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Pesticide use: the tide appears to be turning

14 May

Bayer, the German company which bought the US agrochemical firm Monsanto, acquired its lucrative portfolio of pesticides and genetically modified seeds – and more than 13,000 pending cases relating to glyphosate sold under the brand name Roundup. At its annual meeting in Bonn last month, in an unprecedented revolt, more than 55% of shareholders declared they had no confidence in management. The ongoing fall in its share prices has accelerated. (Reuters 14.5.19).

Prof. Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the UK government points out that regulators around the world have falsely assumed it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes, that other research in 2017 showed farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and quoted a UNGA report denouncing the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.

Recent reports in the BMJ, the International Journal of Epidemiology and the European Food Safety Authority, add weight to Professor Boyd’s stance

Prenatal and infant exposure to ambient pesticides and autism spectrum disorder in children: population based case-control study, BMJ, 20 March 2019 (open access) notes that common pesticides have been previously shown to cause neurodevelopmental impairment in experimental research and environmental exposures during early brain development are suspected to increase risk of autism spectrum disorders in children. The study’s findings suggest that an offspring’s risk of autism spectrum disorder increases following prenatal exposure to ambient pesticides (including glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and permethrin) within 2000 m of their mother’s residence during pregnancy, compared with offspring of women from the same agricultural region without such exposure. Infant exposure could further increase risks for autism spectrum disorder with comorbid intellectual disability.

• In February, researchers at the University of Washington (UW) published a new scientific analysis of glyphosate (PDF) (right), the active ingredient in Monsanto-owned Bayer’s Roundup, the world’s most popular weedkiller. They concluded that evidence supports a “compelling link” between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer.
• Glyphosate exposure increases cancer risk up to 41% according to a study published in the IInternational Journal of Epidemiology (March). Observations in this analysis of >300 000 farmers and agricultural workers from France, Norway, and the USA, included elevations in risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoid malignancies (NHL) overall in association with the organophosphate insecticide terbufos, of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL) with the pyrethroid insecticide deltamethrin and of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) with the organophosphorus herbicide glyphosate.

• More transparency sought: an EU court ruled on 7 March that the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should publicise studies about Monsanto’s glyphosate weedkiller. The General Court’s statement said that it annulled decisions by the EU food watch agency “refusing access to the toxicity and carcinogenicity studies on the active substance glyphosate”.

• On March 29th – after safety officials reported human health and environmental concerns – EU states voted for a ban of chlorothalonil, a fungicide, after a review by the European Food Safety Authority was unable to exclude the possibility its breakdown products, cause damage to DNA. EFSA also said “a high risk to amphibians and fish was identified for all representative uses”. Recent research further identified chlorothalonil and other fungicides as the strongest factor linked to steep declines in bumblebees.

Reuters reports that a California jury found on Monday that Monsanto’s Roundup likely caused a couple’s cancer and awarded them a staggering $2.055 billion in damages, in a third consecutive Roundup trial loss for the Bayer-owned unit. In one trial last August, a US court in California awarded damages and costs against Monsanto to 46-year-old park worker Dewayne Johnson, who was diagnosed with cancer after using the chemical.

But there’s still way to go; Monsanto – apparently undaunted – offers another  product, said to have less damage potential

Monsanto is reformulating its dicamba pesticide which tended to drift and earlier damaged millions of acres of crops and wild trees in 2017.

Farmers in 25 states had submitted more than 2,700 claims to state agricultural agencies that year and it was banned in the state of Arkansas last year, where almost 900,000 acres of crop damage (above) were reported. Monsanto unsuccessfully sued the state in an effort to stop the ban.

A lower volatility formulation, M1768, ‘a product with less potential to volatilize and move off the target area’ has been approved by the EPA for use until 2020 – on corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and other crops – though it has not been evaluated by experts independent of Monsanto. It was obliged by the American government’s Environmental Protection Agency to agree to registration and labelling changes for the 2018 growing season, including making these products restricted-use and requiring record-keeping and additional measures to prevent spray drift.

 

 

 

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RSM conference: Fera Science data finds toxic cocktails of pesticides – a public health hazard

26 Jan

Many readers will have noted that, in November, speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine conference on pesticides, scientists warned that consuming tiny amounts of many different chemicals on a regular basis could be harmful to human health.

The conference heard new scientific evidence from around the world showing that very low doses of pesticides, well below official ‘safety’ levels, pose a significant risk to public health from pesticides in the food supply.

More pesticides and herbicides are now used on crops because weeds and insects have become increasingly resistant to chemicals. See University of California document (insect resistance, frost paragraph).

Dr Michael Antoniou (left, head of the gene expression and therapy research group at King’s College London) said that all the evidence shows that people should minimise their exposure to pesticides.

