significant risks to ecosystems and human health. To learn more, see our page on organic food and agriculture.

Currently, there are commercially available glyphosate tolerant seed varieties for corn, soybeans, canola, sorghum, and cotton. Also, recently approved by the USDA were Roundup Ready versions of alfalfa and sugar beets. Due to serious questions regarding the integrity of USDA’s environmental evaluations, public interest groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have filed suit against the agency to stop its full deregulation of GE alfalfa.

Sources: USDA, Lincoln Journal Star



Groups Join Lawsuit to Protect Against Monsanto’s GE Patents

(Beyond Pesticides, June 2, 2011) New threats by Monsanto have led to the filing of an amended complaint by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) in its suit on behalf of family farmers, seed businesses, and organic agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed. Twenty-three new plaintiffs, including Beyond Pesticides, have joined with the original 60 in the amended complaint, bringing the total number represented in the case to 83. The plaintiffs in the suit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto and pending in the Southern District of New York, now include 36 family farmer, food, agricultural research, food safety, and environmental organizations representing hundreds of thousands of members including several thousand certified organic, biodynamic, or otherwise non-transgenic family farmers.

“Our clients don’t want a fight with Monsanto, they just want to be protected from the threat they will be contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed and then be accused of patent infringement,” said PUBPAT Executive Director Daniel B. Ravicher. “We asked Monsanto to give our clients reassurance they wouldn’t do such a thing, and in response they chose instead to reiterate the same implicit threat to organic agriculture made in the past.”

Soon after the March filing of the lawsuit, Monsanto issued a statement saying it would not assert its patents against farmers who suffer “trace” amounts of transgenic contamination. In response, and in the hope that the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys wrote Monsanto’s attorneys asking the company to make its promise legally binding. Monsanto responded to PUBPAT’s request by hiring former solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of WilmerHale, who rejected PUBPAT’s request and instead confirmed Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers who become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed. Copies of both letters are available as exhibits at the end of the amended complaint.

“Monsanto’s letter was an empty, indefensible, and self-evident evasion showing they are only interested in spinning propaganda without taking serious steps to resolve the problem created for organic and non-transgenic agriculture,” said one of the co-plaintiffs in the suit, Don Patterson of Virginia. “With the Monsanto letter signed by Mr. Waxman, the company rolled out their biggest legal cannon, but they fired off only fluffy wadding and smoke,” as he views it. “The letter shows Monsanto wanting to protect their freedom to threaten farmers with patent infringement suits,” he states; “Both the threats and the lawsuits are clearly important to their marketing strategy and business model.”

“Despite their empty propaganda to the contrary, they plainly do not want to give up these tactics,” Mr. Patterson asserts. “Monsanto has collected multiple millions of dollars in settlements often from family farmers without the resources to defend themselves,” he reports; “Too many have had to settle because they could not afford to fight.”

“The serious issues being engaged in this case require a constructive and socially-acceptable response from the defendant in the public interest,” adds Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of OSGATA, the lead plaintiff in the suit. “In the absence of that, we reassert the essential importance of the arguments stated in March and reinforced now by the additional evidence of the Monsanto intransigence. Monsanto’s utter failure to act reasonably to address our concerns has only reaffirmed the need for our lawsuit.”

“We don’t think we are asking too much to want assurance that if Monsanto’s transgenic genes contaminate our crops we will not be sued by Monsanto,” adds Iowa organic dairy farmer Francis Thicke, owner of plaintiff Radiance Dairy; “It is bad enough that we face the threat of contamination of our organic and non-transgenic crops. The least Monsanto can do is give us assurance that they won’t sue us for their own genetic trespass.”

The amended complaint elaborates a fear tangibly vexing many family farmers: “Monsanto continued in the statement to perversely characterize this suit as an ‘attack,’ when Plaintiffs seek no money from and no injunction against them. All Plaintiffs seek is peace of mind if they are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed, the company could never sue them for patent infringement. This is not an attack by the Plaintiffs and to characterize it that way only further evidences Monsanto’s aggressive and threatening attitude with respect to its patents. Thus, the statement made by Monsanto in response to this suit has only served to heighten Plaintiff’s fear that Monsanto will seek to enforce its patents against them should they ever be contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed.”

“It is outrageous that our entire farm, family business, and livelihood could be at risk because of Monsanto’s backward and oppressive response and enforcement towards farmers in regards to transgenic pollen drift, unasked for and unwanted-and the subsequent results in fields and farms,” says Ruth Chantry of Common Good Farm in Nebraska; “Any transgenic pollen drift that would ever come onto our farm is of great detriment to us, and as such, it is an invasion upon and a contamination of our crops, the multi-species habitat we are assisting and creating here-and to the integrity of how we are farming organically and biodynamically.”

The request for court protection through a declaratory judgment is a primary objective of the case. The suit also argues the invalidity of Monsanto’s transgenic Roundup Ready patents under both statute and case law precedent requiring patented products to demonstrate clear social utility and not be dangerous to health. Four basic contentions, ranging from the patent invalidity, through the establishment of proper requirements for a finding of patent infringement to patent unenforceability and Monsanto’s lack of entitlement to collect damages were asserted in the original complaint filed March 29, 2011. Court relief is being sought to protect organic farmers and other growers of non-transgenic crops from liability should unwanted transgenic contamination occur in their fields. The response to the PubPat letter of April 18 was received on April 28 from the Monsanto attorneys. When no binding legal covenant was provided, Ravicher states, the filing of the amended complaint was required to make the defendant’s position fully clear. “The reply from Monsanto is insufficient and unsatisfactory to protect the interests of my clients,” said Mr. Ravicher.

“If organic farmers, seed growers, and companies have no assurance that technology they have never asked for, never signed a licensing agreement to use, have no desire to be a part of, and in fact, go to great lengths to avoid, can still trespass on their farms and subject them to a lawsuit by the patent holder who seemingly escapes all liability for that trespass, then it is not only morally wrong, ethically unjust, but also legally perverse,” states Marty Mesh, Executive Director of Florida Organic Growers.

The biotech impact on the quality, safety, and nutritional integrity of food will be brought up for public and courtroom scrutiny, so that the truth can be determined between their arguments and ours, states Mr. Ravicher; “If Monsanto is proud of what they do, they should be happy for the opportunity to present the evidence in support of their ideal.” To help stimulate and promote objective debate between the differing agricultural philosophies, the new group of plaintiffs has joined the case as part of today’s filing. Included among these are groups long committed to food safety and environmental responsibility in the public interest. Some of the new plaintiffs have been prominent in other legal actions and advocacy against Monsanto’s efforts to aggressively and monopolistically assert its chemically and transgenically-dependent agricultural system.

