"At either end of any food chain you find a biological system -- a patch of soil, a human body -- health of one is connected, literally, to the health of the other."
- Michael Pollan
|MOFGA members receive our quarterly newspaper The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener as a benefit of membership. Become a member today! It can also be purchased at news stands.
|| News & Events – Winter 2004-2005
Direct Marketing Conference Scheduled
The New England Farmers’ Direct Marketing Conference (NEFDMC) will be held on Feb. 11 and 12, 2005, at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, in Boston, Massachusetts, in conjunction with the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Convention, Feb. 7 -14, 2005. The convention features the annual conference of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA). The conference is held in a different region of North America each year, and has not been held in the Northeast since 1996.
The leading farm direct marketing association in the world, NAFDMA (www.nafdma.com) promotes and fosters the growth of farm direct marketing throughout North America. Its members support their family farms by selling millions of dollars worth of farm-grown produce directly to consumers at farm stands, farmers’ markets, pick-your-own operations, consumer-supported agriculture, agri-tourism venues, and other ever-growing innovations in direct producer-to-consumer agricultural marketing methods.
By combining the NEFDMC with the NAFDMA convention, farmers have an outstanding opportunity to experience a NAFDMA convention without having to travel across the country. And this year, if they don’t want to drive, they can board a bus or the subway to get downtown to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
NAFDMA is pleased to celebrate its 20th annual convention in Boston. The convention’s theme, “Start a Revolution,” reflects more than the Northeast’s role in American history. It also reflects the attitudes of the farmers who more than 20 years ago founded the association, which at the time was called the National Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association. These farmers – and those who followed – embrace direct marketing as a way of life and as a means for them and their family to remain on the family farm by employing revolutionary new ideas and innovations.
Through the years, the conference has evolved into a full convention. It now includes a pre-conference bus tour, full-day workshops, two-day conference, trade show and post-conference bus tour. The 2005 conference features nine tracks with 45 educational sessions, six optional full-day workshops, and a pre-conference bus tour with four tour options.
The convention this year fully embraces the breadth and diversity of the farm direct marketing industry. For example, a full track is devoted to livestock, particularly beef and dairy. Other tracks focus on agri-tourism, retail market and local food initiatives.
A full-day workshop by attorney Michelle Carron explores issues surrounding the transfer of the family farm from one generation to the next. An educational session explores best management practices to reduce liability in direct marketing. Another session, held in a Town Hall-style format, asks the provocative question, “Do we really need another farmers’ market?”
For convention information, visit www.nafdma.com, e-mail email@example.com, or call (413) 529-0386. Registration is available on-line. The pre-registration deadline is January 6.
Source: Agriculture Today, Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Nov. 10, 2004, www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter
Organic Farming Boosts Biodiversity
The October 11, 2004, edition of New Scientist supports what most of us probably already knew: that organic farming increases biodiversity at every level of the food chain, from bacteria to mammals. So concludes the largest review ever done of studies worldwide comparing organic and conventional agriculture, says New Scientist.
Independent scientists from English Nature (a government agency) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reviewed data from 76 studies done in Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the United States that looked at biodiversity in organisms ranging from bacteria and plants to earthworms, beetles, mammals and birds. Sixty-six of 99 comparisons of groups of organisms showed that organic farming benefited wildlife; eight that it was detrimental; and 25 found no difference or mixed results.
Benefits of organic farming come from using fewer pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, and from managing uncropped habitats to benefit wildlife (especially birds) – by not weeding close to hedges, for example, and by mixing arable and livestock farming.
In one study, bats foraged 84% more on organic farms; two bat species were found only on organic farms.
For more, see www.newscientist.com/article/dn6496-organic-farming-boosts-biodiversity.html
Cherryfield Foods Will No Longer Apply Pesticides Aerially
In October, Cherryfield Foods Inc. – Maine’s largest blueberry grower – announced that it would apply pesticides to its crop by ground rather than aerially from now on. The announcement came just a few days before the company would have faced a lawsuit, filed by the Toxics Action Center, Beyond Pesticides, Environment Maine and the Sierra Club, for allegedly violating the federal Clean Water Act by polluting Maine’s waterways via aerial spraying. Penalties for violating the Clean Water Act can be as high as $32,500 per day.
Matthew Davis of Environment Maine says that he hopes other companies will follow Cherryfield’s lead; Cherryfield’s attorney, William Kayatta, said that the change was long-planned rather than a response to the lawsuit.
Source: “Berry grower to halt aerial spraying of pesticides,” by Justin Ellis, Portland Press Herald, Oct. 5, 2004.
Lamb Producers Encouraged to Sign-Up for Ewe Lamb Replacement & Retention Program
The Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices across Maine are encouraging producers to sign-up for the $18 million Ewe Lamb Replacement & Retention Payment Program. The sign up, which officially began October 25, 2004, is designed to provide payments to sheep and lamb producers to encourage the replacement and retention of ewe lamb breeding stock and achieve sustained market competitiveness.
An estimated 66,800 sheep and lamb operations in the United States have experienced long-term poor market conditions, which has led to reduced incomes. Increased imports and extreme drought in domestic sheep-producing areas have forced producers to decrease production and flock size. The 2003 lamb crop is expected to total 4.13 million, down five percent from 2002.
Subject to the availability of funds, producers will receive $18 for each qualifying ewe lamb retained or purchased for breeding purposes during a specified period. If the amount of approved applications exceeds available funding, USDA will uniformly apply a national factor to reduce payments to producers.
An eligible producer must have purchased or retained ewe lambs for breeding purposes between August 1, 2003, and July 31, 2004, and must have retained the qualifying ewe lambs in the herd for at least one complete offspring lambing cycle. The producer must not have received funds under USDA’s Lamb Meat Adjustment Assistance Program for the same ewe lamb and be engaged in the business of producing and marketing agricultural products at the time the application is filed.
In addition, during at least part of the base period (August 1, 2003, to July 31, 2004), qualifying female ewe lambs must not have been older than 18 months and must not have produced an offspring.
No sign up deadline for the program has been determined yet. Producers must apply for the program by completing form FSA-384, ‘Ewe Lamb Replacement/Retention Payment Program Application.’
