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Mass-medication 3: is compulsory fortification of all flour with folic acid imminent?

17 Oct

The Guardian reports that senior government sources say compulsory fortification of all flour with folic acid will be introduced within weeks.  

Theresa May, who was opposed to the measure, has been persuaded to back a plan to add folate supplement to food after a campaign to reduce the number of babies born in the UK with the neural tube defect (NTD). The Independent adds that the Department of Health and Social Care said the proposal is still being considered.

Two years ago, when the second reading of the above bill was debated, Lord Prior quoted from a report by the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN):

“The fortification of white bread flour with folic acid should be introduced only if it is accompanied by a number of preconditions: for example, action to reduce folic acid intakes from voluntary fortified foods, to ensure that individuals do not substantially exceed their safe maximum daily intake of folic acid . . . It also told us that there is inconclusive evidence on several possible adverse health effects of the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid. For example, for people aged 65 and over, folate fortification of flour may result in cases of vitamin B12 deficiency not being diagnosed and treated”.

Clinical Education reports that Dr Edward Reynolds from King’s College, London has researched this matter, reviewing the literature from the 1940’s. He maintains that the recommended current upper limit of folate -1 mg – is too high.

In the 2016 debate, however, Lord Prior said the dangers of over-medication are small: “The issue is one of balancing the scientific and medical arguments with issues around choice and whether or not it is right to medicate the entire population for the benefit of a fairly small part of it”.

All women are recommended by the NHS to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid while they’re trying to get pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby’s spine is developing. The BDA asserts that very few women take this advice and according to research published in a 2015 paper in the British Medical Journal, the prevalence of NTD pregnancies was 1.28 per 1000 total births.

A reader comments on the Independent article: “70 million people to be mass-medicated for the sake of 1000 women… well that makes sense doesn’t it?”

 

 

 

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Mass-medication 2: the prevention element – a potential revenue stream?

23 Sep

As Andrew Miles, senior UK vice-president of GlaxoSmithKline observed cryptically in the Financial Times recently, “As much as people might think that the prevention element may not be a revenue stream for the company, it provides phenomenal insights.”

In July, the journal Science Translational Medicine published a report of the trial at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts into a treatment, administered as two daily pills. A Times article noted that it was found to cut the number of infections in older people. Stephen Evans, the professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that the study was only an incremental improvement on the treatments already available and there are unanswered questions about the possible side-effects of the drugs.

Mass medication is an iatrogenic catastrophe

In June, this view was expressed in a BMJ article by James Le Fanu, retired GP and journalist. He wrote that ‘profligate’ prescribing has brought a hidden epidemic of side effects and no benefit to most individuals. There is no drug or procedure with its “chance of good” that may not harm some. The more doctors do, the greater that risk. Over the past 20 years there has been:

  • a dizzying fourfold rise in prescriptions for diabetes treatments,
  • sevenfold for antihypertensives,
  • and 20-fold for the cholesterol lowering statins.
  • Meanwhile the number of people taking five or more different drugs has quadrupled to include almost half of those aged 65 or over.

He continues: “The consequences of this massive upswing in prescribing? A hidden epidemic of immiserating symptoms such as fatigue, muscular aches and pains, insomnia, and general decrepitude, a 75% rise in emergency admissions to hospital for adverse drug reactions (an additional 30 000 a year) …

Proposals have been made in the past for mass or even universal medication by aspirin and statins

The NHS now concludes that the risk of side effects (particularly the risk of bleeding) outweighs the benefit of preventing blood clots. It has long been known that the pills carry a risk of gastro-intestinal bleeding. But a new University of Oxford study, published in The Lancet, suggests that the danger increases far more sharply with age than was thought, according to Professor Peter Rothwell, lead author. A Telegraph artlcle reports on his 2017 findings, adding that taking a daily aspirin is more dangerous than was thought, causing more than 3,000 deaths a year.

Britain is already the “statins capital” of Europe

The UK has the second highest prescribing levels in the Western world, with aggressive prescribing of the medication by GPs, whose pay is linked to take-up of the pills.

In 2014 it was reported that twelve million people (one in four adults) would be told to take statins under controversial new NHS guidelines. Draft proposals from health watchdogs were that the vast majority of men aged over 50 and most women over the age of 60 are likely to be advised to take the drugs to guard against strokes and heart disease. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) had cut the “risk threshold” for such drugs in half and experts said that the number of patients advised to take the drugs is likely to rise from seven million to 12 million.