In addition to supplementing the complaint with Monsanto’s most recent clarifying statement confirming its threat to the plaintiffs and GMO-free agriculture, the new group of 23 organizations, seed companies, farms and individual farmers includes 14 organizations: Weston A. Price Foundation, Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Manitoba Organic Alliance, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (Wisconsin), Midwest Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Florida Organic Growers, Peace River Organic Producers Association (Alberta and British Columbia) and Union Paysanne (Quebec); two seed companies: Seed We Need (Montana), Wild Garden Seed (Oregon); and seven farms or individual farmers: Common Good Farm, LLC (Nebraska), American Buffalo Company (Nebraska), Full Moon Farm, Inc. (Vermont), Radiance Dairy (Iowa), Brian L. Wickert (Wisconsin), Bruce Drinkman (Wisconsin), and Murray Bast (Ontario).

These plaintiffs join the 60 plaintiffs from the original filing of the lawsuit in March including 22 organizations: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc. (OCIA); OCIA Research and Education, Inc.; The Cornucopia Institute; Demeter Association, Inc.; Navdanya International; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont; Rural Vermont; Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association; Southeast Iowa Organic Association; Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society; Mendocino Organic Network (California); Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Canadian Organic Growers; Family Farmer Seed Cooperative; Sustainable Living Systems (Montana); Global Organic Alliance; Food Democracy Now!; Family Farm Defenders, Inc.; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; twelve seed companies: FEDCO Seeds, Inc. (Maine); Adaptive Seeds, LLC (Oregon); Sow True Seed (North Carolina); Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Virginia); Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds (Saskatchewan); Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., LLC (Missouri); Comstock, Ferre & Co. LLC (Connecticut); Seedkeepers, LLC (California); Siskiyou Seeds (Oregon); Countryside Organics (Virginia); Cuatro Puertas (New Mexico); Interlake Forage Seeds, Ltd. (Manitoba); and, twenty-six farms and farmers: Alba Ranch (Kansas); Wild Plum Farm (Montana); Gratitude Gardens (Washington); Richard Everett Farm, LLC (Nebraska); Philadelphia Community Farm, Inc. (Wisconsin); Genesis Farm (New Jersey); Chispas Farms, LLC (New Mexico); Kirschenmann Family Farms, Inc. (North Dakota); Midheaven Farms (Minnesota); Koskan Farms (South Dakota); California Cloverleaf Farms; North Outback Farm (North Dakota); Taylor Farms, Inc. (Utah); Jardin del Alma (New Mexico); Ron Gargasz Organic Farms (Pennsylvania); Abundant Acres (Missouri); T & D Willey Farms (California); Quinella Ranch (Saskatchewan); Nature’s Way Farm, Ltd. (Alberta); Levke and Peter Eggers Farm (Alberta); Frey Vineyards, Ltd. (California); Bryce Stephens (Kansas); Chuck Noble (South Dakota); LaRhea Pepper (Texas); Paul Romero (New Mexico); and, Donald Wright Patterson, Jr. (Virginia).

Beyond Pesticides is currently involved with another lawsuit concerning GE crops led by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Earthjustice, and farm and environmental groups. The lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), argues that the agency’s recent unrestricted approval of GE alfalfa is unlawful.

More information about PUBPAT’s suit against Monsanto’s seed patents can be found at PUBPAT’s page on Monsanto Seed Patents.

Source: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association Press Release



NAFTA Deal Confirms Canada’s Right to Ban Lawn Pesticide Use

(Beyond Pesticides, June 1, 2011) Municipalities in Canada can continue to restrict cosmetic uses of pesticides on their lawns in spite of the settlement of a closely watched trade case, according to Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast. The province of Quebec and Dow AgroSciences settled a $2-million (U.S.) lawsuit stemming from Quebec’s 2006 ban of the pesticide 2,4-D. Environmentalists say the settlement reinforces the right of municipalities and provinces to ban pesticides.

Quebec began banning pesticides in 2003 and prohibits the use and sale of 20 ingredients in lawn pesticides that had been used in the province. It also restricts pesticide use outside daycares and schools. Environmentalists suspect Dow brought the suit to dissuade other provinces from following Quebec’s lead and banning the cosmetic use of pesticides like 2,4-D. Dow dropped the claim without compensation or changes to Quebec’s ban in the settlement which was reached May 25, 2011. The company had been seeking $2 million. Federal International Trade Minister Ed Fast said the agreement “confirms the right of governments to regulate the use of pesticides. This right will not be compromised by Canada’s participation in North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or any other trade agreement.”

Dow based its claim in part on a Health Canada ruling in 2008 that 2,4-D can be used safely when label directions are followed. It said the Quebec ban violated Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement and launched a challenge against the federal government. Section 11 allows investors of one NAFTA country to sue the government of another NAFTA country for actions they think are hurting them or their investments. For its part, Quebec agreed to a statement that “products containing 2,4-D do not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment, provided that the instructions on their label are followed.”

According to Didier Bicchi, the Quebec Ministry of the Environment’s director of agriculture and pesticides, 2,4-D will continue to be prohibited in Quebec because the government has found the product to be “non-essential” as a weed killer in the province. “The Pesticide Management Code remains as is. The ingredient 2,4-D continues to be prohibited in the province. The situation for the company’s product hasn’t changed. The only difference is that it will no longer be labelled as a dangerous product,” Mr. Bicchi said in an interview.

There is a large body of scientific literature that outlines numerous risks of 2,4-D. It has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, endocrine disruption, kidney and liver damage, is neurotoxic and 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; dogs whose owners use 2,4-D on their lawns are more likely to develop canine malignant lymphoma than those whose owners do not. Despite the known health and environmental effects of 2,4-D, it is the top selling herbicide for non-agricultural use, such as lawns, in the United States. It is also the fifth most commonly used herbicide in the agricultural sector and total annual usage in the U.S. tops 40 million pounds.

During the past decade, over 150 municipalities and several Canadian provinces —Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick— have banned the use of “cosmetic” lawn care pesticides because of health and environmental concerns. The bans have had the support of the Canadian medical community, including the Canadian Cancer Society and the Ontario College of Family Physicians. Similar legislation banning lawn pesticides is being considered in British Columbia and Manitoba.

The adoption of pesticide-free and pesticide reduction policies have been gaining momentum across the U.S. Examples include: New York State Parks; Chicago City Parks; 29 communities and townships in New Jersey; at least 17 cities in the Northwest, covering more than 50 parks; and, numerous communities throughout Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as new policies and programs are continually being implemented by local and state government entities as well as schools and homeowner associations.

