Archives for category: Agriculture

From Earth Justice:

Each year, nearly one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed into fields and orchards around the country. As the families who live nearby can tell you, those pesticides don’t always stay in the fields and orchards.

Dr. Robert Lustig (Sugar: The Bitter Truth) speaks at Yale’s Peabody Museum on the policy and politics of the “Sugar Pandemic.” Hosted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

From TEDxTC:

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.

Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

From Harvard Gazette:

Life evolved in a toxic world long before humans began polluting it, according to a University of Massachusettsenvironmental toxicologist, who added that understanding life’s evolutionary response to environmental poisons can help people to fight destructive effects.

Emily Monosson, an adjunct professor in the UMass Department of Environmental Conservation and author of the book “Evolution in a Toxic World,” said that an understanding of both how rapidly and how slowly life can evolve to fight toxic pollutants is largely missing from toxicology, which is the science of understanding the effects of poisons on life, particularly human life.

Monosson, who spoke Thursday at Harvard’s Haller Hall in an event sponsored by the Harvard Museum of Natural History, said lessons from our evolutionary past that might help us avoid trouble have been ignored by toxicologists and industry alike.

Monosson said she wrote the book in an effort to get toxicologists to think differently about their field, which she said still uses tools that are 40 years old and badly need updating.

“The basic point of doing this book is to get toxicologists to look differently at our field,” Monosson said. “Toxicology needs to change.”

Examples abound on the ramifications of rapid evolution, she said. Bacteria reproduce so fast that they quickly evolve resistance to drugs used to treat disease, resulting in frightening new ailments such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Similarly, insects can rapidly evolve resistance to pesticides, and weeds can evolve resistance to herbicides.

“Roundup Ready” soybeans offer an example where a better understanding of the rapidity of evolution might have helped, Monosson said. The soybean was genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which could then be sprayed on soybean fields, where it would kill weeds but not the soybeans. Officials believed that the weeds would not become resistant to Roundup. But after blanket applications, it appears that some resistance is evolving.

Slow evolutionary change also holds lessons for toxicologists and industry, Monosson said. Estrogen receptors help to control the body’s use of the critical reproductive hormone. Some industrial chemicals bond with the receptor, widely disrupting reproduction of an array of creatures.

Estrogen receptors are highly conserved, meaning they are widespread among many kinds of creatures and have changed extremely slowly over time, an indication of their evolutionary importance. An understanding of that importance would have helped officials predict that chemicals interfering with them would have widespread and deleterious environmental effects, Monosson said.

“There’s a lot of problems we could have avoided if we understood the power of evolution in the presence of toxic chemicals,” Monosson said.

It is unknown how humans today will respond to the many chemicals, usually at low levels, that our bodies are carrying. Some of these chemicals may be harmless alone but could have interactions with other chemicals in our bodies, Monosson said.

“Those chemicals in us today weren’t in our grandparents,” Monosson said. “If we take an evolutionary approach to understand how systems evolved to detoxify chemicals, maybe we can learn how to do it [ourselves].”

A toxic Earth is nothing new to life, Monosson said. When life began 3.8 billion years ago, there were poisons all around. Besides the presence of metals and other toxins in the environment, early microbes were bombarded from above. The early Earth had little oxygen in the atmosphere and no protective ozone layer to shield the microbes from ultraviolet (UV) rays.

In response, early life evolved an enzyme, photolyase, to repair the UV damage to DNA. That enzyme, though lost in most mammals, remains widespread in other types of creatures.

Another early example involved oxygen, which is very reactive and on the early Earth acted like a poison. Life has since evolved to handle and depend on oxygen. One strategy evolved to break down hydrogen peroxide, a highly toxic chemical that forms naturally in the presence of oxygen, water, and UV rays. Early life developed an enzyme called catalase to detoxify hydrogen peroxide, accelerating the natural breakdown process from weeks to a fraction of a second.

In the future, climate change promises to alter the range of many creatures, putting them in new environments to which they’ll have to adapt. The ozone hole is exposing creatures to higher levels of UV radiation than they’re adapted to handle. And human-generated pollutants continue to be released into the environment, presenting an environmental challenge for a wide array of creatures.

Some, like Hudson River fish that have evolved to thrive despite the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), will evolve their own solutions, but others may need human intervention to handle an environment whose toxicity is changing much more rapidly than in the past.

“The problem today is that in a blink of time, we changed the Earth,” Monosson said. “We’ve added a lot of new synthetic chemicals and redistributed a lot of natural chemicals.”