Source: Agriculture Today, Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Nov. 10, 2004, www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter
Horse Rescue Operation in Vermont
Spring Hill Horse Rescue in Vermont rescues and rehabilitates abused, neglected and slaughter-bound horses, including foals of mares that are kept perpetually pregnant to produce estrogen for Premarin. For a reasonable cost of transport, people can acquire and save a foal from ending up in a slaughter house. See www.springhillrescue.com/ for more information. Thanks to MOFGA member Charlotte Coopersmith for this information.
Horse and Oxen Draft Work Resource Directory Offered
Due to renewed interest by landowners in having their property worked in the most environmentally friendly methods, the Working Horse & Oxen Association (WHOA) offers a list of teamsters whose draft animals are available for such work in Maine and New Hampshire.
To date the 10 listings include eight individual teamsters, one statewide club and a school. Geographic locations are indicated. Most of the drivers have draft horses or ponies; one has oxen. The teamster nearest the landowner inquiring about a specific skill, or an organization seeking involvement in demonstrations or instruction, may be contacted through this list. Needs from logging to field work, mentoring and participation in workshops to competitions, can be met. After the referral, the teamster and the person or organization connected by the WHOA link make arrangements themselves.
WHOA is a network for people interested in working with draft animals, particularly to perform farm and woods tasks using traditional, low impact practices and non-fossil fueled equipment. Its purpose is to give those who wish the opportunity to work and learn together, recapture skills, and extend knowledge of these skills and techniques across future generations.
For the name of a teamster in a given area or to be added to the list of teamsters, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Molly Hamel, c/o WHOA, 252 Village Road, Jackson, ME 04921-3111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fungus Provides Varroa Mite Relief for Bees
A natural fungus could help beekeepers control the parasitic varroa mite, according to Agricultural Research Service scientists in Weslaco, Texas. Researchers selected strains of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae that proved highly pathogenic to the mites.
This potent fungus, which also kills termites, doesn’t harm bees or affect queen reproduction. To test the fungus, the scientists coated plastic strips with dry fungal spores and placed them inside the hives. Since bees naturally attack anything entering their hives, they tried to chew the strips, thereby spreading the spores to the colony. In field trials, all bees in the hive were exposed to the fungus within 5 to 10 minutes, and most of the mites on the bees died within three to five days. The fungus provided excellent control of varroa without impeding colony development or population size. Metarhizium was as effective as the chemical control, fluvalinate, even 42 days after application. The scientists are fine-tuning the strategy for transfer to producers.
For more information, see Agricultural Research, Oct. 2004, at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/oct04/bees1004.htm.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Alfredo Flores, (301) 504-1627, email@example.com
Trait in Honey Bees Keeps Mites From Multiplying
For more than 20 years, beekeepers have been battling varroa mites. The tiny, bloodsucking parasites weaken adult bees, sometimes cause deformities, and can wipe out an untreated colony in under two years. But entomologists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have discovered that some bees have a built-in defense against varroa mites that can be bred into any bee population. Called suppressed mite reproduction (SMR), the trait keeps varroa mites from reproducing. Scientists hope that when adequately bred into bee populations, SMR will one day free beekeepers from their dependence on chemical miticides.
Entomologists John R. Harbo and Jeffrey W. Harris, in the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit at Baton Rouge, La., discovered the SMR trait while researching reduced mite populations observed in some bee colonies. While honey bees can fend off mites through grooming and other hygienic behaviors, a different factor appeared to be at play in those colonies.
The researchers found that some mites weren’t reproducing. They watched female mites entering brood cells – the small pockets, or honeycomb, where young bees develop – but not laying any eggs. Following genetic studies, the researchers determined that a trait in these honey bees inhibited the mites’ reproduction.
The SMR trait has been provided to Glenn Apiaries, a commercial queen honey bee producer in Fallbrook, Calif., that sells SMR breeder queens. With selective breeding, the SMR trait can eliminate mite reproduction in worker brood cells.
Harbo and Harris are studying a second trait in bees linked to mite resistance. Called P-MIB for “percentage of mites in brood,” the trait is an ideal complement to SMR because it curbs mite populations from outside, rather than inside, the brood cell where SMR comes into play.
Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Erin Peabody, (301) 504-1624, firstname.lastname@example.org. May 12, 2004. For more information, see the May issue of Agricultural Research at www.ars.usda. gov/is/AR/archive/may04/bees0504.htm.
Scientists Study Effects of Mustard on Pests
Agricultural Research Service scientists are growing cultivated mustard and other species as possible alternatives to using chemical fumigants to rid crop fields of nematodes, weed seeds and other soilborne pests. The “biofumigant” effect of mustards is attributed to isothiocyanates, chemical byproducts of the plants’ decomposition that make the soil toxic to nearby pests. Indeed, farmers in parts of the United States and Europe have sought to exploit this phenomenon by preceding their crops with stands of mustard, rapeseed and other Brassica species.
But how these biofumigant plants control pests, the conditions Brassicas prefer and their cumulative effects on the soil environment are not well understood, according to Rick Boydston, an agronomist in ARS’ Vegetable and Forage Research Unit at Prosser, Washington. He and other scientists are finding delayed germination of redroot pigweed seed that was dug from beneath stands of white mustard, sorghum-sudangrass, winter wheat or an oat-hairy vetch mixture; but 99 percent of the pigweed seeds from fumigated plots didn’t germinate at all.
In greenhouse studies, scientists monitored the effects of crushed seedmeal from brown mustard and field pennycress on potted irises and three pests: chickweed, prickly lettuce and root-knot nematodes. The irises suffered no ill effects, but more than half of the weeds failed to sprout, and nematode numbers fell by 70 to 80 percent.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA; Jan Suszkiw, (301) 504-1630, email@example.com; October 12, 2004. A longer article describing these and other mustard studies appears in the October issue of Agricultural Research magazine at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/oct04/pest1004.htm.
Report Highlights Corporate Control at USDA
Corporate influence over the USDA has reached a crisis point. “USDA Inc: How Agribusiness Has Hijacked Regulatory Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture” describes links among USDA appointees and agrochemical or food industry corporations, trade groups and consulting firms that have undermined the regulatory mission of the agency in favor of the interests of agribusiness.
Produced for the Agribusiness Accountability Initiative (AAI) by the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First, the report reviews agency decision making and the backgrounds of key employees in five case studies: biotech foods, concentrated animal feeding operations, meat inspection polices, competition in meatpacking, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The report finds the positions of USDA are “much more closely aligned with the mega corporations of the food industry than with consumers, small farmers, or the environment.”
