Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:37:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Vani Hari’s New Book: The Food Babe Wayhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/vani-haris-new-book-food-babe-way/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/vani-haris-new-book-food-babe-way/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:18:23 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15131 Cornucopia is happy to alert you to a new book by our friend and good food advocate Vani Hari. Vani’s effective and strong positions on toxic chemicals and food additives have earned her acclaim as well as the enmity of Big Food and their busy PR flacks. Check out her new book at your local book store or online retailer, available February 10, 2015.

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VaniBookCornucopia is happy to alert you to a new book by our friend and good food advocate Vani Hari.

Vani’s effective and strong positions on toxic chemicals and food additives have earned her acclaim as well as the enmity of Big Food and their busy PR flacks.

Check out her new book at your local book store or online retailer, available February 10, 2015.

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Chicken Industry Acts More Like Ostricheshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/chicken-industry-acts-like-ostriches/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/chicken-industry-acts-like-ostriches/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:28:56 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15127 Food Safety News by Leah Garces Source: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project Last month, something unprecedented happened that rocked the chicken industry’s world. Perdue contract farmer Craig Watts decided he’d had enough. Together with my organization, Compassion in World Farming, he released a video that gave the public a unique view into the secretive world of the chicken industry. He revealed what the National Chicken Council (NCC), USDA, and Perdue mean by “humanely raised” and “cage-free”: 30,000 chickens

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Food Safety News
by Leah Garces

Source: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project

Last month, something unprecedented happened that rocked the chicken industry’s world.

Perdue contract farmer Craig Watts decided he’d had enough. Together with my organization, Compassion in World Farming, he released a video that gave the public a unique view into the secretive world of the chicken industry.

He revealed what the National Chicken Council (NCC), USDA, and Perdue mean by “humanely raised” and “cage-free”: 30,000 chickens stuffed into a windowless warehouse, on feces-ridden litter, made to grow so big so quickly that they can hardly stand on their own two legs.

Consumers were outraged. More than half a million people viewed the video in the first 24 hours alone on YouTube. Media coverage was widespread, led by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s hard-hitting piece. Perdue’s Facebook page was inundated with fuming customers who felt betrayed.

Watts revealed a truth that the chicken industry, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, refuses to acknowledge. Americans don’t want factory-farmed chickens. And they certainly don’t want USDA to put a stamp on it calling it humane and cage-free.

Hours after the release, Perdue turned up at Watts’ farm to conduct a surprise animal-welfare audit, the first he had ever received in his 22 years of raising chickens. Perdue handed CIWF’s video over to the “Center for Food Integrity’s” panel of industry spokespeople to review the footage.

CFI’s CEO Charlie Arnot has made clear the purpose of the “review panel.”  He stated, “This program creates an opportunity for animal agriculture to re-frame the public conversation related to undercover video investigations.”

Predictably, CFI’s “re-framing” was to blame Watts for poor management. Industry press regurgitated the panel’s review. Feedstuffs, a farming newspaper, stated that the “video misrepresents the broiler industry” and grasped at straws, trying to blame selective editing of the film and poor management.

They failed to check Watts’ history and records. Not only are the conditions of his farm within industry norms, but Watts has been awarded by Perdue as a top producer.

But the public was not to be fooled again. Consumer Rickie Colonna posted this on Perdue’s Facebook page: “Nice retaliation against a farmer who wants his unhealthy chickens to see the light of day. I will never buy Perdue again.“

In the weeks that followed, Watts had six visits in total from Perdue. More than 22,000 emails were sent by consumers to supermarkets across the country asking for better treatment of chickens. Letters of encouragement poured into CIWF’s office, thanking Watts for his efforts and hoping other farmers might do the same.

With the eyes of the media on Perdue and Watts receiving pro bono legal counsel from the Government Accountability Project, his contract with Perdue has been kept intact — so far.

Watts risked everything to tell this story. He risked his friendships with his neighbors, his livelihood and his future for his family. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Instead of condemning Watts, the industry could learn from his courage.

The chicken industry is presented with two options. One is to continue to blame “farm management” as the culprit every time a video comes out revealing the cruel realities of factory farming. This approach clearly backfired in this situation. Trying to silence farmers who question the status quo is not an effective way to win Americans’ trust.

The other is to listen to what consumers, and Watts, are saying. Go beyond the NCCs anemic guidelines, beyond keeping animals in windowless, barren, packed warehouses, on feces-ridden litter, with genetics that result in crippled, inactive birds. If the industry doesn’t take its head out of the sand soon, the chasm between it and its customers will only continue to grow.