Read entire article here.

Image by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer.

From EurActiv:

Shanna H. Swan, a renowned scientist specialising in reproductive medicine, has warned about the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) known as phthalates which can end up in food via pesticides or plastics. In an interview with EurActiv, she calls on regulators to better protect consumers against those “hidden chemicals”.

Shanna H. Swan, PhD is Professor and Vice-Chair for Research and Mentoring Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr Swan is known for her work on the impact of environmental exposures on male and female reproductive health and has served on the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Hormone-Related Toxicants. She was speaking to EurActiv’s editor, Frédéric Simon.

You are a well-known scientist in the field of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), which you have been researching for many years. What were your main findings?

The major findings I have are that certain EDCs – and I’ve looked specifically at pesticides, phthalates and Bisphenol A – are significantly related to human development, more strongly when exposure is foetal but also some adult exposures.

Has exposure tended to increase over time?

There are some studies of old stored samples. That’s the only way we can know about a person’s exposure. So to put this in context, unlike studies of smoking or pharmaceuticals where you can ask the person what their exposure was, you cannot learn anything – or very little – about a person’s exposure from EDCs by asking them what they do.

These are chemicals that are hidden – I call them stealth chemicals – and for this reason the only way we can know what the exposure was is to measure it in biological samples, either in urine or blood. Urine is usually easier and for various technical reasons preferable for the non-persistent chemicals.

When older samples are available and have been looked at, they have shown that levels were lower in the past. I can’t unfortunately be more specific but I could point you to some references.

So these go as far back as the 1960s?

There was one study in 1958 called the Collaborative Perinatal Project which had stored urine. There was a Kaiser California study in the early 60s which had stored samples. So these are very rare studies, they are the only ones.

In the most recent years some of the phthalates, for example DEHP, has decreased with the substitution. So we can pick up certain trends in use in these national samples of urinary metabolites.

Do we know precisely what the sources of exposure are?

For that, you have to go chemical by chemical. So if we restrict ourselves to phthalates, you still have to narrow that further because phthalates have different uses. Some phthalates are added to tubing to make it soft, particularly DEHP.

This is in the tubing in hospitals, in the tubing for milking cows, whenever you want a soft, flexible, plastic, you will take DEHP. Whatever is passing through that, particularly if it’s warm, it will absorb that. In this way we get exposure through material that has passed through this.

And also from milk?

It is measurable in milk, yes. So for DEHP, our dominant route of exposure is through food and there’s some in water. But you also get DEHP if you are in a medical department and hooked up to a tube.

Phthalates have been banned in some uses already such as toys, etc. So can we consider the problem solved?

Let me just go back for a second. Phthalate is a chemical class and so it’s important because you ask me if there are many exposures.

If we put cosmetics on our skin, our face – men, women, children, babies – we immediately get another phthalate in our body, which is DEP. And this is very clear. If we put hair spray or put a nail polish, then we inhale that phthalate which is primarily DBP.

So it’s a complicated story because we have many sources and many routes of exposure and also differing toxicity. Now, as for whether the problem is solved – not at all. We’ve only begun to solve the problem.

But there have been bans on some of the uses of phthalates which were of most concern, such as baby bottles…

No, this was Bisphenol A, it’s another chemical class. Think of it this way. Phthalates makes plastic soft, BPA makes plastic hard. So if you have one of these sports water bottles, those were made with BPA. Hard baby bottles, that’s BPA. Lining of tin cans, that’s also BPA. But Phthalates are on the soft side of the equation although they are both plasticisers.

Ok, so why do I say the problem is not solved? The primary elimination of phthalates has been from children’s toys. Certainly this is important but it does not protect the most sensitive organism, and that is the developing foetus.

So a toy is something you play with after birth, the pregnant mother is getting an exposure which is for the foetus much more potent than what the child will get with a toy.

By eliminating these phthalates from children’s toys – I think it is important, excellent, I certainly support it – but I would not do that at the expense of eliminating phthalates in products to which pregnant women are exposed. Because that is the most critical target for phthalates.

There has been a lot of controversy for many years over the health risks of low-dose exposure to chemicals such as phthalates. Looking at the science, is there any evidence to support this?

Let me say three things.

First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that tiny, tiny doses of hormones can permanently alter the development of the foetus – at the right time. You cannot look at the dose alone, you must look at the dose in a particular time window, because otherwise you don’t have the toxicity captured because that’s really a product of two things: Not just the dose but the timing as well.

