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Action of the Week Archive

Action of the Week is intended to provide you, our supporters and network, with one concrete action that you can take each week to have your voice heard on governmental actions that are harmful to the environment and public and worker health, increase overall pesticide use, or undermine the advancement of organic, sustainable, and regenerative practices and policies. As an example, topics may include toxic chemical use, pollinator protection, organic agriculture and land use, global climate change, and regulatory or enforcement violations.

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02/06/2023 — Getting Serious about Environmental Justice

During Black History Month, it is of note that on January 10, the Biden-Harris Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced funding of approximately $100 million for “projects that advance environmental justice in underserved and overburdened communities across the country” through its Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) program. While viewed as assistance for those communities “disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change,” it is important to recognize that the same communities are also disproportionately impacted by activities that produce pollution and climate change.  

>>Tell EPA, Governors (Mayor in DC), and Congress to support environmental justice by eliminating activities leading to pollution and climate change.

EPA must reverse its historical bias against preventive action to ensure the protection of those disproportionately poisoned by toxic chemicals. While critically important to clean up contaminated communities, EPA must stop the flow of toxic pesticides at the front end because of the disproportionate poisoning effects of use, handling, transportation, and disposal. We live in an age of practices and products that make toxic pesticides unnecessary and their use unconscionable. Yet, EPA insists on the acceptability of harm (which it calls risk), despite its failure to (i) recognize comorbidities and preexisting health conditions, (ii) consider a combination of multiple chemical exposure interactions, and (iii) cite extensive missing health outcomes information (e.g., on endocrine disruption) and a resulting high level of uncertainty. 

On the community level addressed by this funding project, EPA could assist communities to transition to organic land management. The EJG2G program must assist communities to manage local parks, playing fields, and greenways without unnecessary toxic pesticides.  

But EPA's assistance must go beyond funding. EPA's pesticide registration decisions promote contamination of communities where pesticides are manufactured, stored, used, and disposed of. By ignoring impacts of pesticides on soil health, EPA's pesticide registration decisions promote the climate crisis. EPA's pesticide program must incorporate in all of its registration decisions an analysis of impact on the climate crisis, with particular attention to the protection of soil health. 

A recent report, Exposed and At RiskOpportunities to Strengthen Enforcement of Pesticide Regulations for Farmworker Safety, by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School, in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group, Farmworker Justice, again highlights the systemic racism of our country's pesticide policies. Our nation depends on farmworkers, declared “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure sustenance for the nation and world. Yet, the occupational exposure to toxic pesticides by farmworkers is discounted by EPA, while study after study documents the disproportionate level of illness among farmworkers. EPA must eliminate systemic racism in its pesticide program. 

The targets for this Action are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. State Governors, the Mayor of D.C., and the U.S. Congress.

Thank you for your active participation and engagement!

>>Tell EPA, Governors (Mayor in DC), and Congress to support environmental justice by eliminating activities leading to pollution and climate change.

01/30/2023 — Don’t Undermine the Effectiveness of Important Medicines

Because antibiotics and fungicides are widely used in agriculture (except organic), they contribute significantly to the increasing efficacy problems with antimicrobial (antibiotic and antifungal medicines) use in health care, contributing to a growing crisis. According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, World Health Organization Director-General, “Antimicrobial resistance undermines modern medicine and puts millions of lives at risk.”  Microorganisms—including bacteriafungi, and viruses—are notoriously quick to evolve resistance to antimicrobial medicines. We know that selection for resistance is directly related to the frequency and intensity of antimicrobial use, so medical practitioners try to avoid using those medicines unless they are necessary.  

>>Tell EPA to cancel all uses of a pesticide when resistance is discovered or predicted to occur. Tell Congress to ensure that EPA protects public health from deadly antifungal and antibiotic resistance.

Unfortunately, the medical profession lacks complete control over the use of antimicrobials. Many of the same chemicals used in human medicine are also used in agriculture. These may show up in or on treated food, but can also spread antimicrobial resistance through horizontal gene transfer. So, in addition to ingesting antibiotics in our food, the movement of resistance bacteria and fungi in the environment contribute to this escalating crisis. 

