December 2006 - January 2007
1. PAN Europe activities
PAN Europe and Health and Environment alliance organise workshop in the European Parliament
On the 7 of March, PAN Europe and Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), hosted by Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer, will organise an event in the European Parliament (EP) to highlight legislative measures necessary to protect children against pesticides. The event, part of a joint campaign of PAN and HEAL, will focus on the vulnerability of children to pesticides and will call for stringent measures under the new Regulation for placing pesticides in the market. The workshop will have as speakers independent researchers and scientists laying out the science behind the vulnerability of children to pesticides, the effects of substances with neurotoxic effects and the lack of protection against residues commonly present in food. The presentations will be followed by a roundtable where scientists will be able to answer the questions from the audience.
New PAN Europe review on the state of the art of IPM and organic systems in potato production in Europe
Despite pesticides currently used in conventional potato production in Europe having serious health and environmental hazards, the extent of organic production is still very small. Organic potato producers face some difficulties in terms of dealing with adequate plant nutrients, especially nitrogen application; weed, insect and disease control issues and marketing issues but their profit margins seem to be equal or higher to conventional farmers due to the higher market price of organic potatoes.
As for IPM, there are no figures for the extent of certified IPM potato production in Europe, although there are several standards being used in different countries. A holistic view, prevention, correct cultivation techniques, existence of systems for early warning and advice and preference of non-chemical crop protection are components in successful IPM systems and should be extended to all potato production systems in Europe. This new report reviews pesticide use in potato, techniques avoiding or reducing pesticide use and opportunities and constraints for their wider adoption in Europe.
Insecticides threaten Europe’s Bees
The bee-keeping industry has suffered heavy annual losses over the past decade in numerous countries, in Europe and elsewhere. The suspected culprit is the use of new insecticides. These products are systemic (contaminate the entire plant including pollen), persistent and have chronic, or long-term, effect, poisoning bees and altering their behaviour, resulting in the rapid death of the hive. One of the active substances which have been blamed for this outcome is fipronil, which is currently being used under provisional authorisation. The EU authorities are currently examining the possibility of including it on their ‘positive’ list of substances (under the Pesticides Authorisation Directive 91/414), which Member States may then authorise.
A committee of experts whose advice is key to the authorisation process, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain & Animal Health (which assists the Commission), is visibly wavering between simply banning this substance, and choosing an as-yet unspecified ‘flexible’ solution, which would leave EU Member States a veritable hot potato to handle. The decision to approve or ban fipronil was again postponed in the meetings of December 2006 and January 2007.
The stakes are high. On one hand, fipronil earns its manufacturer, BASF, an annual income of several hundreds of million euros. But on the other hand, apart from honey and pollen production, the bee-keeping industry also represents the economic value of pollination to agriculture (worth some US$200bn worldwide each year, according to the Food & Agriculture Organisation). What is more, by contributing to the economic welfare of many small growers, bee-keeping backs up policies which are struggling to curb loss of rural livelihoods, which is a challenge in several European countries. General environmental interests are also on this side of the equation, since fipronil, a persistent product, which is toxic even in small doses, ends up accumulating in surface water and the air, where its presence is beginning to cause concern.
PAN, joined by bee-keepers and several environmental groups have been jointly calling for the Commission and the Member States experts to ban fipronil and other insecticides of concern for bees. They are also demanding that a system be put in place to evaluate the risks associated with pesticides, also taking into account the chronic effects of poisoning, analysis of which is not currently done. They point out that the beehive, a complex organism which, along with nectar gathering, does an extraordinary job of micro-sampling and thus provides a vital advance warning system for our environment.
2. Published news and information
Approval of active ingredients in EU review
The EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH), in its meeting of 22-23 January has postponed the decision on the following substances: pirimiphos-methyl (cholinesterase inhibitor), ethoprophos (cholinesterase inhibitor, acute toxic, carcinogen, potential groundwater contaminant), 1,3 – dichloropropene (acute toxic, carcinogen, groundwater contaminant), fipronil (toxic to bees), methomyl (cholinesterase inhibitor, acute toxic, suspected endocrine disruptor, potential groundwater contaminant), benfuracarb (cholinesterase inhibitor), trifluralin, azoxystrobin, imazalil (carcinogen, reproductive toxin), kresoxim-methyl (carcinogen, potential groundwater contaminant), spiroxamin, azimsulfuron, prohexadion-calcium and fluroxypyr.
Court case in France recognises Parkinson’s as a professional disease caused by neurotoxic pesticides
In October 2006, a Court judging social affairs in Bourges has recognized Parkinson’s as an occupational disease, following a complaint from a retired agriculture worker suffering from the disease since 1997. It is the first time such a decision is taken by a Court, since Parkinson’s is not among the official list of diseases considered as occupational.
