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The effects of agro-chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems

22 Sep

Richard Bruce has drawn attention to news of an article published in the journal Science, which records the findings of Prof Ian Boyd, a chief scientific adviser to the UK government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his colleague Alice Milner, who also works there on secondment. They find:

“The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false. The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems. This can and should be changed.”

Spraying pesticides near homes and gardens: the Ecologist, Georgina Downes’ February article.

The scientists’ article also criticises the widespread use of pesticides as preventive treatments, rather than only when needed.

The UK government has repeatedly opposed increased European restrictions on widely used insecticides that are linked to serious harm in bees, but a partial ban was backed by other nations and introduced in 2013. However, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, said in July that changes to pesticide regulation were being considered: “Certainly, it is the case that anyone who has seen the [recent] scientific evidence must inevitably contemplate the need for further restrictions on their use.” After Brexit, he said: “Informed by rigorous scientific analysis, we can develop global gold-standard policies on pesticides and chemicals.”

A March UN report which denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world was severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides

It accused them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.

Research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types

Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, led research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Plants, which analysed the pesticide use, productivity and profitability of almost 1,000 farms of all types across France. By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths would actually produce more. The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production.

Prof. Goulson said: “While we have a system where farmers are advised by agronomists, most of whom work on commission for agrochemical companies, then inevitably pesticides will be massively overused. Even the few independent agronomists struggle to get independent information and advice to pass on to farmers . . . The UK has no systematic monitoring of pesticide residues in the environment and gives no consideration to safe pesticide limits at landscape scales; the lack of any limit on the total amount of pesticides used and the virtual absence of monitoring has meant that it can take years for the impacts to become apparent. This can and should be changed”.

Alice Milner concludes: “We want to start a discussion about how we can introduce a global monitoring programme for pesticides. It can take years to fully understand the environmental impact.” Many readers would welcome more urgency – to put it mildly. Richard comments, “Many readers would welcome more urgency; Richard comments: “A bit late in the day to spot the obvious, surely?”

 

 

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The toxic avalanche

16 Apr

“Humans emit more than 250 billion tonnes of chemical substances a year, in a toxic avalanche that is harming people and life everywhere on the planet”, says Julian Cribb, author of ‘Surviving the 21st Century’ (Springer International 2017).  

He is quoted in an article published by Phys.org™, a web-based science, research and technology news service whose readership includes 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month:

“Every moment of our lives we are exposed to thousands of these substances. They enter our bodies with each breath, meal or drink we take, the clothes and cosmetics we wear, the things we encounter every day in our homes, workplaces and travel . . . “

The European Chemicals Agency estimates there are more than 144,000 man-made chemicals in existence.

The US Department of Health estimates 2000 new chemicals are being released every year. The UN Environment Program warns most of these have never been screened for human health safety.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 12 million people – one in 4 – die every year from diseases caused by ‘air water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change and ultraviolet radiation’, all of which result from human activity . . .

Medical science is increasingly linking issues such as obesity, cancers, heart disease and brain disorders such as autism, ADHD and depression to the growing volume of toxic substances to which humans are exposed daily.

Cribb says that the poisoning of the planet through man-made chemical emissions is probably the largest human impact – and the one that is least understood or regulated. It is one of ten major existential risks now confronting humanity:

Examples of the toxic avalanche include:

  • Manufactured chemicals – 30 million tonnes a year
  • Plastic pollution of oceans – 8mt/yr
  • Hazardous waste – 400 mt/yr
  • Coal, oil, gas etc – 15 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) a year
  • Lost soil – 75 Gt/yr
  • Metals and materials – 75 Gt/yr
  • Mining and mineral wastes – <200 Gt/yr
  • Water (mostly contaminated with above wastes) – 9 trillion tonnes a year.

“Industrial toxins are now routinely found in new-born babies, in mother’s milk, in the food chain, in domestic drinking water worldwide. They have been detected from the peak of Mt Everest (where the snow is so polluted it doesn’t meet drinking water standards) to the depths of the oceans, from the hearts of our cities to the remotest islands. The mercury found in the fish we eat, and in polar bears in the Arctic, is fallout from the burning of coal and increases every year. There is global concern at the death of honeybees from agricultural pesticides and the potential impact on the world food supply, as well as all insect life – and on the birds, frogs and fish which in turn depend on insects.”

