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FT: Syngenta and Bayer funded a $3m field study – but dismissed its conclusions

9 Jul

The un-named author of a recent FT View opens by reminding readers of many factors often cited by scientists that may be behind the decline in bee populations across Europe and the US: habitat loss, disease and nutritional stress.

There are an estimated 3tn honey bees across the world. With their wild relatives they have been providing an essential service to mankind for millions of years.

The role that certain pesticides play in their decline has been fiercely disputed by environmentalists, farmers and industry lobbyists. In an earlier FT article Chloe Cornish recalls that previous studies indicated that neonicotinoids do harm bees, but were criticised because they were laboratory-based and did not replicate complex real world conditions.

. It was conducted over a year at 33 sites across the UK, Hungary and Germany, over an area spanning 2,000 hectares. It concludes that neonicotinoids — a widely used group of pesticides applied to seeds before planting — can indeed damage the ability of bees to establish new populations.

The $3m field study was joint funded by the chemical companies Syngenta and Bayer companies which produce most of these pesticides, and The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s contributed £400,000.

The findings add to an accumulating body of scientific research suggesting that “neonics” are a big contributor to the problem. They have played a part both in the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which commercial bees suddenly and mysteriously die off, and also in the tragic decline of wild bee populations in Europe and the US.

Facing denial in the face of this growing evidence lead authors Richard Pywell (right) and Richard Shore (left) told reporters in London that they were braced for hostility, acknowledging that this was a contentious area. Bayer and Syngenta have dismissed the report’s conclusions as simplistic and inconsistent— reminding the writer of the tactics once used by tobacco companies to fend off health-related regulation.

The implications are grim. Bees and other pollinators play a role in the production of about a third of the food eaten. Without them, basics such as coffee, chocolate and almost every fruit and vegetable would become scarce at best.

Neonicotinoids may not be solely responsible for the bee crisis. But of the many stresses contributing to declining populations, pesticide use is the easiest to control. A hungry and sick bee is more likely to die if it is also poisoned. The scientific findings point to the need for action.

EU regulators decided the link was worrying enough to place restrictions on the use of clothianidin, thiamethoxam and another neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, in 2013. This moratorium comes up for debate again later this year – meanwhile regulators are re-evaluating the three and will present their findings in November. FT View ends:

“On the latest evidence, the partial ban should be extended. The danger, of course, is that farmers will resort to using something with equally nefarious effects — the western world’s record for regulating pesticides is terrible.

”It is time that changed. It is time to look after bees as well as they look after us”.

 

 

 

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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.” 

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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”.

 

 

 

Long-term exposure to OP insecticides puts farmers at high risk of diabetes

18 Mar

Richard Bruce, who has suffered severely for many years following exposure to pesticides in the course of his work, sends news of research by a team from Madurai Kamaraj University, published in Genome Biology and is generously accessible to all readers. The paper may be accessed here.

Megha Prakash, in an article in ‘Down to Earth’, highlights the case of a 12-year-old boy reported from Mysuru, Karnataka. In 2011 the boy had eaten tomatoes from a field without washing them only a few hours earlier. Krishnan Swaminathan, an endocrinologist and president of the Coimbatore-based Kovai Medical Centre and Hospital, says that it was due to this impact of the chemical on the body’s insulin function that he first thought there could be a link between OP exposure and diabetes.

Researchers from Madurai Kamaraj University draw blood samples of village residents to test for diabetes (ARUL / MADURAI KAMARAJ UNIVERSITY)  

The observations in this and other cases mentioned in the article formed the premise of a study, conducted by a team from the Madurai Kamaraj University, to investigate the high prevalence of diabetes being reported from rural areas. Previous studies had shown a high prevalence of diabetes in rural Tamil Nadu, but this is the first one to link pesticide exposure to the disease.

Megha Prakash writes: “The researchers surveyed 3,080 people from seven villages in Thirupparan-kundram block of Madurai district. Participants were above the age of 35 years. Almost 55% of them were from the farming community and were, hence, more likely to be exposed to OPs. Based on the blood test results, it was found that the prevalence of diabetes among the farming community was three times higher (18.3 per cent) than that in the non-farming community (6.2 per cent), despite the low level of typical risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity”.

