Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Food News: Lead Contamination; EPA Tweaks Data on Herbicide; Lax USDA Regulators

The brouhaha over rampant development in the Portland metro area has been intensifying, with residents banding together to fight what they see as a Wild West-style climate for developers who feel they can knock down houses with impunity and throw up shoddily constructed McMansions in their place while city regulators take a hands-off approach.

But it's not just the Northwest's densely populated cities that are finding it tough to get a handle on the impacts of people flocking to our mild climate and livable communities. A shocking investigative report by Oregon Public Broadcasting's EarthFix environmental reporting team revealed that in more rural parts of the region, schools, homes and daycare centers have been built over old orchard sites where the soil is contaminated with lead and arsenic.

Worse, Washington "state’s Department of Ecology knows about this, and has for decades. But many parents and caregivers still do not, despite the risks these chemicals pose specifically to children."

The report said that "until the 1950s, Northwest apple growers spent decades spraying lead arsenate pesticides in a never-ceasing battle against the codling moth, which once threatened the country’s most productive tree fruit region. That spraying contaminated an estimated 187,000 acres of former orchard lands throughout Washington—an area that exceeds the size of Seattle and Portland combined."

It quotes Frank Peryea, professor emeritus at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, who studied lead and arsenic for decades, as saying, "Anything spilled or sprayed that reached the ground 100 years ago is still within the top foot of soil."

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These are good days to be a corporate giant, especially if you're dealing a government agency.

A recent investigative story in the Chicago Tribune revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has blithely "tossed aside" data on the dangers of the World War II-era weed killer 2,4-D, which for decades that same agency had labeled as a dangerous, potentially cancer-causing chemical. By tweaking some numbers, the article said, "the agency’s scientists changed their analysis of a pivotal rat study by Dow [Chemical Co.], tossing aside signs of kidney trouble that Dow researchers said were caused by 2,4-D."

Dow is seeking to revive the herbicide for use in combatting so-called "superweeds" that have become resistant to Roundup, a weed killer developed by Monsanto in the 70s. In the early 2000s, in order to combat these resistant weeds, "Monsanto genetically engineered corn and soybeans to make them immune to its best-selling weed killer, [which] the company pitched …as a way to reduce overall use of herbicides and usher in an environmentally friendly era of farming." Instead, in an "old lady who swallowed the fly" move, the use of herbicides in American agriculture skyrocketed and now "chemical giants are giving the next wave of genetically modified crops immunity to the weed killers of generations past."

Dow has combined its 2,4-D with glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Monsanto's Roundup. This is despite "studies [that] found increased odds of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, hypothyroidism and Parkinson's disease among people who used the chemical [2,4-D] as part of their jobs. In June, the WHO's cancer research agency ruled that 2,4-D is a possible carcinogen."

The result of the EPA tweaking the research data? "The Obama administration’s EPA now says it is safe to allow 41 times more 2,4-D into the American diet than before he took office" and that "U.S. children ages 1 to 12 could consume levels of 2,4-D that the World Health Organization, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Brazil and China consider unsafe." I wonder if Michelle Obama, with her focus on children and nutrition, is aware of this?

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An article in the Capital Press in Salem, Oregon, reports that a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) internal agency audit uncovered that its own biotechnology regulators "don’t take past non-compliance problems into account when approving new field trials for regulated genetically engineered crops."

What that means is that when these biotech crops are planted out in the field and something goes wrong, like pollen from the biotech crops contaminate a neighboring field, which may render the contaminated crops unusable, the violation of USDA protocols is not taken into account when approving future trials by the same applicant.

The article states that "auditors found one instance where an organization was repeatedly allowed to conduct field trials even though it was cited for 122 incidents, including failing to 'devitalize' the crops, having the crops persist in the environment and moving them without authorization."

Most concerning is that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) "doesn’t have a handle on what is being planted out there," according to Bill Freese, the non-profit Center for Food Safety’s science policy analyst.

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