Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Tue, 27 Jan 2015 14:41:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Worker Illness Related to Newly Marketed Pesticides — Douglas County, Washington, 2014http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/worker-illness-related-newly-marketed-pesticides-douglas-county-washington-2014/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/worker-illness-related-newly-marketed-pesticides-douglas-county-washington-2014/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 14:41:26 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15111 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by Geoffrey M. Calvert, MD1, Luis Rodriguez2, Joanne Bonnar Prado, MPH2 (Author affiliations at end of text) Source: Austin Valley On April 10, 2014 the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) was notified by a local newspaper of a suspected pesticide poisoning incident in Douglas County involving pesticides not previously reported in the published literature to be associated with human illness. On that same day, WSDA notified the Washington State

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
by Geoffrey M. Calvert, MD1, Luis Rodriguez2, Joanne Bonnar Prado, MPH2 (Author affiliations at end of text)

Source: Austin Valley

On April 10, 2014 the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) was notified by a local newspaper of a suspected pesticide poisoning incident in Douglas County involving pesticides not previously reported in the published literature to be associated with human illness. On that same day, WSDA notified the Washington State Department of Health, which investigated this incident by conducting a site visit, reviewing medical and applicator records, and interviewing affected farmworkers, pesticide applicators, and the farmworkers’ employer. In addition, on April 11, WSDA collected swab, foliage, and clothing samples and tested them for residues of pyridaben,* novaluron, and triflumizole.§ In this incident, all 20 farmworkers working in a cherry orchard became ill from off-target drift of a pesticide mixture that was being applied to a neighboring pear orchard. Sixteen sought medical treatment for neurologic, gastrointestinal, ocular, and respiratory symptoms. This event highlights the need for greater efforts to prevent off-target drift exposures and promote awareness about the toxicity of some recently marketed pesticides. Incidents such as this could be prevented if farm managers planning pesticide applications notify their neighbors of their plans.

On April 8, 2014, two pesticide applicators were driving tractor-pulled airblast sprayers to apply a mixture of pesticides to prevent psylla infestations in a pear orchard. At about 1:30 pm the tractors approached the end of the orchard, which abuts a cherry orchard. In the cherry orchard, 20 Hispanic farmworkers (19 women and one man) were tying the branches of cherry trees to trellises to improve fruit yields. Median age of the farmworkers was 33 years (range: 25–63 years). The workers were dispersed, and their distance from the edge of the pear orchard ranged from 30 to >350 feet (9 to >107 meters). The farmworkers and applicators disagree regarding when the applicators first observed the farmworkers and when the application ceased. The pesticide mixture included novaluron, pyridaben, and triflumizole, along with mineral oil,** boron (a micronutrient), and phosphoric acid (an acidifier, defoaming agent, and fertilizer).†† The farmworkers had not been notified of the pear orchard pesticide application before starting work in the cherry orchard.

All 20 cherry orchard workers reported that they began feeling ill within minutes of exposure to the drifting pesticides. The crew leader called 9-1-1. All of the workers reported two or more symptoms consistent with those caused by the pesticides applied to the pear orchard (1). Emergency medical services personnel decontaminated five workers at the orchard and transported them to an emergency department, where they were treated for their symptoms. A total of 16 workers eventually sought medical care. Six workers had moderate-severity illness, and the remaining 14 workers had low-severity illness.§§ The most commonly reported symptoms were neurologic (100%) (e.g., headache and paresthesias), gastrointestinal (95%)(e.g., nausea), ocular (85%)(e.g., eye pain/irritation), and respiratory (80%)(e.g., upper respiratory irritation and dyspnea) (Table). Of the eight workers who were contacted at least 2 weeks after the incident, six (75%) had symptoms that persisted for at least 2 weeks. The two applicators were wearing complete personal protective equipment (including air-purifying respirators and chemical-resistant headgear) and reported no symptoms.

Several of the samples collected by WSDA for pesticide residue analysis tested positive, including two clothing samples from farmworkers that tested positive for triflumizole. Both of these workers were working within 50 feet (15 meters) of the pesticide application. Residues of all three pesticides were found on cherry foliage. Residues of novaluron and pyridaben were found on the portable toilet used by the farmworkers (located at the boundary between the two orchards) and on the grass in the cherry orchard.

WSDA obtained wind speed and direction data from applicator and meteorologic records. Wind speed, measured hours before the incident by the applicators at the pear orchard using a handheld anemometer and documented in the application record, was low at 0–4 mph (0–6 kph), but the wind direction was variable. When the application began at 7:00 am, the wind direction was away from the cherry orchard, but at the time of the incident the winds were blowing in a circular pattern up to 18 mph (29 kph), and this is thought to have contributed to the incident.

Discussion

This report highlights at least three potential occupational hazards in agriculture: off-target pesticide drift, toxicity of some recently marketed pesticides, and a gap in worker notification requirements. In this incident, off-target drift of a pesticide mixture was determined to be the cause of symptoms in 20 farmworkers. This finding is substantiated by the short distance between the site of pesticide application and the farmworkers location; the detection of pesticide residues on samples collected in the cherry orchard and on the worker’s clothing; the sudden onset of symptoms coinciding with the application; and symptoms that were consistent with those caused by the pesticides applied to the pear orchard. Off-target drift has previously been documented as the most common root cause of acute pesticide-related illness among farmworkers (2).

In the spring, pesticides are often applied to pear trees to prevent psylla infestations. Psylla can accumulate on leaves and fruit, reducing the plant’s photosynthetic capacity and producing deformed fruit with reduced commercial value. Because pests develop resistance to pesticides, there is a continual need to develop novel pesticides that attack different pest vulnerabilities. This is the first published report of illnesses associated with exposure to three recently introduced pesticides: pyridaben, novaluron, and triflumizole. The products applied to the pear orchard that contained pyridaben and novaluron were both toxicity category II pesticide products. Pyridaben is an insecticide and miticide that acts by inhibiting mitochondrial complex I electron transport. It was first approved to be sold in the United States in 1994. The product label for pyridaben warns that it can be fatal if inhaled and that pesticide applicators and handlers are required to use extensive personal protective equipment, including air-purifying respirators (3). It also can cause moderate eye irritation. Novaluron is an insect growth regulator that acts by inhibiting chitin synthesis. It was initially registered for sale in the United States in 2001. It is reported to cause substantial but temporary eye injury (4). Triflumizole is an imidazole fungicide that was first sold in liquid form in 2007. It is a toxicity category III product, is considered to have low mammalian toxicity but is irritating to the eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and might cause allergic skin reactions (5). No peer-reviewed in-vivo studies are available on triflumizole (6). Phosphoric acid is a toxicity category I product which, in pure form, can cause irreversible eye damage and skin burns. However, it is not likely to be responsible for illness because it is often used to achieve a neutral pH in pesticide mixtures. The pesticide mixture that the farmworkers were exposed to also contained mineral oil and boron, but these have low toxicity and are not thought to have contributed to illness onset.

The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, these workers were exposed to a mixture of several pesticides. It was not possible to determine if one active ingredient was responsible for the illnesses or if several were acting in concert. Second, symptoms of acute illnesses associated with pesticides are nonspecific and not pathognomonic, and diagnostic tests are not available to measure blood or urine levels of the pesticides involved in this event. Therefore false-positives might have been included as cases. Finally, samples for residue analysis were collected ≥3 days after the event. If the samples had been collected closer to the time of the event, more samples might have tested positive.