Eliminating toxic pesticides is important in lawn and landscape management, considering that of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides: 14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, and 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants.

Under the May 2011 NAFTA agreement, the Government of Quebec had to acknowledge that Health Canada’s conclusion that products containing 2,4-D do not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or to the environment, provided that the instructions on the label are followed. While Dow claimed this was vindication for the toxic herbicide, Canadian environmentalists and public health advocates believe that Dow settled its lawsuit without compensation because it feared it would ultimately lose the case.



Pesticide Exposure Near Workplace Linked to Parkinson’s Disease Risk

(Beyond Pesticides, May 31, 2011) A study has found that people whose workplaces were close to fields sprayed with chemicals — not just those who live nearby — are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD). The pesticide chemicals in question include two fungicides -maneb (in the ethylene bisdithiocarbamate (EDBC) family and ziram (in the dimethylthiocarbamate family)- and the herbicide paraquat that appear to raise the risk of developing the movement disorder.

In a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, entitled, “Parkinson’s disease risk from ambient exposure to pesticides,” a team of researchers led by UCLA neurologist Beate Ritz, PhD found that exposures to the trio of pesticides are actually higher in workplaces located near sprayed fields than they were in residences. And the combination of exposure to all three pesticides, which act in different ways to harm brain cells involved in Parkinson’s disease, appears to be cumulative, the team led by Dr. Ritz concludes.

The study found that the combined exposure to pesticides ziram, maneb and paraquat near any workplace increased the risk of Parkinson’s disease threefold, while combined exposure to ziram and paraquat alone was associated with an 80% increase in risk. The researchers estimate exposures to the three chemicals that 703 study participants would have had between 1974 and 1999 while living and working in California’s agriculturally rich Central Valley. Of those, 362 participants already had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the remainder had no sign of the disease. Among participants who had worked for long periods near fields in which all three chemicals were used on crops, rates of Parkinson’s disease are three times higher than among subjects whose exposure is less intensive.

In animal studies conducted as part of the research on agricultural chemicals and Parkinson’s disease, the researchers found that ziram was powerfully destructive to neurons that use the transmitter chemical dopamine to send messages. These brain cells are the ones that die off in regions of the brain that govern motor function, causing the tremors, unsteady gait and difficulty initiating movement that are the hallmarks of Parkinson’s.

“Our estimates of risk for ambient exposure in the workplaces were actually greater than for exposure at residences,” said Dr. Beate Ritz, senior author and a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health. “And, of course, people who both live and work near these fields experience the greatest PD risk. These workplace results give us independent confirmation of our earlier work that focused only on residences, and of the damage these chemicals are doing,” adds Dr. Ritz.

In addition, Dr. Ritz notes that this is the first study finding strong evidence in humans that associates the three chemicals in combination with a greater risk of Parkinson’s than exposure to the individual chemicals alone. Because these pesticides affect different mechanisms leading to cell death, they may act together to increase the risk of developing the disorder: Those exposed to all three experienced the greatest increase in risk.

In the past year, several studies have been published that link Parkinson’s disease to a combination of environmental risk factors such as pesticide exposure and genetic susceptibility. For example, residential exposure to an agricultural application of the fungicide maneb and the herbicide paraquat significantly increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a University of California, Berkeley study. A University of Texas study found a strong correlation between Parkinson’s disease patients and the use of the pesticide rotenone. In addition, Duke University and University of Miami researchers studying related individuals who share environmental and genetic backgrounds found a significant association between Parkinson’s disease and use of herbicides and insecticides, such as organochlorines and organophosphates. Farmworkers have nearly double the risk for the disease if exposed to pesticides, with a dose-effect for the number of years of exposure.

For more information read Beyond Pesticides’ report “Pesticides Trigger Parkinson’s Disease,” a review of published toxicological and epidemiological studies that link exposure to pesticides, as well as gene-pesticide interactions, to Parkinson’s disease. For additional epidemiologic studies that link pesticide exposure to adverse public health effects, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.

Source: LA Times

**Photo Courtesy: California Agriculture, University of California



Groups Sue FDA to Restrict Antibiotics in Livestock Feed

(Beyond Pesticides, May 27, 2011) A coalition of environmental and public health groups filed a lawsuit yesterday 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.

The non-therapeutic use of antibiotic drugs in animal feed presents a serious risk to public health due to the potential for bacteria to develop resistance to the drugs as a result of repeated low dose exposure. The rise of drug-resistant infections in humans has been linked to the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed since the early 1970s, but FDA has failed to meet its legal responsibility to address the mounting health threat posed by the practice, according to the groups’ suit.

The coalition’s suit would also force the agency to respond to citizen petitions filed by several of the plaintiffs in 1999 and 2005, to which the FDA has never issued a final response, despite regulations requiring it to do so. The two petitions requested that the FDA take action to limit the use of antibiotics important to human medicine, such as those that doctors rely on to treat ailments such as pneumonia, strep throat and childhood ear infections, as well as more serious conditions. The lawsuit would not affect the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals.

It is estimated that approximately 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S., primarily penicillin and tetracycline, are given to healthy farm animals at low doses to promote faster growth and compensate for unsanitary living conditions—a practice that has increased over the past 60 years despite evidence that it breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria dangerous to humans. The antibiotics, mixed into feed or water for pigs, cows, chicken and turkeys, are used at levels too low to treat disease, leaving surviving bacteria stronger and resistant to medical treatment.

FDA concluded in 1977 that feeding animals low doses of certain antibiotics used in human medicine could promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people. Despite this conclusion and laws requiring that the agency act on its findings, FDA failed to take any action to protect human health.

The American Medical Association (AMA), World Health Organization (WHO), Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and hundreds of other organizations have recommended that livestock producers be prohibited from using antibiotics for growth promotion if those antibiotics also are used in human medicine. Many nations, including all 27 member states of the European Union, already have taken action on these recommendations.

The American National Academy of Sciences estimated in 1999 that if similar steps were taken in the United States to eliminate all non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, it would cost grocery shoppers less than $10 annually. That’s less than $1.25 per month in today’s dollars.

Bacteria which survive exposure to treatment with an antibiotic drug serve as the basis for succeeding generations which will inherit the resistance genes, and the process will continue, until the entire bacterial population has evolved to resist the effects of a certain antibiotic treatment. The process is most likely to occur when bacteria are repeatedly exposed to low doses of antibiotics, killing or harming a small amount, but leaving the rest to develop immunity. Putting antimicrobials, such as triclosan, in soaps or antibiotics in animal feed results in precisely these kinds of low dose exposures which put the general public at risk of untreatable infection.

