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New Year’s Resolution: Put Eco-Poisons in the Past
12/31/2007
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Diabetes-pesticides link highlights the need for Congress to ratify a US-signed treaty that would ban the worst, most persistent pollutants
by Craig Weatherby


From the start, it was a given that Vital Choice would offer only sustainably produced foods, whether from land or sea.

The oceanic part of our promise means that we select only seafood from fisheries that are certified sustainable.

Key Points
  • Studies link common, persistent pesticides to diabetes and disease-promoting free radicals.
  • Congress fails to implement an already-signed treaty to ban the worst industrial and agricultural toxins.
  • The “precautionary principal” can and should be the lode star for sensible legislation.
On the landward side, our pledge means that we only sell organic foods, grown by sustainable methods, without agrichemicals.

Modern farming’s petrochemical pesticides are modeled on long-banned chemical weapons. In the lab, they harm animals and human cells, while human exposure is associated with higher rates of neurological damage, Parkinson's disease, birth defects, respiratory illness, abnormal immune system function, and various cancers.

Most agrichemicalsfertilizers, herbicides, and pesticidespersist in people, wildlife, and the environment for decades.

This is why pesticides and certain other chemical compoundssuch as PCBs and dioxinsare called persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

One way in which consumers can help eliminate toxic, persistent pollutants is to pick organic foods, thereby increasing demand and, eventually, supply.

Once a majority of farms go organic, the premium we pay for organic foods will diminish to insignificance. But that shift will take decades to occur.

In the meantime, Americans run uncertain risksand suffer increasingly well documented health consequencesbecause industrial and agricultural chemicals persist for decades in the environment, and accumulate in our bodies.

The precautionary principal
The United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention of Biological Diversity both refer to “the precautionary principle”.

It is the basis for many scientists’ calls to place the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate that new products are safe, and that old ones with evidence of harm should not be banned.

This common sense principle is often expressed as follows:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

The principle does not support unscientific prejudice, as is often claimed, usually by companies whose freedom to act irresponsibly could be constrained by public health considerations.

To say that potential hazards do not have to be fully established scientifically makes it clear that the principle is about cases where significantscientific evidence exists.

Application of the precautionary principle does not demand absolute proof, and would no more stop technological progress than the principle of the burden of proof makes it impossible to obtain convictions in the criminal courts.

In truth, the amounts of pesticide residues on food are minuscule, so the risk from eating conventional crops is probably not large and may be partly offset by the protective antioxidant phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables.

(Organic foods often offer more of these protective compounds: see “Organic Produce and Milk Offer Abundant Antioxidants.”)

Compared with the average consumer, farm and farm-worker families run far greater risks, because they work with pesticides daily.

Instead, the real threat comes from the combined, cumulative effects of the thousands of persistent industrial and agricultural chemicals in our food, water, and air. This woefully under-studied combination threat is the one we should fear most, rather than any one chemical or source.

We’re writing about this topic to urge you to consider a New Year’s resolution.

At the start of his first term, President George W. Bush signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and then stood with Secretary of State Colin Powell and EPA Administer Christie Whitman to urge quick Senate ratification.

More than six years later, the United States remains outside the POP treaty, and no closer to banning the world’s worst toxins, with the blame belonging to Congressional allies of agricultural and chemical giants.

One 2008 resolution could be to contact your Congresspersons and press them to enact long-delayed legislation to implement the Stockholm Convention.

To learn more, see “Push Congress to implement POP treaty”, at the end of this article.

The DDT/Malaria Dilemma:

Why the “Silent Spring” Poison Persists

DDT was banned in many countries in the 1970s in response to mounting evidence linking DDT with damage to wildlife, and slow accumulation in human tissues.

Since then, agricultural uses of DDT have been outlawed worldwide, and its use for malaria control crashed as well, with disastrous consequences.
 However, DDT remains by far the most effective weapon against malaria. And as the author of a New York Times Magazine article noted in 2004, “…sprayed in tiny quantities inside houses—the only way anyone proposes to use it today—DDT is most likely not harmful to people or the environment. Certainly, the possible harm from DDT is vastly outweighed by its ability to save children's lives” (Rosenberg T 2004).