Oral arguments began last week in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approval of the antibiotic streptomycin as a pesticide on citrus crops. Brought forth by a coalition of farmworker, health, and environmental groups, the lawsuit aims to stop the use of a critical medical treatment for agricultural purposes. Beyond Pesticides executive director Jay Feldman commented on the filing of the lawsuit: “It is past time to take urgent action to transition away from practices in agriculture that are dependent on antibiotics, advance organic farm management, and avoid new deadly pandemics. This lawsuit is an important action to reverse the previous administration's decision to ignore the science and allow expanded use of an antibiotic in agriculture.” 

Not all antimicrobial pesticides are registered for their antimicrobial action. For example, the herbicides glyphosate, 2,4-D, and dicamba are able to create resistance in Salmonella and E. coli. From another health perspective, antimicrobial pesticides may negatively affect the gut microbiome, which is essential for human nutrition and immune system function. EPA must cease registration of pesticides with antimicrobial effects (or potential antimicrobial effects) in human pathogens or beneficial human microbiota. 

The targets for this Action are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Congress.

Thank you for your active participation and engagement!

>>Tell EPA to cancel all uses of a pesticide when resistance is discovered or predicted to occur. Tell Congress to ensure that EPA protects public health from deadly antifungal and antibiotic resistance.

01/23/2023 — Take Climate Change Seriously

There is no doubt that the climate crisis is upon us. And the consequences are undeniably grave. So, we must incorporate our understanding of the grave health and environmental effects into the deliberations on all policy decisions regarding petrochemical pesticide registrations and synthetic fertilizer use in agriculture and nonagricultural land management. Of critical importance, in this context, is the effect of policy decisions on soil health—in particular, soil organic carbon, which sequesters atmospheric carbon and reduces its damaging atmospheric effects. 

>>Tell USDA, EPA, and Congress to incorporate in ALL its policy decisions an analysis of impact on the climate crisis, with particular attention to the protection of soil health.

Although the soil is commonly recognized as a sink for atmospheric carbon, there is a false narrative that says carbon can be sequestered in the soil through chemical-intensive no-till agriculture. Now the Rodale Institute's 40-Year Report on their “Farming Systems Trial” should end the myth of the toxic, petrochemical-based, GMO-herbicide, no-till systems. Rodale's scientific trials clearly show that these degenerative no-till systems are inferior to Regenerative Organic Agriculture on every key criterion.  

The highest yields of corn in the tilled organic manure system and the best increases in soil organic carbon were produced with an organic manure system and limited tillage (tilled every other year). Of importance to climate resilience, organic corn yields have been 31 percent higher than conventional/industrial farming systems in drought years. 

The trials show that herbicide no-till systems do not produce higher levels of soil organic carbon (SOC) than tillage systems. This result is consistent with reviews of 194 studies comparing no-till and tilled fields.  

According to Andre Leu, international director at Regeneration International, “The main reason for the loss of soil carbon in farming systems is not tillage; it is synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Research shows that there is a direct link between the application of synthetic nitrogenous fertilizers and a decline in soil carbon.” In addition, those same nitrogenous fertilizers act as potent greenhouse gases when volatilized to the atmosphere. 

Thus, chemical-intensive agriculture and nonagricultural land management contribute to climate change in multiple ways. If we are to be serious about combating climate change and mitigating its impacts, all agencies must consider climate impacts when making decisions. This means that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must not approve registrations of pesticides that harm the soil or facilitate agricultural practices that interfere with carbon sequestration. It means that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in a much more aggressive way, must lead the transition to organic agriculture as a replacement for chemical-intensive practices and should cease all support for chemical-intensive agriculture immediately. It means that the Department of Interior (DOI) must manage all public lands with organic practices that ensure soil health and all that means for a livable future. 

The targets for this Action are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Congress.

