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The Planting of Genetically Engineered Corn Stopped by a Mexican Court

(Beyond Pesticides, October 18, 2013) On October 10, a judge in Mexico issued an injunction against the planting and selling of genetically engineered (GE) corn seed, effective immediately, within the country’s borders. The decision comes nearly two years after the Mexican government temporarily rejected the expansion of GE corn testing, citing the need for more research. The decision prohibits agrichemical biotech companies, including Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, PHI Mexico, and Dow AgroSciences, from planting or selling GE corn seed in Mexico, though imports of GE food will still be allowed.

This move follows the filing of a class action lawsuit on July 5 by farmers, beekeepers, environmentalists, and scientists, in total representing 53 citizens and 20 civil associations. “The action encompasses what we have been calling for over the past fifteen years: the protection of maize as the staple food of Mexicans and the preservation of our country, free of transgenic crops…” said Adelita San Vicente, representing seed interest group FundaciĂłn Semillas de Vida A.C.

The injunction was granted by Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo J. of the Twelfth District Court for Civil Matters of Mexico City, who cited “the risk of imminent harm to the environment” due to GE crops. The order requires Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca, y Alimentación) and Secretary of the Environment (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales) to immediately “suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country and end the granting of permission for experimental and pilot commercial plantings.”

According to Greenpeace Mexico, which has been heavily involved in the sustainable agriculture campaign and GE dialogue, the injunction is just the first step toward the definitive protection of the country’s biological diversity, and full recognition of Mexicans’ right to a healthy environment, safe food, and untainted corn as a cultural heritage.

The lawsuit is supported by scientific research, dating from 2001 and documenting the ongoing contamination of Mexico’s native corn varieties by transgenes from GE crops, including Monsanto’s Roundup ready varieties and the herbicide-resistant varieties marketed by DuPont Pioneer and Bayer CropScience.

With 53 percent of caloric intake and 22 percent of protein in the Mexican national diet coming from corn, the grain represents an important daily staple that is also inherently interwoven into the country’s cultural heritage. National campaigns, including “Sin Maiz, No Hay Paiz” (“Without Corn There is No Country”), have rallied against the introduction of GE corn into Mexico, raising debates about the need to safeguard national heritage, save native seeds, and protect environmental and human health.

The injunction against GE crops in Mexico is still a far cry from an outright ban. Further legal proceedings are now expected to follow, where all parties will enter into a legal arguments supported by experts who present supporting evidence for and against genetically modified corn. For the moment, the injunction prohibits the planting of GE seeds, allowing the plaintiffs time to gather support for their case.

In the U.S., there have been several injunctions against GE crops that have temporarily stopped their planting. For example, in 2007, a U.S. District judge filed an injunction against the planting or sale of GE alfalfa until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a legally required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Four years later, upon completing the EIS —which determined unregulated GE alfalfa would contaminate natural alfalfa, cause the loss of U.S. export markets, dramatically increase pesticide use, and drive the rise of Roundup-resistant superweeds— USDA announced plans to again deregulate GE alfalfa. In response, Beyond Pesticides along with other environmental and farming organizations filed a suit challenging the agency’s deregulation. In 2012, a U.S. District Judge in San Francisco ruled that USDA’s decision to deregulate GE alfalfa was not unlawful.

The explosion of GE crops on the market has led to growing pest and weed resistance, which has resulted in increased pesticide use. This treadmill threatens wildlife, particularly sensitive species. A 2012 study found the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate), which is sprayed on thousands of acres of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, to induce morphological changes in three species of frogs. GE crop-induced herbicide applications are also indirectly affecting the health of beneficial species. Widespread applications of Roundup destroy sanctuary land and the plant species that support beneficial insects and other wildlife.

The best way to stop the planting of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. is to purchase foods that have the USDA certified organic seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited from food production. For more information on this issue, see Beyond Pesticides’ webpage on genetic engineering and see our related Daily News entries.

Sources: Environmental and Food Justice, VĂ­a OrgĂĄnica, Animal Politico

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



Community Concerns Lead to Landmark Pesticide Protections in Kauai County

(Beyond Pesticides, October 17, 2013) Early yesterday morning, the Kauai County (Hawaii) Council ended a grueling 19-hour session by approving new protections from pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops in a 6 to 1 vote on Bill 2491. After enduring years of pesticide abuse from agrichemical giants Syngenta, Dow, DuPont Pioneer, and BASF, the residents of Kauai will finally receive simple protections they and future generations on the “Garden Isle” deserve. The legislation is a major victory for the local community, which engaged in numerous non-violent rallies and demonstrations urging the council to “Pass the Bill!”

2491passedLocal leaders crafted Bill 2491 in response to public outcry from residents, many of whom live, work, or have children that go to school near agricultural fields leased by chemical corporations. “The people in my community have asked for help,” said Kauai County Councilmember Gary Hooser. “People are concerned.” Many in the community assert that the passage of Bill 2491 is only the beginning of local efforts to reign in excesses and abuses of agrichemical companies operating on the island.

While some of the more stringent measures in the bill were removed at a previous Committee meeting earlier this month, other aspects of the legislation were strengthened. Though a moratorium on the future planting of GE crops was nixed and regulations governing experimental pesticides were removed, pesticide disclosure was strengthened, requiring industry to submit weekly reports to nearby residents beginning nine months after the passage of the legislation. Bill 2491 also requires pesticide companies to provide the county and public with an annual accounting of pesticide use, disclose the location of GE crops, and conduct an Environmental and Public Health Impact Study on the effects of the agrichemical industry. The bill restricts the application of all pesticides within 500 feet of schools and other medical facilities, and within 100 feet of any park, public roadway or shoreline that flows into the ocean. Violation of the law will carry significant penalties, with civil fines up to $25,000 a day per violation, and up to one year in jail.

Yesterday’s 19 hour Council session was the norm, rather than the exception, in the heated political wrangling surrounding Bill 2491. Agrichemical companies put significant pressure on the County Council, even explicitly threatening to sue the local government. After the passage of the bill, DuPont spokesman Josh St. Peters told Reuters, “We believe that the bill is not legally defensible and we continue to evaluate all of our business and legal options.” A group of attorneys on the island have disputed this assertion, writing in a statement, “We believe that Bill 2491 is sound, and the mere threat of a lawsuit by industry interests should not prevent the Council from taking action they believe is important to their community.” The Council voted not to disclose a legal opinion from the County Attorney for fear of damaging the county’s defense for the impending lawsuit.

Apart from legal threats, it is evident from the Council meetings that agrichemical companies were not interested in finding a compromise with local leaders. See here for Councilman Hooser’s attempts to find middle ground.

Pushback from Kauai’s mayor and intervention from the governor and state agriculture department also acted as roadblocks to final passage of the bill. These opponents stressed the importance of working at the state level to solve the community’s concerns, but were widely seen by local activists as attempting to derail the legislation, or capitulate to the agrichemical companies. Governor Neil Abercrombie proposed voluntary pesticide disclosure and buffer zone guidelines, to which Councilmember Hooser responded, “Truthfully I have no confidence in the legislature or the state administration doing anything of significance that will have any near term tangible impacts on the activities and practices of these large agrochemical companies in our community.” Due to a history of lax enforcement, local legislators are distrustful of the state and its responsiveness to their community’s concerns.  A review of state records and interviews with local regulators conducted by the local Hawaiian news site Civil Beat earlier this year revealed that the state of Hawaii is not adequately tracking the level of pesticides in Kauai’s rivers, lakes, and streams as mandated under Environmental Protection Agency regulations and the Clean Water Act.

Kauai Mayor Carvalho pushed for and received a delay in the final vote last week, and objected to the bill’s passage last night due to his concerns about funding, county implementation, and future lawsuits. When a Councilmember who will soon be joining the Mayor’s staff  moved to delay, shouts of “Pass the Bill” from onlookers and strong words from other Councilmembers ultimately ended the debate. “Until you resign, your responsibility is to the people of Kauai,” said Councilmember Bynum, “and for you to say that next week that you have to work for the mayor and will have to implement this is highly impartial and unethical.”

Kauai County is part of a growing number of communities that are instituting safeguards to protect their residents from the harmful effects of pesticide exposure. Kauai now joins the City of Takoma Park, MD in enacting legislation that restricts the use of pesticides on private land. A number of state-level laws preempt individual localities from enacting any law stricter than the states. Communities subject to these state laws can pass ordinances to govern pesticide use on local government-owned lands, but are prevented from applying these important precautions to private property. As Kauai and Takoma Park show, these laws are unduly burdensome for the unique needs found in each community.

“To the seed companies, I want to make sure you understand that we have to envision the future for our island,” said Council Chair Jay Furfaro shortly before the vote on Bill 2491. “Your companies have your policies. But we need to envision Kauai in the future and this is a start for us.”

Beyond Pesticides believes that every community in the United States should have a right to self-determination when it comes to the chemicals that are applied in and around where they live, work and play. Read Beyond Pesticides testimony on Bill 2491 for additional information. If you’d like to become involved in a campaign in your community, send an email to info@beyondpesticides.org, or call 202-543-5450.

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

Source: Reuters , Civil Beat
Image Source: pass2491



Banned Pesticides Threaten Illinois River Otters

(Beyond Pesticides, October, 16 2013)  Researchers at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign have found that organochlorine pesticides and other organochlorine compounds like polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs) are still contaminating river otters in the state, even though these chemicals have been banned for decades. Surprisingly, the levels detected are the same or higher than those detected in otters 20 years ago, highlighting the need to understand the exposureotters of wildlife and humans to organochlorine compounds despite their ban.

In order to see what chemicals might be affecting otters, if any, the researchers examined the bodies of 23 river otters collected between 2009 and 2011. In the published study, River otters as biomonitors for organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, and PBDEs in Illinois, scientists looked at liver concentrations of 20 organohalogenated compounds once used in agriculture and industry. The average concentrations of dieldrin, an insecticide that was used across the Midwest before being banned in 1987, actually exceeded those measured in river otters collected from 1984 to 1989. Liver concentrations of PCBs and DDE -a breakdown product of the banned DDT – were also similar to those in an earlier study showing that contamination has not decreased over the years. Concentrations of the organochlorine compounds in river otters ranged widely. One male had a concentration of PCBs in its liver of 3,450 parts per billion (ppb), while another had only 30 ppb. Dieldrin concentrations ranged from 14.4 to 534 ppb. The researchers note that since the otters were collected from counties all over Central Illinois, findings could indicate that some watersheds have a worse contamination problem than others. Male river otters had significantly higher concentrations of PCBs compared to females which can be attributed to differences in size between the sexes.

“We don’t know enough about how these contaminants behave synergistically,” Samantha Carpenter, wildlife technical assistant and team leader said, especially since “the cocktail of contaminants that we’re exposed to here in the Midwest differs from what humans and wildlife are exposed to in eastern or western North America.”

Organochlorine pesticides like dieldrin and DDT are extremely persistent in the environment, and have been routinely detected in sediment, waterways, aquatic wildlife and even people. A recent, similar study attributed to DDT the reproductive problems plaguing endangered condors in California, as a result of the birds’ feeding on contaminated sea lions. Despite the fact that DDT was banned in the U.S. 40 years ago, concentrations of this toxic chemical’s major metabolite, DDE, have remained alarmingly high in many ecosystems, including surface waters, the Arctic, and even U.S. national parks. DDT and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, are capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, and biomagnify in food chains. Animals with high fat/blubber content have been found to have higher levels of these compounds in their tissue since these compounds are very fat soluble. For instance, one study reported that marine mammals, like dolphins and seals, harbor high concentrations of hazardous chemicals in their brains, including DDT and PCBs.

Organochlorine compounds have also been linked to a number of adverse effects to human health, including birth defects,  breast cancer and autism. DDT has also been linked to Vitamin D deficiency, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and diabetes.