The next thing is a story that isn’t obviously about chemicals but just to point out that we know from some human and many animal studies that when a rodent is in utero  (in the mother’s womb), each one of those is hooked up in the uterine horn and they will be located between two other pups.

So if you look at a male between two males, and a male between two females, you can measure how much testosterone is in those two males. And the difference is significant and measurable and very, very small. It’s about a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool. That’s how small it is. It’s an extremely low dose, one part per trillion.

And what is the consequence of exposure to this?

The consequence is that the rodent that is a male between two males grows to be more aggressive, more masculine in behaviour and in his general development. He will have a stronger sperm count; he will be more fertile. And there’s no question about that, it has been shown in a number of species. And there are a number of supporting human studies. I only mention this as proof of principle that a very small amount of hormonal substance at the right time alters development.

Now let’s just go to the human situation. When people say, ‘Well the doses are too low,’ I say two things. One is, ‘Maybe so, but we are seeing effects’. So whatever dose it is, it seems to be doing something. There are probably close to 30 studies that find associations between phthalates and a variety of human health end points.

The counter-argument could be that these effects could be coming from something completely different.

Exactly. Not the counter argument, but a relevant, additional point is that, we are never exposed to one chemical. In fact a recent study found 200 chemicals on average in babies at birth.

That means that in utero the babies had 200 chemicals circulating in their bodies affecting their development, on average. The maximum in that study sample of ten was 287. So we are unquestionably exposed, and the foetuses as well.

So yes, there are many chemicals and statistically you can ask what are the associations with just DEHP metabolites, just DBP metabolites. But it’s not the most efficient way to do it. Better is to ask what about co-exposure to all of those? What about the cocktail effect?

Now, we cannot reasonably, with the sample sizes we have available, yet look at the 200 all together. But we could look at and do look at multiple exposures. So the fact that they may be quite low individually, we know that these doses add up, and so if you have several of these, you already add up to a much higher dose.

Do we know specific combinations that are particularly harmful?

Yes, among the DEHP metabolites, there are many of them, we currently look at four or five of them and can assess the sum of them. That’s one example but there are others.

This sounds quite scary. How should consumers behave or react? If my wife was pregnant what should I be telling her?

I get this question all the time. It’s a frustrating question because I can only give you a partial answer. On a simple side, I would tell her she could limit her exposure to harmful personal care products.

And the reason we can give this advice is that they have been looked at quite carefully by a number of NGOs, and specifically I point you to the Environmental Working Group website called ‘Not Too Pretty’, where they actually go through product by product and talk about the chemicals in them. That’s a nice tool for consumers.

You can also say, just a blanket precaution: Do not use air fresheners, do not spray things in your house, products and so on.

Where it gets more problematic is that even when we tell people all these things, only in rare situations can we remove these chemicals from their body. And one of the major reasons is that they are so deeply hidden, you can check the label on the lotion but you can’t check the label on your spaghetti sauce or on your bottle of milk and so on.

So we need to give consumers the tools to make informed choices. And at this point we don’t have those tools.

You mean labelling?

Labelling, yes, and also advice about behaviour – for example not to store in plastic, not to microwave in plastic.

What I tell people if you want to do the best you can, buy local produce, buy it unprocessed, buy it organic. There is a population in New York that does this, and that is the Old Order Mennonites [an anti-technology religious group similar to the Amish]. They’re quite severe, they grow everything themselves, they don’t drive in cars, they don’t use sprays… and they have very low levels of environmental chemicals.

And that has been scientifically measured?

Yes, we measured how many phthalates and phenols were in their urine and they had almost none. And it’s interesting because a couple of women did have peaks. One was a woman who used a hairspray. And you could see this because we asked what did you do before you came here and gave your urine? And this woman said, ‘Well, I was not supposed to but I used hairspray because I was going out.’ And there we see the peak for MBP in her urine.

And then another woman rode in a car even though they don’t do this normally and you see another peak. So in an extreme situation – which to most consumers is quite radical action – you can eliminate.

Another population was given regular food and then they fasted. Their urine was tested under the normal diet and after 48 hours of fasting and they had no DEHP in their urine at all.

Of course we can’t all fast! So I think we have to make it much easier for consumers to avoid these products.

In terms of chemical presence in food, there have been measures taken at EU level to reduce the use of pesticides. In France for example there is an objective of halving the use of pesticides by 2018, and there have been bans on aerial spraying and things like that. Are these steps sufficient to reduce the risk of contamination in food?

Well, removing pesticides certainly removes one source of exposure to EDCs – and a very important one, and I think this is great.