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Monsanto Once Again Developing Herbicide Resistant Wheathttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/monsanto-developing-herbicide-resistant-wheat/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/monsanto-developing-herbicide-resistant-wheat/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:52:28 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15120 Beyond Pesticides Source: Andrew Gustar Over a decade after consumer opposition halted multinational agrichemical business Monsanto’s plans to develop genetically engineered (GE) herbicide-resistant wheat, the company is trying again. This time, Monsanto’s goal is to create wheat that is resistant to three different herbicides; glyphosate, glufosinate, and dicamba. Although over 90% of corn, soybean, and cotton grown in the United States are GE, no GE wheat is currently allowed to be planted. In 2013, a

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Beyond Pesticides

Source: Andrew Gustar

Over a decade after consumer opposition halted multinational agrichemical business Monsanto’s plans to develop genetically engineered (GE) herbicide-resistant wheat, the company is trying again. This time, Monsanto’s goal is to create wheat that is resistant to three different herbicides; glyphosate, glufosinate, and dicamba. Although over 90% of corn, soybean, and cotton grown in the United States are GE, no GE wheat is currently allowed to be planted.

In 2013, a farmer in Oregon discovered the presence of Monsanto’s original Roundup-Ready wheat, developed to be resistant to glyphosate, in his field despite the company’s plans to abandon the strain and claims to have destroyed the crop a decade earlier. The company had restarted extensive field trials back in 2011. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined that the contamination was an “isolated incident.” It was unable to determine exactly how the wheat came to grow in the Oregon farmer’s field.

However, shortly after the agency closed its investigation, another farmer in Montana detected the GE strain in his wheat fields. The recurrence of this incident reveals the contamination event not to be an isolated incident. It instead demonstrates the threat that these crops pose to farmers and the environment, as well as the government’s failure to recognize the pervasive and persistent nature of GE contamination.

In 2012, U.S. wheat exports were valued at $18.1 billion. Contamination events can cause significant economic harm to individual farmers, and even damage entire industries. Over 60 countries have bans on the production and import of GE crops. In response to the 2013 incident in Oregon, countries around the world, including Japan, South Korea, and the entire EU, enacted detrimental restrictions on the import of wheat.

In response to these trade barriers, wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest launched a lawsuit against Monsanto. In November of last year, not wishing to engage in an extended legal battle with the growers, Monsanto announced a $2.4 million settlement.

In its intent to incorporate three levels of herbicide tolerance, Monsanto’s new variety of wheat recognizes the failures of its Roundup-Ready farming system. Since such varieties were developed, weeds throughout the U.S. have displayed resistance to the company’s flagship glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. A study published in 2012 by Washington State University researcher Charles Benbrook, PhD, found that, rather than decrease herbicide use as chemical companies like Monsanto originally claimed, herbicide-tolerant cropping systems increased herbicide use from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to roughly 90 million pounds in 2011. “Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent,” Dr. Benbrook said.

In response to widespread resistance, agrichemical companies have doubled-down and engineered new varieties of GE crops resistant to increasingly toxic herbicides. And regulators in USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have rubber-stamped these harmful products. In October of last year EPA approved a new herbicide to be used on a new form of corn resistant to 2,4-D and glyphosate, despite outcries from public health and environmental advocates.

As it stands, Monsanto has gained USDA approval on cotton and soybean plants tolerant of dicamba, and is waiting on regulatory decision from EPA on the “Xtend” herbicide that complements the crop. Increased use of dicamba is certain to induce dicamba-resistant weeds, similar to what is currently seen with Roundup. As a result of dicamba’s high mobility in soils, contamination of groundwater is a significant risk. Dicamba has a high tendency to vaporize and drift, resulting in injury to sensitive crops. Abnormal leaf growth and floral development, reduced yield, and reduced quality have all been observed from dicamba drift. Moreover, studies have found that exposure to dicamba prior to conception is associated with increased risk of birth defects in male offspring. Dicamba has also been associated with a decrease in the ability to conceive, and cell death in developing embryos.

Contrary to industry proclamations, introducing wheat engineered to tolerate dicamba, glufosinate, and glyphosate will only keep farmers on a chemical treadmill that continues to propagate resistant weeds, endanger the environment, health, and agricultural economy.