Cribb says an issue of chemical contamination largely ignored by governments and corporations is that chemicals act in combination, occur in mixtures and undergo constant change. “A given chemical may not occur in toxic amounts in one place – but combined with thousands of other chemicals it may contribute a much larger risk to the health and safety of the whole population and the environment.” 

* 

In the same vein, Isle of Wight reader Richard Bruce reminds us that way back in 1997 US scientists called for a ban on all OP pesticides used on food crops because of the cumulative risk to children. Read more here. The UK regulators referred to the paper as “a challenging document” but nothing was done. Some 1000 scientists wrote a letter of complaint when George W Bush refused to take action on their advice to ban all OPs.

He points out that the 2016 UK Pesticide Guide clearly states that the chemical is dangerous to the environment. For the similar chlorpyrifos methyl it states that the chemical must NOT be used on grain for seed. But both are add-mixed with the grain at harvest and there is no requirement to declare this poisonous addition on food labels “because it is a pesticide”. Often unsupervised, untrained, farm and grain store workers use methods that inevitably create “hotspots” of massive overdose. Some of those methods are no longer recommended but there is still no control over application, or the methods used. the Health and Safety Executive which is supposed to enforce the regulations all too often fails in its duty.

Prensa Latina, the official state news agency of Cuba. reports that the UN Council on Human Rights, the organization’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Food, Hilal Elve (left), warned in its yearly report that most of the population around the world is exposed to pesticides through food, water, air or direct contact with the chemicals and toxic waste. The problem is worse in poor and developing nations, but no country is immune to these harmful substances. pregnant women run the risk of abortion, premature birth and congenital malformations. There are irreversible consequences to health, such as cancer, Alzheimer, Parkinson, hormone disorders, sterility and growth disorders.

Richard Bruce also points out that we are exposed to cumulative poisons every day, adding, “and no one cares”.

 

 

 

Hawaiian parents and environmentalists campaign against use of harmful sprays

7 Dec

In 2015 an American Academy of Pediatrics’ report, Pesticide Exposure in Children, found “an association between pesticides and adverse birth outcomes, including physical birth defects”. Local schools had been evacuated twice and children sent to hospital because of pesticide drift.

aerial-spray

Years earlier, whilst in America, a friend of the writer, who was in good health at the time, developed emphysema and died prematurely after being exposed to spray drift.

Carla Nelson, a pediatrician, pointed out that doctors need prior disclosure of sprayings: “It’s hard to treat a child when you don’t know which chemical he’s been exposed to.” Read her Guardian coverage here.

In the state legislature in Honolulu, Senator Josh Green, who then chaired the health committee, made his fourth attempt to curb pesticide and herbicide spraying, but ruefully commented that most heads of the agriculture committee have had “a closer relationship with the agro-chemical companies than with the environmental groups”.

A year later, Time magazine reported that there was growing evidence of glyphosate’s potentially dangerous health effects. It was judged a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization last year but despite this, on the Hawaiian island of Maui and elsewhere, sprayers simply sprayed and moved on; no one monitored the observance of the safety directions of their own product.

spray-hackneyHawaii environmentalists have used a little-known law, FIFRA, short for the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which requires sprayers to follow the safety instructions on the product’s label down to the letter.

For products containing the herbicide glyphosate, that means keeping people away from the area where the product has been used for four hours after applications for agriculture, or until the product dries when sprayed for non-agricultural purposes. That can be difficult in places like long stretches of roads and highways where extended monitoring to keep people away from recently sprayed areas is virtually impossible.

Parents began to circulate photographs of government employees spraying Round Up, the primary commercial product containing glyphosate. Footage showed authorities spraying on highways, roads and near schools without any visible effort to keep people away.

Finally the uncertainty raised by activists over the labelling issue convinced Stephen Rodgers, who oversees pesticide application on Maui’s state highways to switch to organic pesticides. His department no longer purchases Roundup and will stop using the product entirely – but only when the existing supply has been used.

