Group of Senators Push for Ban of the Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

A group of senators introduced a bill on July 25, 2017 in the hopes of banning Chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide implicated in the poisonings of farm workers. Introduced by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the bill challenges President Trump’s efforts to loosen environmental regulations. [1]

Chlorpyrifos Ban and Recent History

  • In April 2017, the EPA said it would not ban chlorpyrifos, despite the agency’s own chemical safety experts, who had recommended under the Obama administration that the pesticide be permanently banned from agricultural use nationwide, due to the dangers it poses to farm workers and young children.
  • In late 2016, the EPA concluded that chlorpyrifos exposure was causing potentially significant health issues, including learning and memory declines, especially among farm workers and young children.
  • On July 18, 2017, a federal appeals court denied a petition by green groups to force the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. [2]

Several manufacturers produce chlorpyrifos, including Dow Chemical. It is listed as a neurotoxin by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

EPA: 97% of Endangered Species Threatened By 2 Pesticides, Including Chlorpyrifos

According to Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who is dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, the toxicity of chlorpyrifos was proven “to damage the brains of children, especially those of fetuses in the womb” in 3 long-term, independently-funded studies “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Toxic residues of chlorpyrifos are regularly found on fruits and vegetables, including under the peels of oranges and other citrus fruits, as well as in the flesh of melons under the rind. Simply washing a piece of fruit before eating it is not enough to remove the pesticide. [2]

The EPA’s own scientists concluded that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children could exceed safety levels by 140 times.

The agency’s failure to ban chlorpyrifos could be construed as criminal, considering it is illegal under federal law to apply pesticides to food crops if the EPA can’t prove that they can be used safely.

Under the bill, the EPA would be required to conduct a broad review of the uses of chlorpyrifos to determine which groups are most vulnerable to the toxin. Should that review conclude that people are being exposed to harmful levels of the pesticide, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt would be forced to take “appropriate regulatory action” within 3 months by either suspending or revoking chlorpyrifos’ registration, or lowering the amount that can be legally applied. [1]

Udall stated:

“Congress must act because Administrator Pruitt has shown that he won’t.”

Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland, Kamala Harris of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Ed Markey of Massachusetts are co-sponsoring the piece of legislation. [1]

Sources:

[1] Reuters

[2] National Resources Defense Council


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In Case You Missed It: EPA Quietly Approved Monsanto’s RNAi Genetic Engineering Technology

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently and quietly approved Monsanto’s new genetic engineering technology, known as RNAi. [1]

The insecticide DvSnf7 dsRNA is not sprayed on crops. Instead, instructions for manufacturing it in the DNA of the crop itself must be encoded in crops. The plants’ self-made DvSnf7 dsRNA disrupts a crucial gene in western corn rootworms – a major threat to corn – and kills the pests.

All that’s left after that is RNA interference, or RNAi, and the EPA approved this final step in making corn rootworm-resistant in mid-June 2017. RNAi was the source of both hype and controversy just a few years ago, The Atlantic reports. But the EPA so quietly approved the technology that the media and environmental groups barely noticed.

The first DvSnf7 dsRNA product will be used in SmartStax Pro genetically modified corn seeds made in collaboration between the world’s top agrotech giants, Monsanto and Dow. Monsanto will supply the RNAi technology, and it already has its eye on several RNAi applications. The company expects corn seed with RNAi to be on the market by the end of this decade.

The western corn rootworm is known as the “billion dollar pest” because of the damage it wreaks on cornfields. The insect keeps becoming resistant to the other insecticides that farmers use against it – including the kind you spray on crops and corn genetically modified to product Bt toxin, another technology commercialized by Monsanto.

The SmartStax Pro corn will contain both Bt toxin and DvSnf7 dsRNA.

Read: Monsanto’s GMO Bt Toxins Found in 93% of Pregnant Women

RNAi works by “turning off” 1 specific gene in 1 specific species by leaving other crops unharmed, at least theoretically. In nature, plants and animals use this process to “silence” their own genes. The technology has already been used to create genetically modified apples and potatoes that don’t brown. (The apples, called Arctic Apples, are expected to reach supermarkets in the U.S. by the end of 2017.)

However, with Monsanto and Dow’s GMO corn, the DvSnf7 dsRNA silences a gene in another living organism, in this case the western corn rootworm. It modifies its environment, rather than itself.

Environmental Groups Stunned by Quiet Approval

Groups like the Center for Food Safety, who vocally opposed the RNAi-made apples and potatoes, said they were a bit stunned by the EPA’s approval. The agency only allowed a 15-day comment period, instead of the traditional 30 days, and it did not post its proposed decision in the Federal Register. It’s not the first time the EPA has done that, but Bill Freese, CFS’ science policy analyst, says the unparalleled use of RNAi as insecticide should have warranted more public scrutiny.

Freese – who has received funding from Monsanto to study the western corn rootworm – has reason to be concerned. A scientific paper published in 2011 questions the safety of DvSnf7 dsRNA, after Chinese scientists found that people eating genetically modified rice had naturally occurring RNA molecules in their bloodstream. It should be noted, however, that scientists have struggled to replicate the study’s findings, and the report received much criticism.

Freese told The Atlantic that the real problem goes beyond RNAi itself. He explained:

“There’s faddish interest in the latest technology. It often neglects the basic issues of the unhealthy practices used in planting corn.”

For example, rotating crops versus planting corn multiple years in a row in the same field can make a dent in the western corn rootworm problem.

Freese says planting non-GMO corn is also vitally important, because overplanting of Bt corn led to Bt resistance.

“We need to treat these things carefully because we really can’t just afford to throw them away.”

Sources:

The Atlantic


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