This event might have been prevented through better communication between managers of the cherry and pear orchards. Currently, only workers employed on the farm where the application is occurring must be notified about a pesticide application (Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 40 Part 170.122). There is no Washington state or federal requirement to provide notification about pesticide applications to workers on a neighboring farm. There was anecdotal evidence to suggest that in the past, the managers of the two orchards involved in this event routinely and voluntarily shared information on upcoming pesticide applications to prevent pesticide exposures among workers in the neighboring orchard (Matt West, WSDA; personal communication; July 22, 2014). However, no such notification occurred in April 2014, possibly because both orchards experienced a recent turnover in management staff. Such a lack of notification to a neighboring farm is a frequent contributing factor to acute pesticide-related illness. Washington State Department of Health found that 31% of all acute pesticide-related illness cases identified among farmworkers during 2005–2012 involved exposure to off-target drift of pesticides that were applied to a neighboring farm (Joanne Prado, Washington State Department of Health; personal communication; August 18, 2014). In addition, a previous report documented lack of notification to a neighboring farm as a contributing factor in a cluster of acute pesticide-related illnesses in 2005 (7). At least one state health department (the California Department of Health Services) recommends that workers in nearby areas should be notified about scheduled pesticide applications, even when not required (7). Furthermore, although regulations prohibit applying agricultural pesticides in a manner that results in contact with workers or other persons (CFR Title 40 Part 170.210), the regulations do not explicitly state that applications must cease when the applicator observes workers or bystanders in neighboring, nontarget areas.

Acknowledgment

Matt West, Washington State Department of Agriculture.

1Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC; 2Washington State Department of Health (Corresponding author: Geoffrey M. Calvert, jac6@cdc.gov, 513-841-4448)

References

  1. CDC. Case definition for acute pesticide-related illness and injury cases reportable to the national public health surveillance system. Cincinnati, OH: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2005. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/pesticides/pdfs/casedef2003_revapr2005.pdf Adobe PDF file.
  2. Kasner EJ, Keralis JM, Mehler L, et al. Gender differences in acute pesticide-related illnesses and injuries among farmworkers in the United States, 1998–2007. Am J Ind Med 2012;55:571–83.
  3. Nexter label. Gowan Company; Yuma, Arizona. EPA registration number 81880-4-10163. Available athttp://pdf.tirmsdev.com/Web/55/22162/55_22162_LABEL_English_.pdf?download=trueExternal Web Site Icon.
  4. Rimon 0.83EC label. Makhteshim Agan of North America, Inc.; Raleigh, North Carolina. EPA registration number 66222-35. Available athttp://www.cdms.net/ldat/ld6ld001.pdf Adobe PDF fileExternal Web Site Icon.
  5. Procure 480SC agricultural fungicide material data safety sheet. Chemtura Corporation; Middlebury, CT. EPA registration number 400-518. Available athttp://www.cdms.net/ldat/mp73u000.pdf Adobe PDF fileExternal Web Site Icon.
  6. Li X, Pham HT, Janesick AS, Blumberg B. Triflumazole is an obesogen in mice that acts through peroxisome proliferator activated receptor gamma (PPARg). Environ Health Perspect 2012;120:1720–6.
  7. CDC. Worker illness related to ground application of pesticide—Kern County, California, 2005. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2006;55:486–8.

* Nexter miticide/insecticide; Gowan Company; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number 81880-4-10163. EPA toxicity category II. The toxicity of a pesticide is determined by EPA under guidance available from the Code of Federal Regulations 40 CFR 156.208(c)(2)(iii). Pesticides in category I are the most acutely toxic, and pesticides in category IV are the least.

Rimon 0.83 EC insecticide; Makhteshim Agan of North America, Inc. EPA registration number 66222-35. EPA toxicity category II.

§ Procure 480SC agricultural fungicide; Chemtura Corporation. EPA registration number 400-518. EPA toxicity category III.

Psylla is a major pear insect pest in North America. Additional information available at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/pmg/r603301111.htmlExternal Web Site Icon.

** Hi Supreme spray oil; Independent Agribusiness Professionals. EPA registration number 71058-2. EPA toxicity category III. This was used as an insecticide.

†† Buffer-Ten; Monterey AgResources. California registration number 17545-50016. EPA toxicity category I.

§§ Standardized coding was used to determine severity of illness (information available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/pesticides/pdfs/pest-sevindexv6.pdf Adobe PDF file). Low-severity cases usually resolve without treatment and cause minimal time lost from work or normal activities (<3 days). Moderate-severity cases are not life-threatening but require medical treatment and result in <6 days lost from work or normal activities.

What is already known on this topic?

Off-target drift is the most common root cause for acute pesticide-related illness among farmworkers. Before an agricultural pesticide application is made, federal regulations require that workers employed on the farm where the application will be made be notified of the application. However, there is no requirement to notify the workers on adjacent farms of a pesticide application.

What is added by this report?

An off-target pesticide drift event occurred in April 2014, when pesticides applied to a pear orchard drifted over to a neighboring cherry orchard and quickly sickened all 20 farmworkers working in the cherry orchard. The vast majority reported neurologic, gastrointestinal, ocular, and respiratory symptoms. Six workers had moderate-severity illness, and the remaining 14 workers had low-severity illness. There are no previous reports in the literature of human illness caused by the three pesticides involved in this event (pyridaben, novaluron, and triflumizole).

What are the implications for public health practice?

This report highlights three potential occupational hazards in agriculture: off-target pesticide drift, toxicity of some recently marketed pesticides, and a gap in worker notification requirements. Incidents such as this could be prevented if farm managers planning pesticide applications notify their neighbors of their plans.

TABLE. Signs and symptoms reported by 20 farmworkers exposed during a pesticide application —
Douglas County, Washington, April 2014

Sign/Symptom*

No.

(%)

Neurologic

20

(100)

Headache

18

(90)

Paresthesias

14

(70)

Dizziness

12

(60)

Altered taste

10

(50)

Other

6

(30)

Gastrointestinal

19

(95)

Nausea

15

(75)

Vomiting

10

(50)

Abdominal pain

9

(45)

Anorexia

3

(15)

Eye

18

(90)

Eye pain/irritation

16

(80)

Lacrimation

5

(25)

Conjunctivitis

3

(15)

Respiratory

16

(80)

Upper respiratory irritation

12

(60)

Dyspnea

10

(50)

Cough

4

(20)

Asthma exacerbation

2

(10)

Dermatologic§

5

(25)

Cardiovascular

2

(10)

* The total number of signs/symptoms exceeds 20 because many persons had more than one sign or symptom.

Other includes fatigue (one person), blurred vision (one), anxiety (one), fasciculations (one), and weakness (three).

§ Includes pruritis (four persons), rash (three), and redness (one).

Includes elevated blood pressure (one person), palpitations (one).

Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

References to non-CDC sites on the Internet are provided as a service to MMWR readers and do not constitute or imply endorsement of these organizations or their programs by CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDC is not responsible for the content of pages found at these sites. URL addresses listed in MMWR were current as of the date of publication.

All MMWR HTML versions of articles are electronic conversions from typeset documents. This conversion might result in character translation or format errors in the HTML version. Users are referred to the electronic PDF version (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr) and/or the original MMWR paper copy for printable versions of official text, figures, and tables. An original paper copy of this issue can be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, DC 20402-9371; telephone: (202) 512-1800. Contact GPO for current prices.

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Antibiotics, Bacteria Found in Feedlot Dusthttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/antibiotics-bacteria-found-feedlot-dust/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/antibiotics-bacteria-found-feedlot-dust/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 23:34:28 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15107 Feedstuffs Source: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project After testing dust in the air near cattle feedlots in the Southern High Plains, researchers at The Institute of Environmental & Human Health at Texas Tech University found evidence of antibiotics, feedlot-derived bacteria and DNA sequences that encode for antibiotic resistance. The study was published online Jan. 22 in the National Institutes of Environmental Science’s peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. The research was funded through a grant from Texas

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Feedstuffs

Source: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project

After testing dust in the air near cattle feedlots in the Southern High Plains, researchers at The Institute of Environmental & Human Health at Texas Tech University found evidence of antibiotics, feedlot-derived bacteria and DNA sequences that encode for antibiotic resistance.