Significant exposure to glyphosate in farm workers has been linked to increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer. Nature magazine, which is sceptical of the impact on human health, at least reports a study showing a link between glyphosate and cancer in mice. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), ruled last year that the pesticide is a “probable human carcinogen.”

Dr. Philip Landrigan, a Harvard-educated pediatrician and epidemiologist, Dean for Global Health at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, says, “For a long time glyphosate was viewed as an innocuous herbicide. A lot of things have changed”.

His colleague, Chuck Benbrook, an adjunct professor at Washington State University’s crops and soil science department, said “There is growing evidence that glyphosate is geno-toxic and has adverse effects on cells in a number of different ways. It’s time to pull back … on uses of glyphosate that we know are leading to significant human exposures while the science gets sorted out.”

Part 2: studies which conclude that glyphosate does not cause harm.

 

 

 

Science, precaution, innovation: learn tragically ‘late lessons from early warnings’

30 Jul

 

Glyphosate herbicides, harmful pharmaceuticals, infected blood transfusions, mercury preservative in infant vaccines, organophosphate insecticides, GM technology and fluoridation of the water supply . . . the damage to human and environmental health has been incalculable.

pprof mcgladeAs Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist and Director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in her preface to Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation:

“There is something profoundly wrong with the way we are living today. There are corrosive pathologies of inequality all around us — be they access to a safe environment, healthcare, education or clean water. These are reinforced by short-term political actions and a socially divisive language based on the adulation of wealth . . .

“One thing that has become clearer over the past decade is that certain chemical substances are highly stable in nature and can have long-lasting and wide ranging effects before being broken down into a harmless form. The risk of a stable compound is that it can be bio-accumulated in fatty tissues at concentrations many times higher than in the surrounding environment . . . So exposure to toxic chemicals and certain foodstuffs are at risk of causing harm, especially to vulnerable groups such as foetuses in the womb or during childhood when the endocrine system is being actively built. Even with small dose exposures, the consequences can in some instances be devastating with problems ranging from cancer, serious impacts on human development, chronic diseases and learning disabilities”.

chemical exposures coverProfessor McGlade points out that well-informed individuals and communities would ‘more properly’ set ‘the power to act’, than current political systems which have become ‘silted up by vested interests and a determination to protect assets’ – and, we would add, to accumulate profits. She calls for “a more ethical form of public decision-making based on a language in which our moral instincts and concerns can be better expressed . . .”

Above, a book by Claudia Miller, M.D., M.S., a tenured Professor in Environmental and Occupational Medicine and Vice Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), who has written extensively on the health effects of low-level chemical exposures.

One simple measure could be adopted. Every scientific report or review should be prefaced by a declaration of the researcher’s competing financial interests

From the Nature/ British Dental Journal’s declaration of the authors’ competing financial interests Critique of the review of ‘Water fluoridation for the prevention of dental caries’ published by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2015, we learn that – out of 17 – these authors had such an interest – see footnote, with names added to the initials in the list.

The Cochrane review noted- amongst many other findings – that only two studies since 1975 have looked at the effectiveness of reducing cavities in baby teeth, and found fluoridation to have no statistically significant impact – and within the ‘before and after’ studies none showed the benefits of fluoridated water for adults.

In view of the authors’ competing interests it is not surprising that they cast doubt on the validity of the unfavourable findings of the Cochrane Review, which is ’unconstrained by commercial and financial interests’.