By the way, aside from phthalates, we found a number of pesticides and herbicides in the Midwest where they were associated with a lower sperm count. So these are acting as well. Also I should point out that phthalates are actually in pesticides – they are put in there to increase absorption.

So these measures to reduce pesticide use are certainly a good thing to do but it won’t do the whole job. As long as the food is processed in contact with phthalates or Bisphenol A, canned, shipped in plastic, stored in plastic or cooked in Teflon, there are just a lot of occasions along the way to pick endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

And pesticide removal is certainly a very important first step but then we have to worry about what happens to the food after it is picked and along the rest of the chain from farm to fork.

In Europe, we have minimum residue levels for pesticides in food below which ingestion is not considered to pose any risk for human health. Are you saying these should be lowered further?

I cannot comment on permissible level of pesticides. But I can comment on the question of a threshold. We have many examples in environmental science – the best I think is lead – that no matter how we keep dropping the permissible level, we see adverse effects still at a lower level.

And I think that what we have to keep in mind is that to some particular sensitive populations and particularly sensitive periods, perhaps the level has to be reduced further. But there will have to be some practical level – obviously we can’t remove everything entirely.

You may be aware that in Europe we have this REACH regulation on chemicals which is undergoing a review this year. Are you encouraging policymakers to tighten REACH even further?

For me the most important thing about REACH it that it alters the burden of proof. Of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce in the world, 62,000 were just blessed and assumed to be safe in the United States.

That is actually the default assumption still in the United States: That until a chemical is proven harmful it is assumed to be safe. This of course places the burden of proof on the consumer, to prove harm, which is not where the burden should be in my opinion. So generally shifting the burden of proof I think is extremely important and should be implemented in US policies as well.

The US must actually follow REACH if they are going to export to Europe. What has been the impact on the US industry the way you see it?

I can’t tell you that. I do know that that is not the default assumption in regulation. So whether they do something different to send things to Europe, I’m sure they have to, and I’m sure they do, but it is not what they accept as their burden to prove safety before a product is marketed.

As far as whether the regulation should be tightened, that is a very broad question. And what I have an opinion about is that I feel that endocrine disruption is a category deserving its own regulation. It’s different enough from reproductive toxicity and carcinogenicity. The risk assessment for endocrine disruption is different. The scientific issues are different enough that it would protect public health much further if we could deal with this as a class of chemicals. So that’s where I see maybe tightening up.

For you as a scientist, the link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the ones you have been studying, and lower fertility has been proven and is scientifically watertight? Can it be argued against?

Watertight? This is never the case, of course. There are still people here who argue cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. Of course it will always be argued against.

I think we have now a lot of data that environmental chemicals can and do lower sperm count, impact time to conception, increase foetal loss in early pregnancy, affect pregnancy outcomes. Do we need more studies? Of course we do. But do we have enough information to act on these studies that we have? I say that we do.

More.

From :

Is eating organic more expensive? In the long-run the answer would be NO. Synthetic pesticides or fertilizers used on vegetables and fruits affects our health. Pesticides have demonstrably elevated rates of asthma, leukemia, and prostate cancer.

From Red Bluff Daily News:

Pesticide drift from a commercial strawberry field in the Bend area has a group of residents actively concerned about how the chemicals used will affect their health.

When Sam Sleezer, 37, and his father-in-law Manuel Silveira, 65, installed new scientific devices to measure air quality on their neighboring properties in the Bend area, they hoped that they would find their concerns were unwarranted.

I’m not against farming, Silveira said.

However, results came back that levels of a toxic chemical found were far above safe levels beyond the time frame that it was supposed to be in the air.

The two men brought their concerns to the state capitol March 20 as discussion in the Department of Pesticide Regulation reached a climax over the use of methyl iodide that was approved under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The following day, the manufacturer for methyl iodide pulled the product and decided to no longer distribute it for use in the U.S.

However, similar chemicals, such as methyl bromide and chloropicrin are still in use and part of the compound applied in the Bend strawberry fields.

Concerned about his children, Sam and Manny, ages 3 and 5, who play just feet from the 50-plus acre field, Sleezer is considering moving if the county continues to allow the company to use dangerous chemicals.

Another neighbor already moved because of concerns, he said. There are still 17 children total that live all around the same field.

County officials say that Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., the owners of the field next to the Silveira and Sleezer properties, is within the legal limits and they have no good reason to deny the company a permit to fumigate.

County Agricultural Commissioner Rick Gurrola, who has the authority to approve or deny the grower’s pesticide use permit, based his decision on scientific data and evaluation from a legal standpoint, he said.