***According to our partners at EveryAction, the contact information for members of Congress is in the process of being updated as the new members had not been formally seated prior to the confirmation of the House Speaker. Unfortunately, the delayed transition may impact targets for this Action and we appreciate your continued activism.  

Thank you for your active participation and engagement!

>>Tell USDA, EPA, and Congress to incorporate in ALL its policy decisions an analysis of impact on the climate crisis, with particular attention to the protection of soil health.

01/17/2023 — Adequate Resources Are Needed to Protect Endangered Species

One of the world's most successful conservation laws—the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)—was enacted in 1973. Since then, it has saved countless imperiled species from extinction, put hundreds more on the road to recovery, and has enabled the preservation of habitats that support all of us. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the humpback whale, bald eagle, and snail darter are still with us. The ESA is our most powerful tool to combat the extinction crisis and stem the loss of biodiversity currently facing our country and the global community. However, decades of underfunding have kept it from realizing its full potential.

>>Tell the Biden Administration and Congress to provide adequate funding for the Endangered Species Act.

The Biden Administration must significantly increase its budget request for endangered species in FY24. A budget of $841 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is needed to fully implement the Endangered Species Act. Currently, FWS only receives around 50% of the funding required to properly implement the Act. The money is needed to support the following activities

Listing: FWS needs at least $66.3 million, or an increase of at least $11.3 million per year for at least the next four years, to process the backlog of nearly 200 species awaiting review. Underfunding for the listing program has resulted in many animals and plants waiting over a decade to receive safeguards, with devastating consequences. Nearly 50 unlisted species have been declared extinct while waiting for protections because of these funding shortfalls. This is unacceptable. 

Recovery: The FWS recovery program needs $467.9 million to support recovery planning, implementation, and recovery progress tracking. FWS desperately needs additional funding to help stabilize and save the most critically endangered species and ensure that all listed species receive a minimum amount of funding for their recovery. 

Planning and Consultation: $179.3 million is required for planning and consultation to be maximally effective and efficient. This includes funding for standard consultations, pesticide consultations; “ECOSphere” development; voluntary conservation; and basic compliance monitoring that does not currently exist. 

Conservation and Restoration: $10.15 million is needed to help conserve species—such as the Monarch butterfly—by improving their habitat and removing threats before they need to be listed.  

Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation: $117.7 million is required to close the gap from previous funding shortfalls and match the current need for state and private lands conservation. 

The targets for this action are the Biden administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Congress.

***According to our partners at EveryAction, the contact information for members of Congress is in the process of being updated as the new members had not been formally seated prior to the confirmation of the House Speaker. Unfortunately, the delayed transition may impact targets for this Action and we appreciate your continued activism under the circumstances.  

Thank you for your active participation and engagement!

>>Tell the Biden Administration and Congress to provide adequate funding for the Endangered Species Act.

01/09/2023 — Meaningful Change Requires the Biden EPA to Reform Pesticide Regulation

The Biden EPA still needs a new vision in order to meet the existential crises in public health, climate change, and biodiversity. The Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reversed in four years much of the progress made by the EPA in decades. Despite a broad new perspective embodied in President Biden's Executive Memorandum (EM) Modernizing Regulatory Review issued on his first day in office, the Biden EPA has not adopted a new direction for regulating pesticides.  

>>Tell the Biden administration, EPA, and Congress to adopt a new direction for pesticide regulation. 

Immediately following his inauguration, President Joe Biden issued the EM, which directs the heads of all executive departments and agencies to produce recommendations for improving and modernizing regulatory review, with a goal of promoting public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations. This EM could reverse the historical trend of status-quo regulatory reviews required by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that typically support vested economic interests of polluters (e.g., petroleum-based pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers). The President's EM sets the stage for the adoption of agency policy across government to seriously and with urgency confront the existential crises of climate change, biodiversity collapse, and public health threats, including disproportionate harm to people of color communities (environmental racism). 