Individuals with corporate affiliations and financial ties to the agrochemical industry staff USDA at all levels. USDA Secretary Ann Veneman, for example, began her career at USDA in 1986, where, as Deputy Secretary under the first Bush Administration, she announced the agency would no longer regulate the genetically engineered FLAVR SAVR tomato. Veneman served on the board of Calgene, which developed the tomato before returning to USDA in 2001 as Agriculture Secretary.
Key aides to Veneman as well as heads of various USDA agencies are political appointees with career experience working for agribusiness companies and trade associations. Veneman’s chief of staff Dale Moore was Executive Director for Legislative Affairs of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations Mary Waters was a senior director and legislative counsel for ConAgra Foods, one of the country’s largest food processors.
USDA’s lax regulation of genetically engineered (GE) crops indicates its support for the biotech industry despite scientific warnings and overwhelming public concern and opposition to GE foods. The department has allowed GE test plots to risk contamination of nearby non-GE crops; from 1987 to 2002 USDA rejected only 3.5% of applications for test sites and authorized 15,461 field releases of transgenic organisms. USDA currently requires only that corporations notify it when they conduct field trials.
Two primary factors drive the trend toward corporate control of government agencies: regulatory changes allowing collaborative research and investment, and rapid consolidation of the agriculture and biotechnology sectors. Frequent mergers and acquisitions during the 1980s and 1990s in the agrochemical sector created mega corporations with deep pockets for public relations and political lobbying. These corporations also benefit from the 1986 Federal Technology Transfer Act (FTTA), which enables USDA to enter into business ventures and partnerships with private corporations. The terms of FTTA allow any corporation funding USDA research to gain exclusive license on inventions resulting from the project.
“USDA Inc.” recommends reorienting the agency to the public interest by overhauling and enforcing federal ethics rules regarding apparent conflicts of interest; increasing congressional oversight for regulatory appointees; reconsidering the compatibility of USDA’s promotional role with its regulatory function; and investigating specific conflicts of interest stemming from the “revolving door” between industry and the agency.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Sept. 16, 2004. Pesticide Action Network North America, 49 Powell St., Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94102, Phone: (415) 981-1771; Fax: (415) 981-1991; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.panna.org; “USDA Inc: How Agribusiness has Hijacked Regulatory Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Agribusiness Accountability Initiative, www.agribusinessaccountability.org.
OTA praises USDA Secretary for Helping Save Organic Standards
The Organic Trade Association praised U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in May for rescinding Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) moves that had undermined the whole process of developing and establishing national organic standards.
“By rescinding recent National Organic Program (NOP) ‘clarifications’ and directing the agency to work with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and the organic industry, Secretary Veneman has taken a gigantic step toward reestablishing the public-private trust that went into developing U.S. national organic standards in the first place,” said Katherine DiMatteo, OTA’s executive director.
Veneman directed AMS to rescind its statement of clarification and to work with NOSB and the organic industry to reach the best solutions to issues that have been raised in implementing national organic standards. Claiming the agency “had acted in good faith,” Veneman, however, said that she was taking this action because of the outcry by the organic community, particularly in the press, that the process for formulating organic standards had broken down. In support of the organic industry, Senator Patrick Leahy rallied members of Congress to express their concern as well.
The OTA and others within the industry, including NOSB members, had decried that recent action taken by NOP had, in effect, been major rule changes, setting dangerous precedent, and had shown disregard for the needs of organic farmers, processors and, ultimately, consumers, who would be most affected by the agency’s arbitrary changes in the nation’s organic regulations. “Allowing NOP to create and implement new directives ‘at will’ without open dialogue with stakeholders was creating confusion for businesses and consumers alike,” said DiMatteo. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the business association representing the organic agriculture industry in North America.
Source: OTA Press Release, May 24, 2004. OTA, 60 Wells Street, P.O. Box 547, Greenfield, MA 01302. (413) 774-7511; Fax: (413) 774-6432; email@example.com; www.ota.com. Legislative Office: 205 South Whiting Street, Suite 308, Alexandria, VA 22304. (202) 338-2900.
Hemp Ban in Foods Reversed
Three years ago the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced a new law banning hemp ingredients in natural and organic food products. After a long and costly legal battle waged by the Hemp Industries Association and bolstered by public interest plaintiffs including the Organic Consumers Association, the U.S. federal government backed off in September, making hemp foods legal once again.
Hemp seed is most commonly used as a nutritional supplement in a variety of foods. It offers an ideal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and contains insignificant levels of THC (tetrahyrdocannabinol), the chemical in marijuana that results in psychotropic effects. Eating hemp foods does not interfere with workplace drug tests; in fact, THC levels in hemp foods are below those of opiates found in poppy seeds in muffins and breads. The hemp food industry expects a major boom in sales as a result of the removal of the DEA ban. It is still illegal for U.S. farmers to grow industrial hemp, even as Chinese, Canadian and European farmers supply a rapidly growing international market for hemp food ingredients, animal feed, clothing, paper, nutritional supplements and biodiesel fuel.
Source: Organic Bytes #40, 9/29/2004, www.organicconsumers.org/organicbytes.htm
Getting Schools to Sell Healthier Food
Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act, providing citizens with an opportunity to phase junk foods out of schools. The act governs the food that schools feed to children, and Senator Tom Harkin is introducing a new amendment to the act that would require schools to adopt wellness policies. These policies would phase out soda and junk food machines in schools and would ask the Institute of Medicine to recommend nutritional standards for foods sold to or eaten by children in school. For more information, see www.organicconsumers.org/sos.htm.
Source: Organic Bytes #34 – Food and Consumer News Tidbits with an Edge! June 11, 2004.
Research Dispels Myth that U.S. Food is Safest and Cheapest
The U.S. food supply is reportedly the cheapest and safest in the world, but reports using government data question the accuracy of these claims; point to unsafe levels of chemical pesticides in our food and bodies; and show an increased probability of exposure in those most sensitive to the negative effects of pesticides – the elderly, pregnant women and children.
Dr. Charles Benbrook, an agronomist working with the Organic Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center in Sandpoint, Idaho, compared systems of food safety and supply in various nations for 25 years and notes that a purely fact-based international ranking system for the safety of food does not exist. He argues that testing is not done for all factors most likely to affect food safety, including testing for everything from pesticide residue to microbial contamination. Once all the necessary factors are taken into account, several counties – including France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Japan – would score much higher than the U.S. in terms of food safety. These countries have made substantial investments in food safety standards and monitoring and have farm more comprehensive systems than those in the United States.
