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Canadian Supreme Court Rules Against Family Farmers
The epic battle of Canadian family farmer Percy Schmeiser against biotech giant Monsanto Corporation officially closed on May 21. A hairline 5-4 Canadian Supreme Court ruling sided with Monsanto, saying Schmeiser is guilty of the "crime" of saving seeds from his canola plants--seeds that Monsanto claims to own. In the late ‘90s, Schmeiser's canola field was contaminated with Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE) seed, most likely from a neighboring farm or from trucks passing in front of his Saskatchewan farm. Monsanto's patent monopoly on GE crops, such as canola, mandates that farmers using the seed must pay "royalty" fees to the gene giant. Since Schmeiser never purchased his seeds from Monsanto or signed an agreement in the first place, he continued to save his seeds and replant each year, so Monsanto sued. The court's decision has angered family farmers across Canada, and emboldened organic farmers to continue their class action lawsuit against Monsanto and Aventis (Bayer) for contaminating organic crops with GE traits
Source: Organic Bytes #33, Food and Consumer News Tidbits with and Edge!
Clogged Arteries? Eat Oats
Phenolic antioxidants in oats obstruct the ability of cholesterol to stick to artery walls. Researchers funded by the Agricultural Research Service have shown that these compounds, called avenanthramides, significantly suppress the adhesive molecules that "glue" blood cells to artery walls.
The study was done by nutritionist Mohsen Meydani and colleagues at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.
When blood cells stick to artery walls and cause inflammation, plaque deposits build and narrow the passageways through which blood flows. The suppression of plaque provided by avenanthramide compounds may lessen the gradual constriction of vessels that leads to hardening of the arteries.
To test the compound's anti-degenerative activity within arterial walls, the scientists purified avenanthramides from oats and exposed them to human arterial wall cells for 24 hours. They then observed the mixture under incubation. Meydani found that the ability of blood cells to stick to arterial wall cells was significantly reduced.
Water-soluble fiber from oats has long been believed to help reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol circulating in blood. To gain heart-healthy benefits from fiber and avenanthramides, the researchers suggest adding oat products to an overall healthy diet and cutting down on high-fat, high-cholesterol foods.
Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA. Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301) 504-4318, firstname.lastname@example.org. June 1, 2004. Read more about this research in the June issue of Agricultural Research magazine at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jun04/oats0604.htm.
Scientists Investigate Probiotic Use in Poultry, Develop New Tests
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Fayetteville, Ark., have found several promising intestinal bacteria that could protect live chickens from ***Salmonella, Campylobacter*** and other pathogens that cause foodborne illness in people who eat poultry. To prevent contamination of the meat, the pathogens must not take hold inside the intestinal tracts of the live birds. Scientists at ARS are getting a better understanding of how live, beneficial bacteria, called probiotics, influence the gut's microbial environment and interact with other bacteria. Probiotics contribute to the health and balance of the intestinal tract. They are given orally to poultry to help the birds fight illness and disease.
Annie Donoghue, a poultry physiologist at the ARS Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit in Fayetteville, is leading a team of ARS and University of Arkansas researchers in finding new, healthful bacteria that, when fed to live birds, help them resist harmful pathogens and grow more efficiently. Using a concept known as competitive exclusion, probiotics are fed to newly hatched poults. Once inside, the probiotics occupy sites in the young birds’ intestinal tract where the pathogens would normally attach and grow. Since probiotics get there first, they reduce the opportunity
for pathogenic bacteria to become established in newly hatched poults when they are most susceptible to infection. The team has screened more than 4 million intestinal isolates to come up with several promising probiotic combinations. The University of Arkansas and ARS have filed a patent on the selection techniques.
Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Jim Core, (301) 504-1619, email@example.com, January 15, 2004. Read more in the January 2004 issue of Agricultural Research at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jan04/biotic0104.htm.
The Center for Agroecology at the University of California Santa Cruz offers a full-time, six-month training course in organic gardening and farming. Apprentices are exposed to different aspects of growing plants organically on both a hand-dug garden scale and tractor-cultivated field scale. Cultural requirements for vegetable, herb, flower and fruit cultivars are covered, including the specifics of soil preparation, composting, sowing, cultivation, propagation, irrigation, pests/disease control and marketing. The 35 to 40 apprentices each year come from all regions of the United States and abroad, and represent a wide spectrum of ages, backgrounds and interests. Several scholarships are available for people of color and for economically disadvantaged people. For further information contact Apprenticeship Information, CASFS, UCSC, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064; (831) 459-3695; www.ucsc.edu/casfs; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trait in Honey Bees Keeps Mites From Multiplying
For more than 20 years, beekeepers have been battling varroa mites. The tiny, bloodsucking parasites weaken adult bees, sometimes cause deformities, and can wipe out an untreated colony in under two years. But entomologists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have discovered that some bees have a built-in defense against varroa mites that can be bred into any bee population. Called suppressed mite reproduction (SMR), the trait keeps varroa mites from reproducing. Scientists hope that when adequately bred into bee populations, SMR will one day free beekeepers from their dependence on chemical miticides.
Entomologists John R. Harbo and Jeffrey W. Harris, in the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit at Baton Rouge, La., discovered the SMR trait while researching reduced mite populations observed in some bee colonies. While honey bees can fend off mites through grooming and other hygienic behaviors, a different factor appeared to be at play in those colonies.
The researchers found that some mites weren't reproducing. They watched female mites entering brood cells--the small pockets, or honeycomb, where young bees develop--but not laying any eggs. Following genetic studies, the researchers determined that a trait in these honey bees inhibited the mites' reproduction.
The SMR trait has been provided to Glenn Apiaries, a commercial queen honey bee producer in Fallbrook, Calif., that sells SMR breeder queens. With selective breeding, the SMR trait can eliminate mite reproduction in worker brood cells.
Harbo and Harris are studying a second trait in bees linked to mite resistance. Called P-MIB for "percentage of mites in brood," the trait is an ideal complement to SMR because it curbs mite populations from outside, rather than inside, the brood cell where SMR comes into play.
Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Erin Peabody, (301) 504-1624, email@example.com. May 12, 2004. For more information, see the May issue of Agricultural Research at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/may04/bees0504.htm.
Toxic Pesticides Above "Safe" Levels in Many U.S. Residents
Many U.S. residents carry toxic pesticides in their bodies above government assessed "acceptable" levels, according to "Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability," a report from Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and partner groups in more than 20 cities. Analyzing pesticide-related data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on levels of chemicals in 9,282 people nationwide, the report reveals that government and industry have failed to safeguard public health from pesticide exposures.