Footnote:

  1. A. J. Rugg-Gunn: AJRG was a member of the MRC (UK) working group on water fluoridation and health and is a trustee of The Borrow Foundation (long associated with milk fluoridation).
  2. A.J. Spencer: AJS is a member of the Australian Government Department of Health, Nutritional Reference Values Fluoride Expert Working Group and the National Health and Medical Research Council Fluoride Reference Group.
  3. H.P. Whelton: HPW is Principal Investigator of the FACCT study funded by the Irish Health Research Board and is an evaluation of the impact of changes in the policy on children’s oral health in Ireland. She is an independent advisor to the British Fluoridation Society.
  4. C.Jones: CJ is a member of the British Fluoridation Society, the Cochrane Oral Health Group and commented on the Cochrane review protocol.
  5. J. F. Beal: JFB is vice-chairman, British Fluoridation Society.
  6. P.Castle: PC is a communications adviser to the National Alliance for Equity in Dental Health and the British Fluoridation Society. 
  7. P.V. Cooney: PVC was Chief Dental Officer for Canada.
  8. J. Johnson: JJ is President, American Fluoridation Society. 
  9. M.P. Kelly: MPK is co-investigator on the CATFISH study of a water fluoridation scheme in Cumbria.
  10. M.A. Lennon: MAL was a member of the Advisory Panel for the York Review, a member of the MRC Expert Group and formerly Chair of the British Fluoridation Society.
  11. J. McGinley: JMcG is manager, Fluoridation Activities, American Dental Association.
  12. D. O’Mullane: DO’M is a member of the Irish Expert Body on Fluorides and Health.
  13. P.P. Sharma: PPS is the President, Ontario Association of Public Health Dentistry. 
  14. W.M. Thomson: WMT was a member of the panel which produced the Royal Society of New Zealand report on community water fluoridation.
  15. S. M. Woodward: SMW works for The Borrow Foundation.
  16. S.P. Zusman: SPZ is Chief Dental Officer with Israeli Ministry of Health.

 

 

 

Crunch time: will fears of legal action by Monsanto sway the final vote on licensing glyphosate – a ‘probable’ carcinogen?

7 Jun

The FT reports that leading EU member states on Monday refused to extend a licence for glyphosate, the world’s most common herbicide. If there is no decision by the end of the month, glyphosate will lose its licence, raising the prospect of legal action by the industry.

EU-PARLIAMENT

The commission had intended to try to relicense glyphosate for 15 years, but the latest proposal was for a licence of only 12 to 18 months, while more research is conducted. This option has been rejected as Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Austria and Portugal and Luxembourg all abstained, meaning the necessary qualified majority could not be reached. Malta voted against.

Bart Staes, a Belgian MEP from the Green Party, warned the commission not to approve glyphosate unilaterally through a so-called “appeals committee”: “Such a move would raise major democratic concerns about the EU’s decision-making process”. More handsomely, the Guardian adds more from Staes:

“We applaud those EU governments who are sticking to their guns and refusing to authorise this controversial toxic herbicide. There are clear concerns about the health risks with glyphosate, both as regards it being a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Moreover, glyphosate’s devastating impact on biodiversity should have already led to its ban”.

Glyphosate is the basis for Monsanto’s topselling weedkiller RoundUp, described in its annual report as “a sustainable source” of cash and profit. Last year more than 80% of Monsanto’s sales were in the Americas and under 13% in Europe.

Last month a report from the WHO and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation concluded that the chemical was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk” through diet, but the WHO’s cancer agency last year had concluded that the product was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Prime movers in opposing the use of glyphosate are Sweden, the Netherlands and France – and over 1.5 million EU citizens who petitioned the parliament to ban it.

The German Social democrat environment minister Barbara Hendricks welcomed the decision in Brussels, saying: “Many member states would like the question of cancer risks to be clarified before glyphosate can again be spread on our fields.” But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc, which wants the chemical to remain in use, is frustrated. Peter Liese, a CDU member of the European Parliament, said Berlin must battle for the continued use of glyphosate, albeit under “strict conditions”.

The glyphosate task force, a consortium of companies including Monsanto, complained: “It is clear that certain member states are no longer basing their positions on scientific evidence, which is meant to be the guiding principle of the process”.

US officials said that they are “extremely concerned” about the EU’s action and accuse Brussels of failing to rely on “sound science”. EU officials respond that their “precautionary principle” of regulation in cases of doubt offers greater public protection.

 

 

 

Rebrand Monsanto? Will the 99% be fooled?

29 May

bayer logoThe FT reports that Bayer, which has made a bid to take over Monsanto, has a relatively squeaky-clean brand, with ‘lots of positive connotations’. This, despite the company being rocked by scandal in 2001 when its cholesterol drug Lipobay was found to have serious side-effects and its production of a neonicotinoid insecticide which may have contributed to the decline in the bee population.