In order for EPA to live up to the vision embodied in the EM, the agency must make systemic changes that incorporate the new direction into every decision. Those systemic changes include:

Challenge so-called “benefits” of pesticides. 
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires EPA to weigh risks against benefits when registering pesticides. Claimed “benefits” for toxic pesticides need to be judged in comparison to organic production, which is able to produce all types of food and feed. The Organic Trade Association reports that organic sales now exceed $63 billion per year, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finds that organic producers in the U.S. produced $11.2 billion worth of organic food on 4.9 million acres in 2021. EPA assumes benefits, rather than measuring them, and does not take into account the development of resistance in target insects or plants. 

Protect pollinators. 
Agriculture relies on insect pollinators to facilitate fertilization and maintain annual crop yield. Globally, the production of crops dependent on pollinators is worth between $253 and $577 billion yearly. Yet, many agricultural pesticides are killing pollinators outright, making them more susceptible to parasites and disease, and destroying their habitat. Pollinator protection should be a priority of EPA.

Protect workers. 
Farmworkers are at greatest risk from pesticide exposure. A blatant example of systemic racism is imbedded in risk assessments in environmental regulation. In deciding on “acceptable” risks, exposure assessments inevitably discount the impact workerspeople of color, and those with preexisting health conditions or comorbidities. For example, EPA routinely calculates worker exposure separately from other exposures. In applying aggregate exposure assessments of pesticides, EPA does not include worker exposure. Risk assessments do not include exposures to multiple chemicals—and such exposures routinely occur in fenceline communities, farmworkers, and factory workers. 

Protect biodiversity. 
Roughly a quarter of the global insect population has been wiped out since 1990, according to research published in the journal ScienceMonarchs are near extinction and beekeepers continue to experience declines that are putting them out of business. We continue to lose mayflies, the foundation of so many food chains, and fireflies, the foundation of so many childhood summer memories, for reasons that can be prevented with leadership in regulating pesticides. It is likely that the declines we are seeing in many bird species are closely linked to insect declines. Recent research finds that three billion birds, or 29% of bird abundance, has been lost since the 1970s. Pesticides cause biodiversity loss in aquatic ecosystems as well. Amphibians are also particularly at risk. 

As if the loss of biodiversity was not bad enough in itself, it combines with the other existential threats to amplify the impacts. A study in the journal Nature finds that, “The interaction between indices of historical climate warming and intensive agricultural land use is associated with reductions of almost 50% in the abundance and 27% in the number of species within insect assemblages relative to those in less-disturbed habitats with lower rates of historical climate warming.” And a study in Environmental Health Perspectives finds that resulting from the loss of pollinators, “3%–5% of fruit, vegetable, and nut production is lost due to inadequate pollination, leading to an estimated 427,000 (95% uncertainty interval: 86,000-691,000) excess deaths annually from lost healthy food consumption and associated diseases.” That study also finds the economic value of crops to be “12%–31% lower than if pollinators were abundant.” EPA does not factor these impacts into its cost-benefit analysis. 

Get rid of endocrine-disrupting pesticides. 
Despite the Congressional mandate in the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA), EPA is not acting on endocrine disruptors linked to infertility and other reproductive disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and early puberty, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and childhood and adult cancers. In 1998, EPA established a program to screen and test pesticides and other widespread chemical substances for endocrine disrupting effects. Despite operating for 21 years, the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) has made little progress in reviewing and regulating endocrine-disrupting pesticides.  Now the program has stalled entirely. 

To ensure appropriate follow-through, Congress gave EPA a timeline to: develop a peer-reviewed screening and testing plan with public input not later than two years after enactment (August 1998); implement screening and testing not later than three years after enactment (August 1999); and report to Congress on the findings of the screening and recommendations for additional testing and actions not later than four years after enactment (August 2000). 

Despite these deadlines, EPA is stalled and ignoring its responsibility. It started a screening program (Tier 1) and reported results in 2009. According to EPA, Tier 1 Screening (which looks at high exposure chemicals) is not sufficient to implicate a chemical as an endocrine disrupting chemical. It is instead a step to define which chemicals must undergo Tier 2 testing – the only stage that can influence regulatory decision making. It is unclear when or how EPA will move forward with Tier 2 testing, and how, if at all, any Tier 2 findings will be used to inform actual regulation. Only those registrations supported by testing showing a lack of endocrine-disrupting effects should be approved or allowed to continue. 