"None of us choose to have hazardous pesticides in our bodies," said lead author Kristin Schafer. "Yet CDC found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person in this group carried a toxic cocktail of 13 of the 23 pesticides we analyzed."
Many of the pesticides found in the test subjects have been linked to serious short- and long-term health effects, including infertility, birth defects and childhood and adult cancers. "While the government develops safety levels for each chemical separately, this study shows that in the real world we are exposed to multiple chemicals simultaneously," explained Margaret Reeves of PANNA. "The synergistic effects of multiple exposures are unknown, but a growing body of research suggests that even at very low levels, the combination of these chemicals can be harmful to our health."
"Chemical Trespass" found that children, women and Mexican Americans shouldered the heaviest "pesticide body burden." For example, children -- the population most vulnerable to pesticides -- are exposed to the highest levels of nerve-damaging organophosphorous (OP) pesticides. The CDC data show that the average 6- to11- year-old sampled is exposed to the OP pesticide chlorpyrifos at four times the level U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) considers "acceptable" for long-term exposure. Chlorpyrifos, produced principally by Dow Chemical Corporation and found in numerous products such as Dursban™, is designed to kill insects by disrupting the nervous system. Although U.S. EPA restricted chlorpyrifos for most residential uses in 2000, it continues to be used widely in agriculture and other settings. In humans, chlorpyrifos is also a nerve poison, and has disrupted hormones and interfered with normal development of the nervous system in laboratory animals.
The report also found that women have significantly higher levels of three of the six organochlorine (OC) pesticides evaluated. These pesticides cross the placenta during pregnancy, with multiple harmful effects including disruption of brain development, which can lead to learning disabilities and other neurobehavioral problems, as well as reduced infant birth weight. This ability of OC pesticides to pass from mother to child puts future generations at serious risk.
Mexican Americans carry dramatically higher body burdens of five of the 17 evaluated pesticides in urine samples, including a breakdown product of methyl parathion, a neurotoxic, endocrine-disrupting insecticide. Mexican Americans also had significantly higher body burdens of the breakdown products of the insecticides lindane and DDT than those found in other ethnic groups.
"Chemical Trespass" argues that pesticide manufacturers are primarily responsible for the problem of pesticide body burden. "The pesticides we carry in our bodies are made and aggressively promoted by agrochemical companies," stated PANNA’s Skip Spitzer. "These companies also spend millions on political influence to block or undermine regulatory measures designed to protect public health and the environment." The report introduces the Pesticide Trespass Index (PTI), a new tool for quantifying responsibility of individual pesticide manufacturers for their "pesticide trespass." Using the PTI, the report estimates that Dow Chemical is responsible for at least 80% of the chlorpyrifos breakdown products in the bodies of those in the United States.
"Chemical Trespass" recommends that the U.S. Congress should investigate corporate responsibility and liability for pesticide body burdens and should develop financial mechanisms to shift health and environmental costs of pesticides to the corporations that produce them. The U.S. EPA should ban pesticides known to be hazardous and pervasive in the environment and in our bodies, including immediate phase outs of all uses of chlorpyrifos and lindane. The U.S. EPA should also require that manufacturers bear the burden of proof for demonstrating that a pesticide does not harm human health before it can be registered. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. EPA should promote least-toxic pest control methods. Individuals should pressure government officials and corporations to implement these changes while seeking alternatives to pesticide use and buying organic products whenever possible.
"Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability" is available at www.panna.org. The report's executive summary is available in Spanish and French.
Source: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, May 11, 2004. "Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability," Kristin S. Schafer, Margaret Reeves, Skip Spitzer, Susan Kegley, Pesticide Action Network North America, May, 2004.
World Fair Trade Day
May 8th was World Fair Trade Day. In observance, organizations in at least 60 countries hosted events to promote fair trade between consumers in industrialized countries of the North and marginalized and small scale producers in the global South. With a theme of "Small Change, Big Difference," events included fair trade markets, workshops, product launches and fashion shows in countries including Kenya, UK, Japan, Canada and the United States.
Since the first fair trade certification program in the Netherlands in 1988, today's International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) has grown to encompass nonprofit organizations in 17 countries certifying a wide range of fair trade products, such as chocolate, coffee, bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruit, and handmade crafts. Fair trade associations aim to build more equitable trading partnerships between North and South, in which fair trade certified products are produced under safe working conditions, with fair wages, gender equity and sustainable environmental practices. Supporting strategies to alleviate poverty among marginalized producers in the global South is a key goal of fair trade programs, which also emphasize transparency, capacity building, gender equity, safe working conditions, environmental protection and sustainable consumption patterns.
Fair trade meets an increased consumer demand within industrialized countries for an alternative economic system that is just to both workers and the environment. A report entitled "2003 Report on Fair Trade Trends" released by the Fair Trade Federation and IFAT indicates that the production of fair trade goods in North America and the Pacific Rim rose by 37% in 2003, with sales now totaling US$ 250.6 million.
Certified Fair Trade coffee demonstrated the greatest growth of any single fair trade product, with total sales increasing by 54% in 2002. This growth has been critical, as the price of coffee has fallen by 50% in the last four years, a catastrophic loss for small producers. Coffee, one of the world's most valuable commodities, now brings growers an average price of US$ 0.59 per pound, making it virtually impossible for coffee growing families to support themselves. Fairly traded coffee sells at a minimum of US$ 1.26 per pound, a price that provides coffee growers with a living wage.
An increased demand for fairly traded coffee and chocolate in the United States would have an enormous impact, as the United States consumes one-quarter of the world's coffee beans and is the largest importer of cocoa products. As a result of consumer pressure, Proctor and Gamble and Starbucks have introduced fair trade certified coffee, but so far only at symbolic levels. Fair trade coffee makes up less than 1% of Starbucks total coffee purchases.
Global Exchange, an international non-profit human rights organization, is waging a campaign to pressure U.S. retailers to increase their percentage of fair trade coffee and chocolate. As part of World Fair Trade Day, Global Exchange suggested a number of actions, including call-ins asking Mars/M&Ms and Starbucks to support fair trade. To learn more about these and other actions, visit www.globalexchange.org.
Source: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, May 7, 2004, www.panna.org; "2003 Report on Fair Trade Trends," www.fairtradefederation.org; Global Exchange, www.globalexchange.org; World Fair Trade Day, www.wftday.org; One Cup at a Time, Poverty Alleviation and Fair Trade Coffee in Latin America, Fair Trade Research Group, 2002, www.colostate.edu/Depts/Sociology/FairTradeResearchGroup/.
