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Agrochemicals In The News

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  • A man spraying pesticides California’s Bold Plan to Transform Pest Management Systems is Long on Ambition and Light on Details

    By: Chuck Benbrook, HHRA ED By: Mark Lipson, HHRA Director of Policy and Regulatory Engagement We welcomed the invitation from California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation for members of the public to offer comments and guidance as the State begins to take concrete actions needed to achieve the goals set forth in the new report Sustainable Pest Management: A Roadmap for California. Reviewing the 94-page Roadmap report reminded us how many constituencies, forces, and factors are pushing and pulling farmers, pest managers, and government agencies in multiple directions that are rarely aligned. This Roadmap document describes a very different pest management future that will hopefully become the “de facto” way pests are managed on and off the farm by 2050. If successful by 2050, prevention-based biointensive Integrated Pest Management (bioIPM) will be the norm and there will be minimal if any use of high-risk “Priority Pesticides”. Some thirty-two years ago, DPR hired Chuck Benbrook to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of DPR’s programs and policies to assist in the integration of DPR into the newly-formed Cal-EPA. The resulting report, Challenge and Change: A Progressive Approach to Pesticide Regulation in California, came out in March of 1993. It provides dozens of recommendations intended to do many of the same things that the 2023 Roadmap report hopes to bring within reach. The fact that most pest management systems in California have become more, not less reliant on pesticides over the last 30 years suggests that DPR’s and CDFA’s efforts to achieve Roadmap goals are going to entail heavy lifting, mostly uphill. For this reason in HHRA’s comments, Mark and Chuck describe the nature and substantial scope of changes in laws and policy that will be required to track progress toward Roadmap goals and hopefully, someday, achieve them.

  • Europe is Growing Organic Production, Will the US Follow Suit?

    Advocates calling for change in US Ag Inc often struggle to point to successful models through which farming and food chains have evolved toward safer and more sustainable production systems. The surest way to largely eliminate the impacts of prenatal pesticide exposure on birth outcomes and children’s development – HHRA’s foundational goals – is converting US farmland to organic production. We are often asked how such change can come about. Convincing answers to this key and important question are few and far between in the US, but some key lessons are emerging from efforts in Europe to expand organic farming and food supply chains. The Cilento organic food bio-district in Italy was established in 2009 and is thought to be the first-ever in the world. Overcoming challenges faced by organic farmers in marketing their produce was a primary driver. Municipal actions expanded demand for organic food and ingredients via public food-purchasing programs. The lure of scenic rural landscapes and strong support from the agrotourism industry for organic food and farming created new market demand. Today, organic farming is thriving in the Cilento district, profit margins have expanded, and enhanced soil health is supporting higher yields at lower costs on many farms. An action by a city council led to the formation of the Södertälje organic food system in east-central Sweden, some 35 kilometers from Stockholm. The goal was to expand the supply of organic products for public food-procurement programs as a way to advance health and environmental quality. The municipality’s Diet Union developed new food products and recipes in the context of a “Diet for a clean Baltic” to promote health and reduce food waste. Restaurants and cafeterias began using smaller plates to cut down on waste, an intervention that has proven to be surprisingly effective. In south-eastern France the mad cow disease outbreak across Europe was the trigger of action leading to the Mouans-Sartoux organic food system. The initial focus was on supplying organic beef to school canteens, coupled with municipal government support for regional sustainable farm research and food education programs. A multi-faceted effort to provide organic food to children led to greater awareness of the diversity of benefits arising from organic farming. New efforts emerged to reach other vulnerable segments of the population with organic food (e.g. the elderly, pregnant women). These three region-based organic food systems in Europe are case studies in a just-published paper by Lilliana Stefanovic (2020), a scientist in the Department of Organic Food Quality and Food Culture at the University of Kessel in Germany. Imagine that. An academic department focused on organic food quality and culture. How long might it take for such a department to take hold at Iowa State University, in the heart of American farm country? The Stefanovic paper addresses how local organic food systems in Europe can contribute in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set forth by the United Nations, and especially SDG 12, “responsible consumption and production.” Her analysis concludes that local and place-based organic food and farming districts can make important contributions in transforming food and farming systems to promote human and animal health, and soil health and environmental quality. Two drivers played key roles in all three case studies: relatively short distances to population centers, and significant support for organic supply chains from public food-procurement programs, and especially those feeding children. And just a few months ago, the Italian government pledged to invest 3 billion euros (about $3 billion US) to convert at least 25% of the country’s farmland to organic systems by 2027. The funds will come from Common Agricultural Policy payments supported in part by a tax on pesticide sales. There are about 16.6 million acres of arable land in Italy. Reaching the 25% organic goal would entail the transition of around 2 million more acres to organic, given that a little over 15% of Italian farmland is already managed organically. If $3 billion in transition payments were spread over 2 million acres, average payments would be around $1,500 per acre. A multi-pronged effort in Italy is planned to simultaneously grow the supply of organic foods and demand for them. Investments will be made in the infrastructure needed to support profitable regional organic food supply chains, while increasing the supply of value-added, premium foods for sale throughout Italy, Europe, and for a few commodities (especially olive oil), the world. Such bold pledges and audacious goals have come and gone in many countries with little concrete and sustained change to show for the resources invested. But perhaps the time is right in Italy for acceleration in the transition to organic farming in light of the many scientific studies showing that organic farming can both slow global warming and render farms more resilient in the face of drought and flooding. What about here in the USA? The USDA has recently pledged to invest $300 million in a new Organic Transition Initiative. This program will provide new funding via many USDA-program channels to encourage the transition of farms to organic production. While a major increase in USDA funding dedicated to expanding organic production, $300 million over several years is a small share of the approximate $20 billion in annual federal spending on farm commodity and crop insurance programs. It is also instructive to compare the $3 billion investment in Italy to reach their goal of 25% of farmland in organic by 2027 to the $300 million investment just announced by USDA. The Italian program, if it actually happens, would provide about $1,500 per acre transitioned to organic. The USDA’s investment of $300 million translates into about $4.30 per acre across the approximate 70 million newly transitioned acres necessary for 25% of the US cropland base to be managed organically. Current disparity in public support for and investment in the transition to organic farming in the US versus Europe arises from vastly different public awareness of the benefits likely to stem from the transition of more farmland to organic production. Many public and private institutions […]