Pesticide residues tops Benbrook’s list of factors affecting food safety. In a report released in May 2004, Minimizing Pesticide Dietary Exposure Through Consumption of Organic Foods, Benbrook concludes that eating organic produce drastically reduces the likelihood of ingesting pesticide residues and thus increases the safety of the diet. According to his report, conventional crops are three to four times more likely to contain pesticide residues at levels 3 to 10 times higher than levels found in organic crops. Some of the most contaminated foods are those frequently consumed by children, including apples, pears and celery, and children are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of pesticides. The recent PANNA report, “Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability,” concludes that children carry some of the highest levels of pesticides in the U.S. population.
Benbrook’s work disputes the claim that the cost of food in the United States is less than in other countries. Using the most common comparison – the proportion of average income devoted to food – the United States does have the cheapest food, devoting only 9.7 percent of per capita income to food. This means only that our food is affordable based on the average U.S. income. For consumers with incomes lower than the U.S. average, costs are substantially higher.
Benbrook compares food prices based on the income spent per 1,000 calories in a given day. The United States ranks far worse using this method, spending $2.28 per 1,000 calories, compared with $0.39 in Sierra Leone. “Some 90% of humanity spends less per calorie of food than Americans,” said Benbrook. He notes that U.S residents pay for lots of convenience, packaging and services.
Source: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, July 9, 2004; www.panna.org; Benbrook, C. “Minimizing Pesticide Dietary Exposure through Consumption of Organic Foods.” The Organic Center for Education and Promotion, May 2004, www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/PESTICIDE_SSR.pdf; Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability. PANNA, May 2004, www.panna.org; Press Briefing, Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division. September 26, 2003.
World Fair Trade Day
May 8th was World Fair Trade Day. In observance, organizations in at least 60 countries hosted events to promote fair trade between consumers in industrialized countries of the North and marginalized and small scale producers in the global South. With a theme of “Small Change, Big Difference,” events included fair trade markets, workshops, product launches and fashion shows in countries including Kenya, UK, Japan, Canada and the United States.
Since the first fair trade certification program in the Netherlands in 1988, today’s International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) has grown to encompass nonprofit organizations in 17 countries certifying a wide range of fair trade products, such as chocolate, coffee, bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruit, and handmade crafts. Fair trade associations aim to build more equitable trading partnerships between North and South, in which fair trade certified products are produced under safe working conditions, with fair wages, gender equity and sustainable environmental practices. Supporting strategies to alleviate poverty among marginalized producers in the global South is a key goal of fair trade programs, which also emphasize transparency, capacity building, gender equity, safe working conditions, environmental protection and sustainable consumption patterns.
Fair trade meets an increased consumer demand within industrialized countries for an alternative economic system that is just to both workers and the environment. A report entitled “2003 Report on Fair Trade Trends” released by the Fair Trade Federation and IFAT indicates that the production of fair trade goods in North America and the Pacific Rim rose by 37% in 2003, with sales now totaling US$ 250.6 million.
Certified Fair Trade coffee demonstrated the greatest growth of any single fair trade product, with total sales increasing by 54% in 2002. This growth has been critical, as the price of coffee has fallen by 50% in the last four years, a catastrophic loss for small producers. Coffee, one of the world’s most valuable commodities, now brings growers an average price of US$ 0.59 per pound, making it virtually impossible for coffee growing families to support themselves. Fairly traded coffee sells at a minimum of US$ 1.26 per pound, a price that provides coffee growers with a living wage.
An increased demand for fairly traded coffee and chocolate in the United States would have an enormous impact, as the United States consumes one-quarter of the world’s coffee beans and is the largest importer of cocoa products. As a result of consumer pressure, Proctor and Gamble and Starbucks have introduced fair trade certified coffee, but so far only at symbolic levels. Fair trade coffee makes up less than 1% of Starbucks total coffee purchases.
Global Exchange, an international non-profit human rights organization, is waging a campaign to pressure U.S. retailers to increase their percentage of fair trade coffee and chocolate. As part of World Fair Trade Day, Global Exchange suggested a number of actions, including call-ins asking Mars/M&Ms and Starbucks to support fair trade. To learn more about these and other actions, visit www.globalexchange.org.
Source: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, May 7, 2004, www.panna.org; “2003 Report on Fair Trade Trends,” www.fairtradefederation.org; Global Exchange, www.globalexchange.org; World Fair Trade Day, www.wftday.org; One Cup at a Time, Poverty Alleviation and Fair Trade Coffee in Latin America, Fair Trade Research Group, 2002, www.colostate.edu/Depts/Sociology/FairTradeResearchGroup/.
Globalization of Food and Agriculture Takes its Toll on California
A groundbreaking report from the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), entitled “Ripe for Change: Rethinking California’s Food Economy,” reveals how economic globalization and free trade are the driving forces behind many crises facing California’s farmers, consumers and environment. California is a dominant player in the global food system, but the large-scale industrial agriculture and global trade, upon which the system is based, is proving to be the state’s downfall, according to the report. The study shows how shifting from current policies aimed at forging a single global food economy and toward rebuilding local food systems would address many problems simultaneously.
“Most people think that California produces ample food for itself and exports the surplus, but our research shows that despite being one of the world’s leading agricultural economies, California is actually a net importer of food, relying on outside sources for 40 percent of its total food needs,” says ISEC Director Helena Norberg-Hodge. “The majority of Californians are losing out. When global markets are prioritized over local markets, economic benefits leak out of the local economy, our food supplies become less secure, hunger increases and the environment is degraded.”
“Ripe for Change” shows that much of California’s food trade is redundant, involving the simultaneous import and export of the same food products, regardless of the season. For example, while California is a major strawberry producer and exporter, California’s ports receive $50 million worth of fresh strawberries a year, with the majority of imports occurring during California’s strawberry season.
“The state is exporting $6.5 billion worth of food each year, yet over 5 million Californians are food insecure,” adds Katy Mamen, co-author of the report, “which means they must do without such basic needs as utilities and medical care in order to put food on the table. For at least 1.25 million of those, it also means going hungry, and ironically, this problem is worst in the leading food-producing counties.”