Prof Anne Marie Vinggaard (division of diet, disease prevention and toxicology at the Danish National Food Institute) said “We are not just exposed to pesticides. We are exposed to a lot of chemicals acting together Consumption of “toxic cocktails” of low levels of pesticide cocktails are thought to be linked with degenerative diseases like strokes, heart attacks and cancers”.

Katie Morley, the Telegraph’s Consumer Affairs Editor, reports that figures released by the Soil Association, which certifies organic food, show that the number of toxic chemicals found in onions, leeks, wheat and potatoes has been steadily increasing since the 1960s, though industry data shows that the volume of pesticides found on supermarket vegetables has halved since the 1990s. Onions and leeks have seen the biggest rise in toxic chemicals. In 1974 less than two chemicals were applied to an average wheat crop.

The figures were compiled by data firm Fera Science, formerly the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency and now 75% owned by Capita and 25% by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who hold UK Government data on pesticide use in farming. The research found that pesticide active ingredients applied to three British crops have increased between 6 and 18 times ranging from 480% to 1,700% over the last 40-odd years.

Dr Antoniou’s advice: “Minimally as a precaution you should minimise your exposure to pesticides. The only way to guarantee that, is by eating organically”

 

 

 

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Encouraging lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at China’s national congress

21 Oct

Those who totally oppose all GM adoption in China because of concerns about the damage caused by the herbicides and pesticides used with the crops and a loose coalition of left-wingers, environmentalists and retired officials will be encouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at this week’s national congress of China’s Communist Party.

Lucy Hornby in Beijing, writing in the FT, says that Mr Xi has ‘historically fudged’ his position on GM — urging advocates to be “bold in research, careful in promotion”.

Ms Hornby notes that the coalition had written letters to the top leadership last year opposing ChemChina’s purchase of Swiss seeds and agrochemicals group Syngenta. Reuters put the number of signatories at 400.

Currently – despite US Dow Chemicals’ persistent and energetic lobbying – only GM papaya is planted on a small scale in China, due to domestic fears that foreign GM technology poses a security threat. In addition, at present (June 17th report) GM cotton is grown in China and GM animal feed is imported. Very few genetically modified foods are allowed on the market in China and labelling GM foods is strictly enforced there.

The safety of GMOs is widely debated in China through traditional media and the emerging online social media, where the public expresses deep concerns about the safety of GMO foods.

In 2015, there was a report of a conference on “GMOs and National Security” in Beijing, where scholars warned that the issues relating to GMOs were not just about science or technology, but also about food security, ecological security, and even national security.

A study of a GM grain carried out in China in 2012 caused great concern to the public; a US researcher and her team were accused of feeding Chinese children a GM grain, golden rice, and measuring the effects without telling their parents.

Chinese researchers are vying to promote new plant strains they have developed, while not revealing whether they are genetically modified or developed using traditional breeding practices. Many are grown in demonstration fields but have not been commercialised.

Frank Ning is the head of ChemChina’s rival Sinochem, which markets some Monsanto products. He said that the future direction of Chinese agriculture is the gradual improvement of seed quality and more targeted application of fertiliser and pesticides, which are big sources of soil and water pollution in China:

“Sinochem has transformed. We used to be just a sales operation: selling seeds, selling fertiliser. Now we are a modern agricultural platform: service oriented, promoting better seeds and teaching people to use less fertiliser.”

So far, so good.

 

 

 

 

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Is the balance of nature being adversely affected by pesticides?

12 Oct

In May this year, Horticulture Weekly and other sources reported that most ‘insect-friendly’ plants sold in garden centres and supermarkets are laced with chemicals that could be killing bees.

More than 70% of ‘pollinator-friendly’ specimens from B&Q, Homebase, Aldi & Wyevale, studied by scientists at Sussex University led by Professor Dave Goulson, tested positive for pesticides after screening pollen, nectar and leaves. One type of heather bought from the Wyevale chain contained five insecticides as well as five fungicides. Every retailer sold plants containing the EU 2013 ‘banned’ neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam or clothianidin.

Quartz updates us: reporting that a study published on Oct. 6 in the journal Science found that a significant amount of the world’s honey contains traces of neonicotinoids,, a class of commonly used pesticides, at levels strong enough to cause brain damage in bees – but not (yet?). human beings.The chemicals are meant to attack the nervous systems of pests and keep them from eating crops.

American environmentalists have expressed concern, since president Donald Trump appointed Scott Pruitt – who has prioritised business interests – to head the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In the past, Pruitt, who has been described by some as being especially friendly with pesticide manufacturers and an ‘ally’ of the fossil fuel industries, has vigorously opposed environmentally beneficial legislation.

What will be the long-term effects of bees, birds,  bats and frogs, butterflies, houseflies, crane flies and other insects dying from chemical pollution?