The comparatively high concentrations of dieldrin found in river otters in Illinois are consistent with findings of the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA), run by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which reported the highest concentration of dieldrin in fish tissue from the Sangamon River in Illinois, according to the study. Guidelines for dieldrin concentrations in aquatic life were exceeded in 30 percent of the samples from this basin and every concentration of dieldrin detected in this basin was in the highest ten percent of the national NAWQA results. Unfortunately, even though dieldrin is still widely detected in waters and in fish and wildlife, there are currently no fish consumption guidelines for dieldrin in Illinois. Some studies of dieldrin exposure have found links to cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, and according to this study, dieldrin and PCBs can act as developmental neurtoxicants, which means that developing fetuses can be harmed at higher concentrations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  notes that the chemical decreases immune system function, may cause cancer and birth defects, increases infant mortality, and damages the kidney. Dieldrin can still be detected in certain parts of the Chesapeake Bay  and even in well water.

The important take home here, noted by the researchers, is that the findings from this study are significant as otters serve as local biomonitors for human health, since organochlorine compounds that bioaccumulate in river otters have also been detected in humans who consumed contaminated fish.  In addition, there exists need to study exactly how these contaminants interact with one another within the body.

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

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Science World Report



Ongoing Shutdown Creates Problems for Organic Community

(Beyond Pesticides, October 14, 2013) The ongoing government shutdown is having dramatic impacts on the organic agricultural community. On October 10, it was announced that the semiannual National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting, scheduled in Louisville the week of October 21, has been canceled. During the NOSB’s semiannual meetings the board makes recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture regarding materials on the National List of Allowed or Prohibited Substances in organic operations after considering input from the public. The meeting was to come on the heels of a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announcement that the agency had changed the process for exempting synthetic materials. The shutdown has also affected the Farm Bill process that organic advocates are hoping will, in the least, restore organic programs from the 2008 Farm Bill. The shutdown has also raised several food safety questions about whether government can handle a recent salmonella outbreak.organic integrity with question mark

The semiannual NOSB meeting, previously scheduled for the week of October 21, in Louisville, Kentucky, has been canceled.  An e-mail distributed October 1 by Miles McEvoy for the National Organic Program, stated the meeting would be canceled if a Congress did not reach an agreement on the budget by Thursday, October 10 at 5 p.m. EST. During this meeting, the NOSB was set to take on several very important issues that face the organic community, such as voting on the extended use of antibiotics in apple and pear production and the allowance of materials for use in aquaculture before regulations defining organic aquaculture systems are proposed.

This meeting cancellation comes on the heels of a  USDA September announcement that the agency has changed the process for exempting otherwise prohibited substances (such as synthetics) in food that carries the “organic” or “made with organic” label. Under the new policy, an exempt material could be permitted indefinitely unless a two-thirds majority of the NOSB votes to remove an exempt (synthetic) substance from the list. This decision makes it easier to continue use of artificial ingredients and substances, undermining the integrity of the organic label.

Under the federal organic law and prior to the announcement, there was a controlled process for allowing the use of substances not normally permitted in organic production with findings of the substances’ essentiality and no adverse health and environmental effects. Additionally, the changes were effective September 17, only one day after the announcement, and no public comment period was provided for the changes to this policy, which has been in place since 2005. Beyond Pesticides, along with Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, and the Center for Food Safety released a joint statement criticizing this decision.

Leading up to the shutdown crisis, Congress also failed to pass a new Farm Bill after the most recent extension expired on September 30. Under the most recently lapsed Farm Bill, which was a 10-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, several key organic programs lost funding. Organic programs that were not included in the extension were the organic research and extension funding, the organic certification cost share, and an organic data collection system. Organic farmers argued that these programs were necessary in helping build organic agriculture into the multibillion dollar industry it is today and these supports come at dramatically lower level of funding than given to conventional growers.

This past May the Senate passed a bi-partisan Farm Bill. However, the House of Representatives failed to pass an initial version of their farm bill in June. The bill failed after 62 House Republicans opposed the bill because they believed it did not include a large enough cut to nutrition programs, or food stamps. The House than passed separate farm legislation and nutrition legislation and joined the two pieces together in late September. Conferees to resolve the difference between the House and Senate bill were just named recently however, it is unlikely substantial discussion will happen before the end of the shutdown. It will be important for organic advocates to demand that provisions that are only in the Senate version of the legislation that strengthen organic agriculture are not removed from the bill during the conference process.

Another effect of the current government shutdown is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been slowed in its ability to respond to a recent salmonella outbreak that has been traced to three California poultry plants. The novel strain antibiotics-resistant salmonella has sickened at least 278 people nationwide with 42 percent of the sick people being hospitalized, double the normal rate for such an outbreak. Foster Farms, the producer of the chicken, is not recalling its product and the USDA will not close the three poultry plants implicated in the salmonella outbreak.

Estimates by the public health advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists suggest that 70 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are devoted to the non-therapeutic treatment of cattle, swine and poultry, endangering human health by contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections. Currently, 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, at which point it cannot not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced.

For more information on what you can do to advance organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong website, which provides a number of resources for people to participate in the organic review process alongside the NOSB.

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

Sources: Cornucopia Institute , LA Times, Feedstuffs



Moms Fined $10,000 in Genetically Engineered Labeling Counterattack

(Beyond Pesticides, October 11, 2013) A group of mothers working to disclose donors of the No-on-522 campaign, which opposes genetically engineered (GE) labeling in Washington State, has been fined $10,000 plus attorney’s fees for bringing a suit against Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) for allegedly violating state campaign finance disclosure laws in Washington. Washington State’s Initiative 522, which is on the November ballot, will require the labeling by July 1, 2015 of genetically engineered crops and processed foods. The grassroots group, Moms for Labeling, filed the suit against GMA and the No-on-522 campaign on September 17, asserting that GMA is falsely labeled as a top donor for the campaign, in order to conceal the identities of large out of state corporations who are against GE labeling. Last year, many of GMA members who contributed against labeling efforts in California prompted negative publicity and widespread consumer boycotts.

The lawsuit was initially dismissed on a technicality because the group —newly formed and made up of a handful of moms— violated state filing procedures by not waiting 55 days after giving notice of an action to sue. In dismissing the suit, the judge ruled that under the circumstances, only the state attorney general now has the authority to sue GMA for violating Washington’s Public Disclosure Act. “We need Attorney General Bob Ferguson to step in and defend the voters of Washington from out of state corporations that are ignoring our law:  The court said only he can do it,” Pam Johnson of Moms for Labeling told Seattle Pi.

Though that could have been the end of it, to add insult to injury the No-on-522 campaign counter-attacked using a state law that is designed to protect citizen groups from frivolous suits, also known as  Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), by big companies. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Washington State, where a SLAPP suit statute has been used against citizens like this,” said Moms for Labeling lawyer, Knoll Lowney, according to The Stranger. “The problem is, quite frankly, it’s really hard to know when corporations are abusing the legal process to intimidate activists. It can come in a lot of different forms. So when they write these SLAPP suit statutes, they’re pretty vague because they’re trying to encompass a wide variety of abuses by these corporations.”

The No-on-522 campaign has raised over $17.1 million so far. Monsanto has contributed a huge portion of funds (nearly $4.6 million back in September); however, GMA is the top donor at $7.2 million, which is $5 million more than it spent in California last year. GMA members include over 300 corporations, including Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Heinz, Kraft, General Mills.

“I think it is outrageous that we are being accused of harassing big out of state corporations when really what we are trying to do as Moms for Labeling is, one, find out what is in the food we are putting on the table for our families, and two, (learn) who is paying for this campaign. It’s as simple as that,” Ms. Johnson told The Olympian.

GE labeling campaigns have drawn strong public support because consumers understand that they have a right-to-know the ingredients that are in their food. Though large companies have had short term success pouring money into state level campaigns, over time this strategy may help feed public opinion that these companies have something to hide. GE labeling activists started other legislative campaigns in states other than Washington and have won several high profile victories. In Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed House Bill 6527- An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Food. This bill will require GE ingredients to be labeled when similar legislation is passed by other states in the New England region with an aggregate population of 20 million. The Maine legislature also passed a similar law. Whole Foods Market announced in March that it would label GE ingredients sold in its stores, making it the first national chain to do so. Several other state legislatures have also introduced bills that would require GE ingredients to be labeled. In Minnesota H.F. 850 and S.F. 821 were introduced in February of 2013 and are still being considered by the legislature.  In Vermont the House of Representatives passed H.112, a GE labeling law, on May 10. The bill is expected to be taken up by the state Senate in January when the legislature reconvenes.

The labeling initiative comes at a critical time for the state’s agricultural economy, particularly the apple and salmon industry, which are threatened from GE counterparts currently being considered for deregulation. Aquabounty’s GE Salmon, which are designed to reach maturity faster than their wild counterparts, and GE apples that won’t brown could have dramatic impacts on the state’s agricultural economy. On a national level, the St. Louis Pots-Dispatch reported in 2012 on progress that multinational chemical corporations Dow AgroSciences, BASF, and Monsanto are making to bring multi-herbicide resistant varieties to market. Under separate arrangements with each company, Monsanto adds glyphosate resistance to seeds that are simultaneously engineered to resist other herbicides. In October 2012, Dow AgroSciences obtained a global patent on its Enlist Duo technology, which packages an herbicide containing 2, 4-D and glyphosate with seeds engineered to tolerate both materials. Monsanto has also been partnering with BASF on dicamba and glyphosate tolerant crop varieties since 2009 with a focus on soybeans, cotton, and corn.

The explosion of GE crops on the market has led to growing pest and weed resistance, which has resulted in increased pesticide use. Increased pesticide use threatens wildlife, particularly sensitive species. A 2012 study found the herbicide Roundup, which is sprayed on thousands of acres of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, to induce morphological changes in three species of frogs. GE crop-induced herbicide applications are also indirectly affecting the health of beneficial species. Widespread applications of Roundup destroy sanctuary land and the plant species that support beneficial insects and other wildlife.

The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. To learn more about organic agriculture, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture, and Eating With a Conscious pages.

To support Washington State’s labeling efforts, get involved with the Yes on 522 campaign, and see a list of businesses, organizations, elected officials and more who endorse 522. National GE labeling efforts are being spearheaded by the Just Label It! campaign.  For more information on GE foods and labeling issues, see Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering website.

Sources: The Olympian, Organic Consumers Association, Seattle Pi  

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



Report Finds Pesticides as the Cause of Bee-Kills in Minnesota

(Beyond Pesticides, October 10, 2013) A recent investigation into the death of thousands of bees last month in Minnesota revealed that fipronil, a widely used insecticide, was to blame.

In mid-September, three colonies of bees in Minneapolis were found twitching and dying on the ground. Local apiarist Mark Lucas paints a grim picture of the poisoning event, which he witnessed, recalling that bees inside the hive came “spilling out of the hive as if they were drunk.”

University of Minnesota Bee Lab, the University’s Bee Squad, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) carried out the investigation, taking samples from hives to confirm pesticide poisoning. Indeed, MDA tests found that all three of the affected hives tested positive for the presence of fipronil.

Although neonicotinoid pesticides such as clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid have been widely implicated in the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder (CCD), other pesticides are known to Bee inspectionadversely affect honey bee health. Fipronil has also been heavily implicated in elevated bee toxicity and decline. Indeed, the European Union (EU) recently put forth a proposal to restrict the use of the pesticide in recognition of the high acute risks it poses to bees. The chemical is widely used for indoor and turf pest control in the U.S., incorporated in more than 50 pest-killing products, is highly toxic. Fipronil has been shown to reduce behavioral function and learning performances in honeybees. A 2011 French study reported that newly emerged honey bees exposed to low doses of fipronil and thiacloprid succumbed more readily to the parasite Nosema ceranae compared to healthy bees, supporting the hypothesis that the synergistic combination of parasitic infection and high pesticide exposures in beehives may contribute to colony decline. An extensive overview of the major studies showing the effects of pesticides on pollinator health can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ What the Science Shows webpage.

The MDA’s report posited that the bee kill incident was likely started by a neighborhood individual who sprayed fipronil along the boundaries of a building and onto nearby flowers visited by bees. Once exposed, those bees flew back to their hives, inadvertently exposing the entire colony. It is unknown who exactly sprayed the pesticide, and the MDA report indicated that it will not investigate further into the identity of the applicator.