The strongest regulatory action in this country against the use of antibiotics for non-medical uses has been in organic agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards, producers of organic livestock cannot use antibiotics in any form, with the exception of limited emergency situations when they are needed to save an animal’s life. Regulatory prohibition is beside the point, however. One of the reasons that conventional livestock producers feel they need to feed their animals antibiotics is that the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which the animals are housed in these operations present the perfect breeding ground for disease. Organic producers do not house their animals this way, and so the prophylactic use of antibiotics is largely unnecessary.

Currently, organic fruit producers growing apples and pears are allowed to use the antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline to control a fruit tree disease called fire blight. However, at the recent Spring meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, it was determined that this use is inconsistent with organic production principles and presents an unnecessary risk to public health. Accordingly, the board voted to completely ban antibiotics from organic production within the next three years, with a final expiration date of October 21, 2014.

Show your support for the safe practices of organic farmers by buying organic! See our organic program page to learn more about the benefits of organic food and farming.

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists press release



Study Finds 1 in 6 Children with Developmental Delays

(Beyond Pesticides, May 26, 2011) A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics reveals that roughly one in six children in the U.S. have developmental disabilities, particularly those that are linked to environmental exposure, which showcases the need for stricter policies to reduce the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. The study is based on National Health Interview Surveys of children aged 3 to 17 years over the 12-year period of 1997-2008.

Though the report does not indicate a specific reason for the alarming increase, the two fastest growing developmental diseases are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism, which are both highly linked to pesticides. Over the course of the 12-year study, ADHD rose from 5.7% to 7.6%, and the rate of autism went from 0.2% to 0.7%.

This adds to the growing database of studies that show our current approach to restricting pesticide use through risk assessment-based mitigation measures is not working. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) risk assessment fails to look at chemical mixtures, synergistic effects, certain health endpoints (such as endocrine disruption), disproportionate effects to vulnerable population groups, and regular noncompliance with product label directions.

Emerging science demonstrates that the amount of toxic chemicals in the environment that cause developmental and neurological damage are contributing to the rise of physical and mental effects being found in children. Regulatory restrictions must be tied to alternatives assessment that move chemicals off the market or prohibit their marketing as safer approaches and technologies emerge.

Earlier this month, a study published in Health Affairs journal found that environmental disease in children costs around $76.6 billion in 2008. Three independent studies published in Environmental Health Studies last month found that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides is linked to IQ deficits in school-aged children.

Last summer, Beyond Pesticides launched the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database to capture the range of diseases linked to pesticides through epidemiologic studies. The database, which currently contains 383 entries of epidemiologic and laboratory exposure studies, will be continually updated to track the emerging findings and trends. To view the database, go to www.beyondpesticides.org/health.

For more information on children’s exposure to pesticides, including information on how you can protect your family from pesticides and the latest studies and news on this topic, see Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools page and Safer Choice program page.

Source: Reuters



Senate Considers Eliminating CWA Protections from Pesticides, Act Now

(Beyond Pesticides, May 25, 2011) Legislation, already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, that would allow pesticides to be sprayed into water without a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit, is now being weighed by the U.S. Senate (S. 718). The Western Farm Press recently reported that Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is holding up the bill while she discusses it with EPA and USDA. But, the bill is expected to move quickly and the time to act is now. Beyond Pesticides encourages individuals and organizations tell their Senators that regulating pesticides under the CWA is necessary to protect our waterways, public health, fish, and wildlife, and therefore, they must oppose S. 718.

Michigan residents: Please call Senator Stabenow, thank her for delaying the legislation and ask her to oppose S. 718. Please call both your district office and Washington, DC.

Upper Peninsula Office: (906) 228-8756
Northern Michigan Office: (231) 929-1031
Flint/Saginaw Bay Office: (810) 720-4172
Southeast Michigan Office: (313) 961-4330
Mid-Michigan Office: (517) 203-1760
Western Michigan Office: (616) 975-0052
Washington, DC Office: (202) 224-4822

All other U.S. residents: Please call your U.S. Senators and tell them to oppose S. 718. If you know your Senators names, contact the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request. You can find your Senators here. You may also automatically email your Senators using Beyond Pesticides’ Action Alert. You are encouraged to modify the sample letter for greater impact.

S. 718 – the so-called “Bill to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to improve the use of certain registered pesticides,” would eliminate CWA permits, or permits mandated by any other environmental law, that are required for the application of pesticides. The bill amends the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by stating, “Notwithstanding any other law, no permit shall be required for the use of a pesticide that is registered or otherwise authorized for use under this Act.” This bill would mean that pesticide applicators will be able to discharge pesticides into U.S. waterways without any government oversight. While the main aim of the law is the CWA, it could also prevent the regulation of pesticides under the Clean Air Act, which has been used to regulate ozone-depleting pesticides.

Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the ranking Republican member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced the bill in April. So far, it has only attracted Republican co-sponsors.

FIFRA and CWA are complementary laws. The two statutes have fundamentally different standards and methods in determining whether a pesticide will have unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and/or human health. The CWA statute is more stringent than FIFRA. CWA has a “zero discharge” standard, meaning any amount of discharge, no matter how small, without a permit, constitutes a violation of the CWA. FIFRA’s risk/benefit standard allows a certain amount of pollution in exchange for controversial calculations of benefit and use a threshold of harm that can vary upon EPA discretion. Since the CWA statute is more stringent in its oversight of U.S. waterways, FIFRA should not be allowed to override the CWA.

In March, HR 872 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 292-130. The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), seeks to amended FIFRA and CWA to eliminate provisions requiring pesticide applicators to obtain a permit to allow pesticides or their residues to enter waterways. It would reverse a 2009 Sixth Circuit court decision which ruled that, under FIFRA and CWA, EPA must require such permits.

The January 2009 Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in National Cotton Council v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requires pesticide applications to be permitted under the Clean Water Act. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit would be in addition to the less protective label requirements under FIFRA. EPA drafted proposed rules in 2010 outlining the applicability of the permits for pesticide usage. Since then, industry has lobbied hard to get Congress to prevent this measure from going into effect this year.



Court of Appeals Dismisses Monsanto’s Appeal, Requires EIS for GE Sugar Beets

(Beyond Pesticides, May 24, 2011) Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a summary order upholding a landmark legal decision requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before approving the planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops. The decision upholds previous court rulings in favor of farmers and conservation advocates in a case on the future commercial uses of GE sugar beets, engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

“Today’s order cements a critical legal benchmark in the battle for meaningful oversight of biotech crops and food,” said Center for Food Safety (CFS) attorney George Kimbrell. “Because of this case, there will be public disclosure and debate on the harmful impacts of these pesticide-promoting crops, as well as legal protections for farmers threatened by contamination.”

