Wellfleet, Massachusetts—On a recent moonlit evening, with spring peepers in chorus, a dozen Wellfleet residents gathered inside their town’s grey-shingled library for a public information session on the controversial herbicide, glyphosate.
A bucolic, seaside town with less than 3,000 year-round residents, Wellfleet is famed for its picturesque harbor and sweet, briny oysters.
Its residents, like the rest of Cape Cod, rely on a sole source of drinking water, a shallow underground aquifer, and protecting that aquifer from pollutants such as pesticides and septic wastes from household wastewater is a huge concern.
Semi-rural, with 1,000 ponds, extensive wetlands and pristine beaches, Cape Cod is like a giant sandbar. Anything spilled on its sandy soils can seep quickly into the groundwater and pollute its well water and interconnected system of surface waters.
And so, as organic landscaper and founder of the advocacy organization Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer (POCCA), Laura Kelley spoke about the dangers of glyphosate, she told Wellfleet residents, “[state pesticide] regulations don’t match our ecology.”
She was referring to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ (MDAR) allowed use of glyphosate to control weeds on rights of way under power lines on Cape Cod. Kelley, and other residents, are concerned that the weedkiller isn’t as safe as regulators say it is, withemerging science suggesting harmful impacts from cancer to birth defects to disruption of hormones and other biological functions that can linger for generations.
Studies showing glyphosate can persist in groundwater worry them, as do recent high-profile jury awards for people claiming their cancer was caused by the herbicide.
Herbicide use by the region’s electricity provider, Eversource, is therefore wildly unpopular on the Cape. All 15 towns are locked in battle with both Eversource and MDAR, the authorizing agency, over the issue.
Some localities find that passing a law is but a battlefield victory in a prolonged war. State-level preemption laws, resistance from implementing agencies, and lax EPA rules can lead to policies that simply sit on a shelf or are challenged in court.
Poisoning Paradise: Journey to the seemingly idyllic world of Native Hawaiians, where communities are surrounded by experimental test sites and pesticides sprayed upwind of their neighborhoods. Poisoning Paradise details the ongoing struggle to advance bold new legislation governing the fate of their island home.
Firstly, Sustainable Pulse and our readers would like to thank you for taking on the task of recording the events in what is known as pesticide ‘ground zero’ – Hawai‘i.
Can you tell us what inspired you to make Poisoning Paradise and why the ongoing efforts to control the use of pesticides in Hawai‘i are so important to you?
I live part time in Hawai‘i and was raised there as a child, so in essence, this film is my love letter to Hawai‘i – a place I love, with people I love. My neighbor and producing partner, Teresa Tico, wanted to make a film about Bill 2491 called “Pass The Bill.” I agreed to fund the project and it then grew exponentially into the film Poisoning Paradise, which has a much broader reach and message than the original concept. The documentary is a time capsule of a grassroots movement that sought to ask for disclosure of what was being sprayed, when, and where: to initiate buffer zones around schools, homes, and environmentally sensitive shorelines; and to ask for an environmental impact study, which would provide scientific data as to how these chemicals affect our land, our water, our air, our food, our health, our oceans, our wildlife, and other natural resources in the Hawaiian islands.
Are there any lessons from Hawai‘i that people can learn globally, regarding how to stand up to the large pesticide corporations and thus to protect their rights?
The day of plausible deniability is over—lawmakers can’t say that they didn’t know that these chemicals were dangerous—they can’t say that they didn’t know what chemicals are being used. Support lawmakers to help them make necessary changes. The business model of large chemical companies is to maintain a food and agricultural system that is reliant on their toxic pesticides.
Everyone should be pushing for counties to be able to regulate from within when it comes to pesticides. It’s clear that federal regulatory agencies are not doing enough to protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides. Hawai‘i, California, and New York have passed legislation banning Chlorpyrifos because of the damage it causes children’s brains. Almost 10 million visited Hawai‘i last year. Over 1.3 million people went to Kaua‘i. The visitor industry has a responsibility to inform visitors who are going to be in the areas where these chemicals are used.
Poisoning Paradise is a landmark documentary and has reach far beyond Hawai‘i – what do you hope is the result of your work both locally in Hawai‘i and Globally?
We hope to reach a broad audience with our film. The recent rulings against Monsanto make this discussion relevant and real. We want to reach anyone that is interested in the food movement, sustainable agriculture, and anyone who is interested in protecting their land, their air, and their water. We need to move away from Pesticide Heavy Agriculture, and put resources into recreating Regenerative Diversified Agriculture systems. We must remove toxic pesticides and fertilizers from the equation, protecting our communities, our environment and the farm workers themselves; drastically reduce or eliminate agriculture’s reliance on fossil fuels (including petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers), build soil that sequesters carbon, slowing down climate change, and build soil that captures and holds water, eliminating destructive sediment runoff while also making farms more drought tolerant.