Pesticide-related bee-deaths have become a recurring story across the nation. In June 2013 an estimated 50,000 bumblebees were found dead or dying in a shopping mall in Wilsonville, Oregon due to a tree application of the neonicotinoid insecticide dinotefuran. Then in July 2013, 37 million honeybees were reported dead across a single farm in Ontario from the dust associated with planting neonic-treated corn seeds, prompting Health Canada to release new measures intended to protect bees from further exposure to neonicotinoids. That same month, the EU put forward a proposal to restrict the use of fipronil. This proposal came on the heels of an EU-wide decision to restrict the use of three pesticides that belong to the neonicotinoid family –  imidacloprid, clothianidin  and thiamethoxam, which will come into force on December 1, 2013.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to act quickly to protect pollinators. In response to inaction, Beyond Pesticides, joined beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups in filing a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the EPA for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. The coalition seeks suspension of the registrations of insecticides -clothianidin and thiamethoxam- which have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The suit challenges EPA’s oversight of these bee-killing pesticides, as well as the agency’s practice of “conditional registration” and labeling deficiencies.

With one in three bites of food reliant on bees and other beneficial species for pollination, the decline of these important species demands swift action. The mounting scientific evidence, along with unprecedented annual colony losses at 30 to 90 percent this year, demonstrates the impacts that these pesticides are having on these fragile beings.

Take Action: Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign has all the educational tools you need to stand up for pollinators. Some specific ways you can help are:

Source: Minnesota Daily
Photo Source: Minnesota Daily
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



California Passes Bill to Tackle Pesticide Drift

(Beyond Pesticides, October 9, 2013) California Governor Jerry Brown has signed Assembly Bill 304, a bill designed to protect people from harmful pesticides identified as Toxic Air Contaminants (TACs). The bill will require the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to develop mitigation measures for the use of harmful pesticides that vaporize and drift from application sites. California, a major user of pesticidefumigants, has tried to tackle to prevalence of pesticide drift in the state, and is one of few states that monitor air-borne pesticides.

AB 304: “Pesticides: toxic air contaminant: control measures” introduced by Assembly member Das G. Williams (D-Santa Barbara), gives the DPR two years to reduce the effects of harmful air toxins once the department determines that additional mitigation measures are necessary. Fumigants are some of the most dangerous pesticides on the market and include the controversial methyl iodide. They are applied in large quantities, vaporize easily, drift away and expose nearby farmworkers and other community members to harm, with health effects linked to headaches, vomiting, severe lung irritation, and neurological effects. Some fumigants are linked to cancer, reduced fertility, birth defects and higher rates of miscarriage.

“Californians have a right to breathe clean air, and not worry if it will make them or their families sick,” said Anne Katten of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. “Pesticide exposure can cause serious immediate and long-term health impacts —from asthma attacks to cancer. By setting a timeline for adopting controls, this law will reduce pesticide exposure and help people across the state, especially farmworkers and others living near agricultural fields —to breathe a little more safely.”

According to DPR, California’s Toxic Air Contaminant Act creates the statutory framework for the evaluation and control of chemicals as toxic air contaminants (TACs). DPR must determine the levels of human exposure in the environment and estimate the potential human health risk from those exposures. DPR must also determine and implement the appropriate degree of control measures for the pesticide. The agency conducts air monitoring studies for pesticides that are candidate toxic air contaminants, as well as for pesticides that are designated as toxic air contaminants. See Framework here. In general, two types of monitoring are conducted: ambient monitoring in selected communities, to measure concentrations over several weeks or months, and application-site monitoring in the immediate vicinity of specific pesticide applications to measure concentrations over several hours or days.

California has one of the highest use rates of fumigants in the country. To tackle farmers’ reliance on fumigants, a plan was created by the Nonfumigant Strawberry Production Working Group (the strawberry sector is heavily reliant on fumigants) to develop non-fumigant management strategies. However, even as the working group acknowledged the health and environmental risks posed by the continued use of fumigants, the plan remained conservative in its recommendations, concluding that, “Even with full commitment to implement this action plan, the strawberry industry will need to continue its use of fumigants for years to remain viable in California,” even though growing strawberries organically without the use of fumigants has been shown to be effective.

Recently, the state published its air monitoring report, which found detections of the highly toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in nearly 30% of air tests conducted in three high risk communities surrounded by intensive agriculture. Low residues of other pesticides were detected in the majority of the samples collected. The communities in this monitoring study were selected from a list of 226 communities in the state based on pesticide use on surrounding farmland and demographics, including the percentage of children, the elderly and farm workers in the local population. However, critics of the state pesticide air monitoring efforts say that DPR’s sampling is not representative of real agricultural exposures, i.e., during and after pesticide application.

A 2010 PAN report  revealed that fumigant pesticides, like chloropicrin, contaminated half of the 57 air samples collected, with average levels of exposure over the 19-day period at 23 to 151 times higher than acceptable cancer risks. Earlier this year, DPR proposed restrictions on the use of chloropicrin, commonly applied to strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, raspberries, and blackberries. The proposed rule would not only increase buffer zones around application sites, but also restrict application acreage, impose notification requirements, enhance emergency preparedness requirements, and prolong the time that chloropicrin-applied fields must remain covered.

Farmers, farmworkers, their families and those living in close proximity to agricultural fields face disproportionate pesticide risks, especially volatile fumigants. These fumigants can quickly move from fields to nearby homes and communities, many occupied by farmworkers. An average of 57.6 out of every 100,000 agricultural workers experience acute pesticide poisoning, illness or injury each year, the same order of magnitude as the annual incidence rate of breast cancer in the United States. The federal government estimates that there are 10,000-20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually, a figure that likely understates the actual number of acute poisonings.

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

Source: Noozhawk, Santa Barbara



Scientists Link Pesticide-Related Stress to Bee Colony Collapse

(Beyond Pesticides, October 8, 2013) Stress brought about by chronic exposure to sublethal levels of neonicotinoid pesticides causes bee colony failure, according to a new study published in the journal Ecology Letters. Scientists at Royal Holloway University of London have determined that low-level exposure to the pesticide imidacloprid at levels bees encounter in the field causes subtle impacts on individual bees that eventually cause colonies to collapse. This breakthrough study underlines repeated U.S. beekeeper and environmental group calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, as the European Commission recently decided this past April.

Bumblebee-2009-04-19-01Since 2006, honey bees and other pollinators in the U.S. and throughout the world have incurred ongoing and rapid population declines from hive abandonment and bee die-off in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). Studies continue to link a class of systemic pesticides called neonicotinoids to the CCD phenomenon and pollinator decline in general. While scientists have cited multiple chemical and other factors that contribute to degrading bee health, until now no study has shown the internal mechanism within bee colonies that causes collapse. By focusing on chronic sublethal stressors, Royal Holloway researchers have addressed the complexities that contribute to colony losses.

In the study, scientists focus on colony level dynamics and the impact of pesticides on birth and death rates within bee colonies. Based on a biological phenomenon called the Allee effect, which attributes a positive correlation between population size or density and the mean individual fitness of a species or population, researchers found that two bee colonies exposed to the same stressors can have very different fates. In other words, a bee colony’s resiliency and survival can be significantly impacted by stressors at earlier points in the colony’s life cycle. Chronic stressors (over several weeks) such as pesticides, not excluding disease, parasites, and habitat loss, can result in feedback on the birth and death rates of the colony, and eventually cause collapse. Lead author John Bryden, Ph.D, explains, “Exposing bees to pesticides is a bit like adding more and more weight on someone’s shoulders. A person can keep walking normally under a bit of weight, but when it gets too much – they collapse. Similarly, bee colonies can keep growing when bees aren’t too stressed, but if stress levels get too high the colony will eventually fail.”

Numerous studies have examined the impacts of pesticides on bees at the colony level. A USDA funded study published in July 2013 found that exposure to the vast array of chemical combinations found in honey bee hives can weaken bee’s immune systems and make them more susceptible to parasites and other pathogens. Studies published in March 2013 found that neonicotinoid pesticides impact bee’s learning and memory, making it more difficult for bees to forage and find food. While it’s certain that numerous stressors are acting upon bees, as evidenced by a recent study linking exhaust fumes to impairment of bee’s ability to find food, the evidence continues to implicate pesticides as critical components of the CCD phenomenon. In fact, before the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin was allowed on to the market, an internal EPA document cited the agency’s honey bee colony level field study as inadequate. The agency registered the pesticide “conditionally,” despite concerns about its impact on domestic honey bees and other pollinators.

In response, Beyond Pesticides has worked with allies, including beekeepers and environmental groups, to force EPA expedite a response to the pollinator crisis through legal petitions and declare the pesticide clothianidin an “imminent hazard” to honey bees. After EPA rebuffed the legal petition, the coalition filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the agency for its failure to adequately protect pollinators. The lawsuit seeks the suspension of the registrations of the neonicotiniods clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, the clear cause of major bee kills, and a significant contributor to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees. The suit challenges EPA’s oversight of bee-killing pesticides, as well as the agency’s practice of “conditional registration” and labeling deficiencies.

As co-author of the Royal Holloway study, Nigel Raine, Ph.D explains, “Pesticides can have a detrimental effect on bees at levels used in the field. Our research will provide important evidence for policymakers. The way we test pesticides, the way we assess their impact on bees, and the way we manage pesticides can all be improved.” With one in three bites of food reliant on bees and other beneficial species for pollination, the decline of pollinators requires swift action. In the absence long overdue protections, Beyond Pesticides is promoting a multi-faceted strategy that focuses on a precautionary approach to our pollinator crisis.

Join Beyond Pesticides BEE Protective campaign:

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

Source: Royal Holloway University Press Release, Ecology Letters



Oregon Passes Bill to Limit GE Oversight

(Beyond Pesticides, October 7, 2013) A controversial agriculture bill that would bar counties in Oregon from regulating genetically engineered (GE) crops has passed in the state legislature to the dismay of many organic and environmental groups. Senate Bill 863 also includes an emergency clause, which would allow the bill to go into effect immediately, precluding opponents from referring the bill to voters.

The Oregon Senate passed S.B. 863 17-12 last week after three-days of a special session to debate a controversial five-bill package. S.B. 863 declares that “regulation of agricultural seed, flower seed, nursery seed and vegetable seed and products of agricultural seed, flower seed, nursery seed and vegetable seed be reserved to the state, thereby preempting  local governments from adopting any of their own GE policies.” The bill precludes efforts in Benton and Lane counties to restrict GE agriculture, but excludes Jackson County, which already has a GE ban up for vote. This GE bill is part of a package of five bills aimed at giving schools more money, freezing college tuition, and reining in escalating costs of the public pension system.noonsb633

Environmental groups and local food activists are upset that the provision sailed through the state’s legislature. According to the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the Oregon bill was pushed at the behest of out-of-state chemical companies, and is a model bill from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), previously introduced in other states. In addition, introduction of this bill is particularly troubling given the recent findings of GE contamination of wheat fields in the state, which has led to the filing of several lawsuits against agrichemical giant, Monsanto. Given that Oregon ranks 5th in the nation for its number of organic farms, with more than 444 certified farms operating on over 156,000 acres as of 2010, according to CFS, GE threats to a thriving organic industry in the state should not be compounded by limiting oversight of this biotechnology.

The fact that S.B. 863 is packaged with other beneficial legislation – more funding for K-12 schools, mental health programs, and changes to tax rules, is reminiscent of the so called “Monsanto Protection Act,” which was quietly slipped into the federal six month continuing resolution (H.R. 933 -Sec. 735) earlier this year. It was recently announced that this language will be removed from the current continuing resolution to fund the government after public outrage. The language of the “Monsanto Protection Act,” similar to S.B. 863, seeks to preempt the federal courts from rectifying or halting the sale and planting of illegal, potentially hazardous GE crops and compel USDA to allow continued planting of the crop. The immediate enactment of S.B. 863 also fends off attempts to refer a repeal measure to the ballot. Like the “Monsanto Protection Act” fiasco, many in Oregon are still questioning how S.B. 863 made it into legislation hat is designed to help improve Oregon’s schools funding, and retiree benefit issues.