The study was published online Jan. 22 in the National Institutes of Environmental Science’s peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. The research was funded through a grant from Texas Tech’s College of Arts & Sciences. It is the first study documenting aerial transmission of antibiotic resistance from an open-air farm setting.

Phil Smith, an associate professor of terrestrial ecotoxicology at the institute, noted that while scientists couldn’t assess if the amounts of these materials were dangerous to human health, it helped explain a previously uncharacterized pathway by which antibiotic-resistant bacteria could travel long distances into places inhabited by humans.

Smith said scientists collected air samples 10-20 m upwind and downwind from the property boundaries of each of 10 feedlots. After analysis, they found greater amounts of bacteria, antibiotics and DNA sequences responsible for antibiotic resistance downwind of the feedlots compared to upwind, which helped scientists determine the source of the materials they found.

Because the antibiotics are present on the particulate matter with bacteria, the selective pressure for bacteria to retain their resistance remains during their flight, said Greg Mayer, an associate professor of molecular toxicology at the institute.

With wind blowing regularly on the Southern High Plains, the antibiotics and bacteria can travel on the dust and particulate matter far from the original starting point at the feedlot. Add the infamous West Texas dust storms into the picture, and these materials have the potential to travel hundreds of miles into cities and towns and possibly around the globe, the researchers said.

“I think implications for the spread of some feedlot-derived, antibiotic-resistant bacteria into urban areas is paramount to the research,” Mayer said. “Now, we haven’t yet taken samples from an urban area to determine whether bacteria from that particulate matter originated from feedlots or whether it still has antibiotic resistant bacteria on it. However, this study is proof of the principle that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could plausibly travel through the air.

“Further studies are now needed to show where the particulate matter is traveling and what is happening to its passengers when it gets there,” Mayer added.

For a copy of the report, visit http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1408555.

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100+ Businesses Urge Obama Administration to Suspend Bee-Toxic Pesticideshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/100-businesses-urge-obama-administration-suspend-bee-toxic-pesticides/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/100-businesses-urge-obama-administration-suspend-bee-toxic-pesticides/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:24:50 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15103 Beyond Pesticides Source: John Bennett More than 100 businesses, including Clif Bar, Nature’s Path, Organic Valley and Stonyfield, sent a letter to the White House yesterday urging it to immediately suspend pesticides linked to global bee declines in order to protect the nation’s food supply, environment and economy. The businesses, members of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and Green America’s Green Business Network, voiced concerns about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s delays in

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Beyond Pesticides

Source: John Bennett

More than 100 businesses, including Clif Bar, Nature’s Path, Organic Valley and Stonyfield, sent a letter to the White House yesterday urging it to immediately suspend pesticides linked to global bee declines in order to protect the nation’s food supply, environment and economy. The businesses, members of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and Green America’s Green Business Network, voiced concerns about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s delays in restricting neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely-used insecticides.

Many of the 118 businesses that signed the letter sell products with ingredients or inputs that are dependent on pollination from bees and other pollinators, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fiber (such as cotton) and hay (including alfalfa grown to feed livestock). The businesses call on the EPA to immediately suspend the registrations of neonicotinoids for agricultural uses, including seed treatments, as well as cosmetic and other unnecessary uses pending the results of pesticide re-evaluation. They also called for increased investments in green, fair and cutting-edge alternatives to neonicotinoids that support a prosperous and sustainable agricultural system.

“We are very concerned about the continued and unsustainable losses of bees and other essential pollinators and what effects this will have on the bottom-line of our industries and economy,” said David Levine, CEO of  ASBC. “Our business network members urge the Obama administration to take immediate action to address the threats pollinators face from pesticides,” added Fran Teplitz, Interim Executive Director of Green America.

“Declining bee populations threaten the health of farming systems across the country,” said Clif Bar & Company CEO Kevin Cleary, who signed the letter. “As an organic food company, we rely on agriculture for our ingredients, and agriculture depends on pollinators. This is a clear case where the EPA can use its power to protect the environment and support businesses.”

Bees and other pollinators, essential for two-thirds of the food we eat, are in decline in countries around the world. In the past eight years, beekeepers have lost an average of 30 percent of their hives, a level considered economically unsustainable, given that pollination services, provided by bees and other pollinators, are worth billions of dollars to the agricultural economy. Mounting scientific evidence points to the role of pesticides in bee declines across the globe, especially to the neonicotinoid class of insecticides, including imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxamcurrently applied to fields across the U.S. as seed treatment. These pesticides have been shown to, even at low levels, impair foraging, navigational and learning behavior in bees, as well as suppress their immune system to point of making them susceptible to pathogens and parasites. Read: No Longer a Big Mystery.

In 2013, the European Union banned several neonicotinoids, and cities and states across the U.S. and Canada including Ontario and Vancouver in Canada; Skagway, AK; Seattle, WA,Thurston County, WA; Spokane, WA; Cannon Beach, OR; and Shorewood, MN have all passed measures to restrict the use of these pesticides and protect bees. More than a dozen nurseries, landscaping companies, retailers, universities and hospital systems – including BJ’s Wholesale Club and Whole Foods – have taken steps to eliminate or restrict bee-harming pesticides.

This letter follows a letter submitted last November to EPA by 100 scientists from diverse disciplines which cites the growing body of scientific evidence that neonicotinoids and other systemic pesticides harm bees, and called on EPA and other federal agencies to quickly take action on pesticides to protect and promote healthy populations of bees and other pollinators. In October 2014, the U.S. EPA released an analysis confirming that neonicotinoid seed treatments offer little or no increase in economic benefit to U.S. soybean production. Earlier in June, the “Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA),” a meta-analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists – confirmed neonicotinoids are a key factor in bee declines and pose greater threat to ecosystems and biodiversity. The scientists also called for immediate regulatory action to restrict neonicotinoids and switch to sustainable methods of food production and pest control.

Last summer, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to create a Pollinator Health Task Force to develop pollinator health solutions. However, a report from this task force has since been delayed. The EPA has indicated the report may not be released until the end of February 2015.  As part of the memorandum, the EPA has indicated it is considering updating pesticide label language and restricting the application of neonicotinoid insecticides during certain times, which many believe do not go far enough to protect pollinators.

Source: American Sustainable Business Council

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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Iowa Farmers Union Leads Coalition Asking for Changes to Pesticide Ruleshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/iowa-farmers-union-leads-coalition-asking-changes-pesticide-rules/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/iowa-farmers-union-leads-coalition-asking-changes-pesticide-rules/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 23:29:13 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15099 Farmers seek better protections and resources to deal with pesticide drift. Iowa Farmers Union DES MOINES (Jan. 20, 2015) – The Iowa Farmers Union (IFU), along with Pesticide Action Network (PAN), today announced their request to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) to improve the reporting and response process and the agency support available to farmers who experience losses from pesticide drift. “Pesticide drift from nearby fields is a very real problem

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Farmers seek better protections and resources to deal with pesticide drift.

Iowa Farmers Union

IA Farmers UnionDES MOINES (Jan. 20, 2015) – The Iowa Farmers Union (IFU), along with Pesticide Action Network (PAN), today announced their request to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) to improve the reporting and response process and the agency support available to farmers who experience losses from pesticide drift.

“Pesticide drift from nearby fields is a very real problem for farmers in Iowa,” says Jordan Scheibel, a diversified vegetable farmer from Grinnell, Iowa. “Not only can pesticide drift delay or cause a farm to lose its organic certification, it results in products that farmers – certified organic or not – may not be able to sell legally, safely, or in good conscience, and it exposes the farmers and their workers to potentially harmful pesticides.”