CFS, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club, represented by CFS and Earthjustice, challenged the USDA approval in 2008. They argued that GE sugar beets would contaminate organic and non-GE farmers of related crops, such as table beets and chard, as well as increase pesticide impacts on the environment and worsen the current Roundup-resistant “superweeds” epidemic in U.S. agriculture. In September 2009, Judge Jeffrey S. White in the federal district court in San Francisco agreed, and ordered USDA to prepare an EIS assessing these and other impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In August 2010, after a year of vigorous litigation over the proper remedy for USDA’s unlawful approval, the court again agreed with plaintiffs, threw out the USDA’s approval, and halting planting.

Monsanto and other biotech industry intervenors appealed on procedural grounds and, if granted, threatened to undo the earlier rulings. the appeals court order dismisses that appeal and affirmed the lower court’s rulings.

“Dismissal of the appeal confirms that the district court rightly concluded that in this case, as in every other case that has challenged USDA’s oversight of genetically engineered crops, the agency has flouted the law, favoring the interests of Monsanto over those of American people,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff. “With every court decision the need for fundamental reform in this area becomes ever more obvious.”

Remarkably, the EIS is only the second USDA has undertaken for any GE crop in over 15 years of approving such crops for human consumption. Both analyses were court-ordered. USDA said it expects to finish the GE sugar beets EIS and have a new decision on commercialization in 2012.

Despite the absence of lawful review or a new agency decision, in summer 2010, USDA and the biotech industry demanded the court allow planting to continue unabated. The district court refused to do so and instead set aside USDA’s approval of the crop based on the agency’s failure to comply with environmental laws. That precedential ruling was also preserved by the appeals court order.

During this case’s appeal, USDA approved 2011-2012 planting of GE sugar beets under the terms of a novel permitting and “partial deregulation” scheme while it conducted the court-ordered analysis. That decision is the subject of separate litigation that is ongoing in the District of Columbia.

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.

In March, 2011, attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Beyond Pesticides, Earthjustice, and farm and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against USDA, arguing that the agency’s unrestricted approval of GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa is unlawful. In January, 2011, USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GE alfalfa seed, despite contamination risks it poses to both organic and conventional farmers.

Glyphosate is a neurotoxin, irritant, and can cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage. It is also linked to non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In recent news, glyphosate has been identified as a common chemical found in acute agricultural worker poisonings, and linked to intersex frogs.

Genetic engineering is often touted by chemical manufacturers as a way to reduce pesticide usage and increase disease resistance. In reality, it has actually been shown to increase pesticide usage, while disease resistant varieties are still largely in the experimental stages. Most GE crops currently on the market are genetically modified to be resistant to pests and pesticides through the incorporation of genes into food crops from a natural bacterium insecticide (Bt) or the development of herbicide-resistant crops. Thus, there are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GE crops. For instance, in a recent study by University of Notre Dame, scientists found that streams throughout the Midwest are contaminated with GE materials from corn crop byproducts, even six months after harvest. The long-term health effects of consuming GE food are still unknown. GE crops are also known to contaminate conventional non-GE and organic crops through “genetic drift” and take a toll on the environment by increasing resistant insects and weeds, contaminating water and affecting pollinators and other non-target organisms.

Currently, there are no regulations requiring GE foods to be labeled as such. The best way for consumers to avoid GE foods is to choose organic products.



Potent Carcinogen Methyl Iodide Used for First Time in California

(Beyond Pesticides, May 23, 2011) A California farm growing chile peppers has become the first in the state of California to use the highly toxic and controversial soil fumigant methyl iodide. Despite the concerns of farmworker advocates, medical experts, and environmentalists, as well as a pending lawsuit, the farm in Sanger, California applied the fumigant on May 17 after a permit for use was approved by Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Carol Hafner.

Methyl iodide is a highly potent carcinogen which was recently approved for use in California as a replacement for the ozone depleting chemical methyl bromide. The phase out of methyl bromide was mandated by the Clean Air Act and international treaty. Like methyl bromide before it, the use of methyl iodide has been expected to be most common on strawberry fields, though it has been approved for other crops such as the chile peppers, where it will be used to sterilize the soil to eliminate potential pathogens –but also will completely eradicate beneficial soil life such as microbes and earthworms.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) approval of methyl iodide last year came over significant opposition from public health and environmental groups, as well as DPR’s own top scientists. DPR had asked its Scientific Review Committee (SRC) to examine the chemical and make recommendations regarding its potential use. When the team described its grave concerns over the possibility of public exposure to this chemical and strongly cautioned against its use, DPR ignored their input and proceeded to give methyl iodide its approval.

John Foines, PhD, the lead scientist and chair of the SRC, is quoted as saying, “I honestly think that this chemical will cause disease and illness. And so does everyone else on the committee.”

Theodore Slotkin, Ph.D., another panel member and professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University, wrote, “It is my personal opinion that this decision will result in serious harm to California citizens, and most especially to children.”Foines has also noted that the strategies DPR has proposed for mitigating the risks “are not going to be adequate, because this is without question one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.”

In January of this year, 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.

Methyl iodide causes late term miscarriages, contaminates groundwater and is so reliably carcinogenic that it is used to create cancer cells in laboratories. It is also on California’s official list of known carcinogenic chemicals and has been linked to serious risks in reproductive and neurological health.

The pesticide poses the most direct risks to farmworkers and those in the surrounding communities because of the volume that would be applied to fields and its tendency to drift off site through the air. It is approved to be applied to California’s strawberry fields at rates up to 100 pounds per acre on much of the state’s 38,000 acres in strawberry production, totaling millions of pounds of use. Though methyl iodide will likely be used primarily on strawberries, it is also registered for use on tomatoes, peppers, nurseries and on soils prior to replanting orchards and vineyards.

The only other previous permit application for methyl iodide use in California had been rejected last month by officials in Ventura County due to the presence of a playground less than half a mile away from the proposed application site.

Despite the claims that it would not be possible to grow strawberries without methyl iodide, organic growers across the state do so successfully every year. In a February 8, 2010 hearing before the California Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture, two panels of California growers and researchers discussed a number of safe and effective alternatives to methyl iodide. These methods include solarization, anaerobic soil disinfestation, crop rotation, biological controls, selective breeding, soil steaming, hydroponics, and steam treatment for containerized plants. “I’ve been growing strawberries without using pesticides in California for 25 years,” said Jim Cochran, owner of Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California. “It’s certainly possible to grow commercially-viable and ecologically sound strawberry crops without using methyl iodide or any other chemical pesticides.”