Although the decision will not influence other court cases, it has serious consequences for employers who can no longer ignore the importance of communicating and preventing the risks of neurotoxic pesticides. The risk of contracting Parkinson’s is multiplied by two in the case of exposure to neurotoxic pesticides, says Jean-Luc Dupupet, doctor from Caisse Centrale from Mutualité Sociale Agricole. He supports his claim in numerous scientific studies recently published. An epidemiological study conducted in France between 1999 and 2001 and entitled “Terre” concludes that the risk of developing Parkinson’s is multiplied by 1.9 when there is contact with pesticides or in the case of agriculture workers. A review of 19 studies about the disease concluded that the risk of developing Parkinson’s is multiplied by 1.9 among people with professional exposure to pesticides. Finally, an American study conducted by the team of Alberto Ascherio from Harvard covering a population of 143,325 people followed for several years shows that exposure to pesticides increases the risk of contracting Parkinson’s by 1.7.
French court condemns the agrochemical giant Monsanto for misleading publicity
The environmental organisation Eaux et Rivieres de Bretagne (ERB) won a complaint against the misleading publicity of Roundup (glyphosate), the herbicide with the highest worldwide sales. According to the ruling of the Lyon Court, Monsanto France will have to pay a fine of 15,000 euro. The distributor of Roundup, Scotts France, was also condemned to pay 15,000 euro. The Court also ordered the publication of the judgement results in the daily newspaper Le Monde and the magazine Maison et Jardin.
ERB started the legal process in 2001, appalled by the advertisements of Monsanto identifying Roundup as “biodegradable” and “respecting the environment”. These claims were made in 2000 in an aggressive television publicity campaign. ERB successfully proved that glyphosate is present in many rivers in Bretagne and is a product dangerous for the environment and human health. According to the European Commission, products containing glyphosate have to be labelled as “dangerous for the aquatic environment” and “responsible for long-term effects on the environment”.
With this misleading publicity, Monsanto was conveying the message that the product was not dangerous and targeting amateur users. But according to ERB, as many as 55% of all rivers in Bretagne are contaminated by glyphosate above levels permitted for human consumption.
Second Risk Reduction Survey by the OECD
The OECD has published the results of its 2004 questionnaire survey from member states. The survey was meant to identify pesticides risk reduction policies introduced, what worked, and what didn’t, and their costs and benefits during the decade since the first survey in 1994-1995. It focuses on policy tools and approaches used, best practices as well as challenges faced in implementing various policy tools and activities. Only 18 OECD countries responded to the survey: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the US and the EC.
As usual with the OECD Pesticide Working Group, the focus is on risk, not hazard, reduction, but there is useful information of different regulatory actions in different countries and different approaches. The first section pulls together general results and the appendix gives the individual country reports to the questionnaire. Two of the questions have been suggested by PAN Europe: information on poisonings and protection of vulnerable groups but few countries responded to these.
Common mixture of pesticides associated with lower sperm count
There is growing concern that poisoning and other adverse health effects are increasing because organophosphate insecticides are now being used in combination with pyrethroid insecticides. This mix is commonly used to enhance the toxic effects of pyrethroid insecticides on target insects, especially those that have developed resistance to this chemical class.
The researchers conducted a pilot biomonitoring study in the United States to determine whether men in the reproductive cohort study were being exposed to pesticides environmentally by virtue of frequenting an agricultural setting. 18 randomly selected urine samples collected from male participants of reproductive age were screened for 24 parent compounds and metabolites of pesticides and examined the results in relation to sperm concentration. The results showed high prevalence of exposure to organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides and the preliminary analyses suggested that the higher exposure group had lower sperm concentration. The potential of organophosphorus and pyrethroid mixtures to have enhanced human toxicity needs more research attention.
Because pesticides are evaluated on an individual basis, important effects arising from the combination of different substances are missed. Risk assessment of pesticides urgently needs to take these findings into consideration and evaluate common mixtures of pesticides.
Long term low-level exposure to organophosphates linked to neurological impairment
There are many occupational hazards associated with working in agriculture, including risk of injury and exposure to pesticides. Research examining neurobehavioural effects of pesticide exposure have focused primarily on the acute effects in adults working in agriculture. Organophosphate-poisoned populations have shown a consistent pattern of deficits when compared to a non-exposed or non-poisoned population in measures of motor speed and coordination, sustained attention, and information processing speed. Fewer studies have examined the effect of long-term low-level exposure on nervous system functioning in agricultural workers. Pesticides are thought to pose a considerably higher risk to children than to adults, yet little is known about the extent or magnitude of health problems related to occupational exposure to pesticides in children and adolescents.
The present study compared the neurobehavioural performance of US adolescents and adults working in agriculture and examined the impact of years working in agriculture on neurobehavioural performance. One hundred seventy-five Hispanic adolescent and adults completed a neurobehavioural test battery consisting of 10 computer-based tests measuring attention, response speed, coordination and memory. Age, gender, school experience, and years working in agriculture all impacted performance on the neurobehavioural tests. Comparison of adult and adolescents did not reveal decreased neurobehavioural performance in adolescents. On several tests the adolescents performed better than adult counterparts. The adolescents and adults were engaged in comparable agricultural working environments at the time of the neurobehavioural testing. These findings suggest that, at the time of exposure to pesticides, adolescents are not more vulnerable to the effects of working in agriculture. Evidence from this study suggests that cumulative exposure to low levels of pesticides over many years of agricultural work is associated with neurological impairment as measured by the Selective Attention, Symbol-Digit, Reaction Time tests. Experience handling pesticides was also associated with deficits in neurobehavioural performance.