Globalization of Food and Agriculture Takes its Toll on California
A groundbreaking report from the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), entitled "Ripe for Change: Rethinking California’s Food Economy," reveals how economic globalization and free trade are the driving forces behind many crises facing California’s farmers, consumers and environment. California is a dominant player in the global food system, but the large-scale industrial agriculture and global trade, upon which the system is based, is proving to be the state’s downfall, according to the report. The study shows how shifting from current policies aimed at forging a single global food economy and toward rebuilding local food systems would address many problems simultaneously.
"Most people think that California produces ample food for itself and exports the surplus, but our research shows that despite being one of the world’s leading agricultural economies, California is actually a net importer of food, relying on outside sources for 40 percent of its total food needs," says ISEC Director Helena Norberg-Hodge. "The majority of Californians are losing out. When global markets are prioritized over local markets, economic benefits leak out of the local economy, our food supplies become less secure, hunger increases and the environment is degraded."
"Ripe for Change" shows that much of California’s food trade is redundant, involving the simultaneous import and export of the same food products, regardless of the season. For example, while California is a major strawberry producer and exporter, California’s ports receive $50 million worth of fresh strawberries a year, with the majority of imports occurring during California’s strawberry season.
"The state is exporting $6.5 billion worth of food each year, yet over 5 million Californians are food insecure," adds Katy Mamen, co-author of the report, "which means they must do without such basic needs as utilities and medical care in order to put food on the table. For at least 1.25 million of those, it also means going hungry, and ironically, this problem is worst in the leading food-producing counties."
California’s farmers, both large- and small-scale, are also positioned to take a hit as the agricultural economy is globalized. According to the report, as other nations adopt a free-trade agenda, California farmers are forced to compete with food producers in countries where regulations are weaker and labor costs are lower, ultimately threatening California’s position at the top of the global food chain. Ultimately, the increased competition resulting from "free trade" forces farmers around the world to compromise their bottom line, while a handful of multinational agribusinesses reap the benefits.
Consolidation in the food sector has resulted in near-monopolistic conditions. For example, the top three supermarket chains in California are responsible for 57 percent of all food sales, and many independent shops have been forced out of business. These trends will only get worse as global-scale corporations such as Wal-Mart plan major new expansions into the state.
These trends are not inevitable, claims the report, but rather the direct outcome of policies that favor economic globalization at the expense of strong local economies. Californians not only live with the consequences on their health, food- and economic-security and environment, they also foot the bill as their tax dollars provide the largest agribusinesses with significant subsidies and supports. Shifting that support toward local food economies instead, the study argues, would benefit farmers and consumers, urban and rural, the environment and the economy.
Transforming California’s food system will require political will and concrete action to rebuild local food systems. To that end, the report points to specific case studies of thriving local food models and includes action steps and policy recommendations, such as building closer links between farmers and consumers, and shifting subsidies and other supports toward local markets. "Ripe for Change" also serves as a resource tool, providing data and analysis to strengthen educational efforts and policy making around the shift toward local food economies.
"There is already a great deal of public support for fresh, healthy, local food in California, and a wide range of positive initiatives are underway," Mamen says. "If we make the shift toward local food a unifying priority, all Californians can look forward to healthy food and a secure future."
The International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) is a nonprofit organization promoting systemic solutions to today’s social and environmental crises. Its wide-ranging educational work seeks to reveal the root causes of those crises – from unemployment to climate change, from ethnic conflict to loss of biodiversity – while promoting grassroots and policy-level strategies for ecological and community renewal.
Source: Press Release, May 4, 2004, from Katy Mamen, Local Food Program Coordinator, ISEC; (510) 548-4915 firstname.lastname@example.org. To obtain a copy of "Ripe for Change: Rethinking California’s Food Economy," or a report summary, contact ISEC at (510) 548-4915 or email@example.com
Food Additives May Increase Hyperactivity
A new study from the United Kingdom reveals that artificial food colorings and benzoate preservatives in foods increase hyperactivity in children. The study of 277 preschoolers found that when these additives were removed from the children's diets, the rate of hyperactivity decreased substantially. According to Dr. John Warner, lead scientist in the study, "The effect is significant but its magnitude requires further elaboration before making any sweeping recommendations about legislation on permitted food additives."
Source: Organic Bytes #34- Food and Consumer News Tidbits with an Edge! June 11, 2004. For more information, see www.organicconsumers.org/school/hyper060404.cfm
Getting Schools to Sell Healthier Food
Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act, providing citizens with an opportunity to phase junk foods out of schools. The act governs the food that schools feed to children, and Senator Tom Harkin is introducing a new amendment to the act that would require schools to adopt wellness policies. These policies would phase out soda and junk food machines in schools and would ask the Institute of Medicine to recommend nutritional standards for foods sold to or eaten by children in school. For more information, see www.organicconsumers.org/sos.htm.
Source: Organic Bytes #34- Food and Consumer News Tidbits with an Edge! June 11, 2004.
New Warning about Chemicals
The Paris Declaration addresses the vast multitude of chemicals in the environment and notes several alarming health trends, including the increase in chronic diseases, the rise in the global incidence of cancers at all ages, the progressive increase since 1950 in non-smoking-related cancers in industrialized countries, the European annual increase of 0.8% in childhood cancers, and rising rates of sterility, with 15% of European couples now infertile.
Signed by 80 medical experts, including two winners of the Nobel Prize for medicine, Jean Dausset and Francois Jacob, the declaration was endorsed by cancer specialists, pediatricians, epidemiologists and toxicologists. Noting that the combination of chemicals in the environment made it "extremely difficult to establish, on a[n] epidemiological level" a definitive, causal link between individual chemicals and subsequent health problems, the Declaration calls for implementation of the Precautionary Principle to protect public health. "The EU 2001 REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) initiative details unprecedented, and overdue legislative proposals for the regulation of industrial chemicals, based on the Precautionary Principle; this initiative should be strengthened, rather than weakened following strong opposition by EU and U.S. chemical industries."
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, June 16, 2004, www.panna.org; International Declaration on diseases due to chemical pollution, in English, http://appel.artac.info/anglais.htm; Specialists issue alert on chemicals and health, ENDS Environment Daily, May 11, 2004, www.environmentdaily.com/articles/index.cfm?action=article&ref=16651.