Pesticide drift is a growing concern among Iowa farmers. A recent report to IDALS from the Practical Farmers of Iowa highlights dozens of reported pesticide drift violations across the state between 2008 and 2012, with fines issued in less than 20% of the cases.

Jana Linderman, President of the Iowa Farmers Union, states: “Current administrative rules designed to prevent pesticide drift and assist farmers who experience losses from drift are inadequate. We have proposed several rule changes to IDALS through a recently filed petition for rule making. We are attempting to improve the relationship between IDALS and impacted farmers when it comes to dealing with damages caused by pesticide drift.”

The IFU petition for rule making requests:

  • That IDALS provide information in writing and via the IDALS website to farmers and others who have come into contact with or suffered losses from pesticide drift regarding the details of the agency process, as well as their rights and available remedies under the law;
  • That IDALS provide information on the potential financial impacts of pesticide drift as part of the certification and continuing education process for commercial pesticide applicators;
  • That IDALS maintain a public database of the evidence of financial responsibility required to be filed with the agency by certified commercial pesticide applicators;
  • That commercial pesticide applicators be required to provide IDALS with monthly reports of pesticide applications, and that spray drift incident reports involving contact with a human, sensitive crop, or bee apiary be made available in a public database;
  • That commercial pesticide applicators be required to provide notice to individuals who are on the sensitive crop or bee registries and who are within a 5-mile radius of the application site at least 48 hours prior to spraying; and
  • That the rules be updated to provide for increased fines for serious or habitual violations of the rules governing pesticide application.

“Farmers should be able to control what comes onto their farms,” says Kate Mendenhall, an organizer for PAN who is a beginning farmer in northwest Iowa. “We’re not only concerned about the well-documented crop damage from spray drift, but also the potential health harms to farmers, farmworkers, and rural communities.”

IFU and PAN also are asking the Iowa legislature to establish an indemnity fund to improve the testing time for crops damaged by pesticide drift, to fund work to upgrade and improve the IDALS Pesticide Bureau website, and to increase the amount of insurance coverage carried by commercial pesticide applicators.

“Significant financial losses from pesticide drift can threaten the viability of family farms and put the diversity and safety of our food system at risk,” notes IFU President Linderman. “The modest improvements we are seeking can provide important safeguards for family farmers who are working hard to build their businesses and provide safe and healthy food to consumers.”

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One Way to Beat a Bug That’s Destroying Florida’s Citrus? Get Them High.http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/one-way-beat-bug-thats-destroying-floridas-citrus-get-high/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/one-way-beat-bug-thats-destroying-floridas-citrus-get-high/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 16:10:31 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15095 The Washington Post by Darryl Fears Source: Mark Yokoyama It’s an understatement to say the Asian citrus psyllid is bugging Florida and California citrus growers. Since its discovery a few miles south of Miami eight years ago, the critter has destroyed half of Florida’s orange groves. As they chow down on citrus trees, they carry a deadly bacteria called huanglongbing that deforms fruit and eventually leaves the trees dead. But now a new study published

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The Washington Post
by Darryl Fears

Source: Mark Yokoyama

It’s an understatement to say the Asian citrus psyllid is bugging Florida and California citrus growers.

Since its discovery a few miles south of Miami eight years ago, the critter has destroyed half of Florida’s orange groves. As they chow down on citrus trees, they carry a deadly bacteria called huanglongbing that deforms fruit and eventually leaves the trees dead.

But now a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of Economic Entomology says it might finally have a straightforward answer: Get the psyllids high. No, not on drugs. Get them to higher elevations. The tiny, invasive bug from China doesn’t fare well at elevations of 500 meters to 800 meters above sea level, the study says.

The study was conducted in Puerto Rico, “which has variations of elevations with citrus which Florida does not have,” said David Jenkins, a U.S. Department of Agriculture research entomologist at the Tropical Agricultural Research Station in Mayaguez. “We found the psyllid at all sites below 600 meters but none above it. At 500, we had a high level of psyllids. If atmospheric scientists can somehow duplicate conditions near the trees, the psyllid could be controlled,” said Jenkins, a co-author for the study.

At this point, Florida and California growers and agriculture officials are about ready to try anything. Huanglongbing has caused billions of dollars in damage to citrus crops. It’s been detected in Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, and has mutated into strains that are now in Africa and Latin America, including Mexico and Brazil.

There’s no cure, even though more than $80 million has been poured into research, and 500 scientists from 20 countries who attended a 2012 conference in Orlando came up with nothing. If the problem keeps up, it could be the end of plentiful orange juice. You heard right — the long-shot, worse-case scenario is the supply of orange juice could be reduced to a drip.

“What’s at stake is orange juice on the breakfast table,” Michael Sparks, chief executive of Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade association, said last year after the state announced that half of all its citrus trees were diseased. “I don’t want to indicate that’s going to happen next year. With a 10-year decline, your supply will reduce.”

Two years ago, David Hall, another USDA researcher who co-authored the study, heard that citrus psyllids couldn’t handle heights in China and Mexico. That theory hadn’t been proved, so federal researchers set out for Puerto Rico, where the bug has spread, to conduct some experiments. They chose 17 sites with mostly Valencia orange and lemon trees at elevations from 10 meters to 880 meters above sea level and baited trees with sticky yellow traps.

For two years, they watched. The higher the presence of citrus psyllids, the more they found in the traps. “There was a strong trend in both years for decreasing psyllid abundance with increased elevation based on the number of psyllids captured on traps and the proportion of trees shown to be infested,” they wrote. “No psyllids were collected at an elevation of (more than) 600 meters.”

Why should Florida and California’s state entomologists and citrus growers care? Florida provides about 80 percent of the nation’s orange juice, worth about $9 billion per year. Brazil chips in the other 20 percent. California produces a third of the nation’s citrus, and is the leading grower of lemons.

If psyllids gasp for air at higher elevations, it means something is happening in their itty-bitty chests. Or, more likely, the conditions change compounds in plants the bugs eat, making them less tasty. “Changes in elevation result in changes in temperature, short-wave radiation, partial pressure of respiratory gasses, precipitation, oxygen content, and air pressure,” the study said.

And?

“If any of these can be shown to affect the development of the Asian citrus psyllid or of citrus greening disease,” the authors said, “then it may be possible to induce these conditions in citrus trees at lower elevations.”

Or, there’s a simple, more straightforward approach: “Another practical implication for this study would be to put citrus nurseries above 600 meters,” where the bugs struggle, the study said. It’s just a suggestion, the authors said.

Florida researchers are listening, Jenkins said.

“In fact some people in Florida have contacted us,” he said. “They want to conduct studies with pressure, as far as pressurizing tree. They’ve got atmospheric scientists looking at that kind of stuff. We’re not the ones that have the ideas on how to use it, but somebody out there may have the idea to make this practical.”

It gets better. Earlier studies have shown that the eggs of cold-blooded insects take twice as long to develop into adults for lack of warmth. Nothing likes a slow developing psyllid nymph more than parasitic wasps that attack nymphs, sting them and lay eggs that feed on them from within until they burst from the skin like something out of the movie “Alien.”

“That’s exactly what happens,” Jenkins said, excitement in his voice. “It’s incredible.”

Darryl Fears has worked at The Washington Post for more than a decade, mostly as a reporter on the National staff. He currently covers the environment, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and issues affecting wildlife.

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Everything You Need To Know About Nanopesticideshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/everything-need-know-nanopesticides/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/everything-need-know-nanopesticides/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:33:47 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15091 Modern Farmer by Virginia Gewin Stacey Harper has never been a farmer. In wooded Alsea, Oregon, Harper is more likely to be found hunting elk than sowing seeds. Rather, it’s Harper’s work in the laboratory that links her to the soil. A scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Harper is doggedly researching tiny, human-made substances called nanoparticles, with the goal of identifying which will be a boon and which a bane for farmers, consumers

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Modern Farmer
by Virginia Gewin

Image by Charles O'Rear, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image by Charles O’Rear, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Stacey Harper has never been a farmer. In wooded Alsea, Oregon, Harper is more likely to be found hunting elk than sowing seeds.