Get rid of neurotoxic pesticides that harm children.  
The target of action by which many pesticides kill is the nervous system. It is not surprising, then, that pesticides also target the nervous system in humans. They are particularly hazardous to children, who take in greater amounts of pesticides (relative to their body weight) than adults, and whose developing organ systems are typically more sensitive to toxic exposures. 

The body of evidence in the scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child's neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low exposure levels. Several pesticide families, such as synthetic pyrethroids, organophosphates, and carbamates, are also known to cause or exacerbate respiratory symptoms like asthma. The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote, “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” 

Action taken by this administration to ban food uses of the extremely neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos is an important first step in eliminating neurotoxic pesticides, but a small one. Even the uses of chlorpyrifos that remain allow continued exposure to workers and children. In addition, many other neurotoxic pesticides continue to be used and threaten public health

The targets for this action are the Biden administration (including the Council on Environmental Quality), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Congress.

***According to our partners at EveryAction, the contact information for members of Congress is in the process of being updated as the new members had not been formally seated prior to the confirmation of the House Speaker. Unfortunately, the delayed transition may impact targets for this Action and we appreciate your continued activism under the circumstances.  

Thank you for your active participation and engagement; it continues to make an incredible difference in the work that we do!

>>Tell the Biden administration, EPA, and Congress to adopt a new direction for pesticide regulation. 

01/03/2023 — Help Stop the Use of Highly Toxic Fumigants in Food Production to Protect Farmworkers

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced new rules that remove existing limits on the use of 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D or Telone), allowing Californians to breathe much more 1,3-D than some state toxicologists say is safe and highlighting the dangers to which farmworkers are routinely exposed. It is outrageous that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would allow farmworkers—whose labor was judged “essential” during the pandemic—to be routinely exposed to highly toxic pesticides, which could be replaced by organic practices. While the state of California describes its action as increasing protection, advocates point to continued use, unacceptable harm, and the availability of alternative organic agricultural production methods that eliminate the use of 1,3-D. Since over a third of the country's vegetables and three-quarters of the country's fruits and nuts are grown in California, most people who buy their food in a grocery store have a stake in how food is grown in the state and the impact that it has on those who live and work there. 

>>Tell EPA, Congress, and the state of California to cancel the registration of all toxic soil fumigants and encourage organic alternatives. 

1,3-D is a pre-plant soil fumigant registered for use on soils to control nematodes. It is allowed on all crops and is often used with chloropicrin, another highly toxic fumigant, to increase its herbicidal and fungicidal properties. 1,3-D causes cancer. In addition, the National Institutes of Health's PubChem states, “Occupational exposure is likely to be through inhalation and via the skin. Irritation of the eyes and the upper respiratory mucosa appears promptly after exposure. Dermal exposure caused severe skin irritations. Inhalation may result in serious signs and symptoms of poisoning with lower exposures resulting in depression of the central nervous system and irritation of the respiratory system. Some poisoning incidents have occurred in which persons were hospitalized with signs and symptoms of irritation of the mucous membrane, chest discomfort, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and, occasionally, loss of consciousness and decreased libido.” Chloropicrin is extremely irritating to lungs, eyes, and skin. Inhalation may lead to pulmonary edema, possibly resulting in death.  

These and other soil fumigants not only pose severe health threats to farmworkers and bystanders, but also threaten soil and water ecosystems. In contrast, organic production seeks to build healthy soils that resist plant pathogens, making fumigation unnecessary. Thus, these fumigants pose unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and should be banned. 

Consider the effects that food grown in chemical-intensive agriculture have on workers, communities, and the environment by checking out Eating with a Conscience. 

>>Tell EPA, Congress, and the state of California to cancel the registration of all toxic soil fumigants and encourage organic alternatives.