Omega-3 Deficiency Can Affect Behavior
Because modern food is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, hundreds of thousands of British people may develop behavioral problems and depression, reports Robin McKie, science editor for ***The Observer*** (London; June 27, 2004). International researchers met in Britain in June to discuss farming methods and increased consumption of breakfast cereals and sunflower oils that have reduced omega-3s in diets. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to brain development, says McKie.
Sources of omega-3s include meat from animals that graze on grass, many fish, and vegetables in the cabbage family. Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, are more abundant in cereals and in products from grain-fed animals. Diets, once containing a balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, now contain predominantly omega-6s.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are in membranes that surround neurons in the brain. McKie quotes Prof. Tom Sanders from King’s College London: "Individuals that are omega-3 rich end up with neurons that run very fast -- like Pentium 3 microprocessors. Those that have too much omega-6 are slow and sluggish, like a 20-year-old silicon chip.'
Omega-3-rich cells also make more complex nerve connections, especially during the last three months of pregnancy and first six weeks after birth, and thus can increase intelligence. McKie notes that a study of 14,500 families in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children found an increased risk of depression in pregnant women with diets high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 fatty acids; and more problems with coordination and behavior and lower verbal IQs in their children. Other studies link low omega-3 intake during pregnancy with more aggression and behavior problems in children.
Dr. Christine Albert of Harvard University Medical School found the greatest risk of heart attack in people with less than 4% of the fatty acids in their red blood cells being omega-3s, while those with over 8% omega-3s were least likely to have a heart attack.
The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 appears to be between 1:1 and 4:1, reports McKie. Mediterranean diets rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, olive oil and garlic, and low in meat achieve the 4:1 ratio; Western diets that are high in cereals range from 11:1 to 40:1.
Maine Department of Ag Participates in Enhanced BSE Surveillance
The Maine Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health & Industry (AHI) is participating in USDA’s enhanced BSE surveillance. Following confirmation of BSE in a dairy cow in Washington State in December 2003, Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman announced that an international scientific review panel would review the USDA’s actions related to BSE. In February 2004, that panel recommended a one-year enhanced surveillance program targeting high-risk cattle, and randomly sampling cattle sent to slaughter. Accordingly, USDA intends to sample 268,000 cattle for BSE in the next 12 to 18 months.
USDA’s BSE surveillance historically focused on cattle populations considered at highest risk of the disease—those with symptoms of a central nervous disorder, nonambulatory cattle, those that die on farms of unknown causes and cattle with other signs associated with BSE, such as emaciated animals. Last year, USDA sampled 20,543 animals—a sample size designed to detect the disease if it occurred in one animal per one million adult cattle with a 95 percent confidence level. Sampling at that level is 47 times the international standard for countries with a low risk of the disease. The enhanced surveillance program will allow the detection of BSE at a rate of one positive in ten million animals with a 99 percent confidence level. In other words, if only five cattle in the United States had BSE, the enhances surveillance would have a 99 percent chance of detecting the disease.
Under the new program, states have a sampling goal proportional to their share of the national cattle population. Thus, Maine will sample 582, mostly high-risk animals over the next 12 to 18 months. The Maine Dept. of Agriculture will solicit the cooperation of large animal veterinarians, slaughterhouses, individuals who handle dead, dying and down animals, rendering facilities, livestock auctions, and dairy and beef producers. The USDA will reimburse individuals for storage, handling, disposal and transportation costs. In cooperation with the Maine Dept. of Agriculture, the USDA hired Alan Hunter, formerly of Quaker Hill Farms in Unity, as BSE coordinator. For more information, contact the Division of Animal Health & Industry, (207) 287-3701.
Source: ***Agriculture Today***, Maine Dept. of Ag., July 20, 2004, www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter/current_issue.htm.
Inspector General Cites Flaws in BSE Enhanced Surveillance Plan
The USDA Inspector General, Phyllis K. Fong, recently testified before the House Committee on Agriculture & Government Reform citing flaws in USDA’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) surveillance plan. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), Great Plains Region, conducted an audit to determine whether the surveillance program in place when the first case of BSE was detected in 2003 was adequately implemented and whether the expanded program will be able identify BSE in U.S. cattle. The draft report is available at www.house.gov/reform/min/pdfs_108_2/pdfs_inves/pdf_food_usda_mad_cow_july_13_ig_rep.pdf.
The report indicates that USDA's enhanced surveillance plan may give "questionable estimates," because participation is voluntary rather than random. The report criticizes USDA for failing to test cattle demonstrating central nervous system disorders — a leading indicator of BSE--and cites ambiguity in defining "high-risk" cattle.
The USDA has established a priority for sampling "high-risk" cattle, but studies indicate that cattle not demonstrating clinical signs of the disease may be infected with BSE. USDA’s enhanced surveillance plan intends to sample approximately 20,000 clinically normal cattle—but the OIG reports that this number is too small. In addition, confusion exists about testing requirements, and coordination between USDA APHIS and the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) is lacking, so some cattle with symptoms of a central nervous system (CSN) disorders were not tested. Of 680 symptomatic cattle condemned by FSIS, only 162 were documented as having been tested for BSE. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman said that some of these problems have been addressed since the report was drafted.
American Meat Institute Foundation President James H. Hodges said in written testimony that the meat industry fully supports USDA's dramatically expanded surveillance program. "Testing cannot guarantee that BSE is not present in the animal, nor can testing protect public health," he noted. "Removal of specified risk materials (SRM) protects public health." Since January of 2004, SRMs have been banned from the human food supply. Hodges expressed caution about treating BSE testing as a food safety silver bullet, however, since current test methods can detect the disease only at a maximum of six months prior to its clinical onset.
Source: ***Agriculture Today***, Maine Dept. of Ag., July 20, 2004, http://www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter/current_issue.htm
Executive Director Helps Avena Institute Grow into a New Era
Stephanie Rae spent most of her career as a dancer, first in Boston, then New York, but she always used themes based on healing in her coreography. Now (and for the past year), the Reiki Master is coreographing Avena Institute in West Rockport, Maine, where she is executive director. The Institute in a nonprofit offshoot of Avena Botanicals, founded by herbalist Deb Soule.
"I developed an interest in healing and in administration of nonprofits," says Rae, "and I was wishing I could run a center for healing. I had been in Maine for about a year, working in Bates College’s Planned Giving Department, when I saw the ad for Avena Institute."