Rather, it’s Harper’s work in the laboratory that links her to the soil.

A scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Harper is doggedly researching tiny, human-made substances called nanoparticles, with the goal of identifying which will be a boon and which a bane for farmers, consumers and the environment. Nanoparticles, which are the size of molecules, are already used in everything from sunscreen to biomedical devices. Their minuscule size makes them efficient, but also unpredictable. That’s what worries Harper: The first nano-formulations of pesticides are quietly making their way onto agricultural fields, and she wants to know what happens next.

An engineer as well as a toxicologist, Harper holds a unique perspective. She believes nanotechnology could help revolutionize farming just as it has medicine. But she sees the potential as well as the risks of nanopesticides. “I think the vast majority of nanopesticides will not be toxic” — or, at least, no more toxic to non-target organisms than current pesticides, says Harper. “We just need a way to identify that handful that may be hazardous.”

By shrinking the size of individual nanopesticide droplets, there is broad consensus — from industry to academia to the Environmental Protection Agency — that the total amount of toxins sprayed on agricultural fields could be significantly reduced. Smaller droplets have a higher total surface area, which offers overall greater contact with crop pests. As well, these tiny particles can be engineered so that, for example, a physical shell called a capsule can better withstand degradation in the environment, offering longer-lasting protection than conventional pesticides. But that shell can alter what had been predictable physical properties, such as how soluble the pesticide is in water.

And Harper is also well aware that the unique physical properties of the nano-scale call into question the particles’ environmental fate. Once they’re sprayed on fields, will they clump on crops or slide through the soil into water bodies? Most worrisome, Harper wonders whether they will be readily taken up by organisms that aren’t pests (such as bees or fish), and how long they will persist in the environment — properties that could radically change with size. “We just don’t know,” she says.

“The potential for nano-enabled pesticides is unbelievable, but it’s still a dream at the moment,” says Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. And the dream goes beyond pesticides. He describes plans for nano-sized sensors that can detect low nitrogen and send a message to a farmer’s cell phone or nanosensors in plastic food packaging that lights up when it comes into contact with listeria or salmonella. “The concern is that there might be unintended consequences associated with nanoparticles — that’s the big question being looked at by federal agencies,” he adds. “People like Stacey Harper are providing that yeoman service in making sure we are addressing any potential unintended consequences.”

Harper remembers the first time she heard the term “nanotechnology.” It was a decade ago during a meeting at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Las Vegas, where she worked as a postdoctoral student. Her team was tasked with assessing the health risks of nanomaterials. “The big discussion was ‘what are they and why are we concerned about them,’” she recalls.

Intrigued, Harper dove all-in, focusing initially on biomedical applications such as gold nanoparticles used to target drug delivery (one of the first products that adopted the technology). Eco-conscious companies were soon flooding her lab with products — ranging from sunscreens to acne medicine to compounds that fight methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, a flesh-eating bacteria) — for feedback on safety. She soon realized that with this new technology, an infinite number of nanoparticle types could be created, and that traditional risk assessment approaches, which would test individual nanoparticles, weren’t going to keep up with the challenge. “It’s really about figuring out what physical or structural properties would make one nanoparticle toxic compared to others,” she says.

Finding these answers has been anything but easy. One problem is a lack of funding. Over the last 13 years, the U.S. government has funneled billions into the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a coordinated R&D program that spans 20 federal departments and agencies and aims to spur nanotechnology across sectors. In 2008, the NNI took an unprecedented step and also began funding environmental health and safety research. “The need to assess new technology risks is one of the lessons learned from the GM (genetic modification of food) backlash,” says Harper. So far, however, the small fraction of this money available for risk testing has focused largely on workers who may inhale nanoparticles.

Scientists realized they needed faster, more efficient ways of assessing the risks of nanoparticles. Harper, for example, developed a test to assess the toxicity of nanomaterials on zebrafish, an aquatic version of a lab rat, one that can inform impacts to human health as well as the environment. Ramaswamy calls it “a really cool model system.”

“Of the hundreds of nanotech compounds we have tested, only a few are raising red flags,” Harper says. “It often boils down to whether the particle’s surface chemistry has an overall positive charge,” meaning, for example, that they could be attracted to negatively-charged cell membranes if they got into the human body. To keep track of the trouble-making nano-features, she helped create an international database of the physical structures and their toxicity. The goal is to determine which nanoparticle designs should be avoided, then share that information with industry.

It was Harper’s husband and current lab manager, Bryan, who turned her attention to the environmental impact of nanopesticides. Years ago, he worked at the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), a federally funded hotline housed on OSU’s campus that handles the public’s questions about pesticide health risks. Bryan was caught off-guard when calls starting coming in seeking information about the environmental risks of nanosilver, the first nanopesticide to hit the market. It’s an anti-bacterial compound used in a wide range of consumer products, from clothing to dietary supplements.

Naturally, he asked his wife for input. She couldn’t find anything on the risks in the scientific literature. “The environmental fate of nanopesticides is a big, black hole,” says Bryan. To help fill that void, Harper and colleagues recently received funding to determine how first-generation agricultural nanopesticides would move through soil and water, and whether they could inadvertently harm fish or bees.

To test these scenarios, Harper created “nano-sized ecosystems” to test how these compounds move through their environment and interact with fauna. In her lab, for example, plastic containers holding only a few grams of soil are poised above quarter-sized containers holding embryonic zebrafish. The team applies pesticides to the soil and then records the number of deformities in the zebrafish embryos. Harper’s OSU colleague, Louisa Hooven, will soon begin an experiment to see whether aerial sprays of nano-pesticide formulations will effect how bees transport pollen to their hives. The team expects to publish their findings by the end of the year.

But testing is not as easy as it sounds. Since the active ingredient in any given pesticide will likely be an already-approved chemical, pesticide companies don’t have to test a nano-sized version. Harper has run into enough walls that she doubts pesticide companies will voluntarily share their compounds, or even whether or not their products contain nanoparticles.

So she started pulling agricultural pesticides off the shelf to see if any already contain nano-sized particles, which, by definition, would make them nano-enabled pesticides. “Stacey is tenacious,” says NPIC director David Stone, who co-authored a 2010 paper with Harper laying out why “business-as-usual pesticide registration” won’t work at the nanoscale. “She’s got a lot of horsepower and creative ideas,” he says, adding that she’s one of the few researchers that will test products already on the market.

An initial scan revealed that 90 percent of the dozen pesticide products Harper and her colleagues have tested contain particles in the nanoscale range. Now she has to determine whether the nanoparticles are an active ingredient, a chemical stabilizer or simply a benign component that’s been in pesticides all along, unseen until recently.

“There is very little environmental fate and transport testing of nanoparticles being done,” says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist focused on regulation of toxic chemicals at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s expensive research, and where companies may have collected some environmental monitoring data, they don’t have any interest in making that information public,” she adds.

But Harper knows it won’t be long before manufacturers move beyond simply shrinking pesticides into nano-formulations. She expects to see multifunctional nanopesticides — for example, products equipped with biosensors able to detect pests before releasing the active ingredient — within the next 10 years. The speed with which the technology is advancing only bolsters her determination to answer these questions quickly.

Traveling over the hills from Alsea to the Willamette Valley each morning, she and her husband sometimes get a pungent reminder that their research could help find sustainable ways to reduce the need for so many sprays. “We can smell the fungicides and pesticides being applied to fields,” she says. “The more time you spend enjoying the beautiful country around here, the more you want to protect it.”