And current medical guidance says that anyone with a 20% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years should be offered statins.

Almost all men over 60 and all women over 75 in England qualify for statin prescriptions under guidelines adopted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 2014, a 2017analysis shows – see BMJ.

However, some health experts have questioned the industry forces behind these studies. The first recommendation was put out in 2013 by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA).  CNN reports that a number of experts who worked on the ACC/AHA guidelines had financial links to drug companies, which they disclosed publicly. No conflicts of interests were reported by the authors of the United States Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, but nearly all of the trials they included in their analysis were sponsored by industry, according to Dr Rita Redberg, who stressed this point in a January 2017 editorial in the journal she oversees. “The ACC did not follow its own conflict of interest guidelines“..

Fluoridation – or any practice that uses the public water supply as a vehicle to deliver medicine – violates medical ethics in several important ways:

  • It deprives the individual of his or her right to informed consent to medication.
  • It is approved and delivered by people without medical qualifications.
  • It is delivered to everyone regardless of age, health or nutritional status, without individual oversight by a doctor and without control of dose.
  • The safety of fluoridated water has never been demonstrated by randomized controlled trials–the gold standard study now generally required before a drug can enter the market.

Fluoridating water is a form of mass medication and most western European nations have rejected the practice — because, in their view, the public water supply is not an appropriate place to be adding drugs.

Who profits from all these instances of largescale medication?

 

 

 

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Weigh the value of new ‘tools’; apply the precautionary principle

3 Jun

There is mounting evidence of unintended harmful consequences in many sectors – including medicine, pharmacology, agriculture, energy generation, finance, engineering and transport. The most widely read post on this site in May reported the Lancet’s publication of the World Health Organisation’s finding that glyphosate, a widely used ingredient in weedkiller, is probably carcinogenic.

Michael J. Coren‘s article in Quartz magazine summarised the findings of Jameson Wetmore, an engineer turned social researcher at the Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Wetmore opened:

“The motto of the 1933 World Fair in Chicago was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms. Governments and companies were saying that technology can lead us out of this. It may not always be comfortable, but we have to ride it out. Household technologies were all the rage. When you hit the 1960s and 1970s, there is this shift.

“I think the hallmarks of that shift are the dropping of the atomic bomb, and then of course you have Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, and you also have Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring”.

“Whereas much of the contemporary world sees technological progress as inevitable, even a moral imperative, Wetmore finds that the Amish watch their neighbours and carefully consider how each one will change their culture before embracing it: They . . . watch what happens when we adopt new technology, and then they decide whether that’s something they want to adopt themselves.”

We don’t think about the impact technology might have on our lives beyond the initial big idea.

“The automobile was sold to us with this idea of a freedom we never had before. With that freedom came a heavy toll of injury and death. So can we anticipate unintended consequences way the Amish do, or are these systems just too complex to go much beyond first-order effects?

A more rigorous application of the EU’s Article 191 (left) would help to do this.

“Less than a mile from where I’m standing [in Phoenix, Arizona], Elaine Herzberg was killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle. I fully recognize the only way we’re going to automated vehicles is running in this world is to test them on city streets. Now, if we were to sit back and think about the values of the society here, we might say that testing those vehicles at 10 PM at night outside of a concert hall where a huge amount of alcohol had been served was not the best place to be testing. Perhaps testing in a school zone when children are present is not the best place to test an autonomous vehicle. But those are decisions that local people did not have the chance to make.”

The idea that technology is an unmitigated good is beginning to be questioned

Wetmore thinks that today Americans have a much more nuanced view of things. The number of people who think technology is an unmitigated good is continuing to shrink, but most haven’t abandoned the idea that there are a lot of problems and technology will play a role in solving them.

The precautionary principle detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk. It also covers consumer policy, European Union (EU) legislation concerning food, human, animal and plant health. It has been recognised by various international agreements, notably in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS) concluded in the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  

Jeremy Corbyn led the proposal (right) to retain Article 191’s environmental principles after exit day, narrowly defeated by 16 votes.

 

Time for change?

 

 

 

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Russia is winning the battle for the health of the people and the environment.

19 May

Ellen Brown, president of the Public Banking Institute, (UC, Berkeley & UC, Los Angeles School of Law) reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned GMOs and has set out to make Russia the world’s leading supplier of organic food.