Not only does Rae direct Avena, but she benefits from its classes herself. She has taken the Women’s Medicinal Herb Foundation course, for example, which increased her knowledge of the earth, brought comradery with people in the community, and furthered her respect for self, earth and others--"and taught me the value of Avena being an institute."
The Institute’s stage of growth is exciting for Rae. It now offers over 80 classes and has a network of more than 50 teachers. The annual Fairy Tea Party sees more than 200 visitors.
A three-year Community Herbalist Program, one of Soule’s long-time dreams, has started. This program combines Western herbalism, Ayerveda and traditional Chinese medicine, and trains people who have a strong interest in helping their communities. It stresses good communication and coordination with allopathic practitioners. When the program reaches its third year, the Institute hopes to open a free clinic. "It’s important to reach out to many segments of the community," says Rae, including "low-income, uninsured; medical professionals who are experiencing burnout." The Institute hopes to offer nurturing and sustenance to the latter.
As Avena Institute surpasses its "very interesting," middle stage of growth, Rae says that it is looking for lots of help. It can use board members who like to support such organizations, for example.
For more information, contact Avena Institute at 219 Mill St., Rockport, ME 04856; PO Box 333, W. Rockport, ME 04865; 207-594-2403; www.avenainstitute.org; firstname.lastname@example.org. Office hours are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Maine Grass Farmers Network Forms
In response to the increased interest by many livestock farmers in effectively utilizing pasture for raising and finishing livestock, the Maine Grass Farmers Network (MGFN) is being created to gather and provide information and support to interested farmers. Pasture resources in Maine are underutilized significantly now.
Many livestock farmers in Maine are learning about the potential advantages of growing grass as carefully managed pasture for their livestock. Growing grass in Maine takes advantage of our short growing season and cool climate. Keeping land in pasture reduces soil erosion caused by water runoff and reduces fresh water contamination from nutrient runoff that results from row cropping. Grass farming and pasture raised livestock utilize pasture land effectively, while improving animal health, product quality and market advantage. Pasture raised milk, meat, poultry and eggs have higher nutritional content, higher market prices and are good for the environment. Grass farming can increase profitability, help keep farms viable and maintain the rural character of our communities.
With the support of a grant from SARE, the Northeast Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, the MGFN coordinators have scheduled pasture walks this summer and fall and plan to arrange several workshops, produce information to help farmers, and create a core group of trained professionals in Cooperative Extension, MOFGA, Maine Department of Agriculture, NRCS, and farmer-consultants, who will provide technical information and support to a network of grass-based farmers in Maine. A database of livestock farmers and an email network of interested farmers are being developed.
Fact sheets for professionals and farmers will be created on topics including forage identification, fencing methods, watering systems, pasture management (reclamation, set-up, evaluation), predator control and genetics.
An initial study group/pasture walk pilot project is being implemented in the Waldo County area in coordination with Unity Barn Raisers (UBR). The UBR aims to "serve more local needs locally" and has been the leading force behind the following projects: a community-led farmers' market, a community meals program organized around local meats and produce, and a farmland protection initiative working to permanently protect 1000 acres of prime farmland in the region. From this initial work, the project will gradually branch out to cover the state in the next two years.
For more information, contact Diane Schivera, project coordinator, at MOFGA at 568-4142; Rick Kersbergen of Cooperative Extension at 1-800-287-1426; or Paula Roberts of Meadowsweet Farm at 338-1265 or by email at email@example.com.
Unity Area the Focus of New Agricultural Initiatives
Farming is an important part of the economy and culture of Unity and surrounding towns. Many people are working hard to keep it that way.
Unity Barn Raisers--a local, nonprofit group with 350 members--coordinates several innovative projects, from experimenting with new grain crops, to connecting local farms with new markets, to preserving farmland, to making biodiesel. In these efforts, the Barn Raisers partner with MOFGA, Cooperative Extension, Maine Farmland Trust and other organizations.
The Barn Raisers' efforts to support local farmers began modestly in 1997, with the creation of a weekly farmers' market. Conventional wisdom said that the Unity area was too small and too poor for a farmers' market, so the Barn Raisers created a broader event, "Unity Market Day," coupling its farmers' market with tag sales, children's activities, chicken barbecues and other community events. The formula has worked. Market Day is an active, vital part of the local community and the "place to be" on any Saturday morning from early May through late November.
One spin-off of Market Day is a Community Meals program that showcases local meats and produce. Held on the first Saturday of every month, these meals attract about 120 local residents. By exposing more people to great products from neighboring farms, the meals have begun to change local buying habits.
Emboldened by these successes, Unity Barn Raisers began to think bigger. One major effort now is to preserve local farmland.
"The Unity area is a critical agricultural zone for Maine, and great effort should be mustered to help it remain so," says Rick Kersbergen, Cooperative Extension Educator for Waldo County and chair of the Barn Raisers' Farmland Protection Committee. The Barn Raisers have partnered with Maine Farmland Trust to develop a concerted strategy for the region. Already, over 500 acres of working farmland have been protected permanently.
A recent $670,000 allocation from the Land for Maine's Future program is expected to protect another 1,000 to 1,200 acres, once matched by federal and local funds. This special effort targets farmland abutting the 40,000-acre "Unity Wetland Complex." The Maine Department of Agriculture, which is leading this project with local input, sees a special opportunity to preserve valuable farmland in a way that also helps protect one of the largest undeveloped wetlands in the state.
Unity Barn Raisers have also been helping local farmers transition local fields into organic soybeans for livestock feed and oil, and is experimenting with making biodiesel from the resulting oil. Other Barn Raiser projects involve exploring raising more grass-fed beef locally and promoting the region’s agricultural strength and products.
In all this work, MOFGA has been a critical resource and partner, and MOFGA's executive director, Russell Libby, serves on the Steering Committee.
To learn more about the exciting agricultural initiatives occurring in the Unity area, contact Unity Barn Raisers at 207/948-9005 or visit www.unitybarnraisers.org.
WagN Directory Available
A directory of the Maine Women's Agricultural Network (WAgN) is available to the public. The directory includes names and contact information for over 70 members who operate farms and other organizations related to agriculture in Maine. WAgN provides mentoring and collaboration opportunities for women--and other underserved individuals--who run or are developing agricultural businesses. Its statewide membership includes people working on farms and in greenhouses, associations and government agencies. Support for the WAgN comes from University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Time and Tide Resource & Development Area. Grants from the Maine Agricultural Center and The Harvest Fund of Maine Initiatives funded the development of the directory. Copies of the directory are available from WAgN, 24 Main Street, Lisbon Falls, ME 04252-1505. The cost is $10 for the directory, postage and handling. Please make checks payable to WAgN/T&T RC&D.