This story was produced by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization focusing on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

Correction: This article incorrectly identified MRSA as a flesh-eating virus. It is a flesh-eating bacteria.

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Cuba’s Harvest of Surpriseshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/cubas-harvest-surprises/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/cubas-harvest-surprises/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 16:58:33 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15087 Craftsmanship by Christopher D. Cook Source: Thomas Münter In the fall of 1989, a full quarter-century before President Obama normalized US relations with Cuba, the Berlin Wall came tumbling to the ground in a flurry of sledgehammers and concrete dust. Meanwhile, an economic tsunami was brewing on the small Caribbean island. The Soviet Bloc was crumbling fast, sending shock waves across the globe that would plunge Cuba’s food and farming into years of austerity, hunger,

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Craftsmanship
by Christopher D. Cook

Source: Thomas Münter

In the fall of 1989, a full quarter-century before President Obama normalized US relations with Cuba, the Berlin Wall came tumbling to the ground in a flurry of sledgehammers and concrete dust. Meanwhile, an economic tsunami was brewing on the small Caribbean island. The Soviet Bloc was crumbling fast, sending shock waves across the globe that would plunge Cuba’s food and farming into years of austerity, hunger, and radical overhaul.

Earlier that year, the international socialist market terminated Cuba’s favorable trade rates—abruptly curtailing 85 percent of the tiny nation’s trade. Imports of wheat and other grains dropped by more than half; food rationing set in, and hunger widened. Soviet aid, a pillar of Cuba’s economy, evaporated as U.S. economic sanctions tightened.

Economic collapse led swiftly to agricultural crisis. Cuba’s industrialized farming system, fueled, literally, by Soviet tractors and petrochemicals, ground to a halt. Oil imports fell by 53 percent, and the supply of pesticides and fertilizers fell by 80 percent. Launching an era of austerity and reform known as the “Special Period in Time of Peace,” the Castro government “instituted drastic measures such as planned blackouts, the use of bicycles for mass transportation, and the use of animals in the place of tractors” to meet the unfolding crisis, according to a report by Food First, a U.S.-based think tank focused on food justice issues.

Cuba took a step back in time, transforming itself from an industrial farming machine into a traditional agrarian society. Soviet tractors, once ubiquitous on Cuba’s farmlands, were replaced by animal traction—oxen, horses, and cows. In just the first year of this change, the nation put 280,888 domesticated animals to work, according to a detailed study of Cuba’s agricultural transformation called “Agroecology Revolution,” referring to an agricultural science developed in Latin America.

Out of sheer necessity, an entire nation went largely local and organic. By 1990, Cuba began breaking up its big state-run farms. Much like its American counterparts, these industrial operations produced monoculture harvests, which were accomplished primarily with heavy machinery and fossil fuels. Now the government was issuing land use-rights, seeds, and marketing incentives to peasant farmers by the thousands. Over the next decade, according to “Agroecology Revolution,” Cuba’s farmers shifted to organic fertilizers, traditional crops and animal breeds, diversified farming with crop rotations, and non-toxic pest controls emphasizing the use of beneficial plants and insects. This blend of measures is part of a sustainable-agriculture approach known as agroecology. It’s often described as a promising innovation—which is a little ironic given that it draws on age-old peasant farming practices.

And in this case, the revolution was not born out of idealism. It was simply the only option on hand for a nation with no money to keep buying tractors, oil, and petrochemicals. “Necessity gave birth to a new consciousness,” explains Orlando Lugo Fonte, president of Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).

Agroecology’s Big Harvest

Cuba’s agricultural de-tox represents “the largest conversion from conventional agriculture to organic and semi-organic farming that the world has ever known,” according to Food First. Across the countryside, a “campesino-a-campesino” (farmer-to-farmer) movement, growing more than 100,000 strong, shared techniques to stimulate production. Among the farmers’ guiding principles: “start slow, and start small;” “limit the introduction of technologies;” and “develop a multiplier effect” of farmer knowledge.

Great concepts, but what about results on the ground? By 2007, ANAP found, Cuba had stabilized and in some areas expanded food production even as farmers dramatically reduced pesticide use. While scaling back pesticides anywhere from 55-85 percent across a range of crops, peasant farmers produced 85 percent more tubers, 83 percent more vegetables, and 351 percent more beans.

Cuba’s farming revolution propelled the island from the lowest per capita food producer in Latin America and the Caribbean to its most prolific, says Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley professor of agroecology. Writing in The Monthly Review, Altieri and Fernando Funes-Monzote, a founding member of the Cuban Organic Agriculture Movement, came to a dramatic conclusion: “No other country in the world has achieved this level of success with a form of agriculture that uses the ecological services of biodiversity and reduces food miles, energy use, and effectively closes local production and consumption cycles.”

Perhaps most notable is Cuba’s explosion in urban agriculture. After the Soviet collapse, the Castro government distributed 13-hectare plots of farmland to young farmers within a 10-mile radius of urban centers, to ensure that people in the cities could eat. Within city limits, Altieri and Funes-Monzote reported in 2012, urban farms supply 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in Havana and Villa Clara, two of Cuba’s most densely populated centers. Nationwide, some 383,000 urban farms produce more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables.

Cuba’s food revolution is by no means a complete success, and there is cause for concern about its future. Cuba still imports a hefty portion of its food, though the precise amount is roundly debated. At a January 8 event unveiling a new “US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba”—which includes commodity groups such as the American Soybean Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers—US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated, “Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food, which means that the economic potential for our producers is significant.” The USDA says it obtained this figure from the UN World Food Programme, but according to other research, including a 2012 Food First book, “Unfinished Puzzle,” Cuba imports roughly half of its food supply. Cuba has spent more money on food imports since then, but the book says that much of that increase is due to rising food and oil prices.

Why might Secretary Vilsack favor one number and not another? “US farmers and agribusiness have long been interested in gaining access to Cuban markets,” says Tanya Kerssen, research coordinator for Food First. If that brings a fresh influx of imports, she says, “Cuba may not have the opportunity to fix problems in its food system because it might get railroaded by a flood of industrial food and synthetic farm inputs [pesticides and chemical fertilizers].” Kerssen fears that a change of this scale could “overwhelm Cuba’s system”—with a form of agriculture, ironically enough, that is not so different from the one it shed in 1989. “If this happens,” Kerssen says, “we may never get to see all the results of the agroecology revolution.”

Still, to Peter Rosset, a professor at the ECOSUR Advanced Studies Institute in Chiapas, Mexico, and a staff member for La Via Campesina, a global peasant farmer movement, the Cuba story proves that agroecology “is the way to produce as much food as we need.” Rosset, who co-authored “Agroecology Revolution,” says the farming approaches he studied in Cuba “can lower costs for farm families and provide them with a better life, and in ways that are more resilient to climate shocks.”

Beyond Cuba, researchers are finding that agroecology can produce harvests on par with industrial agriculture, while doing so more sustainably. Analyzing data from 115 different crop studies, a team of UC Berkeley environmental scientists concluded that age-old techniques such as multi-cropping and rotations—which, respectively, intermingle various crops in a single row for greater productivity, and rotate crops to nourish and replenish soils—“substantially reduce” any gap between organic and “conventional” agriculture. They concluded that investment in agroecological research “could greatly reduce or eliminate the yield gap for some crops or regions.”

Could it happen here?

Flanked by a lush, dark-green eruption of chard and fava beans at a tiny eighth-of-an-acre garden plot in Berkeley, Altieri scribbles numbers on a notepad, producing some compelling calculations: Applying agroecology methods on1200 acres of public lands, the city of Oakland could produce 25,000 tons of food annually—enough to feed at least 400,000 people—without any pesticides or genetically engineered “super plants.” Such a change would be huge, Altieri argues, since the Bay Area imports 6,000 tons of food each day, which lean heavily on fossil fuel. But for a host of reasons, it’s not likely, he says.