California’s farmers, both large- and small-scale, are also positioned to take a hit as the agricultural economy is globalized. According to the report, as other nations adopt a free-trade agenda, California farmers are forced to compete with food producers in countries where regulations are weaker and labor costs are lower, ultimately threatening California’s position at the top of the global food chain. Ultimately, the increased competition resulting from “free trade” forces farmers around the world to compromise their bottom line, while a handful of multinational agribusinesses reap the benefits.
Consolidation in the food sector has resulted in near-monopolistic conditions. For example, the top three supermarket chains in California are responsible for 57 percent of all food sales, and many independent shops have been forced out of business. These trends will only get worse as global-scale corporations such as Wal-Mart plan major new expansions into the state.
These trends are not inevitable, claims the report, but rather the direct outcome of policies that favor economic globalization at the expense of strong local economies. Californians not only live with the consequences on their health, food- and economic-security and environment, they also foot the bill as their tax dollars provide the largest agribusinesses with significant subsidies and supports. Shifting that support toward local food economies instead, the study argues, would benefit farmers and consumers, urban and rural, the environment and the economy.
Transforming California’s food system will require political will and concrete action to rebuild local food systems. To that end, the report points to specific case studies of thriving local food models and includes action steps and policy recommendations, such as building closer links between farmers and consumers, and shifting subsidies and other supports toward local markets. “Ripe for Change” also serves as a resource tool, providing data and analysis to strengthen educational efforts and policy making around the shift toward local food economies.
“There is already a great deal of public support for fresh, healthy, local food in California, and a wide range of positive initiatives are underway,” Mamen says. “If we make the shift toward local food a unifying priority, all Californians can look forward to healthy food and a secure future.”
The International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) is a nonprofit organization promoting systemic solutions to today’s social and environmental crises. Its wide-ranging educational work seeks to reveal the root causes of those crises – from unemployment to climate change, from ethnic conflict to loss of biodiversity – while promoting grassroots and policy-level strategies for ecological and community renewal.
Source: Press Release, May 4, 2004, from Katy Mamen, Local Food Program Coordinator, ISEC; (510) 548-4915 firstname.lastname@example.org. To obtain a copy of “Ripe for Change: Rethinking California’s Food Economy,” or a report summary, contact ISEC at (510) 548-4915 or email@example.com
New Warning about Chemicals
The Paris Declaration addresses the vast multitude of chemicals in the environment and notes several alarming health trends, including the increase in chronic diseases, the rise in the global incidence of cancers at all ages, the progressive increase since 1950 in non-smoking-related cancers in industrialized countries, the European annual increase of 0.8% in childhood cancers, and rising rates of sterility, with 15% of European couples now infertile.
Signed by 80 medical experts, including two winners of the Nobel Prize for medicine, Jean Dausset and Francois Jacob, the declaration was endorsed by cancer specialists, pediatricians, epidemiologists and toxicologists. Noting that the combination of chemicals in the environment made it “extremely difficult to establish, on a[n] epidemiological level” a definitive, causal link between individual chemicals and subsequent health problems, the Declaration calls for implementation of the Precautionary Principle to protect public health. “The EU 2001 REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) initiative details unprecedented, and overdue legislative proposals for the regulation of industrial chemicals, based on the Precautionary Principle; this initiative should be strengthened, rather than weakened following strong opposition by EU and U.S. chemical industries.”
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, June 16, 2004, www.panna.org; International Declaration on diseases due to chemical pollution, in English, www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/envi/reach/presentations/paris_appeal_en.pdf; Specialists issue alert on chemicals and health, ENDS Environment Daily, May 11, 2004, www.environmentdaily.com/articles/index.cfm?action=article&ref=16651.
U.S. Blocks Phase Out of Lindane in North America
In October, U.S. representatives diverted from Canada and Mexico by announcing that the United States would allow continued use of the pesticide lindane, which persists in air and water and has been found at high levels in the Arctic. Canada plans to eliminate agricultural uses of lindane by the end of 2004, and Mexico plans a full phase-out of agricultural, veterinary and pharmaceutical uses of the pesticide. Representatives from the three countries met in Montreal in September to draft a North American Regional Action Plan for lindane through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America established by the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA).
Public health, indigenous and environmental groups have called for elimination of lindane, a neurotoxin banned in 52 countries and restricted in 33 more. Pam Miller, of Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the official Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representative on the task force, called the U.S. position “downright shameful.”
Environmental groups have asked Bayer CropScience to voluntarily withdraw lindane from the North American market. Bayer recently acquired Gustafson LLC, the primary distributor in the U.S. of lindane seed treatment products.
International treaties on toxic chemicals have also targeted lindane. Included on the Prior Informed Consent list of hazardous chemicals in the Rotterdam Convention, lindane will likely be a top candidate considered for addition to the list of chemicals slated for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Lindane is a neurotoxin that causes seizures, damages the nervous system and weakens the immune system. Exposure may cause cancer and disrupt human and animal hormone systems. Because lindane is highly persistent and travels globally via air and water, its continued use in agriculture can exposure people far from the source. Lindane is one of the most abundant pesticides in Arctic air, water and wildlife; northern indigenous peoples consuming traditional diets risk lindane exposures above levels considered safe. Lindane residues have been reported in common foods in the United States.
Pharmaceutical use of lindane also contaminates drinking water sources. The Los Angeles County Sanitation District estimates that one dose of a lindane treatment for head lice can pollute six million gallons of water to levels exceeding drinking water standards. This threat, and the enormous costs of clean up, prompted California to ban lindane shampoos and lotions in 2002. Mark Miller, M.D., of the University of California at San Francisco Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, an academic representative to the task force meeting in Montreal, said that more effective and less toxic treatments exist for head lice. Children are particularly vulnerable to this chemical that presents a danger to the young nervous system, he added.
The 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Re-registration Eligibility Decision allows lindane to be used as seed treatment for corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye and sorghum. These treatments account for 99% (up to 233,000 lbs. active ingredient) of U.S. lindane use.
The draft North American Regional Action Plan for lindane is scheduled to be open for public comment in January 2005.
Sources: News Release, Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Oct. 7, 2004, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.panna.org; www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/REDs/factsheets/lindane_fs_addendum.htm; Statement in Support of the Elimination of Lindane Use in North America, PANNA, Alaska Community Action on Toxics; North American Regional Action Plan on Lindane, Background Document, Commission on Environmental Cooperation of North America; email@example.com; www.cec.org. Contacts: PANNA, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.akaction.org/.