There’s risk with all chemicals, Gurrola said.

There’s risk with gasoline.

However, California is one of the most heavily regulated states and many chemicals banned here are used in other states, he said.

The chemicals used by Driscoll are within regulation.

The scientific data collected by the residents is flawed, Gurrola said.

Data was collected incorrectly and they are using uncertified equipment or techniques.

Sleezer and Silveira, who helped form Healthy Tehama Farms, a group of at least 20 individuals who are working to protect the community from dangerous exposure to fumigants, got a grant for $3,000 to perform the air quality tests.

The equipment, Drift Catchers invented by the Pesticide Action Network, collects air samples in small tubes that can be analyzed later for pesticide levels.

After analysis was completed at University of California at Davis, the report showed that over the eight-day study, during and after the fumigants were applied, Nov. 4-11, 2011, concentrations of chloropicrin, a known carcinogen, were on average twice as high as the acceptable levels determined by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The results imply that lifetime exposure at those levels would cause 151 excess cases of cancer per 1 million people on average.

Silveira bought his property from a man who suffered from thyroid cancer, and with a quick glance across the field, he could name several other neighbors who had incidents of cancer as well.

He and Sleezer had heard complaints about sore throats, burning eyes and other illnesses when the fumigants were used, but nobody could prove it was from the pesticides.

Sleezer, a former soldier, remembered checking the mail in a community locked box next to the strawberry field when he suddenly felt as if he was back inside a gas chamber, he said. He and his wife felt their eyes and throats burning.

Some of the families are given a stipend and asked to stay away for three days when the fumigants are applied.

Sleezer, who works as a child guardian for supervised family visitations, keeps free-range specialty chickens as a hobby.

After a time away, he returned home to a nightmare, he said.

I came home and 28 chickens were strewn all over the yard dead, Sleezer said.

Clearing them out before his sons could see them, he saved some of the animal carcasses to try to find out what killed them.

After some testing, he still doesn’t know why they died, but the timing of the pesticide use was odd, he said.

Healthy Tehama Farms and the Pesticide Action Network have asked three times for the county to deny a permit to Driscoll Strawberry Associates without success.

More.

From Big Think Blog:

What’s the Big Idea?

Over the last two weeks, pink slime has become the safe food movement’s equivalent of the Kony 2012 campaign. Over 200,000 people have signed an online petition to ban the use of what the food industry calls “lean beef trimmings” in school lunches. Larger questions have been raised about why it has taken consumer advocates and government watchdogs so long to catch on.

After all, haven’t we seen this movie before?

106 years ago Upton Sinclair blew the whistle on the Chicago stockyards meatpacking industry in his famous muckraking novel The Jungle. I have quoted a representative, nausea-inducing passage from the book below, but here is a quick tease:

These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.

These reports shocked an incredulous nation. President Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, initially concluded that Sinclair must be “a crackpot.” Yet subsequent investigation confirmed Sinclair’s reporting (although claims that workers who fell into rendering vats were ground into lard were not officially substantiated). Public outcry led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and ultimately the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

And yet, consumer protection requires vigilant oversight, and that is exactly what critics say was lacking during the administration of George H.W. Bush, when low-grade ammonia-treated “lean beef trimmings” previously reserved for pet food were declared safe for human consumption. According to The Daily, health concerns were muted by JoAnn Smith, Undersecretary of the USDA.

Then for the next two decades, apparently, Smith’s successors at the USDA were out to lunch.

What’s the Significance?

Pink slime is everywhere. It’s sold in grocery stores and served in school lunches, meaning most of us have probably consumed it at some point in our lives. The government purchased 7 million pounds of pink slime for school lunches just last year. While the USDA announced it would let schools opt out this week, food administrators and consumers alike have found pink slime to be so ubiquitous that it is nearly impossible to avoid. Some experts estimate it can be found in up to 70 percent of the ground beef sold in grocery stores.

In other words, we know how the sausage is made. We don’t like how it is made, but we don’t know how to avoid it. That is because you will never see packaged meat in the grocery store labeled “pink slime.”

How Can I Avoid Pink Slime In Meat?

Look for meat that is labelled “USDA Organic” and shop at stores such as WholeFoods and Costco that have guaranteed their products don’t contain pink slime. Your other choices are to go vegetarian, or grind your own meat (or watch a butcher do it for you).

More.

From PBS’s Need to Know (2010):

Does eating organic really make a difference? A new study says it does.