“The rights of farmers to protect their crops from unwanted GMO contamination and the rights of consumers to make informed purchases should never have been at issue,” said the Oregon Environment Council, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and five other groups in a statement. “Trading away environmental protections in unrelated legislative negotiations is an all too common practice that’s bad for not just democracy but also the people of Oregon.”

Environmentalists rallied against the inclusion of the emergency clause, which Republicans pushed to include. House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said the emergency clause was needed to ensure the policy prevented a patchwork of different county policies, including the Lane and Benton efforts. However, most likely in response to the growing outrage over the legislation, Gov. John Kitzhaber is now asking state officials to map locations of GE crops and pledges to introduce legislation in 2015 to address GE agriculture and labeling requirements. In a letter sent to legislators, the governor states that he intends there to be systems that would allow growers to coordinate buffers and exclusion areas. He is also requesting the state department of agriculture to submit an action plan outlining out what can be done on GE regulations under existing rules, and to convene a task force to examine issues surrounding GE agriculture and foods, including preventing contamination of organic agriculture and labeling requirements for GE foods.

“We’re optimistic about the governor’s commitment and stand ready to work with him and the leadership at the Legislature to make sure we’re addressing this issue across the state, protecting farmers and dealing with issues like consumers’ right-to-know,” said Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council.

The Center for Food Safety in a statement noted that it is considering legal options to challenge S.B. 863.

Given the recent GE contamination episodes, it is imperative that existing safeguards not be undermined for the sake of industry interests, and the ability of local communities to safeguard their environment from GE materials be protected.

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

For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage.

Source and photo: OregonLive



Citrus Farmers and Beekeepers at odds over Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, October 4, 2013) It was hoped that a recent meeting in Florida between beekeepers and citrus growers could create stronger communication between both agricultural sectors. Beekeepers in Florida have begun to voice growing concerns over the increased use of insecticides on citrus trees where their bees are used as pollinators. Though this meeting worked to set up an important dialog between beekeepers and citrus growers, it focused predominantly on the effects of accidental exposure. This focus does not take into account the long-term residues these systemic insecticides can leave in the environment, contaminating nectar and pollen.  numerousbees

The recent September meeting that was organized by the Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putman, a former U.S. congressman and citrus farmer, was meant to start a dialog between citrus growers and beekeepers. This dialog was viewed as necessary by Florida’s Department of Agriculture as beekeepers are worried over the increased use of insecticides in citrus groves. Recently, citrus farmers have increased their use of insecticides from several times a year to applications every month or greater to combat the invasive Asian citrus pysllids. Asian citrus pysllids can infect trees with a bacterium that causes citrus greening.

Honey bees in Florida pollinate several types of citrus fruit, such as tangerine and tangelo trees and, according to Gene Albrigo, Ph.D., serve an unrecognized role in pollinating oranges and grapefruit. Beekeepers also have bees forage in citrus fruit so their bees produce a very popular citrus-flavored honey. Though communication between beekeepers and citrus farmers is important, the meeting appeared to only focus on how to avoid bees being accidently sprayed while foraging. This approach does address how the use of systemic neoncotinoid insecticides can result in long-term damage. Neonicotinoid insecticides are taken up by the pants vascular system and are expressed in contaminated pollen and nectar. Clothianidin, a neoncotinoid, can last up to 19 years in the soil accordng to a recent study.

Recently, one of Florida’s largest citrus growers, Ben Hill Griffin, Inc., was fined $1,500 after a state investigation found that the farm illegally sprayed pesticides, resulting in the death of millions of managed honey bees. According to the report by the Florida Department of Agriculture Montana 2F was applied to the roots of a total of 50 acres of young citrus trees. The active ingredient of Montana 2F is imidacloprid, which is one of the most widely used chemicals in the neonicotinoid class of insecticides, which have been identified as a leading factor in bee decline.

The low fine of $1,500 given to one of the largest citrus growers in Florida is problematic because it does not create a strong deterrent for future misapplications. The maximum fine for applying a pesticide in violation of the label in the state of Florida is $10,000 per occurrence, which pales in comparison to $240,000 in lost honey production for the beekeepers. Pesticide misapplication incidents have created obvious tensions between beekeepers and citrus growers. Bobbi Bell of Bell Apiaries LLC in Fort Meade was quoted in The Ledger saying, “The days of putting bees right in the middle of a grove, I think those days are gone.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently acknowledged that current pesticide labels do not adequately protect honey bees and announced new label language to prohibit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides when bees are present. This may help curtail some bee kills, as farms have been spraying during the citrus bloom. The new labels will also include a “bee advisory box” and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. However, beekeepers and environmental groups question the efficacy and enforceability of the new label changes in curtailing systemic pesticides. To date, EPA has ignored calls for a ban on these chemicals and continues to try to mitigate their impacts on bees and other pollinators.

The pesticides involved in the Florida incident were purportedly used to control Asian citrus psyllid, which can spread a disease, Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening, to trees. A pysllid that is infected with HLB can transfer the bacterium every time it feeds on a tree, and once a tree is infected with the disease there is no known cure. The disease can lie dormant for several years before tests are able to detect it. In California, efforts are currently underway to introduce parasitic wasps from the Asian citrus psyllid’s native range. Teams of invasive species experts have recently released tamarixia wasps to try to combat the pysllids in urban areas across southern California. The wasps curb pysllid populations by laying eggs inside the psyllid nymph’s stomach. As the eggs hatch, larvae slowly eat away at the nymph. The teams hope that after the wasps hatch they will fly to neighboring trees and lay eggs in new nymphs and establish a growing population. Even though the team is only about a year and a half into this effort, at some release sites the population of psyllids has dramatically declined.

Given that one in every three bites of food is dependent on pollination, and that commercial beekeeping adds between $20 to $30 billion dollars in economic value to agriculture each year, it is imperative that action is taken to protect bees and other pollinators. Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective supports nationwide local action to protect honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides.

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

Source: The Ledger



Elevated Pesticide Exposure Documented in New York City Residents

(Beyond Pesticides, October 3, 2013) According to new research, residents are more highly exposed to organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides in New York City (NYC) than in the U.S. overall.  Researchers from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reviewed the 2004 NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NYC HANES) to compare its pesticide exposure patterns in an urban environment with the nation as a whole. The NYC HANES includes a biomonitoring component to evaluate pesticide exposures by measuring concentrations of organophosphate and pyrethroid metabolites in urine. According to the authors, the findings underscore the importance of considering pest and pesticide burdens on cities, where a dense population results in a single exposure source affecting many people at the same time when regulating pesticide use.

nycOrganophosphate metabolites were measured in the urine of 882 New Yorkers, while 1,452 residents were tested for pyrethroid metabolites. As the researchers explain, the building density and disrepair in parts of NYC likely increased the chances of a pest infestation, which in turn can lead to the reliance on indoor pesticide use. By the 1980’s, organophosphates were the most common class of insecticides in the U.S., and were used indoors until the early 2000’s when structural pest control operators shifted toward the use of pyrethroid products. Some organophosphates have been banned for residential use the U.S. in recent years, although many are still heavily used in agriculture. Both chemical classes work by disrupting the insect’s nervous system. Organophosphates inhibit cholinesterase, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between nerves and muscles. Inhibiting cholinesterase can cause poisoning victims to suffocate due to paralysis and cause lungs to fill up with fluid. Children are at an elevated risk for organophosphate pesticide poisoning. A 2012 study that pulled data from 14 studies over the past 20 years found that long-term low-dose exposure to organophosphates can damage neurological and cognitive functions. Other studies have also connected low-dose exposure to organophosphates to ADHD,  reduced IQs, and Alzheimers. Previous research has already suggested that pesticides, particularly organophosphates, cause a variety of serious neurological health problems, including Parkinson’s disease. This is not surprising, as organophosphates are known to be extremely toxic to nerve cells and deadly at large doses. Recently, organophosphate pesticides caused the deaths of 25 children in India from contaminated school lunches.

Among New Yorkers who were 20 to 59 years old in 2004, the highest exposed group had between two and six times more organophosphates in their urine than the highest exposed group in a national study. They also had between 1.7 and 2.4 times more pyrethroids than the nationwide group. Researchers also sought to identify some of the demographic and cultural characteristics that predict the higher exposures. They found that overall, Hispanics and blacks, older residents, and people who had pesticides professionally applied recently in their home had higher levels of organophosphates. Interestingly, the researchers also find that those who ate one or more pieces of fruit every day were more likely to have higher levels of organophosphates. These factors are not necessarily linked, and researchers found no published evidence that more frequent fruit consumption in NYC might explain higher exposure than the rest of the U.S. However, the researchers do point out that metabolites they found in urine are derived from pesticides that are the most commonly used in agriculture, and that residues from this class of active ingredients are detected in 41% of apple, pear and strawberry samples measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program in 2004. For pyrethroids, there were no major differences between the races or ages, suggesting widespread exposure. People who ate green vegetables had higher levels but the researchers said the differences “are relatively small and not likely to be biologically meaningful.”

With the phase-out of most residential uses of the common organophosphate insecticides, home use of pyrethroids has increased. These chemicals are widely used around the home for various insects and mosquito control as well as in agricultural settings. This class of chemicals includes permethrin, bifenthrin, resmethrin, cyfluthrin and scores of others. Pesticide products containing synthetic pyrethroids are often described by pest control operators and community mosquito management bureaus as “safe as chrysanthemum flowers.” While pyrethroids are a synthetic version of an extract from the chyrsanthemum plant, they are chemically engineered to be more toxic, take longer to break down, and are often formulated with synergists, increasing potency, and compromising the human body’s ability to detoxify the pesticide.

Pyrethriods are known irritants and can have a high acute toxicity depending on the specific formulation. Pyrethriods have also been connected to multiple symptoms of acute toxicity, asthma, incoordination, tremors, and convulsions. In addition to human health effects, which this cumulative risk assessment addresses, pyrethroids are also persistent in the environment and adversely impact non-target organisms. A 2008 survey found pyrethroid contamination in 100 percent of urban streams sampled in California. Researchers also find pyrethroid residues in California streams at relatively low concentrations (10-20 parts per trillion) in river and creek sediments that are toxic to bottom dwelling fish. Other studies find pyrethroids present in effluent from sewage treatment plants at concentrations just high enough to be toxic to sensitive aquatic organisms.

Fortunately, the authors point out, since the 2004 NYC HANES was conducted, the NYC Health Department has taken several steps to try and reduce pesticide exposure by restricting the use of certain pesticides on city property, and promote Integrated Pest Management. The state of New York has also taken actions in recent years to protect its citizens and the environment from nutrient pollution and exposure to toxic pesticides. In 2010, the state of New York passed the Child Safe Playing Field Act, which requires that all schools, preschools, and day care centers both public and private stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing fields. The bill allows pesticides to be used for infestations only if the County Health Department, the Commissioner of Health, the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation or the school board deems it an emergency.

There are clear established methods for managing homes that prevent infestation of unwanted insects without the use of synthetic chemicals, including exclusion techniques, sanitation and maintenance practices, as well as mechanical and least-toxic controls (which include boric acid and diatomaceous earth). Based on range of successful pest prevention practices, use of these hazardous chemicals are unnecessary.

Most people are unaware that they carry chemical compounds in their bodies. Chemical ‘body burden’ refers to the accumulation of synthetic chemicals found in pesticides, cosmetics, industrial solvents, heavy metals in our bodies. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ Body Burden entry in the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (PIDD).

The full article, “Population-Based Biomonitoring of Exposure to Organophosphate and Pyrethroid Pesticides in New York City” is available from Environmental Health Perspectives.