Source: ***Agriculture Today,*** June 30, 2004, Maine Department of Agriculture, http://www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter/feature_9.htm.
Organic Poultry Processor in Auburn
Rocky Ridge Organic Meats has a state license to operate a poultry processing facility in Auburn. The facility meets the needs of Maine’s organic and conventional poultry producers.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Food & Rural Resources licensed the facility, and MOFGA certified it for organic production. Birds slaughtered at the state-inspected facility meet the highest standards and may be sold anywhere in the state.
Kate Dabney, the company’s principal owner, has worked closely with staff from the Meat & Poultry Inspection Program for the past year to develop a business plan, learn Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP)--a complex new system of pathogen reduction in food processing--and complete the licensing procedures.
The plant’s first customer was Representative Nancy Smith of Monmouth, a farmer and a member of Maine’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry.
About a year ago, the Maine Department of Agriculture restarted a program that was discontinued more than 20 years ago--the Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection Program--to improve producer access to approved, licensed and inspected processing facilities. State and federal food safety laws require, with some fairly narrow exceptions, that meat and poultry products sold to consumers are slaughtered under the supervision of state or federal inspectors and that the facilities where livestock and poultry are processed are approved and licensed. When the original program was discontinued, only a small number of federally inspected facilities served Maine producers, constraining both the expansion of livestock industries and the profitability of farms. More recently, the Maine Department of Agriculture has provided grants and technical assistance to processors to help them improve and upgrade their facilities.
In addition to the Auburn facility, Dabney runs an organic poultry farm in Litchfield. The business plan for Rocky Ridge Organic Meats includes processing poultry for both organic and conventional producers, with little, if any, disruption to the process.
Rocky Ridge will eventually be able to process 500 birds a day with a crew of five workers. At that level of production, the processing crew will be able to meet the needs of poultry farmers and to provide a product that is safe for the consumer.
Source: ***Agriculture Today,*** June 30, 2004, Maine Department of Agriculture, http://www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter/feature_9.htm.
OTA praises USDA Secretary for Helping Save Organic Standards
The Organic Trade Association praised U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in May for rescinding Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) moves that had undermined the whole process of developing and establishing national organic standards.
"By rescinding recent National Organic Program (NOP) 'clarifications' and directing the agency to work with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and the organic industry, Secretary Veneman has taken a gigantic step toward reestablishing the public-private trust that went into developing U.S. national organic standards in the first place," said Katherine DiMatteo, OTA's executive director.
Veneman directed AMS to rescind its statement of clarification and to work with NOSB and the organic industry to reach the best solutions to issues that have been raised in implementing national organic standards. Claiming the agency "had acted in good faith," Veneman, however, said that she was taking this action because of the outcry by the organic community, particularly in the press, that the process for formulating organic standards had broken down. In support of the organic industry, Senator Patrick Leahy rallied members of Congress to express their concern as well.
The OTA and others within the industry, including NOSB members, had decried that recent action taken by NOP had, in effect, been major rule changes, setting dangerous precedent, and had shown disregard for the needs of organic farmers, processors and, ultimately, consumers, who would be most affected by the agency's arbitrary changes in the nation's organic regulations. "Allowing NOP to create and implement new directives 'at will' without open dialogue with stakeholders was creating confusion for businesses and consumers alike," said DiMatteo. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the business association representing the organic agriculture industry in North America.
Source: OTA Press Release, May 24, 2004. OTA, 60 Wells Street, P.O. Box 547, Greenfield, MA 01302. (413) 774-7511; Fax: (413) 774-6432; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ota.com. Legislative Office: 205 South Whiting Street, Suite 308, Alexandria, VA 22304. (202) 338-2900.
Shareholders and Public Interest Groups Knock Pesticide Companies
The spring Annual General Meeting (AGM) season saw agricultural chemical corporations facing tough criticism from shareholders and public interest organizations over potential liability for environmental and other impacts of pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops. Shareholders rejected industry claims that consumers in industrialized nations want GE crops and that these crops are needed to "feed a hungry developing South." The AGMs served as platforms to raise questions about the environmental and human health impacts of agricultural biotechnology, and to address evidence indicating that GE crop commercialization is cutting into corporate profits.
During the Syngenta AGM, shareholders and activist groups such as Greenpeace Switzerland and Swissaid presented letters from farmer organizations, peasant groups, activists and scientists strongly opposing commercialization of GE crops. They also held a vigil outside the office of the Secretary of State for International Development in the United Kingdom (UK). The actions were in solidarity with the People's Caravan for Food Sovereignty, a coalition of Asian farmers and peasant movements asserting their right to food, land and productive resources. Asian farmers point to the Switzerland-based company's efforts to use patented GE seeds to control Asian staple crops, such as rice.
Groups throughout the global South reject Syngenta's claim that GE crops are needed to feed the hungry, seeing the claim "more [as] a public relations strategy rather than really addressing the needs of poor people," according to People's Caravan. The coalition points out that hunger and malnutrition in Asia are not caused by a lack of agricultural technology, but by a widespread lack of access to land and productive resources, and can be solved only by addressing the underlying political and economic causes of poverty, not by naively relying on a "technological silver bullet."
The People's Caravan also strongly opposes the continued production of Syngenta's popular herbicide paraquat, sold as Gramoxone. A People's Caravan press release charges, "Syngenta is poisoning the environment and the Asian people with its highly hazardous pesticides, such as paraquat." Paraquat, among the world's most highly toxic herbicides, causes severe health problems for agricultural workers in many developing countries.
At Dow Chemical's annual shareholders meeting, concerned investors introduced a resolution asking Dow to report new initiatives to help those affected in the 1984 pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, and to spell out any risks the disaster may pose to Dow's finances or reputation. The Dow annual meeting followed the April release of a report by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors saying that Dow is underreporting to the SEC and to its shareholders the full impact of expenses related to asbestos liability, Agent Orange and a variety of environmental contamination issues. Innovest labeled Dow's stock a risky investment.
The German-based agricultural chemical company Bayer AG also experienced opposition at its AGM in Cologne. Seven anti-GE activists from the United Kingdom and Holland got past security and created several nonviolent disturbances, including chanting anti-GE slogans, before being apprehended by authorities. Representatives from Friends of the Earth Europe and the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers appealed to Bayer's executive board and an estimated 7,000 shareholders, on economic grounds, noting Bayer's failure to commercialize GE maize in the UK, which led to a 1.9% drop in the company's share value. The organizations pointed out that a similar rejection of Bayer's GE oilseed rape by Belgian authorities limited the market for Bayer products.