The study, published in the May 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics, revealed that children exposed to toxic pesticides known as organophosphates are at increased risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders in children, with diagnoses increasing 3 percent a year between 1997 and 2006, and totaling 4.5 million children. Symptoms include difficulties paying attention and controlling impulsive behavior, and they can be caused by genetics as well as exposures to environmental toxins.

The study’s research team, led by Maryse Bouchard, a researcher at the University of Montreal, analyzed urine samples from 1,139 children ages 8 to 15. Children with higher urinary levels of dialkyl phosphate metabolites (DAP), which are markers of organophosphate exposure, were more likely to be diagnosed as having ADHD. With each tenfold increase in DAP, the odds of having ADHD rose by more than half.

“What was surprising was that we saw there was an increased risk of ADHD even at low levels of exposure,” Bouchard said in a recent phone interview. “We saw that children with above-average levels of exposure had twice the risk of ADHD as those with undetectable levels.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), organophosphate pesticides were first used as nerve agents in World War II. Today, they are the most widely used insecticides available, with more than 40 types registered for use. In 2001, approximately 73 million pounds of organophosphates were used in the U.S. The EPA states that all organophosphates “run the risk of acute and subacute toxicity” and “pose significant health risks to people who are exposed to them through their work.”

But CropLife America, which represents pesticide manufacturers, said in response to the study that “more research is needed” to ascertain if there is a direct link between pesticide exposure and ADHD: “The class of crop protection compound that is the subject of this study has been approved and registered by the U.S. EPA, and when used according to the label, the EPA has determined it to be safe.”

Organophosphates have already been proven to have adverse health effects in infants and children, Bouchard and her research team reported, including behavioral problems, developmental delays and poorer short-term memory. According to the National Academy of Sciences, infants and children receive most of their exposures to pesticides through diet. Because of their lower body weight and developing brains, they are more susceptible to pesticide toxicity than adults. A 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program found detectable levels of the organophosphate insecticide malathion in 28 percent of frozen blueberry samples, 25 percent of fresh strawberry samples and 19 percent of celery samples.

The Union of Concerned Scientists writes that the growth of industrial agriculture, which views the farm as a factory, has led to a rise in pesticide use. According to the group, a key feature of industrial agriculture is cultivating a single crop, or monoculture, which depletes the soil and invites pests, resulting in an increased need for more herbicides and pesticides. The U.S. grows all of its major commodity crops in monoculture, a practice bolstered by government subsidies and agribusinesses that manufacture seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

“This is the first study on the subject so we can’t be definitive, but I think it’s fair for parents to want to be prudent and reduce exposure to pesticides,” said Bouchard. She recommended not using pesticides in or outside of the home and washing all fruits and vegetables carefully, even with a little soap, to get rid of pesticide residues in produce like apples or bell peppers.

But even the organic label isn’t a guarantee. “Buying organic is a good idea, but I know it’s hard for a lot of families because it’s so expensive,” Bouchard said. As an alternative, she suggested buying fruits and vegetables at a farmers’ market. “Even if it’s not labeled organic, the produce from a small producer will contain less pesticides, since they don’t do monocultures.”

Related: Read the study

Image from Flickr.

From PRI’s “The World”:

Robert Law raises sheep and grows sugar beets, wheat, barley oats and rye on his farm about an hour north of London.

It’s a big operation set on nearly 4,000 acres of rolling hills near the town of Royston. One key ingredient makes it all flourish — nitrogen fertilizer. Law said he uses it for almost all his crops, because his land is inherently very low in naturally-available nitrogen, which plants need to thrive./p>

Law is hardly alone. The invention of nitrogen-based fertilizer in 1909 helped fuel a global agricultural boom, and it’s been crucial in feeding a growing population ever since.

But a growing number of scientists say that boon to our food supply has come at a big cost — massive, nitrogen-based pollution.

Mark Sutton, of the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom, said the threat to the environment is large

“We’ve known for many years that using nitrogen for fertilizer is a great thing for farming to increase productivity,” Sutton said. “But there’s a whole range of threats resulting from this nitrogen leaking into the environment.”

Nitrogen is an inert gas that’s necessary for life. But we’re changing it into forms that are harmful, overloading the environment with it, and throwing the natural nitrogen cycle out of whack, Sutton said. Nitrogen compounds running off farmland have led to water pollution around the world, while nitrogen emissions from industry, agriculture and vehicles make a big contribution to air pollution.