For more information on the hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the USDA certified organic seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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

 

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Harvard Buys Up Water Rights in Drought-Hit Wine Countryhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/harvard-buys-water-rights-drought-hit-wine-country/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/01/harvard-buys-water-rights-drought-hit-wine-country/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 22:40:13 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=15116 [NOTE:  The Harvard’s endowment fund has also been a key owner of Aurora Dairy, the nation’s largest factory farm producer of “organic milk.”] Reuters by Richard Valdmanis Harvard University has quietly become one of the biggest grape growers in California’s drought-stricken Paso Robles wine region, securing water well drilling permits to feed its vineyards days before lawmakers banned new pumping, according to records reviewed by Reuters. The investment, which began as a bet on the

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[NOTE:  The Harvard’s endowment fund has also been a key owner of Aurora Dairy, the nation’s largest factory farm producer of “organic milk.”]

Reuters
by Richard Valdmanis

About_HMC_5Harvard University has quietly become one of the biggest grape growers in California’s drought-stricken Paso Robles wine region, securing water well drilling permits to feed its vineyards days before lawmakers banned new pumping, according to records reviewed by Reuters.

The investment, which began as a bet on the grape market, has turned into a smart water play as the wells boosted the value of its land in the up-and-coming wine region of Paso Robles. But it has also raised questions about the role of big investors in agriculture in the midst of a water crisis.

“It remains to be seen what commitment they have to the business of agriculture,” said Susan Harvey of environmental advocacy group North County Watch, which has been following the drought closely. “Is Harvard going to keep pumping ground water, or cut back on returns to protect water quality and quantity?”

Brodiaea Inc, wholly owned by the secretive $36 billion Harvard endowment fund, has spent more than $60 million to purchase about 10,000 acres in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties since 2012, making it one of the top 20 growers in Paso Robles.

Harvard Management Company, which runs the fund, declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing individual investments. Brodiaea officials did not respond to repeated phone messages.

Dana Merrill, who owns a vineyard services firm near Paso Robles and sold land to Brodiaea in 2012, said the company was among several big investors that have entered the wine grape market in California in recent years. He said he didn’t believe Brodiaea’s land buys were part of a well-timed water play.

“You’ve got a value-added product, you’ve got agricultural real-estate as a hedge against inflation, and if you can be smart about operating it you can come up with a pretty consistent cash flow that can produce a return on investment that is not as volatile as other products,” he said.

Real estate brokers said irrigable land in the heart of the Paso Robles region is running about $15,000 to $20,000 per acre, versus $3,000 for an acre of dry pasture – a spread that has widened sharply as the drought has tightened its grip.

BUYING SPREE

Since it began its buying spree – which coincided with the start of California’s latest drought – Brodiaea has acquired rights to drill 16 water wells of between 700 and 900 feet deep, two or three times deeper than the average residential well, according to county records. Deeper wells will continue to give them access to water as shallower wells run dry.

“The area they bought in has some of the best groundwater in the region, and having working wells puts their investment in a strong position,” said David Hamel, a local real-estate appraiser.

No environmental advocacy group has accused Brodiaea of trying to profit from the drought, but North County Watch’s Harvey said the drilling of deep wells in the Paso Robles wine region has the potential to exacerbate problems for locals.

“A deep well pumping high volume can draw down wells up to a mile away,” she said.

As local lawmakers were trying to figure out how to deal with the worsening water shortage in Paso Robles in 2013, Brodiaea and a number of other investors, agricultural land owners and residents moved fast to secure water rights.

The company got permits for seven 800-foot wells on Aug. 21, 2013, six days before a ban on new pumping from the hardest-hit part of the basin took effect, according to previously unreported data from the records.

RISING PRICES

An analysis published by real estate investment company Pacifica Real Estate Group this week said it expected Paso Robles irrigable land prices to rise further due to increased interest from investors from Napa Valley and Sonoma, where an acre now fetches between $75,000 and $100,000. But, “with a three-year drought upon Paso Robles, good water supply will be one of the biggest factors.”

Harvard’s investment arm, often a pioneer in new asset classes, has faced criticism in the past for some of its timber and energy investments and last year the school signed on to U.N.-backed principles for responsible investment.

Investments in natural resources were a priority for Jane Mendillo who lead the endowment until December. She has been replaced by insider Stephen Blyth.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, Harvard’s endowment returned 15.4 percent and for the last 20 years it returned an average 12.3 percent a year. During the most recent year, investments for natural resources returned 9 percent, beating the benchmark’s 7.5 percent return.

(Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Ross Colvin)

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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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