Source: Environmental Health News

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



Costa Rican Crocodiles Threatened by Banana Production Practices

(Beyond Pesticides, October 2, 2013) New research reveals that Costa Rica’s iconic spectacled caiman crocodiles are under threat from pesticides used on the country’s massive banana plantations. Nearly two million tons of bananas are shipped out of the small South American country each year, and exports are rising alongside with the use of hazardous pesticides. Both past and present use of agricultural chemicals has caused significant impacts on the health of the spectacled caiman, according to scientists from the study published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

caimancrocResearchers found that the pesticide burden on the caiman increases as they move closer to banana plantations. “The animals are very, very thin—about 50 percent thinner than those away from the plantations,” said study co-author Peter Ross, Ph.D, an aquatic ecotoxicologist and associate professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. The scientists note that it is unclear whether the toxic effects of the pesticides are hurting the caiman’s health, or whether the chemicals have caused a more systemic problem, knocking out the prey on which the animals depend.

Whatever the case may be, results of the study show that high-trophic level species are being adversely affected by the use of agricultural pesticides on banana plantations, and effects seen at the top of the food chain are indicative of environmental damage throughout the ecosystem. Researchers hope that the study will highlight the lax rules and enforcement surrounding pesticides in Costa Rica, which ranks second in the world for intensity of pesticide use, and has seen the use of agricultural chemicals double in the past 20 years. “Without adequate enforcement of regulations, dangerous practices, such as aerial spraying close to streams or washing application equipment in rivers, also contributes to contamination downstream,” said Paul Grant, Ph.D, lead author of the study.

Pesticide use on banana plantations has not only affected the health of the surrounding ecosystem, but also affected humans living and working on or near the plantations. Earlier this year, Beyond Pesticides reported on a study published in the journal Environmental Research, which showed that children living near chemical intensive banana plantations are exposed to twice as much of the neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos as children living near organic plantations. In 2010, Dole Food Co., which controlled 19% of global banana production in 2009, announced a settlement with farmworkers claiming that they became sterile as a result of exposure to the chemical dibromochloropropane, a soil fumigant used on banana plantations that has since been banned.

Costa Rica provides a perfect climate for the seedless Cavendish banana, which is exported widely throughout the western world. The bananas are reproduced through cuttings and grow in large monocultures; because most all bananas grown for export are nearly identical genetically they are an easy target for insects and disease. However, toxic chemicals are not necessary in order to produce marketable bananas. As evidenced by a fourfold increase in U.S. imports between 2000 and 2010, organic banana production is a safer, viable alternative to chemical intensive practices that can harm sensitive wildlife, children, and farmworkers. Organic methods include planting several varieties of bananas and rotating crops to lessen the chance of pest infestation, using pheromone traps to lure away pests, digging trenches around the banana plants, removing diseased plants by hand to reduce the spread of infestations and disease, and boosting the soil with organic matter and beneficial organisms to strengthen plants and improve soil health.

Conventional banana production is one of the second most pesticide intensive agricultural systems in the world, next to cotton. Because of its thick skin, bananas are widely considered one of the “cleaner” conventional crops to eat, however Beyond Pesticides encourages consumers to think about the big picture, and support a wider shift toward organic practices through their purchases. Buying organic is a simple move that makes a big difference in preventing unnecessary contamination to themselves, the environment, and those living near pesticide treated fields. For more information on the chemicals used on everyday conventional produce, see the Eating With a Conscience website. And for more information on why organic is the right path for the future of agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture webpage.

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

Source:  EurekAlert!. National Geographic, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Photo Source: Flikr (spencer77)



Kauai County, Hawaii Pesticide and GE Measure Passes Council Committee

(Beyond Pesticides, October 1, 2013) Kauai’s Committee on Environmental Development, Agriculture, and Sustainability approved a bill that requires large agricultural companies in the county to disclose the pesticides they use. The legislation will now go to the full council for a vote. The measure, County Bill 2491, which Beyond Pesticides supported with testimony, would provide transparency and restrict the operations of DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, BASF and Kauai Coffee, on the island.

In a 4-1 vote, the majority of Kauai’s council members demonstrated support for the need to improve pesticide regulations to protect the community health and the local ecosystem. The bill, introduced by Kauai County Councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, provides long overdue protections from chemical exposure occurring on the island, requiring a 500-foot buffer zone near schools, hospitals, residential areas, public roadways and sensitive ecological sites, such as streams, rivers and shorelines. Under the bill’s language, (i) the testing of experimental pesticides are restricted only to greenhouses and other contained structures, (ii) all pesticide applications and GE crops are to be subject to mandatory disclosure to the county, and (iii) the use of any pesticides by these corporations will require prior notification through the public posting of signs. (See previous Daily News coverage here.)

kauaicornfieldsAs the industry exerts pressure to quash the legislation, thousands of people have marched and rallied to support the bill. But the Council’s decision was determined by more than just public support. “We’ve had lots of passionate testimony as well as a lot of expert testimony,” said Mr. Hooser. “We’ve had doctors that serve in hospitals, pediatricians, obstetricians, oncologists, testify about their serious concerns about the impacts of this industry.”

In concluding remarks to the Council committee, however, Mr. Hooser pledged to make the bill “stronger and better” when it returns to the full Council discussion and vote. Indeed, the bill has had some provisions appreciably strengthened. For example, the original language required industrial agriculture companies to simply submit an annual report detailing what pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other chemicals they used. “The new amendment requires weekly reports, requires a lot more detail in terms of locations and quantities, which way the wind’s blowing, so people know whether those chemicals are likely to go into their neighborhoods,” said Mr. Hooser.

Though many of the bill’s core provisions remain intact in the bill, major weakening amendments to the bill were adopted in committee. “There was an important provision requiring a moratorium on the future growth of the industry. That was taken out. There was a prohibition on open-air testing. That was taken out,” said Mr. Hooser.  Also eliminated from the bill were restrictions on the permitting of commercial GE crops.

Additionally, the bill’s adoption was undercut by a proposal by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to create a voluntary (as opposed to a mandatory) program of company safeguards for human health and safety from pesticide use. Bill supporters say the Governor’s proposal falls short of securing protection for the people of Kauai.

Mr. Hooser  told The Garden Island that he will encourage Mr. Abercrombie to meet with doctors of Kauai’s Veterans Memorial Hospital, local pediatricians, and the plaintiffs who have sued DuPont Pioneer for toxic trespass that forces residents to live with the threat of pesticide-related health effects. “Delaying putting into place measures for the health and environment of our community is not an acceptable solution,” Mr. Hooser said. “We need to put those in place now.”

For more information on the failed promises of GE agriculture, read “Ready or Not, Genetically Engineered Crops Explode on Market,” or see Beyond Pesticides website on Genetic Engineering.  If you want to get involved, check out the organizations Hawaii Seed or the website Stop Poisoning Paradise.

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

Source: Hawaii News Now
Image Source:
The Garden Island



Report Finds Need for California to Improve Its Pesticide Approval Process

(Beyond Pesticides, September 30, 2013) A new report, published by UCLA’s Sustainable Technology and Policy Program, finds that the California Department of Pesticides Registration (DPR) has failed to ensure that pesticides it approves are safe. Using methyl iodide as a case study, researchers point to key deficits in the approval process and make recommendations for improvements.

Methyl iodide was used as a fumigant to control pests on strawberries, despite its threats to human health. It (i) causes miscarriages, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer, (ii) is neurotoxic, causing psychiatric symptoms and movement disorders similar to Parkinson’s disease, and (iii) is a developmental toxin that impairs fetal development.

The fumigant was designed as a substitute for methyl bromide, which is slated for phase-out by 2015 as an ozone-depleting chemical under the Montreal Protocol. In the formulation, methyl iodide was combined with another fumigant, chloropicrin, to control for pests and approved for use by California DPR on December 2010, despite severe human health risks presented by scientists and substantial outcry by environmental and farmworker organizations.

The report, entitled “Risk and Decision: Evaluating Pesticide Approval in California,” examines the effectiveness of DPR in registering pesticides. Most importantly, the report highlights the flawed risk assessment approach which is designed to take into account multiple and cumulative risks facing human health. The short-comings include:

  • Failure to consider safer chemical and non-chemical alternatives to the fumigant;
  • Inadequate consideration of data regarding development neurotoxicity, neurotoxicity, groundwater contamination and methyl iodide emission from farm fields;
  • Reliance on faulty assumptions for estimating farmworker exposure to the fumigant;
  • Disregard for the cumulative exposures to both methyl iodide and chloropicrin; and
  • Selection of risk values that exceeded staff recommendations by a factor of 100, which provided totally inadequate safety measures.

Researchers drew upon reports, letters, hearing transcripts, and internal DPR memos to demonstrate the scientific, social, and legal dimensions of pesticide regulation in California. In addition to identifying DPR’s failures, the report also provides recommendations that would better safeguard human health, including:

  • Proper consideration of context to determine exposure levels;
  • Performance of cumulative risk assessments which considers all active ingredients as well as vulnerable populations;
  •  Identification of data gaps and development of mandatory testing procedures;
  • Proactive engagement of stakeholders such as farmworkers, environmentalists and local community members for the registration process; and
  • Identification and evaluation of chemical and non-chemical alternatives as part of the registration decision.

“Pesticide regulation in California is flawed,” said UCLA School of Law professor Timothy Malloy, PhD., a faculty director of the Sustainable Technology and Policy Program and one of the report’s authors. “Until we find safer alternatives to chemical pesticides, it is extremely important that the evaluation of new pesticides is thorough. If consumers, workers and the environment are to be protected from the adverse effects of pesticides, the approval process needs to be based on comprehensive data, objective evaluation and meaningful participation of all relevant parties.”

In March 2012, the manufacturer, Arsta Life Science North America, voluntarily removed methyl iodide products from the market, preempting an impending ruling by an Alameda County Superior Court judge which found that regulators broke state law in approving the use of methyl iodide.

The report echoes recent findings by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which determined that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s use of conditional pesticide registrations is inadequate. It also adds to the body of knowledge that the risk mitigation process is inherently flawed because it authorizes an allowable level of harm, despite the availability of safer practices or products.

Consumers can do their part to support these alternative methods of agricultural production by buying USDA certified organic foods. In fact, the only way to know that you are not being exposed to hazardous soil fumigants is to buy organic. Beyond Pesticides advocates for the national conversion to organic systems planning, which moves chemicals off the market quickly and replaces them with green management practices. To learn more about organic agriculture please visit Beyond Pesticides organic agriculture page.

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

Source: UCLA News



Beyond Pesticides Launches The Fund for Independent Science

(Beyond Pesticides, September 27, 2013) In an effort to ensure that the essential independent scientific research on pesticides is not thwarted by the chemical industry, Beyond Pesticides has launched The Fund for Independent Science. This fund, catalyzed by the recent announcement that Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D. has lost university funding for his laboratory and research, is set up and run by Beyond Pesticides. Our goal is to raise $150,000 to enable Dr. Hayes to keep his lab running for a year, and ultimately support the other work of independent researchers. Make a pledge today.

There are few scientific research projects more important to protecting life and preventing its long-term demise than those conducted by Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D. And now this work is under threat. Dr. Hayes, a Harvard educated biologist and professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose research finds that the herbicide atrazine feminizes male frogs, is one of the leading scientists critical of the pesticide industry and regulatory process. This critical research is threatened while, as Dr. Hayes’ points out, amphibian species are in decline and they are disappearing.

Read Protecting Life – From Research to Regulation: Disappearance of frogs, human health effects linked to pesticide use,published in the Summer 2013 issue of Pesticides and You.

Getting to the Scientific Truth

Dr. Hayes’ work has shown that current regulatory reviews allow widespread use of pesticides that cause serious adverse effects well below allowable legal standards and when in mixtures not studied. He initially began his research with a study funded by Novartis Agribusiness, one of two corporations that would later form Syngenta, the maker of atrazine. When his results contradicted Novartis’ expected or desired outcome, he was criticized by the company, which withdrew its funding. Dr. Hayes continued the research with independent funding and found more of the same results: exposure to doses of atrazine as small as 0.1 parts per billion (below allowed regulatory limits) turns tadpoles into hermaphrodites – creatures with both male and female sexual characteristics. When his work appeared in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sygenta attacked the study, starting an epic feud between the scientist and the corporation. In fact, a June 2013 investigative report by 100Reporters and Environmental Health News exposed the chemical giant’s multi-million dollar campaign to discredit atrazine critics.