Source of graphic: International Diabetes Federation, Ministry of Home Affairs, research papers

To read more about the action of this pesticide on the human body – and on mice – click here.

After countries started regulating or banning DDT in the 1970s due to its effects on the environment, OP insecticides came to account for 40% of the global pesticide market.

Ganesan Velmurugan, the lead researcher filed a Right to Information request against some of the state’s agricultural universities which listed these banned pesticides on their websites and even recommended their use.

But the response to his queries was not satisfactory. Kalpana Ramasamy, assistant professor at Agriculture College and Research Institute of the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University told Down To Earth that though agriculture universities are now recommending green-labelled pesticides (a green label means “slightly toxic”) to farmers, a complete ban will not be successful until an alternative to OP pesticides is found.

Prakash continues: “In India, pesticide use is regulated by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As of October 20, 2015, the CIBRC has completely banned two OP pesticides and regulated the use of four others. Of the four are methyl parathion, which is banned for use on fruits and vegetables, and monocrotophos, which is banned for use on vegetables”.

The study’s authors insist on the importance of spreading awareness about the effects of OP insecticides, especially in an agrarian country like India. “One must educate farmers about measures such as washing and soaking vegetables before use and wearing appropriate gear before spraying the pesticide. If awareness is not created now, in the next 10 years, the burden of this problem will be immense,” says Swaminathan.

But has effective protective clothing at last been designed? In one of many allegations,  sheep dip insecticide was alleged to contain chemicals which attacked the rubber in gloves making them porous. The effect was to render the protective clothing useless. Current advertisements say these suits only ‘reduce’ risk

Our informant Richard Bruce comments; “Of course OPs have been known to change blood sugar levels for a very long time but this confirms the diabetes link. Diabetes is rising in the general population in Britain because we are all exposed to these poisons in our food and environment.

 

 

 

 

Links between exposure to organophosphate pesticides and the onset of diabetes

26 Jan

As the government’s Food Agency is diligently warning the public of possible harm from burnt toast, will it heed a new concern raised by Indian scientists?  

British governments have a poor record when there is a conflict of interest between public health and large arms related/chemical/pharmaceutical companies.

Successive governments resisted acknowledging the harm done by early nuclear tests, Gulf War medication, thalidomide, mercury in infant vaccines and infected imported blood products – even, in the 70s and 80s compelling farmers to use organophosphate-based sheep dip and to this day encouraging the addition of a toxic chemical to drinking water.  

msc-header

The number of diabetes cases in Britain is causing concern; the Medical Research Council (above, a publicly funded government agency) reported in 2015 that there are 3.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK and quotes estimates that more than one in 16 people in the UK has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).

Richard Bruce sends a link to a report from India by Pallava Bagla published on Tuesday. It records that scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu have found links between the use of pesticides and the high prevalence of diabetes in India (65 million people, second only to China).

They found the prevalence of diabetes in people regularly exposed to insecticides was three-fold higher (18.3 per cent) than in unexposed people (6.2 per cent).

Their results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Genome Biology. They also conducted experiments on mice, in which they found that exposure to pesticides upsets the micro-flora of the gut, leading to the onset of diabetes. Read quite a detailed account here: http://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-016-1134-6

The team – which had been conducting the research in rural areas of South India – suggests that if people are continuously exposed to common OP pesticides like Malathion and Chlorpyrifos, they can get diabetes even when they do not have the other risk factors – obesity and high cholesterol.

ops-2-used-in-agric-india

This was a departure from traditional findings: the 3,080 people surveyed were physically active and did not have the better known risk factors for diabetes like obesity and high cholesterol.

OP pesticides are widely used in agriculture. Malathion is used even in urban areas to control mosquitoes and termites. They are known to affect memory and concentration, cause depression, headache and speech difficulties. The US Environmental Protection Agency (at risk under the new president?) publishes findings that these are amongst several classes of toxic chemicals that can harm children; researchers say OPs could be a contributing factor in learning disability and behavioural problems in children.

The scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University suggested that, in view of the high occurrence of diabetes in India, the use of OP (organophosphate) pesticides should be reconsidered.

 

 

 

Spotlight on Bayer-Monsanto neonicotinoid field trials

23 Sep

Farming Today (23.9.16) seems to be unaware of the content of the neonicotinoids research studies obtained by Greenpeace after a freedom of information request to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Bayer intends to make these public at the International Congress of Entomology next week.

This is not good news for Bayer, debt-laden since its takeover of Monsanto and reported to have seen its shares ‘drifting downwards’.

bees-3

Reports in the Guardian and EurActiv inform readers that the research studies, conducted by Syngenta and Bayer on their neonicotinoid insecticides, showed that Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin seriously harmed colonies at high doses, but found no significant effects below concentrations of 50 parts per billion (ppb) and 40ppb respectively.

Bees and other insects vital for pollinating three-quarters of the world’s food crops, have been in significant decline, due – it is thought -to the loss of flower-rich habitats, disease and the use of pesticides.

Consider the cumulative effect of neonic residues ingested from planting dust, water and treated seeds

However researchers note that pollinators in real environments are continually exposed to cocktails of many pesticides, rather than single chemicals for relatively short periods. As Matt Shardlow, chief executive of conservation charity Buglife, said:

“These studies may not show an impact on honeybee health [at low levels], but then the studies are not realistic. The bees were not exposed to the neonics that we know are in planting dust, water drunk by bees and wildflowers, wherever neonics are used as seed treatments. This secret evidence highlights the profound weakness of regulatory tests.”

prof-goulsonProfessor Dave Goulson explained, on Farming Today, that there were 20,000 species of bees and that neonics are neurotoxins that harm bumble bees, wild solitary bees and all insects. He added that there are a huge number of studies indicating the damage done and only a few that find them safe.

He reminds us on his blog that a recent Swedish study, published in the most prestigious scientific journal in the world (Nature), showed huge impacts of neonics on bumblebees and solitary bees when the chemicals were used by farmers ‘as directed on the label’ and adds a warning:

“Remember that, 50 years ago, the agrochemical industry assured us the DDT was safe, until it turned out that it wasn’t. Later, they told us that organophosphates were fine, except they weren’t. Do you believe them this time? I don’t”.

 

 

 

Sheep dip sufferers support group update

19 Apr

Following the 2015 post on this website, comes news from Warrington farmer Tom Rigby, co-ordinator of the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Group, who sent a press release reporting that HSE had released details of their 1992 Sheep Dipping Survey which may be seen on their website – the report here and appendix here.

Readers new to this subject may first wish to read the full history on the group’s website.

HSE identified 700 farmers in 16 different regions of GB (385 in England, 155 in Scotland and 160 in Wales) broadly typical of the whole and 696 surveys were completed. There were 160 occasions described where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping, only three of which had been reported to MAFF/VMD. If this was representative of UK’s 90,400 sheep flocks it suggests over 20,000 cases nationwide.

Northern Farmer 2editorial

HSE’S Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit suggested a better way of expressing these findings were as “a crude incident rate of 8.9 self-reported illness episodes per 1000 dippers per annum”. This suggests a total of over 33,000 for MAFF’s compulsory dipping years 1976-92. Mr Rigby comments that trying to calculate incident rate this way almost certainly gives an under-estimate due to what is known as the ‘healthy worker’ effect as it ignores fatalities and those too ill to continue working (similar to trying to estimate road traffic incidents over 10 years just by interviewing current drivers).

Cumulative exposure

sheep dip peter tyrerHis testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkQQl68ltYk

Tom Rigby says: “Whatever the precise figure it does seem by 1992 HSE were aware of the devastating effects dipping was having on the health of sheep farmers. We believe this is the reason MAFF ended compulsory dipping in June that year (something they have always denied) and we request disclosure of correspondence between HSE and MAFF in the weeks prior to that decision being taken”.