Toxic Pesticides Above “Safe” Levels in Many U.S. Residents
Many U.S. residents carry toxic pesticides in their bodies above government assessed “acceptable” levels, according to “Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability,” a report from Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and partner groups in more than 20 cities. Analyzing pesticide-related data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on levels of chemicals in 9,282 people nationwide, the report reveals that government and industry have failed to safeguard public health from pesticide exposures.
“None of us choose to have hazardous pesticides in our bodies,” said lead author Kristin Schafer. “Yet CDC found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person in this group carried a toxic cocktail of 13 of the 23 pesticides we analyzed.”
Many of the pesticides found in the test subjects have been linked to serious short- and long-term health effects, including infertility, birth defects and childhood and adult cancers. “While the government develops safety levels for each chemical separately, this study shows that in the real world we are exposed to multiple chemicals simultaneously,” explained Margaret Reeves of PANNA. “The synergistic effects of multiple exposures are unknown, but a growing body of research suggests that even at very low levels, the combination of these chemicals can be harmful to our health.”
“Chemical Trespass” found that children, women and Mexican Americans shouldered the heaviest “pesticide body burden.” For example, children – the population most vulnerable to pesticides – are exposed to the highest levels of nerve-damaging organophosphorous (OP) pesticides. The CDC data show that the average 6- to 11-year-old sampled is exposed to the OP pesticide chlorpyrifos at four times the level U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) considers “acceptable” for long-term exposure. Chlorpyrifos, produced principally by Dow Chemical Corporation and found in numerous products such as Dursban=99, is designed to kill insects by disrupting the nervous system. Although U.S. EPA restricted chlorpyrifos for most residential uses in 2000, it continues to be used widely in agriculture and other settings. In humans, chlorpyrifos is also a nerve poison, and has disrupted hormones and interfered with normal development of the nervous system in laboratory animals.
The report also found that women have significantly higher levels of three of the six organochlorine (OC) pesticides evaluated. These pesticides cross the placenta during pregnancy, with multiple harmful effects including disruption of brain development, which can lead to learning disabilities and other neurobehavioral problems, as well as reduced infant birth weight. This ability of OC pesticides to pass from mother to child puts future generations at serious risk.
Mexican Americans carry dramatically higher body burdens of five of the 17 evaluated pesticides in urine samples, including a breakdown product of methyl parathion, a neurotoxic, endocrine-disrupting insecticide. Mexican Americans also had significantly higher body burdens of the breakdown products of the insecticides lindane and DDT than those found in other ethnic groups.
“Chemical Trespass” argues that pesticide manufacturers are primarily responsible for the problem of pesticide body burden. “The pesticides we carry in our bodies are made and aggressively promoted by agrochemical companies,” stated PANNA’s Skip Spitzer. “These companies also spend millions on political influence to block or undermine regulatory measures designed to protect public health and the environment.” The report introduces the Pesticide Trespass Index (PTI), a new tool for quantifying responsibility of individual pesticide manufacturers for their “pesticide trespass.” Using the PTI, the report estimates that Dow Chemical is responsible for at least 80% of the chlorpyrifos breakdown products in the bodies of those in the United States.
“Chemical Trespass” recommends that the U.S. Congress should investigate corporate responsibility and liability for pesticide body burdens and should develop financial mechanisms to shift health and environmental costs of pesticides to the corporations that produce them. The U.S. EPA should ban pesticides known to be hazardous and pervasive in the environment and in our bodies, including immediate phase outs of all uses of chlorpyrifos and lindane. The U.S. EPA should also require that manufacturers bear the burden of proof for demonstrating that a pesticide does not harm human health before it can be registered. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. EPA should promote least-toxic pest control methods. Individuals should pressure government officials and corporations to implement these changes while seeking alternatives to pesticide use and buying organic products whenever possible.
“Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability” is available at www.panna.org. The report’s executive summary is available in Spanish and French.
Source: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, May 11, 2004. “Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability,” Kristin S. Schafer, Margaret Reeves, Skip Spitzer, Susan Kegley, Pesticide Action Network North America, May, 2004.
California Sets Limits for Perchlorate Levels in Water
California regulators have a “public health goal” to regulate the concentration of perchlorate – a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel that damages thyroid glands – in the water supply – the first state attempt to define such standards. The recommended 6 parts per billion is higher than the 1 ppb that the EPA has adopted provisionally and that environmental groups favor, but lower than the 200 ppb for which the Pentagon is lobbying. The California Department of Health Services will develop an official regulatory standard that considers the regulators’ recommendation, a comprehensive study being done by the National Academy of Sciences, and the costs of cleaning widely polluted water supplies, such as the lower Colorado River.
Sources: www.gristmagazine.com, 3/19/04; www.organicconsumers.org/foodsafety/water032204.cfm; Los Angeles Times, Kenneth R. Weiss, March 12, 2004; The Boston Globe, Bobby Caina Calvan, March 18, 2004.
Shareholders and Public Interest Groups Knock Pesticide Companies
The spring Annual General Meeting (AGM) season saw agricultural chemical corporations facing tough criticism from shareholders and public interest organizations over potential liability for environmental and other impacts of pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops. Shareholders rejected industry claims that consumers in industrialized nations want GE crops and that these crops are needed to “feed a hungry developing South.” The AGMs served as platforms to raise questions about the environmental and human health impacts of agricultural biotechnology, and to address evidence indicating that GE crop commercialization is cutting into corporate profits.
During the Syngenta AGM, shareholders and activist groups such as Greenpeace Switzerland and Swissaid presented letters from farmer organizations, peasant groups, activists and scientists strongly opposing commercialization of GE crops. They also held a vigil outside the office of the Secretary of State for International Development in the United Kingdom (UK). The actions were in solidarity with the People’s Caravan for Food Sovereignty, a coalition of Asian farmers and peasant movements asserting their right to food, land and productive resources. Asian farmers point to the Switzerland-based company’s efforts to use patented GE seeds to control Asian staple crops, such as rice.
Groups throughout the global South reject Syngenta’s claim that GE crops are needed to feed the hungry, seeing the claim “more [as] a public relations strategy rather than really addressing the needs of poor people,” according to People’s Caravan. The coalition points out that hunger and malnutrition in Asia are not caused by a lack of agricultural technology, but by a widespread lack of access to land and productive resources, and can be solved only by addressing the underlying political and economic causes of poverty, not by naively relying on a “technological silver bullet.”