We must educate ourselves and take action, and we must be relentless in our pursuit of protecting the environment, our health, and the health of our children.
How has Poisoning Paradise been received by international audiences so far?
Poisoning Paradise has been warmly received at film festivals abroad, including the Bologna Film Festival in Italy, the Festival Internacional De Cine Medioambiental de Canarias and the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain, the Be Epic! London International Film Festival, the Manchester Film Festival in the United Kingdom, the Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara in Mexico, the Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland, and the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. We’re pleased to have received over a dozen awards for our film, both domestically and abroad, including many for Best Documentary.
How can our readers around the world watch Poisoning Paradise – when will it be fully released?
Poisoning Paradise is now available in the United States on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and more. We are currently working with Cinema Libre to bring it to the international market.
Are you thinking of making any follow-up documentaries on the same subject, as this issue seems to be getting more and more international attention with the rise in interest about the risks of glyphosate herbicides?
There is lots of interest in and potential for a follow-up documentary film.
The United States of America allows the use of 85 pesticides that have been banned or are being phased out in the European Union, China or Brazil, according to a peer-reviewed study published today by the academic journal Environmental Health.
In 2016 the United States used 322 million pounds of pesticides that are banned in the E.U., accounting for more than one-quarter of all agricultural pesticide use in this country, according to the study. U.S. applicators also used 40 million pounds of pesticides that are banned or being phased out in China and 26 million pounds of pesticides that are banned or being phased out in Brazil.
“It’s appalling the U.S. lags so far behind these major agricultural powers in banning harmful pesticides,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the study. “The fact that we’re still using hundreds of millions of pounds of poisons other nations have wisely rejected as too risky spotlights our dangerously lax approach to phasing out hazardous pesticides.”
The study compared the approval status of more than 500 pesticides used in outdoor applications in the world’s four largest agricultural economies: the United States, European Union, China and Brazil.
The U.S. EPA continues to allow use of 85 pesticides for outdoor agricultural applications that are banned or in the process of being completely phased out elsewhere, including 72 in the E.U., 17 in Brazil and 11 in China.
The United States has banned only four pesticides still approved for use in the E.U., Brazil or China.
Pesticides approved in the United States but banned or being phased out in at least two of the three other nations in the study include: 2,4-DB, bensulide, chloropicrin, dichlobenil, dicrotophos, EPTC, norflurazon, oxytetracycline, paraquat, phorate, streptomycin, terbufos and tribufos.
The majority of pesticides banned in at least 2 of the 3 nations studied have not appreciably decreased in the United States over the past 25 years and almost all have stayed constant or increased over the past 10 years. Many have been implicated in acute pesticide poisonings in the United States, and some have been further restricted by individual states.
Host and author, Derrick Jensen interviews Jonathan R Latham, PhD about pesticides and the EU on Resistance Radio.
Jonathan R Latham, PhD. is co-founder and Executive Director of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Editor of Independent Science News. Dr Latham is also the Director of the Poison Papers project which publicizes documents of the chemical industry and its regulators. Dr. Latham holds a Masters degree in Crop Genetics and a PhD in Virology. He was subsequently a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has published scientific papers in disciplines as diverse as plant ecology, plant virology, genetics and genetic engineering. Dr Latham talks frequently at international events and scientific and regulatory conferences on the research conducted by the Project. He has written for Truthout, MIT Technology Review, the Guardian, Resilience, and many other magazines and websites. Today we talk about pesticides and the EU. Browse all of my Resistance Radio interviews at https://deepgreenresistance.blogspot….
Organic farming promotes natural resistance to common food-borne human pathogens, according to a study that evaluates the benefit of soil organisms. By protecting valuable species of dung beetles and soil bacteria, organic farming systems naturally act to clean up and decompose potentially pathogen-bearing animal feces.
While these natural systems suppress pathogens on organic farms, coventional chemical-intensive farms are left with higher levels of fecal residues and are therefore significantly more likely to yield produce carrying such foodborne pathogens as E. coli. The authors emphasize that curbing the spread of common foodborne pathogens could save thousands of lives and prevent millions of illnesses each year.
The study, “Organic farming promotes biotic resistance to foodborne human pathogens,” published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, compares dung beetle populations, soil bacteria diversity, and feces removal rates on 70 organic and conventional broccoli farm fields across the west coast of the U.S. In addition to studying field conditions, authors conducted additional microcosm studies to directly test the effects of dung beetles and soil microbes on the suppression of introduced E. coli.