Dr. Hayes has published more than 40 papers, over 150 abstracts and has given more than 300 talks on the role of environmental factors on growth and development in amphibians. With the cutbacks in government funds and the relentless industry attacks, Dr. Hayes has recently run into financial woes, including exceedingly high fees from the University’s Office of Laboratory Animal Care. We hope that his important work will continue, however without funding there is no way for him to do research.

Raising Funds for Independent Science

Beyond Pesticides has established The Fund for Independent Science to support Dr. Hayes’ work, to protect life from harmful chemicals. Dr. Hayes’ lab operates on a budget of $150,000. Funds raised will keep this critical research going forward. Through this page, we ask you to consider making a pledge to the Fund. If the Fund is able to generate $150,000 in pledges, we will then circle back to collect your contribution. As the Fund grows, we will support other independent scientific research to inform great growth of the sustainable sector.

In general, we need a mechanism for raising substantial dollars from those who support independent scientific research to inform sound public policy that protects health and the environment. We need independent science to understand the toxicology of chemicals that are allowed to be introduced into the environment and our food supply. This information is critical to influence state and local decision makers to act because of industry-dominated regulatory decisions that assume the necessity of toxic materials, driven by companies with an economic interest. Building systems that are not reliant on toxic inputs requires continual understanding of the destructive capacity of toxic materials in commerce and the sustainable practices that can replace them in the marketplace.

The Fund is set up and run by Beyond Pesticides. If you are interested in helping out, please pledging today. For more information, you may call Beyond Pesticides at 202-543-5450 or email info@beyondpesticides.org.

About Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D.

Dr. Hayes has an undergraduate degree in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he currently serves as a professor. He has published more than 40 papers, over 150 abstracts and has given more than 300 talks on the role of environmental factors on growth and development in amphibians. Through his research, he states, “I have come to realize that the most important environmental factors affecting amphibian development are synthetic chemicals (such as pesticides) that interact with hormones in a variety of ways to alter developmental responses.”

Watch a full presentation of Dr. Hayes’ talk at the 31st National Pesticide Forum held in Albuquerque, NM.  If you would like additional information on Dr. Hayes’ scientific research and work, you may email him at tyrone@berkeley.edu.

Thank you for considering a donation to the Fund!



“Monsanto Protection Act” Stripped from Senate Bill

(Beyond Pesticides, September 26, 2013) The controversial legislative rider added at the behest of Monsanto to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget bill last spring, dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act,” will no longer be effective after Sept. 30 under a new stopgap government funding bill being drafted by Senate Democrats. Just last week, to the dismay of many concerned groups and individuals, the House approved the extension of the provision, which protects genetically-engineered (GE) seed manufacturers from litigation. The provision was included in last spring’s 6-month continuing resolution (CR) spending bill to fund the government through the end of the month.

The House approved a three-month extension to the rider in its own short-term FY14 Continuing Resolution (CR) spending bill, which was approved last week to fund the federal government past September. But the Senate version, overseen by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), will explicitly say that the Monsanto-backed provision will end this month on September 30 before sending the bill back to the House for final approval.

Wrapped in a “farmer-friendly” package, the “Monsanto Protection Act” touched off a storm last spring as critics accused Monsanto of trying to protect its sales of GE seeds, by overriding any court-mandated intervention of the use of GE crops based on environmental or economic risks. Essentially, the provision strips federal courts of their authority to halt the sale and planting of illegal, potentially hazardous GE crops and compel USDA to allow continued planting of the crop, thereby putting industry completely in charge through a “back door approval” mechanism. It also represents an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review, which is an essential element of U.S. law and a critical check on government decisions that may adversely affect human health, the environment or livelihoods.

Beyond Pesticides joined the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and over 120 of the nation’s top organizations and businesses in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chairwoman Mikulski on September 12 calling on them to strip the rider from the bill. These groups welcomed the decision as “a major victory for the food movement.”

Senator Barbara Mikulski, who inherited legislative agreements made under her predecessor, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), promised that she would do everything she could to terminate the provision with the new fiscal year. But the CR posed its own challenges since typically the leadership simply extends current spending and related provisions for the life of the resolution. Under the current House version, the CR will run through December 15, but Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Pryor (D-Ark.) chairman of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, chose to act and take it out after the end of the month. This was aided by the fact that early proponents in the House Appropriations Committee appear to have backed off of supporting the measure.

According to Politico, the whole dispute has been overshadowed by the larger fight over Republican efforts to use the same CR to cut off funding needed by President Barack Obama to implement the health care reform law. But for many environmental and food safety groups, the “Monsanto Protection Act” became a major cause last spring, generating a huge amount of Internet traffic and calls on Obama to veto the agriculture budget.

Largely as a result of prior lawsuits, USDA is required to complete environmental impact statements (EIS) to assess risks prior to both the planting and sale of GE crops. The extent and effectiveness to which the USDA carries out this requirement is in itself a source of serious dispute. Past failures to adequately review GE plantings led to legal challenges, with many court decisions calling for a moratorium on plantings until an environmental review is conducted. Monsanto and its allies have argued that what the company sought was no more than what some federal courts have done themselves in the past —allow farmers to continue to use GE seed –under environmental guidelines—while the court review continues.

Just recently, GE alfalfa was confirmed to have contaminated non-GE alfalfa in Washington State. Wheat in Oregon that was also contaminated with unapproved GE wheat, which has spurred several lawsuits claiming this incident has led to economic losses, confirming the ability of this technology to indiscriminately contaminate non-GE crops and other wild plant species, and questions the fitness of USDA’s review. While USDA claims the contamination is a “commercial issue” and should be addressed by the marketplace and not the government, GE contamination has a dramatic impact on farmers. Major export countries like Japan, that restrict GE material and insist on GE labeling, have refused to purchase American GE contaminated crops, and the European Union has begun to run additional tests on U.S. shipments. In addition to contamination issues, concerns about harm to human health and the environment have prompted several state legislatures to consider bills that would require labeling of products with GE ingredients so consumers know what they are eating.

Given the recent GE contamination episodes of wheat and alfalfa in Oregon and Washington, it is imperative that existing safeguards not be undermined for the sake of industry interests, and the authority of federal courts should be protected.

For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the USDA Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.

If you’re interested, you can see Monsanto’s response to their Protection Act’s expiration.

Source: Politico

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



USDA Refuses to Investigate GE Alfalfa Contamination

(Beyond Pesticides, September 25, 2013) Five days after genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa was confirmed to have contaminated non-GE alfalfa in Washington State, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would not investigate the incident. Conventional and organic farmers have long been concerned with the economic impacts of GE adulteration, and this incident represents the latest in a long string of contamination events that have brought a global spotlight on the United States’ loose regulatory structure for these controversial crops.alfalfa

GE alfalfa is engineered by Monsanto to be resistant to glyphosate, or “Roundup Ready,” and is the first engineered perennial crop. The contamination could either be a result of cross-pollination or direct contamination of purchased seed. Cross- contamination is highly likely as alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can fly and cross-pollinate between fields and wild sources miles apart. According to a December 2011 report by Stephanie Greene, a Ph.D. geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), after Roundup Ready alfalfa was first deregulated in 2005 industry testing of conventional seed lots found levels of contamination as high as two percent.

USDA claims the contamination is a “commercial issue” and should be addressed by the marketplace and not the government. GE alfalfa contamination could have a dramatic impact on all alfalfa farmers. Alfalfa is the fourth-widest grown crop in the U.S. and has an export value of $1.25 billion dollars. The U.S. is the primary alfalfa supplier to countries like Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries that prohibit and/or require labeling of genetically engineered foods. This incident comes on the heels of findings of wheat in Oregon that was contaminated with unapproved GE wheat, which has spurred several lawsuits claiming this incident has led to economic losses. After this contamination, Japan cancelled its order to buy U.S. western white wheat. These incidents bring into question USDA’s ability to regulate GE crops in way that is not harmful to non-GE farmers.

This contamination could also have a dramatic impact on the organic community. Alfalfa is the key feedstock for the dairy industry. GE contamination would cause organic dairies to lose their source of organic feed, a requirement for organic dairy, including milk and yogurt products.

GE alfalfa designed to be resistant to herbicides is unnecessary. USDA data shows that 90% of all the alfalfa planted by farmers in the U.S. was previously grown without the use of any herbicides, which the GE alfalfa is engineered to withstand. Due to the planting of GE alfalfa, USDA estimates that up to 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides will be released into the environment each year.

Beyond Pesticides has a long history of fighting against the growing of GE alfalfa. After USDA first proposed complete deregulation of the crop in 2005, Beyond Pesticides joined with other environmental and farming groups in a lawsuit that argued that USDA did not adequately defend its decision to forgo an environmental impact statement (EIS). In 2007, a U.S. District judge ruled in favor of the environmental and farming groups, finding that USDA violated federal environmental law by failing to conduct an EIS.  One of USDA’s chief arguments -that GE alfalfa will not affect the crop economically- was also rejected by the court. While USDA worked on the EIS, GE alfalfa remained unlawful to plant or sell, and a ban remained in place despite Monsanto appealing the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In December of 2010, the Obama administration proposed limiting GE alfalfa to restricted planting zones to prevent contamination. The EIS was completed by USDA in 2011 and found that GE alfalfa, unless restricted, would contaminate natural alfalfa, cause the loss of U.S. export markets, dramatically increase pesticide use, and drive the rise of Roundup-resistant superweeds.

Despite this overwhelming evidence of harm, in 2011 USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GE alfalfa. The announcement came after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack signaled that he wished to seek a middle ground regarding the crop, exclaiming that organic, conventional, and GE farmers could coexist. After a series of meetings and discussions among stakeholders, the agency’s final decision infuriated organic farmers and environmentalists, who felt the agency ignored their concerns. The concerns were expressed in a 2011 open letter to USDA.

Beyond Pesticides, along with other environmental and farming organizations, filed a suit in March of 2011 challenging the agency’s deregulation of the GE alfalfa. The suit, Center for Food Safety, et al., v. Vilsack, et al., argued that the agency’s deregulation of the Roundup Ready alfalfa is unlawful, and tried to prevent any further planting of the engineered crop. However, in 2012, a U.S. District Judge in San Francisco issued a ruling finding that USDA’s decision to deregulate GE alfalfa was not unlawful.

For more information on this issue, see Beyond Pesticides’ webpage on genetic engineering and see our related Daily News entries.

Source: Reuters

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



Swarm Home Depot and Lowe’s: Retailers Must Stop Selling Poisoned Plants

(Beyond Pesticides, September 24, 2013) Last month a new report co-released by Beyond Pesticides, Friends of the Earth, and other allies revealed that the neonicotinoids (neonics), the pesticides implicated in global bee die-offs, may be lurking in our own gardens.

FOE Bee week of action social media sharable imageThe study showed that more than half of the “bee-friendly” plants sold at retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s contained these “bee-killing” pesticides.Our coalition and nearly 200,000 people across the country have stepped-up to tell Home Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling these poisoned plants and off-the-shelf bee-killing pesticides.

So far neither company has responded.

We need to send a clear message to Lowe’s and Home Depot that it is not okay to further endanger our imperiled pollinators. With beekeepers reporting losses up to 90% last winter, consumers should be able to provide a true sanctuary for honey bees and other pollinators.

Join us this week in a social media “swarm” on Facebook and Twitter to send Home Depot and Lowe’s an urgent demand:  “Stop selling bee-killing pesticides and poisoned ‘bee-friendly’ plants!”

