Daily News Archive
From January 5, 2004

Mad Cow Hits the U.S., Some Believe Disease Is Linked to Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, January 5, 2004) On December 23, 2003, a holstein cow in Washington state tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), a transmissible, slowly progressive, degenerative, and fatal disease commonly known as Mad Cow Disease. While only found in cattle, there is a disease similar to BSE called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), which is found in humans. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is strong epidemiological and laboratory evidence linking BSE in cattle with vCJD in people.

While government officials have tied BSE to an infectious microorganism, some members of the scientific and agricultural community believe the disease may be linked to exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides, such as Malathion and Phosmet. Cambridge University biochemist, David R. Brown, PhD, is dismissive of the science behind the infectious model of BSE. He terms it “a very limited amount of science by a few assumed- reputable scientists.” He insists there is “no evidence an infectious agent is present in either meat or milk.”

A number of researchers have found that organophosphate (OP) in systemic warble fly insecticide can deform the prion molecule, rendering it ineffective at buffering free radical effects in the body. Worse still, the prion is then partial to bond with manganese and become a 'rogue' prion. A chain reaction whereby rogue prions turn others to rogues also, can explain the bovine spongiform disease mechanism. Dr. Brown’s research shows how prion protein bonds benignly with copper, but lethally with manganese. Even natural variations in relative environmental availability of manganese versus copper can trigger prion degradation.

Organic dairy farmer and peer-review-published independent scientist, Mark Purdey, also believes BSE is linked to organophosphate pesticide exposure. Years ago, Mr. Purdey resisted his government’s order to spray his cattle with organophosphates for warble fly and went to court for a judicial review. He won his case, was exempted from using the spray, and has gone on to conduct research on the disease. No cows born in his herd developed BSE. Mr. Purdey’s article, “The Pesticide Link to Mad Cow Disease,” published (before BSE was discovered in Washington) in the Summer 2003 issue of Pesticides and You, is available here for free download.


The plaintiffs claim that there were severe deficiencies in the re-registration of the two pesticides. They argue that the EPA has continued to allow uses of the pesticides without considering the. They also argued that EPA’s cost-benefit analysis was skewed toward the estimated economic value of using the two pesticides and failed to adequately quantify the magnitude of the risks posed to workers, their children, communities, and the environment. They further claim that EPA discounted the use of safe and proven alternatives and used industry-generated data without subjecting it to the light of public scrutiny.

“We are asking the federal district court to overturn EPA’s unlawful authorization of these extremely toxic pesticides,” said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, “and to force EPA to consider the magnitude of the harm to workers, and proven alternatives that are less harmful to farmworkers and communities.”

This action comes on the heals of an updated report focused on California called Fields of Poison 2002 released in September 2002 by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and two of the groups involved in the lawsuit. The report reveals that pesticide safety laws fail to protect many of the state's 700,000 farmworkers from poisonings even when the laws are apparently followed.

AZM and phosmet are mostly used to kill pests on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, preaches, and nectarines. The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Farmworkers are distressed throughout the nation and federal law provides little relief. In 1996, EPA dealt a severe blow to the Worker Protection Standards created in 1974. The policy change allowed workers who had never received pesticide training to work five days in the fields without any information about the dangers. The new standards also reduced the number of days that growers must provide water for hand-washing (one gallon for every worker) from one month to one week for certain pesticides. Not surprisingly, two years later, skin rashes reported by field workers began to climb. In 1998, the rate was about 11 cases per 10,000 workers. By 2001, the rate jumped to nearly 27 cases per 10,000 workers, among the highest for any occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For more information contact Jay Feldman at 202-543-5450 or
Grant Cope, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ex. 25
Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ex. 32
Aaron Colangelo, NRDC, 202-289-6868
Erik Nicholson, UFW, 206-255-5774
Ramon Ramirez, PCUN, 503-982-0243 x201
Shelley Davis, FJF, 202-783-2628