Runoff of pesticides used in urban areas
This study establishes an annual watershed budget of pesticide contamination in the Marne River (France) based on detailed enquiries from farmers' organisations, public services and residents and pesticide usage. Results showed that although urban uses were considerably lower (47 tons/yr) than agricultural ones (4300 tons/yr), the proportion of the amounts used transferred to surface water, differs considerably between urban and agricultural environments. Transfer from urban uses was estimated from runoff experiments with different surfaces, including concrete, tarmac, sand and gravel, and grass. Transfer coefficients from agricultural uses were derived from the calibrated value previously obtained from a detailed budget established for atrazine, taking into account the specific adsorption capacity (Koc) and half-life time of each substance used.
The calculated annual budget shows a similar contribution by urban pesticides to contamination of the Marne River due to runoff over impervious surfaces as compared to agricultural pesticides used on cultivated soils (about 11 tons/yr in both cases). These estimates are consistent with data available from analytical surveys concerning pesticide occurrence in the rivers of the Paris region.
These results support the introduction of measures to regulate the use phase of biocides (pesticides for non-agriculture uses) similar to the measures that have been recently proposed under the Thematic Strategy for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides.
Chlorpyriphos negative effects in children’s neurodevelopment
Inner-city US children exposed in utero to high levels of chlorpyriphos had significantly greater delays in mental and psychomotor development than peers with low prenatal exposure, investigators reported. Children born to mothers who had been exposed to high levels of Dursban (chlorpyrifos) had a fivefold greater risk for delays in psychomotor development, and a nearly 2.5-fold greater risk for delayed mental development.
Until it was banned for residential use by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2000, chlorpyriphos was among the most widely used agricultural and indoor pesticides, found in an estimated 20 million American homes. In Europe, it is widely used as a pesticide for agriculture uses and as a biocide in homes and gardens. Chlorpyriphos is an organophosphate, a class of insecticides that can cause both acute and sub-acute toxicity. They work by disrupting acetyl cholinesterase, the enzyme that controls the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, resulting in over-stimulation of nerves and muscles. Organophosphates are absorbed by inhalation, ingestion, and through the skin, and can cause symptoms that include headache, hypersecretion, muscle twitching, nausea, diarrhoea, respiratory depression, seizures and loss of consciousness.
In the current analysis, the investigators evaluated the neurotoxicant effects of prenatal exposure to chlorpyriphos in 254 of the children, who are part of an ongoing prospective study through the first three years of their lives. The study measured cognitive and motor development at 12, 24, and 36 months of age using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and child behaviour at 36 months using the Child Behaviour Checklist. The authors found that children with high exposure, on average scored 6.5 points lower on the Bayley Psychomotor Development Index and 3.3 points lower on the Bayley Mental Development Index at age three, compared with children with lower exposure levels. They also found that the developmental trajectories for psychomotor development index and mental development index scores confirmed that adverse cognitive and psychomotor effects increased over time, and these effects were present in both Dominican and black subjects, which supported the main conclusion of the study.
In addition, children with high levels of prenatal exposure to the pesticide were significantly more likely than children with low exposure to score in the clinical range on tests for attention problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder problems at 3 years of age.
3. News from PAN Europe partners
Highly contaminated fruits and vegetables found by Greenpeace in Germany and Austria
After analysing pesticides residues in fruits and vegetables, Greenpeace Germany has found several samples to be highly contaminated with acutely toxic pesticides. Two per cent (12 samples) of the 576 fruit and vegetable samples on sale at the leading German and Austrian supermarkets exceed the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD) for children. Children's health is at risk if eating this produce just once. Nine per cent (seven out of 80 samples) of grapes grown by conventional farming methods are also over this warning figure. Lettuce is also affected. Greenpeace reported to the boards of the supermarket chains concerned and to the authorities as having committed an offence by repeatedly marketing food dangerous to health.
"A 12-kilogramme child eating just ten of these heavily contaminated grapes can already suffer damage to health”, says Manfred Krautter from Greenpeace. Greenpeace is calling on companies and state authorities to make effective controls and take immediate steps to protect consumers and stop the sale of dangerous food. The pesticide contamination of this conventionally-grown produce, which comes from Spain, Italy and Turkey, exceeds the ARfD up to twofold. The produce has been sold at several large supermarket chains in Germany and Austria.
The World Health Organisation and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) lay down the ARfD figure. According to a statement by the BfR in November 2005, "exceedance of the ARfD is tangible evidence of possible impairment to human health ... an exceedance of the ARfD [is] from the point of view of protection of consumers' health not acceptable”.
This PAN Europe Newsletter was compiled by Sofia Parente
Contributions are welcome from PAN Europe network members, PURE supporters and individuals.