I.  Copy and post this message on Home Depot and Lowe’s Facebook pages:

Home Depot/Lowe’s: Stop selling bee-killing pesticides and poisoned bee-friendly plants! www.beyondpesticides.org/pollinators/index.php  www.BeeAction.org

II. Click on any of these tweets to tweet them at Home Depot and Lowe’s Twitter accounts:

@Homedepot @Lowes: 1 in 3 bites of food  need #bees! Stop selling bee-killing pesticides! #BeeAction @bpncamp @foe_us www.beeaction.org

Buzz kill: @Home Depot @Lowes: Stop selling bee-killing pesticides #savethebees #BeeAction @bpncamp @foe_us:www.beeaction.org

III. If you haven’t already, sign the petition telling retailers to stop selling poisoned plants!

Europe has already placed a ban on bee-killing pesticides, and top retailers in the UK are refusing to sell them. Beyond Pesticides and allies are challenging top garden retailers to make the same commitment here in the U.S.

Bees are essential to our food system and they are dying at alarming rates. We can protect bees in our own backyards and gardens right now by rejecting neonics and demanding that top retailers stop selling these bee-killing pesticides. Please join us in asking Lowe’s and Home Depot to BEE Protective and give bees a chance by not selling bee-killing pesticides. The bees have enough troubles — our backyard gardens should be havens for bees — not death traps.

Bee part of the solution! Join us on Home Depot and Lowe’s Facebook pages to tell these home and garden giants to step up and protect bees!

Don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account? Give Home Depot and Lowe’s a call!
Home Depot: 1-800-466-3337
Lowe’s: 1-800-445-6937


Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of insecticides that share a common mode of action that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. They include imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Peer-reviewed science has repeatedly identified these insecticides as highly toxic to honey bees and other pollinators. Once applied, plants take up these pesticides and exude them in their pollen and nectar, subsequently endangering any pollinators that forage on these contaminated plants.

With one in three bites of food reliant on bees and other beneficial species for fruit production, the decline of these important species demands swift action. The mounting scientific evidence, along with unprecedented annual colony losses at 40 to 90 percent this year, demonstrate the impacts that these pesticides are having on these fragile beings.

To save the bees, Beyond Pesticides is keeping the pressure on at all fronts.

  • In addition to asking Lowe’s and Home Depot to stop the sale of of these products, we urge you to download and customize this sample letter and take it in to your local retailer customer service manager. Please tell us when you do (include store name, city and state), so we can follow-up.
  • Tell your member of Congress to support the Save America’s Pollinators Act introduced last month by U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D, Ore.) and John Conyers (D, Mich.) to suspend the use of neonicotiniods on bee-attractive plants until EPA reviews all of the available data, including field studies. The bill, which Beyond Pesticides helped draft, aims to provide long overdue protections for America’s imperiled pollinators.
  • Take the pollinator protection pledge to devote your own yard, garden, park, and backyard as a Pesticide-Free Zone that you can manage as organic pollinator habitat.
  • Encourage your local schools, government agencies, religious institutions and businesses to use their buying power to go neonic-free. Urge your municipality, institution or company to adopt the model resolution which makes the commitment to protect pollinators from harmful pesticide applications and create pesticide-free refuges for these beneficial organisms.
  • Plant your own colorful, bee-friendly garden using our BEE Protective Habitat Guide.
  • Tell your friends and family about the dangers of neonicotinoids to honey bees and pollinators and tell them how they can Manage Landscapes with Pollinators in Mind.

Let’s BEE Protective and support a shift away from the use of these toxic chemicals by encouraging organic methods and sustainable land management practices in your home, campus, or community.

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



Send Your Comment to USDA: Stop Antibiotics in Organic Fruit Production, Allow Full Public Participation

(Beyond Pesticides, September 23, 2013) Don’t let USDA stop your voice from being heard on organic. The meaningfulness of the USDA organic label is threatened because the standards and public oversight governing organic are under attack.

Say No to Antibiotics in Organic Fruit Production

Help us make sure that the last antibiotic, streptomycin, is taken out of organic apple and pear production. Public action in spring 2013 resulted in a decision by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to support the phase out of tetracycline. With resistance to antibiotics rampant, organic should be helping to solve the problem.organic integrity with question mark

Ask for Organic Policy on Fish Farming before Approving Allowed Materials

On fish farming or aquaculture, we don’t want intensive operations that pollute the environment and are not defined by organic systems that are protective of the aquatic environment. Let’s not let the NOSB approve synthetic chemicals that are used in factory fish farms without clear organic standards.

Go to Beyond Pesticides Keeping Organic Strong webpage to learn more about these issues and provide a unique public comment.

Protecting the Public’s Voice in Organic

USDA has weakened the power of the NOSB and the voice of the public on the review and approval of synthetic and other materials under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). When you provide your comment, let NOSB and USDA know that the approval of synthetic materials in organic cannot be governed by the weak process that was just adopted on September 17. Incorporate some version of the following in your comments:

Because the National Organic Program (NOP) sunset policy violates OFPA, and will therefore not subject National List materials to the required reassessment to determine re-listing in the future –and given current concerns about health and environmental impacts associated with the petitioned materials’ use and manufacture and synthetic materials under sunset review, as well as their need in organic production (essentiality), we urge NOSB members to oppose petitions for new synthetic chemical uses at this Fall 2013 NOSB meeting and until the sunset process is reinstated. We are especially concerned about the lack of public transparency and input on all decisions related to organic and the long-term viability of the USDA organic label as consumers begin to increasingly distrust the process and the lack of NOSB authority to conduct a public assessment to determine whether materials should be relisted every five years.

More Background

Under the law, synthetic materials, which are “otherwise prohibited,” may be given an “exemption” by the NOSB to allow use, but only for five years if not extended by the NOSB. USDA has dismantled this process, in place since 2005, which was established to ensure that all synthetics are approved by the NOSB and subject to public comment on a five-year cycle. Once allowed, a material was required to sunset after that cycle and would not be put back on the allowed materials list, the National List, unless the Board voted decisively (two-thirds) to reinstate or continue the use –a high threshold in line with the law’s default against synthetics and the standard required for newly petitioned substances. Under the new process, the Board does not have to act to continue a use, creating disincentives for the development of natural alternatives or alternative practices, and the decision could be made by USDA without a NOSB recommendation or public comment.

The organic label has value in the marketplace because it was built on a system of land management, certification, and the close public scrutiny of allowed inputs through a public process and oversight of a stakeholder group, the NOSB.

Why is this attack coming from USDA now?
While USDA claims these moves will increase efficiency and transparency, we believe that they will do just the opposite, resulting in less public oversight and the use of synthetic materials in perpetuity, thereby creating disincentives for continuous improvement. The USDA action comes on the heels of many critical votes by the NOSB to curtail antibiotics, stop synthetics in infant formula, place restrictions on nanotechnology, scrutinize inert ingredients, protect organic farmers from contamination by genetically engineered crops, and increase public involvement and oversight. Are there some in the industry (or wanting to break into the organic industry) who think this oversight of organic is harmful to its growth? Or, is the new policy’s disincentive for continuous improvement, which historically has been advanced by the NOSB and the public, actually harmful to the growth of organic? Make your voice heard.

Comment to Protect Organic

Here’s what we can do: Please take the time to submit a personalized comment on as many issues as possible. We made the process easy – go to Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage. What we eat and how we protect the environment has very personal impacts on us, so let’s take the time to let the NOSB know what we think.

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



Study Finds Women Near Pesticide-Treated Fields Have Lower Weight Babies

(Beyond Pesticides, September 20, 2013) A study of women in Northern California farm towns finds that those living within three miles of strawberries fields treated with methyl bromide gave birth to smaller, lighter babies. Methyl bromides, a fumigant pesticide injected into soils to eliminate soil-borne pests, can volatize into the air exposing nearby neighborhoods. The U.S. and other developed countries have banned the use of methyl bromide under an international treaty that recognized the role of chemicals like methyl bromide to deplete the ozone layer. However, some farmers continue to use the fumigant on strawberries and other crops due to the “critical use exemption” (CUE) stipulation of the laws, which allows the chemical to continue to be used when there are no feasible alternatives.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, examined the health of babies born to 442 pregnant women living in Salinas Valley, CA in 1999 and 2000, when methyl bromide was widely used.  lettucefieldUtilizing data from California’s Pesticide Use Reporting System, the study was able to identify residences that were within 5 kilometers of methyl bromide application.

Researchers find that women exposed to the chemical during their second trimester have babies that are four ounces lighter on average than women living in areas with no methyl bromide use. For comparison, this is half the weight decrease caused by smoking, say researchers.

However, only four percent of babies were born at what is considered “low birth weight,” less than 5.5 pounds. In other words, the majority of babies were still considered with normal ranges. The significance of smaller babies when it comes to their health is still unclear, but low birth weight babies are known to be at higher risk for developmental delays and learning disabilities.

“For a baby on the low end of the normal birth weight, 4 ounces could make a big difference,” said Kim Harley, PhD., author, and associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at University of California, Berkeley.

Additionally, Dr. Harley noted that the majority of women studied were Latinas from Mexico who, in general, tended to have healthy birth weight babies, but “across the board we saw a shift towards slightly lighter babies.”

While about 41 percent of the women did some field work while pregnant, few worked in fields that had been treated with methyl bromide, raising concerns about the role of residential exposure to methyl bromide and expanding the dialogue beyond farmworkers.

The study has one major limitation: the amount of methyl bromide the women were exposed to is largely unknown, as their exposures were based solely on residential locations. “A woman could work 12-hour shifts 40 miles from home or spend little time outdoors near her own home. It’s impossible to say whether these estimates represent an accurate picture of exposure,” said Myles Cockburn, PhD., an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California, to Environmental Health News.

However, the study is part of a 14-year, ongoing project by scientists to determine the health impacts of children born in the Salinas Valley, and exposed to methyl bromide. Additionally, this research builds on previous studies demonstrating that methyl bromide increases the risk of prostate cancer and causes damage to the neurological, reproductive, and endocrine systems.

The only way to know that you are not being exposed to hazardous soil fumigants is to buy organically produced food. Organic agriculture does not allow the use toxic chemicals that have been shown to drift and cause a myriad of chronic health effects, such as cancer, endocrine disruption and a series of degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. To learn more about organic agriculture please visit Beyond Pesticides organic agriculture page. For more information on organic versus conventional agricultural practices, see Beyond Pesticides’ guide, Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience, urging consumers to consider impacts on the environment, farmworker and farm families’ health –in addition to personal health impacts posed by pesticide residues– when making food choices.

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

Source: Environmental Health News

Photo Source: Environmental Health News



USDA Guts Public Organic Review Process to Limit Synthetics

(Beyond Pesticides, September 19, 2013) In a move decried by consumer and environmental groups as severely weakening the meaning of the organic label, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week that the agency has changed the process for exempting otherwise prohibited substances (such as synthetics) in food that carries the “organic” or “made with organic” label. This decision makes it easier to continue use of artificial ingredients and substances, undermining integrity of the organic label. Additionally, the changes are effective September 17, only one day after the announcement, and no public comment period was provided for the changes to this policy, which has been in place since 2005. Read the joint statement issued by Beyond Pesticides, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, and Food and Water Watch.

Under the federal organic law and prior to the announcement, there was a controlled process for allowing the use of substances not normally permitted in organic production because of extenuating circumstances. Under the Organic Foods Production Act 7 USC 6517 (e) Sunset Provision, “No exemption or prohibition contained in the National List shall be valid unless the National Organic Standards Board has reviewed such exemption or prohibition as provided in this section within 5 years of such exemption or prohibition being adopted or reviewed and the Secretary has renewed such exemption or prohibition.”

Under the law, these exemptions are authorized for a five-year period, in order to encourage the development of natural (or organic) alternatives. The exemptions are required by law to expire, known as “sunset,” unless they were reinstated by a two-thirds “decisive” majority vote of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and include a public review. While this is the law, USDA has said it will no longer operate the program in this manner.

The USDA’s recent decision now puts the burden of identifying exempted materials for removal largely onto environmentalists and consumers. Under the new policy, an exempt material could be permitted indefinitely unless a two-thirds majority of the NOSB votes to remove an exempted (synthetic) substance from the list. The new policy allows USDA to relist exemptions for synthetic materials without the recommendation of the independent board and outside of public view, as required by current law.