The People’s Caravan also strongly opposes the continued production of Syngenta’s popular herbicide paraquat, sold as Gramoxone. A People’s Caravan press release charges, “Syngenta is poisoning the environment and the Asian people with its highly hazardous pesticides, such as paraquat.” Paraquat, among the world’s most highly toxic herbicides, causes severe health problems for agricultural workers in many developing countries.
At Dow Chemical’s annual shareholders meeting, concerned investors introduced a resolution asking Dow to report new initiatives to help those affected in the 1984 pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, and to spell out any risks the disaster may pose to Dow’s finances or reputation. The Dow annual meeting followed the April release of a report by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors saying that Dow is underreporting to the SEC and to its shareholders the full impact of expenses related to asbestos liability, Agent Orange and a variety of environmental contamination issues. Innovest labeled Dow’s stock a risky investment.
The German-based agricultural chemical company Bayer AG also experienced opposition at its AGM in Cologne. Seven anti-GE activists from the United Kingdom and Holland got past security and created several nonviolent disturbances, including chanting anti-GE slogans, before being apprehended by authorities. Representatives from Friends of the Earth Europe and the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers appealed to Bayer’s executive board and an estimated 7,000 shareholders, on economic grounds, noting Bayer’s failure to commercialize GE maize in the UK, which led to a 1.9% drop in the company’s share value. The organizations pointed out that a similar rejection of Bayer’s GE oilseed rape by Belgian authorities limited the market for Bayer products.
Also in May, Monsanto announced it would abandon efforts to commercially release GE wheat, due to opposition from GE-activists and concerns from North American farmers over losing export markets. News of Monsanto’s abandonment led to a $1.01 decline in the price of Monsanto stock, further exacerbating Monsanto’s troubled economic situation. In 2003, Monsanto posted losses of $97 million.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, June 7, 2004. Press Release, April 27, 2004, PAN Asia and Pacific, www.panap.net; Press Release, Gaia Foundation, April 27, 2004, www.peoplesearthdecade.org/articles/article.php?id=293; PANNA, www.panna.org; “Bayer Urged to Quit Genetically Engineered Crops,” Friends of the Earth Europe, April 30, 2004, www.cbgnetwork.org/home/home.html; “Activists storm stage at Bayer’s AGM to protest over the company’s GM crop interests,” Indy Media, www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2002/04/29183.html; “Monsanto shelves plans for modified wheat,” New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2004/05/11/business/worldbusiness/11wheat.html.
Courts Take Aim at Dow for Bhopal
Two recent court decisions have raised the hopes of Bhopal survivors and may impose liability on Union Carbide and its owner, Dow Chemical, for continuing environmental contamination at Bhopal. Both companies have stressed since their merger in 2001 that no liabilities remain from the world’s worst industrial disaster, but courts in the United States and India have indicated that they may rule otherwise.
In 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas into neighboring communities, killing an estimated 8,000 people and injuring more than half a million, according to the Indian Council for Medical Research. Thousands have died from gas-related causes since the accident.
On the night of the explosion, the plant’s safety systems were inadequate, malfunctioning or shut down. In 1989, Union Carbide, the plant’s operator, agreed to an out of court settlement of $470 million, which amounted to less than $500 for most survivors. The funds turned out to be far short for covering medical costs of illnesses that are now appearing in successive generations. Also, the factory site has never been cleaned up; the 5,000 tons of toxic wastes abandoned there by Union Carbide contaminate the drinking water of tens of thousands and have been found in the breast milk of resident nursing mothers.
In 1999, survivors’ organizations filed a lawsuit in U.S. courts to force Union Carbide to clean the site, but not until March 2004 did the U.S. Court of Appeals rule that a lower court could hold Union Carbide liable for cleanup. However, the Court ruling required the Indian government to send a letter to the U.S. court stating it had “no objection” to a ruling for cleanup. The deadline set by the court for receipt of this letter was June 30, 2004.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) (which includes PANNA) the Association for India’s Development (AID), and Greenpeace launched a lobbying effort that deluged the Indian government with thousands of faxes, phone calls, emails and petitions, and more than 300 people around the world joined a hunger strike led by Bhopal survivors in New Delhi. On June 23, the Indian government finally bowed to pressure and the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers announced a “no objection” would be sent to the U.S. court.
Also in June in a second court case, the Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate ordered the Indian branch of Dow Chemical to appear in court to show why it shouldn’t be held responsible for producing Union Carbide, which is facing criminal charges of manslaughter and is wanted by the court. The Magistrate also ordered the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation to report by July 19 on its efforts to extradite Carbide’s former CEO Warren Anderson on similar charges.
“This is the first step in putting Dow in the dock [on trial] for sheltering Union Carbide from criminal liabilities,” said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. “The direction taken by the court is indicative of its intent to resolve the long-pending criminal charges by forcing Union Carbide to face trial.”
When Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide in 2001, merger documents filed with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission never disclosed that criminal charges were pending against Union Carbide in India. At the May 2004 Annual General Meeting, Dow CEO William Stavropoulos told stockholders, “There was a 1989 settlement that resolved all civil, criminal charges … so, from our viewpoint, all responsibility from the tragedy that occurred, and it was a horrific tragedy – unbelievably horrific tragedy – has been resolved.” In June 2003, 18 U.S. congressional representatives wrote to Stavropoulos calling Dow and Carbide’s continued avoidance of the pending criminal liabilities in Bhopal a “blatant disregard for the law.”
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, July 2, 2004, www.panna.org; Detroit Free Press, June 23, 2004; Midland Daily News, June 17, 2004; PANUPS, May 21, 2004, PANNA Corporate Profile: Dow Chemical Company, www.panna.org/campaigns/caia/corpProfilesDow.dv.html.
Contact: International Campaign for Justice at Bhopal, email: email@example.com, phone: (011) 91 442 446-2401.
Pesticides Affect Child Development in India
A large-scale study found that children living in regions of intensive pesticide use may suffer impaired mental development. Released in April 2004 by Greenpeace India, the study tested 899 children in Indian states where pesticides are used intensively to grow cotton, and compared the results with a nearly equal number of children living where few agricultural pesticides are applied. Researchers evaluated children ages 4 to 5 years and 9 to 13 years, and attempted to match income and social status among the two subject groups. In more than two-thirds of the tests, children living where pesticides are widely used performed significantly worse.