Also in May, Monsanto announced it would abandon efforts to commercially release GE wheat, due to opposition from GE-activists and concerns from North American farmers over losing export markets. News of Monsanto's abandonment led to a $1.01 decline in the price of Monsanto stock, further exacerbating Monsanto's troubled economic situation. In 2003, Monsanto posted losses of $97 million.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, June 7, 2004. Press Release, April 27, 2004, PAN Asia and Pacific, www.panap.net; Press Release, Gaia Foundation, April 27, 2004, www.peoplesearthdecade.org/articles/article.php?id=293; PANNA, www.panna.org/resources/panups/panup_20040520dv.html; "Bayer Urged to Quit Genetically Engineered Crops," Friends of the Earth Europe, April 30, 2004, www.cbgnetwork.org/home/home.html; "Activists storm stage at Bayer's AGM to protest over the company's GM crop interests," Indy Media, www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2002/04/29183.html; "Monsanto shelves plans for modified wheat," ***New York Times,*** www.thecampaign.org/News/may04g.php#shelves.
California Sets Limits for Perchlorate Levels in Water
California regulators have a "public health goal" to regulate the concentration of perchlorate -- a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel that damages thyroid glands -- in the water supply--the first state attempt to define such standards. The recommended 6 parts per billion is higher than the 1 ppb that the EPA has adopted provisionally and that environmental groups favor, but lower than the 200 ppb for which the Pentagon is lobbying. The California Department of Health Services will develop an official regulatory standard that considers the regulators’ recommendation, a comprehensive study being done by the National Academy of Sciences, and the costs of cleaning widely polluted water supplies, such as the lower Colorado River.
Sources: www.gristmagazine.com, 3/19/04; www.organicconsumers.org/foodsafety/water032204.cfm; ***Los Angeles Times,* Kenneth R. Weiss, March 12, 2004; ***The Boston Globe,*** Bobby Caina Calvan, March 18, 2004.
Birth Weights Higher After Pesticide Ban
A study in New York City reports a significant increase in infant birth weights after two commonly used insecticides were banned for home use. Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide manufactured by Dow Chemical, and diazinon, produced by Syngenta, were widely used against cockroaches and other household pests until most of these uses were banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2001 and 2002.
The current study, published in the April issue of ***Environmental Health Perspectives,*** looked at 314 mother-infant pairs and is part of an ongoing project by Colombia University evaluating the effects of indoor air pollutants on minority mothers and their newborns in New York City. Study authors had reported earlier that pesticide residues were detected in virtually all low-income pregnant mothers studied, noting a strong correlation between dilapidated housing and pesticide exposures. In a previous study, the project also reported associations between concentrations of chlorpyrifos in umbilical cord plasma and low birth weight.
This study compared infants born before and after the insecticides were banned for household use and showed that, on average, babies born before the ban weighed 6.6 ounces less than infants born after the ban -- a difference comparable to the effects of smoking on infant birth weight.
Robin M. Whyatt of Colombia Mailman School of Public Health, principal author of the study, remarked, "We were surprised to see such a significant association between exposure to the pesticides and birth weight. There is no question that this is an instance where regulation worked, the EPA imposed a ban, and there was an immediate benefit."
All retail sales and indoor use of chlorpyrifos and diazinon ended in December 2001 and December 2002, respectively. The U.S. EPA estimates that prior to the ban, approximately 75% of diazinon and 50% of chlorpyrifos was used in the United States for residential pest control. The ban did not affect use of the insecticides on food crops, however. An estimated 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos continue to be used in agricultural settings, putting farmworkers, their families and surrounding communities at the greatest risk of continued exposure. Consumers also risk exposure from residues in food and water.
The Columbia study combined interviews about pesticide exposure and use, data from personal air monitors worn during pregnancy, and analyses of umbilical cord plasma and infant blood. Concentrations of the banned insecticides were substantially lower among infants born after January 2001, after the chlorpyrifos ban was in place, while habits of using other pesticides did not appear to change over the same period.
The study found combined exposures to diazinon and chlorpyrifos were common among the mothers in the study before the ban, with both insecticides detected simultaneously in 100% of the maternal personal air samples and in over a third of cord blood samples. The study also reported a significant correlation between the two insecticides in personal air and cord blood. Exposure to the highest 25% concentration of the two pesticides combined was most closely linked with lower infant birth weights.
These findings show that infants benefit immediately when chlorpyrifos and diazinon uses are curtailed and that pesticide exposures that U.S. EPA once called "acceptable risks" are, in fact, linked with unacceptable damage. The U.S. EPA must strengthen its assessment of health risks of pesticide exposure during pregnancy and must ban agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos immediately to protect agricultural workers, their children and consumers.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, April 16, 2004, www.panna.org; "Prenatal Insecticide Exposures, Birth Weight and Length Among an Urban Minority Cohort," ***Environmental Health Perspectives,*** April, 2004, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2004/6641/abstract.html; "Birth Weights Up After EPA Pesticide Ban, Study Finds," ***Washington Post,*** March 25, 2004.
Pesticides Affect Child Development in India
A large-scale study found that children living in regions of intensive pesticide use may suffer impaired mental development. Released in April 2004 by Greenpeace India, the study tested 899 children in Indian states where pesticides are used intensively to grow cotton, and compared the results with a nearly equal number of children living where few agricultural pesticides are applied. Researchers evaluated children ages 4 to 5 years and 9 to 13 years, and attempted to match income and social status among the two subject groups. In more than two-thirds of the tests, children living where pesticides are widely used performed significantly worse.
"Children from regions as diverse as Tamil Nadu and Punjab, who have nothing in common but their exposure to pesticides, [appear to] share an inability to perform simple play-based exercises -- such as catching a ball or assembling a jigsaw puzzle -- simply because they've been exposed to pesticides over a period of time," says Kavitha Kuruganti of Greenpeace India.
The researchers noted a significant difference in abilities between the exposed and less-exposed children, with trends remaining more or less consistent for different locations and age groups. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, the second highest pesticide using state, less-exposed children performed a physical stamina test significantly longer (14.80 seconds longer on average for 4- to 5-year-old children and 64.50 seconds longer for 9- to 13-year-olds). In Tamil Nadu, where cotton production and intensive pesticide use has been common for only five years, exposed children aged 4 to 5 years scored nearly 30 percentage points lower on a 30-minute memory test, while children aged 9 to13 scored 21 points lower than non-exposed children.