Results from field analyses show that organic management practices lead to greater biodiversity among dung beetles and soil microbes, which translate to higher rates of feces removal. Microcosm results confirm that by removing fecal matter, the beetles and microbes retained by organic management reduce potential E. coli contamination. These new findings add to the list of ecosystem services unique to organic farms, further bolstering the case for organic as not only an ecological but an economical solution to global food production.
In the context of recently reviewed insect declines worldwide, this study also serves as a warning of yet another key ecosystem service that will certainly be lost unless a major agricultural transformation to organic systems is mobilized. Dung beetles, whose actions in soils not only protect against pathogens, but also unlock critical nutrients, are in decline. The impacts of dung beetles on soil fertility are vital to the sustainability of farms and pastures used to maintain livestock. By burying and processing feces on cattle farms, dung beetles introduce 80% more nitrogen into the soil than would otherwise remain. By increasing soil organic matter, dung beetles simultaneously increase water infiltration, thus stabilizing farms and heavily grazed areas against erosion, flooding, and drought.
Findings from the present study highlight the need for dung beetle diversity in addition to abundance, since some dung beetles bury feces more effectively than others. Notably, researchers find that the commonly introduced species O. nuchicornis, which tends to dominate over other species and reduce overall diversity, is less effective at burying feces, with consequences for both E. coli contamination and soil fertility. Similarly, previous work attests to the importance of soil microbial diversity for maintaining ecosystem services. The key to healthy produce and fertile soils, across the board, is diversity.
Due to agrochemical use, that precious diversity is in decline. Monitoring in Europe, according to the 2019 review of insect declines, shows the greatest terrestrial loss of insect biodiversity on record to date: more than 60% of documented dung beetle species are in decline. Soil microbial diversity, too, is threatened by continued application of pesticides in industrialized agriculture. Highly toxic gases known as “soil fumigants” are used on a wide range of high-value crops to control nematodes, fungi, bacteria, insects, and weeds. Soil fumigants wipe out entire soil communities, thus necessitating the use of other chemicals to provide the fertility and pest control services that soil organisms provide. In addition to fumigating soil, which intentionally kills all living things in the soil, other chemical-intensive practices also threaten soil life. Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide, is also an antibiotic. Glyphosate-tolerant plants release glyphosate into the soil, where it has a continued impact on soil microbial diversity.
Beyond Pesticides holds the position that these patterns carry a lesson. Insects and microbes that act to control crop pests and fertilize the soil reduce the need for pesticide and chemical fertilizer use. Reliance on chemical controls creates a vicious treadmill: pesticide use kills natural agents of pest control, thus creating a demand for more pesticide use, which kills more of the beneficial organisms, and so on.
Join Beyond Pesticides in getting off the toxic treadmill and instead working to build a sustainable food system based on natural control systems. Be a model for your community by creating a pesticide-free zone in your home yard, neighborhood, or even jurisdiction. Add your pesticide free zone to the map by taking our Pesticide Free Zones Survey. Show your neighbors and beyond that a world free of pesticides is both desirable and achievable.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Pesticides and antibiotics are polluting streams across Europe, a study has found. Scientists say the contamination is dangerous for wildlife and may increase the development of drug-resistant microbes.
More than 100 pesticides and 21 drugs were detected in the 29 waterways analysed in 10 European nations, including the UK. A quarter of the chemicals identified are banned, while half of the streams analysed had at least one pesticide above permitted levels.
The researchers said the high number of pesticides and drugs they found meant complex mixtures were present, the impact of which was unknown. Pesticides are acknowledged as one factor in plummeting populations of many insects and the birds that rely on them for food. Insecticides were revealed to be polluting English rivers in 2017.
“The importance of our new work is demonstrating the prevalence of biologically active chemicals in waterways all over Europe,” said Paul Johnston, at the Greenpeace research laboratories at the University of Exeter. “There is the potential for ecosystemic effects.”
The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, as well as antimicrobial drugs used in livestock. The risk to people of antimicrobial drug resistance is well known, but Johnston highlighted resistance to fungicides too. “There are some pretty nasty fungal infections that are taking off in hospitals,” he said.
One of the world’s biggest pesticide makers, Syngenta, announced a “major shift in global strategy” on Monday, to take on board society’s concerns and reduce residues in the environment.
“There is an undeniable demand for a shift in our industry,” said Alexandra Brand, the chief sustainability officer of Syngenta. “We will put our innovation more strongly in the service of helping farms become resilient to changing climates and better able to adapt to consumer requirements, including reducing carbon emissions and reversing soil erosion and biodiversity decline.”