Despite agroecology’s impressive harvests in Cuba, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and other parts of Latin America, Altieri doesn’t see it taking root here. “I don’t think there is an agroecology movement in the US. Agroecology is a science developed in Latin America, connected to social movements like La Via Campesina,” says Altieri. Those movements are virtually absent here. Even in Berkeley, land of foodies and sustainable-ag acolytes, “they take the ecological principles, but strip it of its true social importance,” Altieri says. That social context, in Altieri’s view, has as much to do with democratizing food systems as with farming techniques. “We can learn the techniques, but these are socio-ecological systems, not just ecological systems.”

Altieri says two big changes are needed first: access to land (particularly for younger farmers), and public investment in small-scale sustainable farming. In the U.S., the bulk of US farm subsidies benefit large-scale industrial farms; in Brazil, by comparison, national agricultural law requires the government to purchase 30 percent of small farms’ harvests, Altieri explains. “Can you imagine if that happened here? Those laws happened because social movements brought pressure.”

Despite the obstacles, ecological urban farming is spreading, albeit on a small scale. New policies in Oakland and in San Francisco have given gardeners easier access to land and water, under a “Right to Grow” concept. “When we can grow food for ourselves,” says Esperanza Pallana, executive director of the Oakland Food Policy Council, “that is independence.”

Even if agroecology is relegated to small advances in the U.S., Altieri believes it can still heal. “When people go back to the land and transorm [it] through agroecology, they transform themselves—they become better people, better parents, better husbands.” And the land, he says, takes notice: “Treat nature with respect and dignity, and nature responds.”

Beyond inspiration, Cuba’s organic revolution also offers a warning. “We have two paradigms that are clashing,” says Altieri, “the industrial model and the ecological one. Humanity has to make up its mind which way we want to go. The question for the US is, do we wait for the agricultural system to collapse before we make a change?”

Christopher D. Cook has written for Harper’s, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, The Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere. He is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.

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How Regenerative Organic Agriculture Can Save the Planethttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/regenerative-organic-agriculture-can-save-planet/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/regenerative-organic-agriculture-can-save-planet/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:20:13 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15084 EcoWatch by John W. Roulac John W. Roulac [Editor’s note: This article is part two of a two-part series. Read part one.] We now know that 20-30 percent of manmade greenhouse gases in the atmosphere comes from industrial agriculture. Petrochemicals are for cars, not for the soil. By dumping ag chemicals onto our soils, we disrupt nature’s delicate balance of water, soil and air. Carbon sequestration land practices include agriculture, forestry, wetland and range management systems that improve

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EcoWatch
by John W. Roulac

John W. Roulac

[Editor’s note: This article is part two of a two-part series. Read part one.]

We now know that 20-30 percent of manmade greenhouse gases in the atmosphere comes from industrial agriculture. Petrochemicals are for cars, not for the soil. By dumping ag chemicals onto our soils, we disrupt nature’s delicate balance of water, soil and air.

Carbon sequestration land practices include agriculture, forestry, wetland and range management systems that improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and/or organic matter in the soil. Today excess carbon is falling into our oceans and creating acidic conditions that threaten plant and animal species. If we remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans by way of regenerative organic agriculture practices, we will sequester carbon into the soil and expand the soil’s water-holding capacity. Building organic matter into the soil’s humus layer is essential for growing the healthful foods humanity needs.

As National Geographic has reported, “… relatively new research is finding that the introduction of massive amounts of  CO2 into the seas is altering water chemistry and affecting the life cycles of many marine organisms.” This is disturbing the oceanic ecosystem in profound ways that include reducing the plankton that feeds whales and provides oxygen for humans.

The 2014 Rodale Institute report states, “Organically managed soils can convert carbon CO2 from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset.” Two major upsides to this approach are drought-proof soils and, thanks to more nutrient-rich foods, reduced healthcare costs.

Foodies, Unite!

Luckily, bloggers, activists and the booming pure food movement hold the promise of positive change. We need a coalition of educated and empowered people to make good dietary choices that also support living soils. Organic, nutrient-dense foods might cost more (buying in bulk helps), yet we can see how costly poor food choices are for our national health. And, as in the civil rights movement or any progressive movement for change, it’s time for us to stand up and make our voices heard. Keep blogging, tweeting, Pinteresting, Instagramming and posting on Facebook, as sharing is caring.

The San Francisco-based Biosafety Alliance will hold a major conference on carbon farming and climate change in Richmond, California, in September 2015, featuring such speakers as Vandana Shiva and Ronnie Cummins. The ministers of propaganda at Monsanto and other chemical companies are amping up their own social media campaigns, to tell us how they’re going to feed the world and increase food security through genetically engineered foods and chemical agriculture. Sales are down or flat for virtually every major American food company, so they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fortify their misleading advertising and public relations campaigns.

Courtney White in his book Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country writes: “It is easy to forget that once upon a time all agriculture was organic, grass-fed and regenerative. Seed saving, composting, fertilizing with manure, polycultures, no-till and raising livestock entirely on grass—was the norm, not the exception as it is now.

“We all know what happened next: the plow, the tractor, fossil fuels, mono-crops, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, feedlots, animal byproducts, e. coli, CAFOs, GMOs, erosion, despair—practices and conditions that most Americans today think of as ‘normal,’ when they think about agriculture at all.”

As delicate ecosystems are disrupted, and plant and animal species face extinction at an ever-increasing rate, the word is getting out that the current practices of chemical companies and industrial agriculture are harming billions of people.

Recently, large investment funds have responded to disinvestment advocates by selling off their holdings in Exxon, BP, Chevron and other carbon polluters, yet they still invest in Monsanto—a group that transgresses far beyond any oil company in its injury to the environment and society.

It’s time for everyone who cares about the future of food to unite in changing the failing industrial agriculture system. We have the opportunity to vote three times a day by eating organic whole foods instead of packaged, processed and convenient “food-like substances.” Vegans, it’s vital that you choose organic foods vs. Roundup-sprayed, hexane-processed soy cutlets. The fake, non-organic foods funded by the Silicon Valley are not life-enhancing. For those who eat meat, eggs and dairy products, it’s important to support pasture-based ranchers and suppliers, as these systems sequester carbon into the soil humus-sphere through intensive grazing. Meat eaters consider consuming 50 percent less meat, and at all costs we must avoid conventional suppliers that rely on toxic, high-GHG chemical fertilizers to grow carbon-intensive GMO corn and soy.

Industrial agriculture regards soil as merely a root-holding medium on which to apply petroleum products while manipulating genetics. Regenerative organic agriculture views soil as a holistic system, and understands the interconnected soil biology—teeming with the billions of bacteria and fungi that, along with earthworms and organic matter, indicate good health. Healthy soil yields healthy foods that, in turn, nourish a healthy society. Los Angeles-based Kiss the Ground Foundation is working on a powerful, new, five-minute Story of Soil video to educate the public on this vital issue.

Using short rotation with solar-powered mobile fencing, a new generation of ranchers is growing grass while building carbon and organic matter into the soil. The 12-minute video Soil Carbon Cowboys featured one such “grass rancher,” Gabe Brown, who increased the organic matter in his North Dakota pastureland from less than 2 percent to 8 percent in 20 years.

For annual crops, planting rotational cover crops like vetch or alfalfa, instead of using nitrogen fertilizers, is essential. Chemical nitrogen fertilizers release massive amounts of nitric oxides that are nearly 400 times worse than carbon dioxide. Some organic CAFO producers such as Horizon Organic Milk are clearly not regenerative, as they rely on factory farms to produce a large percentage of their milk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics vastly underreport agriculture emissions at 10-12 percent total. Many researchers think agriculture is the source of more of these emissions than even transportation fuels. Organic is better than conventional, but organic plus regenerative is best, for it enhances soil fertility vs. merely maintaining it. (A big reason why the return of hemp farming is so vital is hemp’s deep taproot and nitrogen-rich leaves that build soil tilth).