“Its oldest brand is aspirin, after all,” says Torben Bo Hansen, head of Philipp und Keuntje, a German advertising agency, adding “But for large parts of the population Monsanto is evil personified.”

In another FT article, Dirk Zimmermann explains: “Bayer is by no means an exemplary company. After all, their business model is the same as Monsanto’s — they also sell genetically modified seeds that are resistant to the herbicides they produce. None of this is compatible with the idea of sustainable agriculture, or at least our understanding of it.”

Monsanto is opposed because of its leadership in producing and promoting genetically modified organisms – Germany is one ‘no-go’ area where 1m hectares of land are farmed organically. Countries producing GM crops are shown below (in dark blue):

countries growing gm crops 15

Monsanto is also widely associated with the production and promotion of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which the World Health Organisation said last year was probably carcinogenic. The EU is currently debating whether to relicence glyphosate, with many European governments opposed.

countries ban label gm crops 14Countries banning or labelling GMOs (compiled by Canadian campaigner)

“One option for Bayer would be to drop the Monsanto name if the transaction went through”. Is rebranding the answer?

The Brand Failures blogspot recalls that when massive amounts of radioactive material were released from the UK’s Windscale atomic works in 1957, following a serious fire, the local community in Cumbria were understandably terrified about the health implications of uncontained radiation. Rather than close the plant down, the government believed the best way to put distance between the disaster and the nuclear plant as a whole was to change the name, from Windscale to Sellafield.

“The potential is definitely there for Bayer’s brand to suffer in a takeover,” adds Hansen. “One option for Bayer would be to drop the Monsanto name if the transaction went through, to prevent that “negative sentiment carrying over to the new company” said Jeffrey Stafford, analyst at Morningstar (investment management).

99%-3

But as Brand Failures records, in many cases, including Windscale/Sellafield and the Post Office/Consignia, the 99% are no longer so easy to fool.

 

 

 

 

An EU licence for glyphosate? Not without a ‘qualified majority’

27 May

Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide. Scientific opinion is divided, but the World Health Organisation confirmed last year that the substance is “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

Farming UK reports that before the European Parliament vote to oppose the EU Commission’s proposal to relicense the controversial toxic substance until 2031, a group of 48 MEPs took part in a test which confirmed the presence of weedkiller glyphosate in their urine, with the average concentration being 1.73ng/ml. The test was inspired by a recent study in Germany which found that 99.6% of people tested had glyphosate residues in their urine.

Exercising the precautionary principle requires a qualified majority

Glyphosate’s current European licence was set to expire in June and though the vote to renew it was passed by 374 votes in favour to 225 votes against, Farming Today reports that the decision was deferred and the journal Science confirms that the commission has made it clear that it would not proceed without a “solid qualified majority of Member States,” (A qualified majority is now achieved only if a decision is supported by 55% of Member States, including at least fifteen of them representing at the same time at least 65% of the Union’s population.)

Science adds that Monsanto, which manufactures glyphosate under the commercial name Roundup, has ‘slammed’ the delays as ‘not scientifically warranted’. 

The commission said that no products will be licensed unless a decision is taken before June 30th. In that case, glyphosate will be no longer authorized in the EU and Member States will have to withdraw authorizations for all glyphosate-based products.

Ireland’s Agriland portal reports that glyphosate will be banned in France – whether or not the EU decides this week to renew the authorisation of the chemical. Speaking to France Info Radio, the French Minister for Health, Marisol Touraine, said that the French President Francois Hollande announced – during the last environmental conference – that glyphosate would not be authorised in France: “Regardless of debates around whether it causes cancer or not, the studies we have show it’s an endocrine disruptor”.

Agriland adds that earlier this year a poll by the international market research firm YouGov found that two-thirds of Europeans want the chemical banned. According to the survey of more than 7,000 people across the EU’s five biggest states, the banning of glyphosate was supported by 75% of Italians, 70% of Germans, 60% of French and 56% of Britons.