The findings reinforce an earlier study performed in the Yaqui Valley, a tobacco growing region of Mexico, which noted dramatic deficits in brain function in rural children with long-term exposure to pesticides. The Greenpeace India study used an assessment tool developed for the Yaqui Valley study, adapted to conditions in India. The assessment involved tests designed for the child to interpret as normal play, involving mental ability, memory, concentration, cognitive skills such as drawing, and balance, fine motor and gross motor coordination.
Researchers point out that the study captured the "more insidious effects of pesticides," reflected in long-term and chronic effects on children's development. The study concluded, "This is a great cause for concern and alarm since the very basic right to healthy development is being taken away from these children."
In India, cotton occupies less than 5% of cultivated land but represents an estimated 54% of agricultural pesticide use. Organophosphate pesticides, which affect the central nervous system, are the most commonly used class of pesticides in India. Pesticides such as methyl-parathion and monocrotophos, classified by the World Health Organization as "highly to extremely hazardous to human health," are also produced and used in India. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, these highly toxic pesticides are not safe for use in developing countries where access to water, chemical safety training and protective equipment may not be available.
Study authors note that routes of exposure to pesticides for the children in the study areas are both direct and indirect, given the extensive cotton cultivation. Exposures may occur before conception through the impact of pesticides on sperm, in utero, via breast milk, and through residues in food, water, soil and air. In many of the study villages, dry cotton stalks are burned for cooking fuel, releasing pesticide residues in smoke.
The study also looked at pesticide alternatives available in India for cotton production, including a new system of crop and pesticide management, Non Pesticidal Management (NPM), as well as organic cotton production and integrated pest management (IPM), but noted a lack of government resources for nonchemical agricultural production. Greenpeace India recommended that the government increase support for organic farming (especially for cotton); ban pesticides that are restricted in other countries; regulate pesticides more strongly and hold the pesticide industry responsible for damage caused by its products. Greenpeace also called on the pesticide industry to compensate the affected children.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, June 22, 2004, www.panna.org; "Arrested Development," Greenpeace, India, Kuruganti, K.; "Children at Risk, Pesticides exposure hinders mental development amongst farmers' children; Greenpeace releases evidence from nation-wide study," www.greenpeaceindia.org/recentnewsdetails.php?Newstype=subnews&rnid=211; "An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico," Guillette, E., et al., ***Environmental Health Perspectives,*** Vol. 106, No. 6, June 1998; "Pesticide Exposure May Impair Children's Brain Function," PANUPS, June 6, 1998, www.panna.org/resources/pestis/PESTIS980608.1.html.
Courts Take Aim at Dow for BhopalTwo recent court decisions have raised the hopes of Bhopal survivors and may impose liability on Union Carbide and its owner, Dow Chemical, for continuing environmental contamination at Bhopal. Both companies have stressed since their merger in 2001 that no liabilities remain from the world's worst industrial disaster, but courts in the United States and India have indicated that they may rule otherwise.
In 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas into neighboring communities, killing an estimated 8,000 people and injuring more than half a million, according to the Indian Council for Medical Research. Thousands have died from gas-related causes since the accident.
On the night of the explosion, the plant's safety systems were inadequate, malfunctioning or shut down. In 1989, Union Carbide, the plant's operator, agreed to an out of court settlement of $470 million, which amounted to less than $500 for most survivors. The funds turned out to be far short for covering medical costs of illnesses that are now appearing in successive generations. Also, the factory site has never been cleaned up; the 5,000 tons of toxic wastes abandoned there by Union Carbide contaminate the drinking water of tens of thousands and have been found in the breast milk of resident nursing mothers.
In 1999, survivors' organizations filed a lawsuit in U.S. courts to force Union Carbide to clean the site, but not until March 2004 did the U.S. Court of Appeals rule that a lower court could hold Union Carbide liable for cleanup. However, the Court ruling required the Indian government to send a letter to the U.S. court stating it had "no objection" to a ruling for cleanup. The deadline set by the court for receipt of this letter was June 30, 2004.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) (which includes PANNA) the Association for India's Development (AID), and Greenpeace launched a lobbying effort that deluged the Indian government with thousands of faxes, phone calls, emails and petitions, and more than 300 people around the world joined a hunger strike led by Bhopal survivors in New Delhi. On June 23, the Indian government finally bowed to pressure and the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers announced a "no objection" would be sent to the U.S. court.
Also in June in a second court case, the Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate ordered the Indian branch of Dow Chemical to appear in court to show why it shouldn't be held responsible for producing Union Carbide, which is facing criminal charges of manslaughter and is wanted by the court. The Magistrate also ordered the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation to report by July 19 on its efforts to extradite Carbide's former CEO Warren Anderson on similar charges.
"This is the first step in putting Dow in the dock [on trial] for sheltering Union Carbide from criminal liabilities," said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. "The direction taken by the court is indicative of its intent to resolve the long-pending criminal charges by forcing Union Carbide to face trial."
When Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide in 2001, merger documents filed with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission never disclosed that criminal charges were pending against Union Carbide in India. At the May 2004 Annual General Meeting, Dow CEO William Stavropoulos told stockholders, "There was a 1989 settlement that resolved all civil, criminal charges ... so, from our viewpoint, all responsibility from the tragedy that occurred, and it was a horrific tragedy -- unbelievably horrific tragedy -- has been resolved." In June 2003, 18 U.S. congressional representatives wrote to Stavropoulos calling Dow and Carbide's continued avoidance of the pending criminal liabilities in Bhopal a "blatant disregard for the law."
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, July 2, 2004, www.panna.org; ***Detroit Free Press,*** June 23, 2004; ***Midland Daily News,*** June 17, 2004; PANUPS, May 21, 2004, PANNA Corporate Profile: Dow Chemical Company, www.panna.org/campaigns/caia/corpProfilesDow.dv.html.
Contact: International Campaign for Justice at Bhopal, email: email@example.com, phone: (011) 91 442 446-2401.
Cut Pollution Using Maine Green PowerA calculator on the Web site of the Maine Green Power Connection (www.mainegreenpower.org/calculator/index.shtml) shows how much pollution (carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, etc.) you can reduce by using Green Power instead of the standard offer. The comparison is dramatic!
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