Source: Fresno Bee



National Organic Standards Board Strengthens Organic Integrity at Spring Meeting

(Beyond Pesticides, May 20, 2011) At its April 26-29, 2011 Spring meeting in Seattle, Washington, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) strengthened standards affecting the integrity of organic food and farming and rejected proposals that would have weakened the standards. The board voted on recommendations proposed by each of the various issue committees including Crops; Livestock; Handling; Materials; Certification, Accreditation, and Compliance; and Policy Development. Decisions were made regarding a wide range of materials and practices, from pesticides and fertilizers to mulches and processing aids.

There were several highly controversial issues discussed, including the use of antibiotics to control fruit tree diseases, living conditions for livestock, and the process for how the board determines whether a material is natural or synthetic. You can find details for the meeting on Beyond Pesticides’ organic action page.

Prior to the meeting, the committee proposals were posted on the internet and opened for public comment. Following the democratic spirit inherent in the organic law, the board is required to take the voiced concerns of the public into consideration in making its decisions. There were over three thousand comments submitted to the board for this meeting – more than any other previous NOSB meeting. Many of the comments received concerned one of two issues: nutrient supplementation in processed organic foods, and requirements regarding the living conditions for livestock. Decisions on both of these issues ultimately ended up being postponed, due in part to the numerous comments received from the public. This serves as a testament to the power the public has in being able to shape the future of organic food and farming.

In taking its final votes and issuing its decisions, the board decided to eliminate some previously allowed substances, such as sodium nitrate fertilizer, while adding only one new substance to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances – attapulgite clay for clarifying natural oils. Some of the more controversial and significant decisions are discussed below. To see the full results of each proposal and vote, go to Beyond Pesticides’ Spring 2011 meeting page.


Antibiotics have long been a contentious issue in organic, and in conventional, agriculture. They have been banned in organic livestock production since the adoption of the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990. However, limited uses have been allowed in crop production for the purposes of fighting fireblight disease in apple and pear trees. The two antibiotics currently allowed are tetracycline and streptomycin. Past boards have been uncomfortable with this use, due to concerns that the prophylactic application of antibiotics is inconsistent with organic production principles. In 2008, the board voted to put an expiration date on the allowed use of tetracycline, making it a prohibited substance beginning October 21, 2012. A petition was submitted for the spring 2011 meeting asking the board to remove this expiration date and allow use to continue. Although the committee recommended against adopting this petition, there was a great deal of push back from organic fruit growers, who believe the material is vital for combating disease. A compromise was reached whereby the expiration date would be pushed back two years, to October 21, 2014 and the Crops Committee is expecting that growers will develop a transition plan that will address the transition to fire blight resistant varieties and rootstocks, preventive cultural practices, and an increased push for research on alternative control products.

Streptomycin, an antibiotic used for the same purposes as tetracycline, was given an October 21, 2014 expiration date by the board under its sunset review process. This cuts three years off a typical
five year sunset renewal. Here again the board is seeking to expedite a phase-out of antibiotic use in organic apple and pear production.

Corn Steep Liquor

Corn steep liquor (CSL) is a byproduct of the corn wet-milling process which produces materials such as corn starch and corn syrup. It is used agriculturally to fertilize fields because it contains high amounts of nitrogen. At issue was whether CSL should be classified as a natural or synthetic substance. This is important because inherent in organic principles is a preference for natural inputs over synthetic whenever and wherever possible. A majority of the Crops Committee recommended finding that CSL is nonsynthetic, and thus, automatically allowed for use in organic production. A significant minority of the committee, however, strongly criticized this recommendation and advocated for finding CSL synthetic, due to scientific analysis they had received categorizing the CSL production process as constituting chemical change to a form other than its natural form. In the end, there were not enough votes for the board to classify CSL as nonsynthetic. However, according to staff at the USDA National Organic Program, this does not constitute a finding by the board that CSL is synthetic. Such a finding would require a separate vote. Though seemingly esoteric on the surface, the CSL issue became highly controversial because of its implications for classification of future materials as synthetic or natural. The debate revolves around the board’s definition of “synthetic” and how to determine whether a material is synthetic, which is an issue at the very heart of organic principles that seek to minimize synthetic inputs.

Nutrient Supplementation

The Handling Committee had proposed a recommendation which would have expanded approved nutrient additives in organic food, either natural or synthetic, to include any that have been deemed nutritionally essential by bodies such as the FDA or the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Due to thousands of public comments in opposition to this recommendation as well as input from the National Organic Program regarding potential problems with the proposed recommendation, the committee withdrew the matter and will rework the recommendation for the next NOSB meeting in the fall. The board voted to reapprove nutrients as they currently appear on the National List until a new recommendation can be developed.

Animal Welfare Recommendations

The Livestock Committee had proposed significant changes to the regulations concerning organic livestock production in order to better account for concerns about animal health and welfare. However, numerous public comments deemed that the recommendations do not go far enough to ensure proper animal health. Still more comments from farmers showed concern about the feasibility of the recommendations from a production standpoint. The committee decided to withdraw their recommendations from consideration at this meeting and rework them in light of the input they received.

Sodium Nitrate

Sometimes called Chilean nitrate because it is mined and imported from Chile, sodium nitrate serves as a natural source of nitrogen fertilizer for farmers. Unlike other organic fertilizers, such as compost, sodium nitrate provides plants with an immediately available soluble source of nitrogen. Since this runs contrary to the organic principle of “feed the soil, not the plant,” and also presents the potential for leaching and nitrate pollution due to its high solubility, the substance was placed on the NOSB’s short list of prohibited natural substances. Additionally, there was concern about the adverse environmental effects of mining for the material. The board vote removed an annotation that had allowed farmers to use sodium nitrate as long as they did not use it for more than 20% of their crops’ total nitrogen. At the Spring 2011 meeting, the board decided to remove the annotation allowing this narrow use and completely prohibit the substance from being used in organic production.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service oversees the National Organic Program (NOP) and the NOSB. The NOSB includes four producers, two handlers, one retailer, three environmentalists, three consumers, one scientist and one certifying agent. The board is authorized by the Organic Foods Production Act and makes recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture regarding the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic operations. The NOSB also may provide advice on other aspects of the organic program. For more information on the history of organic agriculture and why it is the best choice for your health and the environment, please see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food Program Page.