Widely used herbicide and free radicals, a toxic combo

Jan 19th, 2023
Agrochemicals In The News

Authors: Chuck Benbrook, Robin Mesnage, William Sawyer

Too much oxidative stress is bad biology that unites all humankind. It always has and always will.

Diagram of cellular death due to oxidative stress
Diagram of cellular death due to oxidative stress

Normal, essential cell functions trigger the release of what is called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS), aka “free radicals.” A buildup of reactive oxygen species causes damage to DNA, fats, and proteins. It triggers inflammation and can cause cell death.

Free radicals want and need a hookup to neutralize them. This is why our cells work hard every second we are alive to produce the antioxidants needed to stabilize free radicals and put an end to the DNA damage they can cause.

As these normal processes play out in our bodies, oxidative stress ebbs and flows. When it rises above healthy levels, it weakens cell walls, disrupts the functioning of the brain, impairs and taxes the immune system, triggers inflammation, heightens risk of ADHD, and promotes a long-list of chronic degenerative diseases and reproductive problems.

In short, it is what kills most people that make it through life largely unscathed by war, pestilence, scarcity, and accidents. It is why we age.

When we are young, our bodies produce most of the antioxidants we need to neutralize free radicals, keeping oxidative stress at levels the body can keep up with and neutralize.

As we grow older and when we are sick, our bodies produce fewer and fewer antioxidants and we become more dependent on steady doses of antioxidants in food.

Oxidative stress is a universal aspect of human biology that invariably erodes health. All efforts over the millennia and across societies, cultures, and diets to promote and sustain good health work to the degree they contain and neutralize oxidative stress.

All economic activity, technology, and life styles that contribute to oxidative stress pose a tax on human well-being. Unfortunately, thousands of chemicals do so, including the world’s most heavily used pesticide, glyphosate.

On January 11, 2023 a team of NIH and CDC scientists published an important paper entitled “Glyphosate Exposure and Urinary Oxidative Stress Biomarkers in the Agricultural Health Study “.

JNIC paper on oxidative stress in the Agricultural Health Study
JNIC paper on oxidative stress in the Agricultural Health Study

For the first time, solid data has shown that dermal exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides increases oxidative stress among more heavily exposed applicators.

The scientists selected ~1,600 pesticide applicators from the 57,000 enrolled in the NIH Agricultural Health Study. They collected urine samples from them and quantified levels of glyphosate and markers of oxidative stress in the urine.

The applicators with higher levels of glyphosate in their urine also had higher levels of known markers of oxidative stress.

This paper provides clear evidence linking elevated oxidative stress to dermal exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides. This finding is important because it confirms that GBHs can increase the risk of cancer by triggering added oxidative stress.

On January 16, 2023 we published another new paper entitled “Genotoxicity Assays Published since 2016 Shed New Light on the Oncogenic Potential of Glyphosate-Based Herbicides”.

The authors include HHRA Executive Director Chuck Benbrook, Robin Mesnage, an HHRA advisor, and William Sawyer, a toxicologist. All three have worked as expert witnesses and consultants to law firms representing individuals who applied Roundup many times over years and have sued Bayer/Monsanto.

Our new paper explains that 84 out of 92 genotoxicity assays published since 2016 have reported a linkage between exposure to glyphosate or a formulated GBH herbicide and a genotoxic response indicative of, or associated with damage to DNA.

Moreover, out of the 84 assays showing such a linkage, elevated oxidative stress is highlighted among the reasons why.

GBHs are far from alone in triggering oxidative stress, but still, reducing exposures as much as possible will surely help many people who rely on a GBH for weed control keep up with the free radicals within them.

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