“Children from regions as diverse as Tamil Nadu and Punjab, who have nothing in common but their exposure to pesticides, [appear to] share an inability to perform simple play-based exercises – such as catching a ball or assembling a jigsaw puzzle – simply because they’ve been exposed to pesticides over a period of time,” says Kavitha Kuruganti of Greenpeace India.
The researchers noted a significant difference in abilities between the exposed and less-exposed children, with trends remaining more or less consistent for different locations and age groups. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, the second highest pesticide using state, less-exposed children performed a physical stamina test significantly longer (14.80 seconds longer on average for 4- to 5-year-old children and 64.50 seconds longer for 9- to 13-year-olds). In Tamil Nadu, where cotton production and intensive pesticide use has been common for only five years, exposed children aged 4 to 5 years scored nearly 30 percentage points lower on a 30-minute memory test, while children aged 9 to13 scored 21 points lower than non-exposed children.
The findings reinforce an earlier study performed in the Yaqui Valley, a tobacco growing region of Mexico, which noted dramatic deficits in brain function in rural children with long-term exposure to pesticides. The Greenpeace India study used an assessment tool developed for the Yaqui Valley study, adapted to conditions in India. The assessment involved tests designed for the child to interpret as normal play, involving mental ability, memory, concentration, cognitive skills such as drawing, and balance, fine motor and gross motor coordination.
Researchers point out that the study captured the “more insidious effects of pesticides,” reflected in long-term and chronic effects on children’s development. The study concluded, “This is a great cause for concern and alarm since the very basic right to healthy development is being taken away from these children.”
In India, cotton occupies less than 5% of cultivated land but represents an estimated 54% of agricultural pesticide use. Organophosphate pesticides, which affect the central nervous system, are the most commonly used class of pesticides in India. Pesticides such as methyl-parathion and monocrotophos, classified by the World Health Organization as “highly to extremely hazardous to human health,” are also produced and used in India. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, these highly toxic pesticides are not safe for use in developing countries where access to water, chemical safety training and protective equipment may not be available.
Study authors note that routes of exposure to pesticides for the children in the study areas are both direct and indirect, given the extensive cotton cultivation. Exposures may occur before conception through the impact of pesticides on sperm, in utero, via breast milk, and through residues in food, water, soil and air. In many of the study villages, dry cotton stalks are burned for cooking fuel, releasing pesticide residues in smoke.
The study also looked at pesticide alternatives available in India for cotton production, including a new system of crop and pesticide management, Non Pesticidal Management (NPM), as well as organic cotton production and integrated pest management (IPM), but noted a lack of government resources for nonchemical agricultural production. Greenpeace India recommended that the government increase support for organic farming (especially for cotton); ban pesticides that are restricted in other countries; regulate pesticides more strongly and hold the pesticide industry responsible for damage caused by its products. Greenpeace also called on the pesticide industry to compensate the affected children.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, June 22, 2004, www.panna.org; “Arrested Development,” Greenpeace, India, Kuruganti, K.; “Children at Risk, Pesticides exposure hinders mental development amongst farmers’ children; Greenpeace releases evidence from nation-wide study,” www.greenpeaceindia.org/; “An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico,” Guillette, E., et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 106, No. 6, June 1998; “Pesticide Exposure May Impair Children’s Brain Function,” PANUPS, June 6, 1998.
Birth Weights Higher After Pesticide Ban
A study in New York City reports a significant increase in infant birth weights after two commonly used insecticides were banned for home use. Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide manufactured by Dow Chemical, and diazinon, produced by Syngenta, were widely used against cockroaches and other household pests until most of these uses were banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2001 and 2002.
The current study, published in the April issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, looked at 314 mother-infant pairs and is part of an ongoing project by Colombia University evaluating the effects of indoor air pollutants on minority mothers and their newborns in New York City. Study authors had reported earlier that pesticide residues were detected in virtually all low-income pregnant mothers studied, noting a strong correlation between dilapidated housing and pesticide exposures. In a previous study, the project also reported associations between concentrations of chlorpyrifos in umbilical cord plasma and low birth weight.
This study compared infants born before and after the insecticides were banned for household use and showed that, on average, babies born before the ban weighed 6.6 ounces less than infants born after the ban – a difference comparable to the effects of smoking on infant birth weight.
Robin M. Whyatt of Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, principal author of the study, remarked, “We were surprised to see such a significant association between exposure to the pesticides and birth weight. There is no question that this is an instance where regulation worked, the EPA imposed a ban, and there was an immediate benefit.”
All retail sales and indoor use of chlorpyrifos and diazinon ended in December 2001 and December 2002, respectively. The U.S. EPA estimates that prior to the ban, approximately 75% of diazinon and 50% of chlorpyrifos was used in the United States for residential pest control. The ban did not affect use of the insecticides on food crops, however. An estimated 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos continue to be used in agricultural settings, putting farmworkers, their families and surrounding communities at the greatest risk of continued exposure. Consumers also risk exposure from residues in food and water.
The Columbia study combined interviews about pesticide exposure and use, data from personal air monitors worn during pregnancy, and analyses of umbilical cord plasma and infant blood. Concentrations of the banned insecticides were substantially lower among infants born after January 2001, after the chlorpyrifos ban was in place, while habits of using other pesticides did not appear to change over the same period.
The study found combined exposures to diazinon and chlorpyrifos were common among the mothers in the study before the ban, with both insecticides detected simultaneously in 100% of the maternal personal air samples and in over a third of cord blood samples. The study also reported a significant correlation between the two insecticides in personal air and cord blood. Exposure to the highest 25% concentration of the two pesticides combined was most closely linked with lower infant birth weights.
These findings show that infants benefit immediately when chlorpyrifos and diazinon uses are curtailed and that pesticide exposures that U.S. EPA once called “acceptable risks” are, in fact, linked with unacceptable damage. The U.S. EPA must strengthen its assessment of health risks of pesticide exposure during pregnancy and must ban agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos immediately to protect agricultural workers, their children and consumers.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, April 16, 2004, www.panna.org; “Prenatal Insecticide Exposures, Birth Weight and Length Among an Urban Minority Cohort,” Environmental Health Perspectives, April, 2004, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2004/6641/abstract.html; “Birth Weights Up After EPA Pesticide Ban, Study Finds,” Washington Post, March 25, 2004.