“The USDA’s decision minimizes all incentives for creating organic, natural alternative ingredients and lowers the standard for what consumers can expect behind the organic label. Allowing the USDA to automatically relist materials without the recommendation of the NOSB erodes the Board’s legal authority over materials decisions, a key to consumer trust in the organic label. The fact that the agency made this decision without any public input only adds to the violation felt by watchdog groups and consumers alike,” the groups said.

“Potentially allowing an indefinite listing of non-natural ingredients and requiring a super-majority vote to retire a substance after five years undermines the spirit of the law for how materials head into “sunset” or retirement. It is unfair to producers trying to produce a truly organic product and it is unfair to consumers trying to make meaningful purchasing decisions. Simply put, this lowers the bar for much of the organic market. We believe USDA must reverse course and we intend to mount a fierce campaign to hold the agency accountable to the millions of Americans who expect more from the government—and the organic label.”

For more information:

Keeping Organic Strong:

We need your voice now more than ever. NOSB will meet in Louisville, Kentucky from October 22-24 to decide on a range of issues regarding the future of organic food and farming in the United States. The Board is now accepting public comments until October 1, 2013 for its upcoming fall meeting, to be held October 22-24, 2013 at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, KY (140 North Fourth St., Louisville, KY, 40202). Beyond Pesticides has compiled a list of the issues before the Board, which can be viewed on the Keeping Organic Strong website. We strongly encourage all those concerned about the future of organic food to review the issues and submit a public comment to the NOSB. The 15 member Board meets twice a year to review substances petitioned for allowance on the “National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances” in organic production and processing.

Written comments on the proposals can be submitted until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at regulations.gov. You can also attend the NOSB meeting in person to provide oral comments before the Board. Pre-registration to provide oral comments must be completed by October 1, 2013. You can register to provide a public comment here.

It’s important to remember that while we raise our voice in defense of the integrity of the organic label, organic farming is still significantly better for human health and a cleaner environment than its conventional, chemical-intensive counterpart. Through public involvement, we must protect the integrity of the organic label and the process that supports it. Otherwise, the market will disappear and with it the opportunity to solve serious environmental and health problems associated with chemical-intensive practices. Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that focuses on feeding the soil and growing naturally healthy crops, whereas chemical-intensive agriculture depends on toxic chemicals and inputs which poison the soil, as well as air, water, farmworkers and consumers. As opposed to conventional chemical agriculture, where there are tens of thousands of synthetic materials, including over 200 registered pesticide active ingredients, there are currently only around 50 entries on the “National List” of allowable synthetics. And all of these products have been reviewed for their human and environmental health effects, essentiality to organic production, and their compatibility with the values of organic as it pertains to the Organic Foods Production Act. The public may also file a petition to amend the National List, either by removing a material currently on the list or by adding a new one. Public involvement is a vital part of the development of organic regulations. The NOSB needs to know what the organic community wants and expects from its food.

For more information on what you can do, see Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong website, which provides a number of resources for people to participate in the organic review process alongside the Board.




Is Long Banned DDT Still Threatening Endangered Birds?

(Beyond Pesticides, September 18, 2013) DDT, a pesticide banned in 1972, is behind the mystery surrounding the reproductive problems of dozens of endangered condors. This is according to a peer-reviewed paper written by 10 condor experts, including biologists from the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara zoos and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The researchers, who spent six years studying the reproductive problems, including eggshell thinning, in California condors have “established a strong link” to DDT in the birds’ food source.

Condors are large scavenger birds with wingspans up to 10 feet and were reintroduced to California’s coast in 1997 after a century-long population decline. However, in 2006 biologists began observing thinning shells in many condor nests. Over the next six years, scientists observed condors feeding on dozens of sea lions, and found that in Big Sur, California, condor populations had low hatching success — just 20-40 percent. In contrast, 70-80 percent of southern California condors in the Tejon area had hatched successfully over the same time. The southern California condors are inland, and sea lions are not a food source.

According to the study published in the journal, The Condor, the outer crystalline layer of shells was absent or greatly reduced, similar to thin-shelled condor eggs laid in southern California in the 1960s. The researchers found that the rate of hatchling loss increased significantly with decreasing shell thickness, which can also lead to increased bacterial infections in the eggs. One shell found crushed in a nest was 54 percent thinner than normal. Biologists familiar with the ravages of DDT in bird populations suspect DDT as the cause.

The scientists theorize that the major source of food for these birds, sea lions, have been accumulating DDT in their fat during their lifetimes, as they migrate to the central coast from southern California, where the Montrose Chemical Corp., which manufactured technical grade of DDT from 1947 until 1982, routinely dumped DDT along the coast for decades until the 1970s. The Montrose plant and the ocean off Palos Verdes where it dumped DDT are now listed as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Superfund” sites.

DDT is an organochlorine pesticide that was banned in the U.S. in 1972 due to its persistent and highly toxic nature. DDT was widely used to control mosquitoes for malaria abatement, and in agriculture. Despite the fact that DDT was banned in the U.S. 40 years ago, concentrations of this toxic chemical’s major metabolite, DDE, have remained alarmingly high in many ecosystems, including surface waters, the Arctic, and even U.S. national parks. This is because DDT/DDE are persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, are capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, and biomagnify in food chains. The science shows DDT was responsible for the deaths of millions of bald eagles and other bird species along the California coast, and that the pesticide bioaccumulates in the tissues of animals throughout the food chain. In the early 1970s, exceptionally high concentrations of several DDT metabolites, principally DDE, were recorded in the blubber and tissues of California sea lions in both southern and central California. One 2005 study also found elevated concentrations of DDT in fish samples taken in National Parks. In addition, a surge of additional problems with the lingering effects of DDT have risen in recent years, particularly with its buildup in waterways. It has currently been identified as a threat to the Columbia River, as well as to the Arctic.

Organochlorines like DDT have also been linked to a number of adverse effects to human health, including birth defects,  breast cancer and autism. DDT has also been linked to Vitamin D deficiency, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and diabetes. Exposure to DDT can occur by eating contaminated fish. The California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has issued fish advisories that recommend limited or no consumption of fish from certain waterways in California. Last year, after years of limited success with clean-up, the EPA launched a three-year plan to pinpoint the cause of continuously high DDT levels in the San Francisco Bay, and engage the surrounding community in cleanup and education efforts.

The authors of the study state that DDT/DDE from wastes of a DDT factory discharged into the Southern California Bight have been linked to extensive eggshell thinning and reproductive failures of fish-eating and raptorial birds.  “A vast majority of California sea lions have spent at least a portion of their lives in the waters of southern California, which is the most DDT-contaminated coastal environment in the world,” said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of Ventana Wildlife Society and a co-author of the new study. “Northward movements of sea lions provide a pathway of DDT to condors in central California.”

Early critics of the study say it only looks closely at one potential cause of reproductive problems (DDT), and fails to properly evaluate the potential effects of other contaminants and factors that may be involved. But the authors are hopeful that the DDT problem would fade over time. “Like bald eagles and other bird species previously affected by DDT, the thickness of condor eggshells should recover as contamination declines in the coastal environment,” said co-author Robert Risebrough, executive director, Bodega Bay Institute, and expert on the effects of DDT on birds.

Source and photo courtesy: CBS News

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





Canada Declares Farm Use of Neonicotinoids “Unsustainable”

(Beyond Pesticides, September 17, 2013) Last Friday, Health Canada released new measures the agency claims are intended to protect bees from exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides. As with recent regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), beekeepers and environmental groups are criticizing the measures as inadequate, not going far enough to protect domesticated honey bees that both in Canada and the U.S. have seen losses of over 30% each winter since 2006. Ontario beekeeper Dave Schuit told the CBC, “Basically I see it as a Band-Aid. [The Pest Management Regulatory Agency] should’ve done their study before they approved this pesticide.” Dave Schuit owns Saugeen Country Honey Inc., and reportedly lost 37 million bees last year – more than half of his over 2,000 hives – as a result of exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides. Health Canada’s proposal includes:

  • beeRequiring the use of safer dust-reducing seed flow lubricants (most corn and soy seed is coated with neonicotinod pesticides before planting and then mixed with a lubricant like talc that creates a toxic dust in seed planters);
  • Requiring adherence to safer seed planting practices;
  • Requiring new pesticide and seed package labels with enhanced warnings; and
  • Requiring updated value information be provided to support the continued need for neonicotinoid treatment on up to 100% of corn seed and 50% of soybean seed

In its press release, Health Canada acknowledged, “We have concluded that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable.” The Canadian agency also noted that it has received a “significant number” of reports of bee kills, mainly from the corn growing provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Additionally, Health Canada declared that, “Approximately 70% of the affected dead bee samples tested positive for residues of neonicotinoid insecticides used to treat corn seeds…”

Beekeeper Dave Schuit says that these steps don’t go far enough and that the government should ban the pesticides altogether. While Health Canada contends that new seed flow lubricants will cut down on the large bee kills seen during seed planting time in the spring, beekeepers don’t agree. “When the plant grows up, it sucks up the water and the pesticide [on the seed],” Schuit remarked. “So, the whole plant is toxic. When the bees take the pollen, they die. The bees are dying because of the pollen.”

Health Canada also indicated that the agency will be updating the labels for neonicotinoid pesticides similar to EPA’s recent requirements. However, there is widespread concern that the new label language is unenforceable, and unfairly puts the onus on beekeepers to make sure that their bees are safe.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic, meaning they are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through its pollen, nectar and guttation droplets (sap exuded from the tips and edges of plant leaves). Studies show that bees which forage on neonicotinoid treated plants can accumulate the pesticide in their hive at levels that impact the colony’s ability to thrive.  Honey bees exhibit reduced foraging, learning, and navigational behavior when exposed to even low levels of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids have also been observed to suppress bee immune systems, making them more susceptible to pathogens and disease, ultimately reducing the health and long-term viability of the colony. An extensive overview of the major studies showing the effects of neonicotinoids on pollinator health can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ What the Science Shows webpage.

The robust evidence of the wide ranging harm neonicotinoids cause to pollinators led the European Union to ban the use of these chemicals in agriculture for two years. Late last month, agrichemical giants Syngenta and Bayer announced that they would be suing the E.U. over their decision.

As Health Canada’s announcement indicates, the agency is “expediting” its re-evaluation of neonicotinoids in coordination with EPA. It is unclear what the agencies mean by expediting, as EPA’s registration review work plan for the neonicotinoid clothianidin indicates that a decision will not come until at least 2018. Beyond Pesticides has worked with allies, including beekeepers and environmental groups, to get EPA to respond quickly to the pollinator crisis through legal petitions, and declare the pesticide clothianidin an “imminent hazard” to honey bees. After EPA rebuffed our petition, the coalition filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against EPA for its failure to protect pollinators from these dangerous pesticides. The lawsuit seeks the suspension of the registrations of the neonicotiniods clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills, and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The suit challenges EPA’s oversight of these bee-killing pesticides, as well as the agency’s practice of “conditional registration” and labeling deficiencies.

In early July, Beyond Pesticides urged President Obama in a joint letter to direct EPA to follow Europe’s lead in suspending certain neonicotinoid pesticides uses and take on even more protective measures, including a minimum two-year suspension for all outdoor uses of neonicotinoid insecticides pending resolution of their hazards to bees and beneficial organisms. A recent report from Beyond Pesticides and Friends of the Earth-US shows that common outdoor plants often touted as “bee-friendly” by retailers such as Lowes and Home Depot contain concerning levels of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Additionally, a U.S. bill introduced by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D- OR) titled the Save America’s Pollinators Act would suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides before a full review of scientific evidence and a field study demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators. You can tell your member of Congress to support the Save America’s Pollinators Act here.

With one in three bites of food reliant on bees and other beneficial species for pollination, the decline of these important species demands swift action. The mounting scientific evidence, along with unprecedented annual colony losses at 30 to 90 percent this year, demonstrates the impacts that these pesticides are having on these fragile beings.

Take Action: Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign has all the educational tools you need to stand up for pollinators. Some specific ways you can help are:

Sources: CBC, Health Canada    

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