Sutton said the cost is immense. Last year he was part of a team of 200 scientists from 21 countries who studied the problem in the European Union. They calculated the dollar value of the damage from nitrogen pollution at between $90 billion and $400 billion per year.

That’s “a massive number,” Sutton said.

The cost comes to both the environment and human health. For instance, Sutton said, particulate air pollution caused in part by nitrogen shortens the lives of many Europeans by more than a year. Overall, the EU report estimated that the cost of nitrogen pollution in the EU is more than double the value that nitrogen fertilizers add to European farm income.

“So these are significant issues,” Sutton said.

The EU study is the first to calculate these costs in Europe. But Alan Townsend, an ecologist at the University of Colorado, insists nitrogen pollution is “unquestionably” a global problem.

The U.S. is also a major hotspot, and big problems are emerging in China, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The impacts of nitrogen pollution can be hard to recognize. Big environmental disasters like oil spills tend to grab all the attention, Townsend said, but “there is essentially a nitrogen spill everyday.”

The irony is that in the right places and chemical forms, nitrogen is valuable stuff. Every ounce of fertilizer that runs off a field into a river is a waste of resources and money. But Townsend said it’s a problem that shouldn’t be that hard to solve.

“This is not one of those problems where we sit around scratching our heads and say, ‘Man this is going to be a disaster, how are we going to deal with it, there’s nothing we can do,’” he said. “A lot of the solutions are right in front of us. It’s just about moving down that path.”

That path includes increasing the use of technology to cut nitrogen pollutants from power plants and vehicles, which is already widely used in the U.S. and Europe.

Cutting nitrogen pollution from food production is a more complicated challenge, but Townsend says on the farm field itself, it comes down to a simple principle: use fertilizer more efficiently.

“We have to approach it as an efficiency problem,” he said. “How do we maximize the benefits that we’re going to get from this stuff and minimize the unwanted consequences?”

Law is trying to rise to that challenge. He prides himself on running a farm that’s not only productive, but environmentally sensitive.

His tractor now sports a small computer console that his farmhands use to ensure each field gets only the exact amount of fertilizer it needs, depending on the crop, the season and the weather.

“We just program each individual field as we come to it,” said farm worker Mark Moule. ”Just press start and finish and one minute you’ll be putting 50 kilos on per hectare, next minute it’s 150.”

That kind of precision helps reduce the amount of nitrogen that runs off farm fields into nearby streams. It can also help save money on fertilizer.

But this kind of technology is expensive, and many smaller farms can’t afford it.

For his part, Law is willing to look for even more efficient ways to use fertilizer. But he warns that Britain and the rest of the world face a growing challenge when it comes to feeding a growing population.

“The area available for farming in this country is getting smaller each year,” Law laments. “Roads are being built, towns are being built.”

It’s a global trend — less farmland and more mouths to feed. And that will only add to the challenge of getting rid of the excess nitrogen we’ve been putting into the environment.

Listen to the story and get more information here.

From :

With an eye toward envisioning a Farm Bill that promotes health, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Jennifer Billig will provide an overview of the Farm Bill and its intersections with public health, including the kinds of farming and eating the bill currently supports.

Roni Neff, PhD of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will enrich the discussion by sharing an innovative new web-based tool that allows visual analysis of Farm Bill spending. Using the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, Neff will answer questions like, “What portion of the overall Farm Bill goes to fruits and vegetables, to commodity crops, or to industrial food animal production?” and “How big are some of the public health initiatives within the Farm Bill?”, demonstrating graphically how the provisions and budgets within the bill tie into the nation’s public health and environmental sustainability. Beth Hoffman of Food+Tech Connect will also join us to share highlights from the Farm Bill Hackathon, an event held in early December that brought together policy experts with designers and developers to create more visually interesting representations of the Farm Bill.

From the Argus Leader:

McDonald’s and two other fast-food chains have stopped using an ammonia-treated burger ingredient that meat industry critics deride as “pink slime.”

The product remains widely used as low-fat beef filling in burger meat, including in school meals. But some consumer advocates worry that attacks on the product by food activist Jamie Oliver and others will discourage food manufacturers from developing new methods of keeping deadly pathogens out of their products.

The beef is processed by Beef Products Inc. of Dakota Dunes at plants at Waterloo, Iowa, and in three other states. One of the company’s chief innovations is to cleanse the beef of E. coli bacteria and other dangerous microbes by treating it with ammonium hydroxide, one of many chemicals used at various stages in the meat industry to kill pathogens.

“Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold at the cheapest form for dogs, and after this process we can give it to humans,” Oliver said in a segment of his ABC television show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, that aired last spring.