The Stockholm Convention allows the use of DDT for malaria control when no safe, effective and affordable alternatives are available, while requiring official users to prevent or minimize human exposure and release of DDT into the environment.

Because of global warming, the world’s malaria zones may grow or shrink in size: only time will tell. Since science has yet to devise any “safe, effective and affordable alternatives,” DDT will remain a valuable anti-malaria ally for some time to come.
  1. They would allow EPA to do nothing when the Stockholm Convention’s signatories decide to regulate an additional toxic POP, even when the United States has supported that international decision
  2. They included cost-benefit analysis requirements intended to violate the health-based standard in the Convention
  3. They would preempt the right of states, local governments, and Indian tribes to uphold stricter standards on POPs
Congress should instead enact legislation like H.R. 4800, to ensure that the United States can meet its international obligations and regain leadership in eliminating dangerous, persistent pollutants.

Please consider sending the message below to your Senators, demanding ratification of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

To find out who your Senators and Representatives are, and how to contact them, go to www.senate.gov and www.house.gov.

Dear Senator X / Representative Y:

For more than six years, Congress has failed to act to ratify and implement the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which was signed by President Bush in 2001.

Please help protect current and future generations by supporting any legislation needed to implement this treaty in the US, in the spirit in which it is written, free of cost-benefit analyses and other provisions that would allow industry to keep clearly risky chemicals on the market indefinitely.

The Senate should enact serious legislation that outlines how new chemicals will be targeted for elimination in the U.S. when the international phase-out list under the treaty expands. Without this language, the U.S. cannot effectively implement the treaty.

H.R. 4800, which was introduced in the 109th Congress, meets the test of seriousness, and I urge you to support it.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,


Sources
  • Barr DB, Panuwet P, Nguyen JV, Udunka S, Needham LL. Assessing exposure to atrazine and its metabolites using biomonitoring. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Oct;115(10):1474-8.
  • Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). U.S. Ratification of the Stockholm Convention: Analysis of Pending POPs Legislation March 13, 2006 Update. Accessed online December 20, 2007 at http://www.ciel.org/Publications/POPs_Bills_28Feb2006.pdf.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Atlanta (GA): CDC, 2005.  Accessed online December 20, 2007 at http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/thirdreport.pdf
  • Cox S, Niskar AS, Narayan KM, Marcus M. Prevalence of self-reported diabetes and exposure to organochlorine pesticides among Mexican Americans: Hispanic health and nutrition examination survey, 1982-1984. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Dec;115(12):1747-52.
  • Environmental Working Group (EWG). Body Burden — The Pollution in Newborns: A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood, July 14, 2005. Accessed online December 20, 2007 at http://archive.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/execsumm.php
  • Olgun S, Misra HP. Pesticides induced oxidative stress in thymocytes. Mol Cell Biochem. 2006 Oct;290(1-2):137-44. Epub 2006 May 23. Erratum in: Mol Cell Biochem. 2007 Feb;296(1-2):296.
  • Rosenberg T. What the World Needs Now Is DDT. Accessed online December 20, 2007 at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0DEEDA1738F932A25757C0A9629C8B63
  • Sava V, Velasquez A, Song S, Sanchez-Ramos J. Dieldrin elicits a widespread DNA repair and antioxidative response in mouse brain. J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 2007;21(3):125-35.
  • Stockholm Convention - DDT Restrictions. Accessed online December 20, 2007 at http://www.chem.unep.ch/ddt/DDTRestrictions.html.
  • The Environmental Forum. Where Is The Middle Ground On POPs, PIC, and LRTAP? The Environmental Forum®, November/December 2006. Accessed online December 20, 2007 at http://solis.house.gov/list/press/ca32_solis/wida4/popsforum.pdf.
  • Tuzmen N, Candan N, Kaya E, Demiryas N. Biochemical effects of chlorpyrifos and deltamethrin on altered antioxidative defense mechanisms and lipid peroxidation in rat liver. Cell Biochem Funct. 2007 Apr 17;26(1):119-124 [Epub ahead of print]

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