Yet, as Tom Newmark of regenerative farming group the Carbon Underground says, “We need to both move forward in building soil life and conduct more science around carbon sequestration to share with policymakers and allies.”

The Way Forward

Many in the organic movement wonder about our NGO allies in the climate, ocean and forestry sectors. According to Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, “With the mounting evidence of how regenerative organic agriculture is the number one solution for climate change, ocean health, and soil ecology via sequestering carbon, it’s time for the environmental movement to join forces. In fact, our survival depends on it.”

Trying to solve the entire problem by reducing global carbon via solar, wind and renewables has been a failure. One climate meeting after another ends with people throwing up their hands and declaring that we’re doomed because nations won’t agree to meaningful cuts. The message of drawing down carbon via regenerative agriculture warrants no mention in the glossy documents, nor even a tweet!

A recent Cummins “Letter from Lima” provides interesting background on the climate movement.

Yet a groundswell of people are beginning to realize that the way forward is to support regenerative organic farming and pasture-raised meat and dairy systems while simultaneously reducing animal consumption. As the Earth passes the 400-ppm carbon mark, noted author and environmentalist Paul Hawken declares, “Stabilization at 450, 500, 550 ppm is chaos—our goal should be drawdown.”

Which is better for the environment—to buy a Tesla and consume a standard American diet or to drive a used SUV and eat an organic diet with some pastured meat and dairy? Yes, it’s the latter, and of course even better is to eat an organic diet, walk or bike more, and drive a more energy-efficient car.

Soil, not oil, is the wise path forward. At the height of this information age of Google and the social media, the history of our planet is being written. Will it ultimately be said that the simple solution under our feet was shared around the digital campfire, and thus globally chosen by informed citizens of the Earth? Or will the annals read that this saving solution was ignored by all but a few? Did the 7 billion people on Planet Earth succumb to false messages from Monsanto, Exxon and self-serving apologists that GMO “better living through chemistry” food systems were best?

As you read this, a new generation of GMO 2.0 untested synthetic foods is being programmed in labs via “3-D food printing.” The fate of Earth’s life-support systems is hanging in the balance. Remember, as you start to reach for that box of non-organic cereal for your shopping cart: What we eat will impact the planet more than just about anything else we do. It’s late in the fourth quarter and there are no timeouts left, but—yes—we have the ball.

It’s time for us to revive the ancient wisdom of honoring the land, and in the process heal our atmosphere, our oceans, our humus-sphere and ourselves. Regenerative organic agriculture is the answer we need to create a food system that works for everyone. Are you ready to be part of this solution?

John W. Roulac, founder and CEO of the superfoods company Nutiva, has also founded five nonprofit ecological groups, including GMO Inside and the Nutiva Foundation. John has written four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons.

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Industrial Poultry and Dairy Operations Slide Under Organic Regulationshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/industrial-poultry-dairy-operations-slide-organic-regulations/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/industrial-poultry-dairy-operations-slide-organic-regulations/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 23:53:27 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15081 Center for Rural Affairs by John Crabtree Aurora Dairy in Dublin, TX Federal organic regulations require that organic poultry and livestock be provided regular access to the outdoors. Dairy cattle and other ruminants must also be provided access to pasture. Increasingly, massive industrial poultry and dairy facilities are obtaining organic certification. And there’s the rub. It strains all sense of credibility that these industrial confinement operations claim they meet the outdoor and pasture requirements embedded

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Center for Rural Affairs
by John Crabtree

Aurora Dairy in Dublin, TX

Federal organic regulations require that organic poultry and livestock be provided regular access to the outdoors. Dairy cattle and other ruminants must also be provided access to pasture.

Increasingly, massive industrial poultry and dairy facilities are obtaining organic certification. And there’s the rub. It strains all sense of credibility that these industrial confinement operations claim they meet the outdoor and pasture requirements embedded in the nation’s organic laws.

Recently, the Cornucopia Institute published photographs and other evidence that many of these operations are out of compliance. Cornucopia’s evidence is extremely damning. It shows massive dairy operations with no evidence of pasture access and poultry houses with a couple hundred square feet of outdoor access for hundreds of thousands of birds.

Why does it matter, you ask? It matters because for a generation small-scale organic farmers from across rural America have worked tirelessly to establish an ethical, environmentally responsible system of organic farming. They built an incredibly powerful economic relationship with the American consumer.

Those farmers deserve the right to enjoy the benefits of that relationship. Instead of trying to steal the organic label, perhaps industrial mega-farms should sell their meat, dairy, and eggs on their own merits for a change.

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Study Estimates Cost of Reducing Gulf “Dead Zone”http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/study-estimates-cost-reducing-gulf-dead-zone/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/study-estimates-cost-reducing-gulf-dead-zone/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:49:33 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15076 Study estimates cost of reducing Gulf “dead zone” Center for Agricultural and Rural Development Source: NASA A group of national researchers, including Todd Campbell, Philip Gassman, Adriana Valcu, and Catherine Kling from the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, as well as others from across the country, has quantified the cost of reducing the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic “dead” zone, an area of low oxygen that can’t support marine life. To meet the national policy

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Study estimates cost of reducing Gulf “dead zone”

Center for Agricultural and Rural Development

Source: NASA

A group of national researchers, including Todd Campbell, Philip Gassman, Adriana Valcu, and Catherine Kling from the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, as well as others from across the country, has quantified the cost of reducing the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic “dead” zone, an area of low oxygen that can’t support marine life. To meet the national policy goal of reducing the hypoxic zone to 5,000 km2, a goal set by the national Gulf of Mexico Task Force, the US would need to invest about $2.7 billion annually, researchers found. The research is detailed in an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, available at http://bit.ly/PNAShypoxia.

The cost of reducing the hypoxic zone was achieved by studying more than 550 agricultural subwatersheds that generate nutrient runoff from agricultural practices into the gulf. The study allowed researchers to determine which subwatersheds would be the most cost-effective to target for conservation investments and determine the actual cost of making the investments.

Currently the hypoxic zone is about 15,000 km2, and can vary in size from year to year. “The size of the zone has varied significantly over the last 20 years, but it has largely been on a steady or upward trend,” said Catherine Kling. “Weather has a large influence on the annual size—drought years create smaller zones and heavy rainfall years produce larger zones as nutrients are carried by the watersheds into the gulf.”

Kling, an environmental economist, has been studying the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone for several years. “I was first struck by how small actions in thousands of agricultural fields could collectively contribute to such a large problem area,” she said. “The more I learned the more I realized that this is the end result of a problem affecting streams, rivers, and lakes throughout the Midwest, and that the tools of my trade could help frame some of the issues for policymakers and the general public.”

While the researchers were able to put the $2.7 billion annual price tag on achieving the action plan goal, the study didn’t look into where that money would come from. “There are a number of policies that could be implemented to achieve the reduction in the hypoxic zone. If the policies subsidize conservation practices, then the cost is largely borne by taxpayers. If, on the other hand, the policies require a change in farming practices without compensation, then the cost is initially covered by farmers, but could be passed on through higher food and fuel prices,” Kling said. The cost of the reduction, Kling said, is scalable—the same policies could be implemented on a smaller scale for less money, but with a smaller reduction in the hypoxic zone. “This is an important decision for society to make, and we hope our work will help people consider the tradeoffs between cost and the environment,” Kling said. Lastly, Kling said, the any changes in policy that affect the hypoxic zone will happen over the course of many years. “Realistically, change is not likely to occur very quickly—if it takes decades for land-use change to occur, it will take that long for significant changes in the hypoxic zone,” she said.

(Released January 2015)

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