Russian families are showing what can be done with permaculture methods on simple garden plots. In 2011, 40% of Russia’s food was grown on dachas (cottage gardens or allotments), predominantly organically. Dacha gardens produced more than 80% of the country’s fruit and berries, more than 66% of the vegetables, almost 80% of the potatoes and nearly 50% of the nation’s milk, much of it consumed raw. Russian author Vladimir Megre comments:

Russian gardeners demonstrate that gardeners can feed the world—and you do not need any GMOs, industrial farms, or any other technological gimmicks to guarantee everybody’s got enough food to eat.

Bear in mind that Russia only has 110 days of growing season per year—so in the US, for example, gardeners’ output could be substantially greater. Today, however, the area taken up by lawns in the US is two times greater than that of Russia’s gardens—and it produces nothing but a multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry.

In the end, the Green Revolution engineered by Kissinger to control markets and ensure U.S. economic dominance may be our nemesis. While the U.S. struggles to maintain its hegemony by economic coercion and military force,

In the U.S., only about 0.6 percent of the total agricultural area is devoted to organic farming. Most farmland is soaked in pesticides and herbicides. But the need for these toxic chemicals is a myth. In an October 2017 article in The Guardian, columnist George Monbiot cited studies showing that reducing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides actually increases production, because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which crops depend. Rather than an international trade agreement that would enable giant transnational corporations to dictate to governments, he argues that we need a global treaty to regulate pesticides and require environmental impact assessments for farming. He writes:

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. … The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders?

President Trump has boasted of winning awards for environmental protection. If he is sincere about championing the environment, he needs to block the merger of Bayer and Monsanto, two agribusiness giants bent on destroying the ecosystem for private profit.

 

 

 

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Toxic pesticides: will Hawaiians get a better deal than Brits?

24 Mar

As a 2015 post on a related website said, Self-regulation is not effective: reconsider. From the recent horsemeat scandal, to the frequent withdrawals of harmful medicines and the banking collapse, it can be seen that self-regulation of food, pharmaceutical and banking corporates is not working. Many other sectors are failing – notably accountancy and the trade in illicit armaments. To these sectors we now add the agrochemical industry.

Earlier this month a post was prompted by Richard Bruce who drew attention to a case reported by Reuters in February; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had won a settlement from Syngenta, after dozens of workers at Syngenta Seeds’ former research farm on Kauai, Hawaii were exposed to the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2016 and 2017.

Readers learnt that Hawaii is now considering bills in the state’s House and Senate (above) to ban chlorpyrifos, as well as a proposal to require farmers to notify the public when they use certain pesticides and to create buffer zones around some schools.

Richard commented, (based on personal experience), “Interestingly in the UK there is no requirement to post warnings after spraying crops – and most of us never get warnings before use either!”

This assertion is confirmed by two answers in the online FAQs section of The Health and Safety Executive, part of the DWP responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in Britain:

  1. Does the local farmer have to tell me when he is going to spray pesticides?

It is good practice, but except in some circumstances it is not a legal requirement to notify neighbours of an intention to spray pesticides (see section 3.7 of the ‘Code of practice for using plant protection products’ for further information on when members of the public should be informed). It would be difficult for farmers or other pesticide users to notify neighbours of planned pesticide use on all occasions because weather conditions play a significant part in determining when spraying takes place. It is not uncommon for spraying to occur at short notice or at times which seem unusual. Equally, it is not uncommon for spraying to be cancelled or postponed at short notice if the weather changes suddenly.

  1. How do I find out what pesticides a local farmer has been spraying?

By law, all professional users must keep records for at least 3 years of all the pesticides applications they undertake. The ‘Code of practice for using plant protection products’ explains how they might record this information. You can ask the farmer about what pesticides they have been using. They will usually just tell you, although they do not currently need to by law (Ed: a scandal!).

The Good Neighbour Initiative

Government ministers asked the National Farmers Union to collaborate with industry partners and interested stakeholders to draw up a ‘good neighbour’ guide to advise and assist farmers and crop sprayers using pesticides where people are living or working nearby.

As a result the NFU published the Best Practice Leaflet (opp) which may be read here.

Explicit sanctions advocated

Years ago, the Academy of Management Journal published  Industry Self-Regulation Without Sanctions: The Chemical Industry’s Responsible Care Program (A.A. King, New York University). The findings of this study highlighted the potential for opportunism to overcome the pressures of powerful self-regulatory institutions; they suggested that effective industry self-regulation is difficult to maintain without explicit sanctions.

