Coalition Report

by Kathleen Logan Smith
Policy Director,
Coalition For The Environment

<h3>The Choice: Healthy Food / Healthy Planet
or Poisoned Food/Poisoned Planet</h3>

The US Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to several requests to increase the levels of pesticides allowed on and in our fruit, vegetables, spices, coffee, meat and dairy. In fact, the agency is continually deluged with such requests. EPA claims to have completed 9,637 reviews of these requests to set ‘tolerance’ levels as part of a decade-long ‘reform’ effort. Many manufacturers are already coming back for modifications to allow more pesticides in the food supply.

If the actions become final on this round, you’ll be getting more neurotoxins with every swallow despite the fact that the original degenerative impacts have not changed. Right now, the EPA has requests for increasing permitted levels of pesticides on almonds, apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, citrus, cucumbers, cilantro, dill, pomegranates, persimmons, parsely, peas, milk, meat and more. Among the dozens of requests for substances that kill insects, weeds, or fungi are a newer class deemed ‘biopesticides’ where the killing action is genetically engineered into the plant itself. The flagship biopesticide is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.). Scientists then engineered these insect-killing proteins into cotton, corn, and soybeans.

In this latest action, Dow AgroSciences LLC is requesting an exemption that would eliminate the need to establish a maximum permissible level for residues of Bt protein in soybeans. Soy is used in infant formula, animal feed, and a host of food additives found in products from protein bars to salad dressings. The EPA has already allowed Bt corn into the food supply of people and animals and Bt cotton (seed) can be used in animal feed.

The latest biopesticide seeking EPA approval is “Helicoverpa zea ABA Nucleopolyhedrovirus-U”. Marketed as Heligen, proposed for use “as an insecticide to be applied by ground or aerial spray or by chemigation to food and non-food crops and ornamentals.” Despite its admission that this would be the “first food and outdoor uses for this substance,” the EPA offered a scant 15-day comment period which closed in Februrary.

Syngenta, the makers of the fungicide Fenpropidin, which is used on bananas, is seeking an increase. The EPA admits Fenpropidin irritates the eyes, stomach, nervous system, esophagus and skin and, in some animal tests, contributes to demyelination of spinal cord and nerves. The EPA is also considering a temporary increase that doubles allowable levels of the insecticide Dinotefuran, a neonicotinoid insectide, for use on fruits like apples, pears and peaches. Besides being neurotoxic, neonicotinoids are in the class of pesticides contributing to the decline of pollinators like honey bees (which are needed to successfully produce crops like apples, pears, almonds, and peaches.)

With the ever-growing chemical cocktail making its way into our dinner menus, the question is, “Is this good for us?” Sadly, the EPA does not fully assess the impacts of multiple chemicals with breakfast, lunch and dinner. EPA assesses cumulative impacts only if substances work the same way, not based on collective impacts on the same organs (like the liver or nerves).

For the anemic scrutiny human health receives in the review process, other creatures fare worse. The EPA fails to fully assess the impact of pesticides on the meals of other creatures- the frogs, birds, friendly insects, and reptiles that eat “pests”; or the cattle, goats, pigs, cats and dogs that eat the crops and forage. Nor does it fully assess ecosystem impacts of a ‘kill it all’ management approach. Honeybees are facing a 30-50% mortality, which can lead to massive failure of the same crops the EPA portends to protect from insect ‘pests’.

And so goes the arms race with nature. Ecologists warned that nature would respond to a pesticide-saturated world and it has. While science deployed insect-killing plants, nature responded with poison-proof insects and weeds while other species such as Monarch butterflies and honeybees suffer. In the evolutionary timeline, species can become extinct in the equivalent of the blink of an eye. One way or another, nature will persist – whether humans will and for how long is our choice.

You may still comment on these moves at the www.regulations.gov website (search “pesticides” then choose “Filter Results by… Open” to see which comment periods are open) by their deadlines the first week of April. You may be better served by phoning your Congressmen to question whether the agency of “Environmental Protection” should be allowing more toxins into our food supply, our air, our water and our ecosystems.

For more information on this and other environmental topics, stop by our booth at the Healthy Planet Natural Living Expo March 30 In Webster Groves.