BPI, which once boasted of having its product in 70 percent of the hamburger sold in the country, has lost 25 percent of its business. McDonald’s has been joined by Taco Bell and Burger King in discontinuing use of the product, and the company is worried other chains and retailers will follow them.

“It’s just a shame that an activist with an agenda can really degrade the safety of our food supply,” said David Theno, an industry consultant who has advised BPI and is credited with turning the Jack in the Box burger chain into a model of food safety after a deadly E. coli outbreak in 1993. He called the BPI process “extraordinarily effective” in making beef safer.

* * *

Lean beef long has been added to fattier meat to produce the blends of hamburger meat that’s sold in supermarkets and restaurants. BPI’s innovation was to develop high-tech methods of removing bits of beef from fatty carcass trimmings that had previously been sold for pet food or animal feed and then treating the beef with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria. Ammonia is used extensively in the food industry and is found naturally in meat. The gas BPI uses contains a tiny fraction of the ammonia that’s used in household cleaner, according to the company.

Ammonium hydroxide, a mixture of water and ammonia, is used in baked goods, cheeses, candy and other products, according to the International Food Information Council. The Food and Drug Administration approved the chemical for leavening, acidity control and other purposes. The ammonium hydroxide lowers the acidity of meat, making it inhospitable to bacteria.

A Washington Post report in 2008 described a BPI plant in South Sioux City, Neb., as a technological marvel that could be the “key to a safer meat supply.” But the good publicity didn’t last.

That same year, the documentary Food Inc., featuring authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, portrayed the ammonia treatment as typical of “high-tech fixes” that agribusiness giants use to ameliorate the public health problems that the filmmakers contended are created by industrial-scale agriculture.

A 2009 New York Times story raised questions about the safety of the BPI product, citing government and industry records of E. coli and salmonella contamination of meat sold for school lunches. One of the company’s plants was barred by the USDA for a time from selling meat for schools.

* * *

The newspaper story included a quote from an email in which an Agriculture Department microbiologist called the pale-colored product “pink slime,” a term critics seized upon.

OIiver’s TV segment didn’t so much portray the product as unsafe as simply disgusting.

“To me, as a chef and a food lover, this is shocking,” he said.

Burger King issued a statement confirming that it was discontinuing use of the BPI product but was not clear as to why.

“The decision to remove BPI products from the BK system is not related to any particular event but rather part of the company’s normal course of business,” the company said.

McDonald’s and Taco Bell did not respond to requests for comment.

BPI officials said they still have other fast-food chains as customers but would not identify them.

Superficial fix or preventive process?

Patty Lovera, who follows food safety policy for the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said the BPI product raises legitimate questions about whether the food industry is relying too heavily on chemical washes and other technology to kill bacteria instead of doing more to prevent the contamination.

More.

Image from EASY BEING GREENer.

From Charleston Gazette:

Jury selection in the class-action lawsuit against Monsanto will begin next week after no settlement was reached during about eight hours of mediation Tuesday, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney confirmed.

Residents allege in a class-action case, filed in 2004, that Monsanto unsafely burned dioxin wastes and spread contaminated soot and dust across Nitro, polluting homes with unsafe levels of the chemical.

The lawsuit set to begin next week will seek medical monitoring for at least 5,000 – and perhaps as many as 80,000 – current and former Nitro residents.

Before Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding recused himself from hearing the case after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, he ruled that residents could not sue collectively to seek remediation of homes they allege are contaminated with dioxin.

On Tuesday, several hundred plaintiffs gathered at the Marriott hotel in Charleston for a court-ordered mediation. Circuit Judges Booker Stephens of McDowell County and Alan D. Moats of Taylor County attempted to resolve the case to avoid trial.

A mediation held in October also failed to produce a settlement.

Stuart Calwell, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, said he plans to call 18 experts to testify during the trial.

“This is an extraordinarily important case,” Calwell said. “[Plaintiffs] want their town back. What they’re interested in is having a safe home to live in — I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Monsanto’s lead attorney, Charles Love of Charleston, would not comment on the upcoming trial.

For more than 50 years, the former Monsanto plant churned out herbicides, rubber products and other chemicals. The plant’s production of Agent Orange created dioxin as a toxic chemical byproduct.

More.

Image from USNews.

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This is the beginning of the film Troubled Waters, about the role agriculture has played in water pollution from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The film gives farmers a platform to talk about the solutions they are developing in their fields and asks hard questions about the government policies that have contributed to the pollution.

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