This country has a shameful history of denying the reality of the damage to health inflicted by government agencies and wealthy and powerful agro-chemical and pharmaceutical industries. They delay this for as many years as possible before they acknowledge faulty and compensate the victims. Many GPs, for a variety of reasons, conclude that these patients have a psychological condition rather than a physical one – as Richard Bruce says sardonically:

“Of course we in the UK are a different human species and cannot be poisoned – we only imagine the symptoms out of a fear of chemicals!”

Britain’s organic market has had six years of steady growth and is now worth £2.2 billion, growing 6% in 2017. The amount of farmland in conversion to organic rose 22% last year, as farmers responded to the rise in demand for organic produce. 

In time will this trend, reported in a related website, drive out bad practice which is injuring and killing British citizens?

 

 

 

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Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips

13 Mar

Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.

In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016

The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.

In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)

BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:

  • OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
  • Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
  • Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
  • In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
  • UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues.  (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
  • In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.

A saga of missing medical records

In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:

“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”

The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip.  No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).

Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files

But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.

The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:

“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.

A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.

She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.

An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.

They deserve the last word:

“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.

“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.

 

 

Republished from Political Concern

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Hawaii: calling Syngenta to account – an uphill struggle

8 Mar

Richard Bruce has drawn attention to a case reported by Reuters in February. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been seeking a $4.8 million settlement from Syngenta, alleging that dozens of workers at Syngenta Seeds’ former research farm on Kauai, Hawaii were exposed to the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2016 and 2017.

Sold to Hartung in 2017, but Syngenta will ‘contract Hawaii-based seed production activities with the new owner’.

The final settlement was a meagre $150,000, with $400,000 more to be spent on worker protection, far less – as Alexis Strauss, acting regional administrator for the EPA’s Region 9, acknowledged – than the maximum allowed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and its regulations designed to protect workers.

This would not surprise McKay Jenkins, whose book, Poison Spring  (Bloomsbury, 2014), co-written with E.G. Vallianatos, has been called “a jaw-dropping expose´ of the catastrophic collusion between the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the chemical industry.

The IPS news agency reported that in 2013, the Kauai county council passed a law ordering the companies to create wider buffer zones and to disclose in far more detail than they do now what they spray, where and when.

A group of doctors in Waimea, which is surrounded by cornfields on three sides, testified that the number of cases of serious heart defects in local newborns was 10 times the national rate. But the head of the companies’ trade group, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said that no credible source of statistical health information to support the claims had been seen. The association sued and a federal judge struck the law down, arguing that only the state can regulate pesticide use.

Background information

In Outside Online, whose wide remit includes health and fitness, Professor Jenkins writes about Kauai, a place where for years, multinational agrochemical companies have developed genetically modified seeds but kept their experiments secret from locals especially their use of pesticides to test the resilience of GM seeds to chemicals See his recent book: Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet.

“In recent years over 16,000 acres of Kauai’s land have been leased to DuPont-Pioneer, Dow, and Syngenta because its tropical climate enables them to work their fields year-round. Company workers can plant experimental fields three seasons a year, which can cut in half the time it takes to develop a new genetically altered seed. They plant these seeds, then spray them with a wide variety of chemicals that are designed to kill weeds and insects. When they find food crops that can stand up to these toxins, they begin the process of taking them to market”.

The cases

In 2016 nineteen workers were exposed to chlorpyrifos after Syngenta sprayed the insecticide on a field of genetically engineered (GE) corn at its Kekaha farm. According to the complaint, the workers were allowed to reenter the field before the reentry period expired and without protective equipment. Ten workers were taken to the hospital and three were held overnight.

Pearl Linton hand-pollinating corn plants at a Syngenta seed farm on Kauai.

At the time of the incident, an inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) was present on the Syngenta farm and the EPA brought a civil administrative enforcement action against Syngenta for violating several federal statutes including worker protection standards, allegedly affecting as many as 77 workers.

A second incident occurred in 2017 when Syngenta failed to post warnings for worker crews containing 42 employees after applying chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide. EPA also found that Syngenta failed to provide both adequate decontamination supplies on-site and prompt transportation to a medical facility for exposed workers.

Hawaii is now considering bills in the state House and Senate to ban chlorpyrifos, as well as a proposal to require farmers to notify the public when they use certain pesticides and to create buffer zones around some schools.  

Hawaii State Capitol, Makai Entrance

May the decisions taken there show concern for the health of its people and environment, regardless of vested interest, and justify its magnificent architecture

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Main source: https://www.outsideonline.com/2151976/ongoing-hawaiian-battle-shows-real-gmo-problem

 

 

 

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