The initial results of this HSE study were published as a news release dated 20th July 1993 with the title “HSE SURVEY CONFIRMS POOR WORKING PRACTICES DURING SHEEP DIPPING”. It highlighted “dippers hands or feet were used to immerse sheep on 48 farms” (7% of the total) and the head of HSE’s Livestock National Interest Group, (the sponsors of the report) said “this survey has confirmed our view of where the problems lie”.

Northern Farmer 2 SDS questionsHowever now we have sight of the survey in full there seems to be no correlation between dipping practice and reports of ill-health. 662 farmers, including those using hands and feet, account for proportionately fewer cases than 17 contract dippers who were exclusively using dipping aids.

It said, “Although contract dippers made up only 2.4% of the total they accounted for 10.6% of incidents”. This suggests the greatest single factor seems to be cumulative exposure. Many farmers were not aware of danger of cumulative exposure through inhalation until alerted by this piece in the Farmers Weekly fifteen years later. It is now accepted by HSE but not by DEFRA.

As the contract dippers were also found to be wearing better protective clothing than farmers the main route of exposure might have been inhalation, but face masks were not issued. The shortcoming of protective clothing available at the time is discussed on this audio clip from Countryfile from 1992.

There was no attempt in the survey to try to correlate ill-health with different chemicals used when dipping, apart from the observation that some farmers noticed less problems using non-OP dips. One main conclusion of the report was “Farmers need to be encouraged to substitute a hazardous product (OPs) with a less hazardous product (non OP)”. Sadly however for the last 23 years the ill-health of farmers affected has been ignored; all non-OP have been taken off the market leaving OPs as the only products available for dipping.

We include snapshots from the Northern Farmer’s March edition, which mentioned the work of the group in its front page story, the main feature inside and an editorial (above, centre) calling for an inquiry, listing three questions (above left) to which the group wants answers.

 

Wheat and other cereals – 1. organophosphate pesticides

29 Nov

A message received from Richard Bruce highlights the lack of reference to “the poisons that are added to the wheat AFTER harvest, in the food grain stores and during processing”. He continues: “Here in the UK tons of the poisons have been admixed with wheat, barley, oats and other food crops every year for decades, often with no withholding times after treatment at all.

“The EU intervention stores demanded that the grains were protected from insect infestation by these products for at least 5 years in store … Bakers have refused delivery of clean wheat unless it is treated with the poisons.

“Even the British Medical Association stated in the publication Pesticides, Chemicals and Health (link only to citation, payment site) that wholemeal bread contained the highest residues of the poison – yet 24 years later it is still approved for use in our food and NEVER appears on the food content labels because it does not have to be declared. The official reason? Because it is classed as a pesticide and not a food additive.

Richard adds that using organic flour should limit intake of the poisons – if the authorities are not permitted to weaken organic standards.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States aims to ‘advance science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information’. A link from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a research agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services relates an account of organophosphate poisoning after eating a wheat bagel:

Intern Med. 2009;48(2):85-8. Epub 2009 Jan 15: “Organophosphate poisoning due to a wheat bagel”: Kavalci C1, Durukan POzer MCevik YKavalci G. It is stated that organophosphate compounds are possibly the most widely-used insecticides worldwide, causing poisoning – inhibiting acetylcholinesterase at the cholinergic synapses:

After eating a wheat bagel, 13 patients with organophosphate poisoning were admitted to our emergency department. Seven were males and 6 were females. The mean age of the patients was 26 +/- 13.9. The mean serum acetylcholinesterase level was 2945.1+/-2648.9 U/L. Nine patients who had supportive treatment and who were given atropine and pralidoxime were hospitalized approximately 6.8+/-6.5 days. All of the patients recovered after the treatment and no deaths occurred.

In National Geographique (2013), Dana Boyd Barr, an exposure scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has studied organophosphate poisoning recorded that organophosphates are so toxic to humans that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to limit their availability to the public: “The EPA has asked manufacturers to voluntarily eliminate its use [for residential purposes] . . .There are a couple still available for residential garden use, but they’re few.”

Richard asks:

  • Are the increasing incidences of “allergy” to gluten really the symptoms induced by the presence of organophosphates?
  • Does avoiding the gluten also avoid most of the poison?

Part 2 below.