The next NOSB meeting will be November 29 – December 2, 2011 in Savannah, Georgia. The committees will work throughout the summer to develop their proposals to bring to the Fall meeting.



Researchers Discover Toxins from GE Food in Human Blood

(Beyond Pesticides, May 19, 2011) Scientists at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada found that pesticides associated with genetically engineered (GE) foods are present in maternal, fetal and nonpregnant women’s blood, emphasizing the need for further research into the effects that GE food has on human health. The study, “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada” is published in Reproductive Toxicology.

Scientists Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc analyzed blood samples for 39 nonpregnant women and 30 pregnant woman and their fetuses in Sherbrooke, an urban area of Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. It’s important to note that none of the women in the study had ever worked or lived with a spouse that worked in contact with pesticides. The diet of the women involved in the study is described as “typical of a middle class population of Western industrialized countries.”

The Cry1Ab toxin, which is an insecticidal protein produced by the soil bacterium Baccillus thuringiensis (Bt) was detected in 93% of maternal blood samples, 80% of fetal blood samples and 69% of the nonpregnant women’s blood. In genetic engineering, the Cry1Ab protein from Bt is transferred into corn so that it will produce it’s own insecticide so that it will be toxic to the pests such as corn borers. Though Bt is used by organic farmers as a least-toxic alternative to control bugs, organic farmers use Bt sparingly and only as a last resort. Conversely, thousands of acres of GE crops contain Bt, so experts believe it’s only a matter of time before insects become resistant to Bt.

Glufosinate is a broad-spectrum weed killer which some crops, such as oilseed rape, maize, soybeans, sugar beets, cotton can be genetically engineered for resistance (also known as LibertyLink). Glufosinate was detected in 18% of nonpregnant women’s blood but not detected in maternal and fetal blood. It’s metabolite, 3-mehtylphosphinicopropionic acid (3-MPPA), however, was detected in 100% of maternal and umbilical cord blood samples and in 67 % of the nonpregnant women’s blood.

The study did not find any significant detection of glyphosate in maternal or fetal blood, though it was present in 5% of nonpregnant women’s blood samples. The authors explain that this might be due to either the absence of exposure, efficiency of elimination of the chemical or simply limitations for current detection methods.

Though this research presented only a small sample size, and was very narrowly focused, the results of this work provide a baseline for future studies on nutrition, toxicology and reproduction in women. It also provides a valuable case for the need for further assessment of genetically engineered foods, as not much information is currently known on the impacts of GE food on human health.

Whether it is the incorporation into food crops of genes from a natural bacterium (Bt) or the development of a herbicide-resistant crop, the GE approach to pest management is short sighted and dangerous. There are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GE crops. There are currently no regulations requiring GE foods to be labeled as such, therefore the best way for consumers to avoid GE foods is to choose organic products.

For more information regarding genetic engineering of agricultural crops and the recent controversy surrounding USDA’s approval of several new varieties, including GE alfalfa and GE sugar beets, see our genetic engineering program page and other Daily News blog entries.



USDA Pressed to Release Pesticide Report; Industry Campaigns to Suppress Data

(Beyond Pesticides, May 18, 2011) Chemical-intensive agriculture groups are seeking to derail the release of an annual U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, which has been released yearly for two decades, on the amount of pesticide residue detected by the Department on nationwide samples of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the data to monitor exposure to pesticides and enforce federal standards designed to protect infants, children and other vulnerable people. This data has been used to educate consumers about pesticide use on fruits and vegetables.

For roughly two decades, USDA has tested various fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues, usually making its findings available to the public in January. More than four months into 2011 results for USDA’s 2010 tests have yet to be released.

Several of the nation’s top physicians and scientists wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, urging them to no longer delay the release of the most recent test results. The letter also calls on the officials to bolster the government’s research into the adverse health effects of pesticides, particularly on children. According to the letter, “Children are uniquely sensitive to harmful effects from pesticides. Yet they eat substantial quantities of certain fresh fruits and vegetables – apples, berries, peaches, for example – proven to contain multiple pesticide residues. We urge you to expand testing programs and share ample information with the public about pesticides in all produce, especially those that show up in children’s diets.”

USDA intends to release it “shortly,” according to Michael T. Jarvis, director of public affairs for the Agricultural Marketing Service within USDA. Many believe the agriculture industry has a role in the USDA’s delay of its annual report. Trade groups representing conventional produce growers urged USDA Secretary Vilsack in April to prevent “mischaracterization” of the agency’s pesticide residue data. This was one of a series of efforts by the industry to limit public access to this information. Industry has met privately with USDA officials to urge the agency to amend this year’s report to include “some context” that would “reassure” consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides. Industry has been vocal about its opposition to the use of USDA’s data which reports the amount of pesticide residue it detects from samples of fresh fruits and vegetables around the country. The data has been used by advocacy groups like Beyond Pesticides in Eating with a Conscience, and Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s ‘Dirty Dozen,’ to educate consumers about chemical residues present on the food they eat, all from USDA’s available data.

When asked if USDA will change the report in response to concerns from the produce industry, Mr. Jarvis said, “Our role is to gather the test results on produce sold in the United States and share that information with EPA…The data and the results have not been changed.”

Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc, an epidemiologist and pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said federal regulation of pesticides in food needs to be tightened and the public is rightly concerned about possible health impacts from exposure through food. Dr. Landrigan noted a trio of peer-reviewed studies published last month that found children exposed in the womb to high levels of organophosphate pesticides had lower average intelligence than other children by the time they reached age seven. If exposure to pesticides is harming children, it does not matter if the levels are below the legal limit set by the government, said Dr. Landrigan, whose research in the 1990s compelled the federal government to significantly tighten pesticide standards.

Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience explores 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, and stewardship of the earth. It also addresses why our food choices are important and have a direct effect on the health of our environment and those who grow and harvest what we eat.

Source: Washington Post



EPA Considers Bilingual Pesticide Labels, Public Comments Needed

(Beyond Pesticides, May 17, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received a petition from the Migrant Clinicians Network, Farmworker Justice, and other farmworker interest groups asking the agency to require that manufacturers make their pesticide product labels available in both English and Spanish. EPA is inviting public comment until June 28, 2011 (see Docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0014-0001 and submit comments). After the 90-day comment period ends, the agency will use the comments received in developing a decision on this petition. Farmworker groups are asking people to submit comments to EPA supporting the petition. See talking points below.

Currently, pesticide labels are only required to be in English. This policy has a disproportionate impact on farmworkers, particularly pesticide applicators, who primarily speak Spanish, with little or no ability to speak or read English. As a consequence, they cannot read the pesticide labels and do not understand the pesticide use directions, the personal protective equipment (PPE) required or the instructions to avoid contamination of water bodies. The current provision, which directs Spanish-speaking workers themselves to get the label translated, is grossly inadequate. In a recent study in Washington State, farmworkers who could not read English exhibited higher rates of pesticide exposure than workers who could read English. Without the benefit of a foreign language label, these farmworkers are ill-equipped to protect themselves, others, or the environment.

The petition focuses on requiring bilingual labeling for agricultural pesticides to increase protection for Spanish-speaking pesticide applicators and farmworkers. However, the agency is requesting comment on whether to require bilingual labeling in English and Spanish for all types of pesticide products. At present, EPA allows pesticide manufacturers to add labeling in other languages, in addition to providing pesticide product labels in English. For agricultural products subject to the Worker Protection Standard, EPA requires that certain parts of the pesticide label include words or phrases in Spanish. In response to the petition, EPA is considering whether to require bilingual labeling in English and Spanish for all pesticides or for only certain types of pesticides, certain pesticide use sites, certain pesticide active ingredients, pesticides in certain toxicity categories, or certain parts of pesticide labels. The agency is requesting comment from interested parties and the public on these options.

Beyond Pesticides encourages consumers to support a pesticide-free workplace for farmworkers by supporting organic agriculture (see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience website). USDA organic certification is the only system of food labeling that is subject to independent public review and oversight, assuring consumers that toxic, synthetic pesticides used in conventional agriculture are replaced by management practices focused on soil biology, biodiversity, and plant health. This eliminates commonly used toxic chemicals in the production and processing of food that is not labeled organic–pesticides that contaminate our water and air, hurt biodiversity, harm farmworkers, and kill bees, birds, fish and other wildlife. Because farmworkers continue to be exposed to toxic pesticides in conventional chemical-intensive farming operations and face other hardships as well, Beyond Pesticides also encourages the public to respond to this petition and support farmworker organizations.

Bilingual pesticide labeling talking points

Requiring pesticide manufacturers to label their products in English and Spanish will reduce incidents of pesticide poisoning.

— Pesticide labels communicate information critical to the prevention of adverse effects to human health and the environment. This includes warnings and precautionary statements, first aid information, personal protective equipment, and directions for safe use.

— The agricultural workforce is overwhelmingly foreign born, and the majority speak Spanish. According to the National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS), 81% of farmworkers reported Spanish as their native language, and 53% of the farmworkers said they cannot speak, read, or write English. In a recent study of pesticide handlers in Washington State, only 29% reported being able to read in English but nearly all of the participants were able to read in Spanish to at least some degree. These workers therefore do not understand the pesticide use directions, the personal protective equipment (PPE) required, emergency decontamination instructions, or the instructions to avoid environmental contamination.

— Growers and pesticide applicators in Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the official language, are now using pesticide products that have labels entirely in English. The only exception is for Restricted Use Pesticides, which must have Spanish labels to be sold in Puerto Rico.

— Pesticide handlers who do not read English are more likely to be exposed than handlers who read English. Researchers found that pesticide handlers who were not able to read English had greater exposure rates than handlers who could read English at least to some degree.

— Studies have shown that Latino farmworkers are disproportionately exposed to pesticides. Between 1998 and 2005, state and federal tracking systems identified 3,281 cases of acute occupational pesticide poisonings among farmworkers. Of these cases, 727 (22%) included information on the worker’s race or ethnicity. Of these 727 cases, 502 (69%) were Hispanic.

— Current regulations place a heavy burden on both workers and employers to provide their own translation. The following statement appears buried in the labels of the two most toxic categories of pesticides: “Si Usted no entiende la etiqueta, busque a alguien para que se la explique a Usted en detalle. [If you do not understand the label, find someone to explain it to you in detail.]” 40 CFR 156.206(e)

— Farmworkers and their family members are disproportionately exposed to pesticides and suffer adverse health effects.

Costs to pesticide manufacturers would be small compared to the benefits to workers, their families, rural communities and the environment.

— Translation, printing, packaging, and other costs of complying with bilingual labeling requirements will not add significantly to manufacturing costs or prices to customers.

— Manufacturers of pesticides routinely translate their labels into Spanish as well as many other languages in order to sell them worldwide. Restricted use pesticides (RUPs) sold in Puerto Rico already have Spanish-language labels.

The Federal Register notice and petition are available in docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0014 at Regulations.gov.



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Considers Massive Aerial Spray to Eradicate Invasive Mice

(Beyond Pesticides, May 16, 2011) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is looking into “carpet-bombing” with pesticides (or a large aerial bombing) the Farallon Islands, off the coast of San Francisco, in an effort to eradicate the invasive house mouse that is encroaching on the survival of an endangered seabird. The problem is that this approach will also kill many other species in and around the Islands, including birds, reptiles and crustaceans.

FWS announced April 26, 2011 that the agency is preparing a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the islands located off the coast of San Francisco, California. The aim of the project is to “protect and restore the ecosystem.” The agency is accepting public comments, suggestions and other input on or before May 27, 2011.

“These are man-made problems,” Maggie Sergio, director of advocacy for the nonprofit organization WildCare, told the San Francisco Gate. “Is the aerial dumping of tons of poison over a pristine wilderness area really the answer? We don’t think so.”

WildCare, a Marin County animal rehabilitation center that has been around for 50 years, has been working to stop the spray. The organization sent around a petition and has so far collected over 1,500 signatures.

Brodificoum is highly toxic to birds and mammals. Brodifacoum was the culprit in most of the 48,000 rodenticide poisonings of children under six in 2004 and has contributed to the deaths of endangered San Joaquin kit foxes and golden eagles. Secondary exposure to brodifacoum at the National Zoo, caused the poisoning of small body birds such as finches, thrushes, and warblers were affected. One study concluded that the use of brodificoum for rodent control poses severe risk to sea bird colonies.

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

Sign WildCare’s petition to stop the dumping of rodenticices on the Farrallon Islands.


Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services that the aerial broadcast of the rodenticide Brodifacoum poses too high of a risk to the Island’s ecosystem, including non-target avian speices and crustaceans. Comments will be accepted until May 27, 2011. Send comments either via email to sfbaynwrc@fws.org with the heading, “South Farrallon Islands NEPA Scoping Comments,” or send a hard copy to:

South Farrallon Islands NEPA Scoping Comments
℅ Gerry McChsney, Farrallon NWR Manager
9500 Thornton Ave
Newark, CA 94560.

Source: San Francisco Gate