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Perilous Pesticides

Published in Environment

Good health depends on clean air, clean water and a clean environment. Hvar Island is perfectly placed to offer all those amenities.

Much of the island is indeed unspoiled. But things aren't perfect on or in the ground. 

Hvar boasts over 200 medicinal plants, and there are strong moves to boost their production to create the highest quality branded products, including etheric oils. With the inclusion of the Mediterranean Diet on UNESCO's intangible natural heritage list in 2013, Hvar's natural assets were brought forward on the international stage.

But every year Hvar's natural abundance is being blighted by indiscriminate and copious pesticide use. It seems that many of Hvar's farmers do not know:

  • that pesticides are poisonous to the environment
  • that pesticides remain in the ground for a very long time
  • that long-term use of pesticides creates resistance in the targets
  • that resistance leads to problems such as super-weeds and super-rats
  • that pesticides spread beyond their area of application
  • that pesticides penetrate into the food chain
  • that pesticides harm human health
  • that visitors and many locals want uncontaminated food and drinks
  • that wild plants are beautiful and beneficial
  • that there are alternative ways of controlling unwanted plants
  • that visitors come to see the island's natural beauty, not a chemical wasteland

Widespread use and perceived risks of pesticides

In 2013, the Washington Post, inspired by a special issue of Science magazine about pesticides, posed the question: "We've covered the world in pesticides. Is that a problem?

report published in 2011 by the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed that in the United States approximately 857 million pounds (lbs) of conventional pesticide active ingredient were applied in 2007, plus about 33 million pounds of organophosphate insecticides. Worldwide, pesticide use was estimated at some 5.2 billion pounds, with the United States accounting for 22%. Herbicides were cited as the most widely used type of pesticide in the agricultural market sector. The EPA stance on pesticides is that "By their very nature, pesticides create some risk of harm... At the same time, pesticides are useful to society. ... Biologically-based pesticides, such as pheromenes and microbial pesticides are becoming increasingly popular and often are safer than traditional chemical pesticides. In addition, EPA is registering reduced-risk conventional pesticides in increasing numbers."

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded nearly half a million dollars to three universities for projects to reduce the risks from pesticides, including the risks to bees, through encouraging Integrated Pest Management (IPM): "IPM relies on easy-to-implement, environmentally-sensitive practices that prevent pests from becoming a threat. These practices involve monitoring and identifying pests and taking preventive action before pesticides are used. If pesticides are needed, methods such as targeted spraying may be used. These grants will expand public-private stewardship efforts and reduce pesticide risk in agriculture." This was one of several such initiatives to reduce the damage caused by pesticides of all kinds by reducing pesticide use, although stopping far short of recommending a moratorium.

Neonicotinoids were developed in the 1980s and were first registered for use in the United States in 1984. During the 30-odd years since, doubts about their effects began to be expressed and evidence that they might have ill-effects was collected. One of the grants awarded by the EPA in January 2014 amounted to $167,000 for Louisiana State University, to fund a project researching the impact of mosquito control methods on honey bees. The EPA recognised that there were possible problems connected to neonicotinoid use, especially in respect of honey bees and other pollinators, despite initial confidence that they were safer than previous insecticides. Prior to the EPA actions, in May 2013 a lawsuit was raised againt the EPA by beekeepers and environmental groups including Pesticide Action Network (PAN), claiming that the EPA had failed to protect the honey bees despite 'crystal clear' evidence that neonicotinoids were harming them. The EU passed a two-year moratorium, applied as from December 1st 2013, banning the use of three neonicotinoids, clothlanidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam, although this still left five types of neonicotinoids in use. The ban was in response to a report published in January 2013 from the European Food Safety Authority identifying that the three nicotinoids specifically caused various types of harm to honey bees and their larvae. The European Food Safety Authority was not asked to research the effects of the other five neonicotinoids. In August 2013, Syngenta Crop Protection and Bayer CropScience, two agrochemical companies, challenged the short-term ban on the three neonicotinoids in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Pesticides at war

Are we at war with Nature? That's the assumption that underlies the development of pesticides for agricultural use. Pesticides have been, and still are a weapon in warfare between humans, and the long-term effects are as alarming as the short-term effects were devastating. Agent Orange and other pesticides, about 20 million gallons of them, were used by the United States during the Vietnam war. To this day the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs is dealing with servicemen's concerns linked to the practice. Like manufacturer Monsanto, the United States authorities played down claims that the pesticides have caused long-term harm to soldiers' health. After 2010, 260,000 cases were lodged for damages related to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam war. An independent study published in February 2014 in Elsevier's Environmental Research, conducted by Columbia University health-policy Professor Jeanne Mager Stellman suggests that possible harmful exposure did not end with the war. The study demonstrated that contaminated aircraft which were used in the Vietnam war and later as cargo transport could have caused illnesses in the postwar crews. In Vietnam itself, succeeding generations are having to live with the terrible health consequences of the poisons used against their people all those years ago.

 

Humans cannot win a war against nature. We are powerless when there is a major earthquake, tsunami, mudslide, flood or fire. The more herbicides are splashed round the environment, the more resilient the weeds, the more prevalent the superweeds. Similarly, insects targeted by insecticides develop resistance: this happened quickly with DDT because of its widespread undiscriminating use in the late 1940s. It's an ever-increasing spiral. As more powerful pesticides are developed to deal with the new 'threats', more damage is done to the environment, wildlife, and human health. It is recognized that pesticides damage wildlife, and various studies show the dangers to insects such as butterflies and earthworms. Like other pesticides, Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup (Cidokor) and other herbicides, is especially toxic to fish. The situation regarding bee health is now a worldwide concern. There's no pretending that bees are not declining, and while there may be many factors at work, there's no doubt that pesticides are among them. As bees decline, so does our supply of natural healthy foods. On Hvar, honey from bees which have fed on rosemary, lavender or other herbs is particularly prized. Bee-harming chemicals aimed at killing mosquitoes have been sprayed along Hvar's roads routinely for many years, a practice which surely needs to stop.

Flawed premises and processes in pesticide evaluation

The concept that there is a safe level for human ingestion of any kind of poison is absurd. Does anyone deliberately serve up a poisonous mushroom on the assumption that it won't do any harm? Would people who want healthy nutritious food on their plates choose poisons, given an informed choice?

The process by which international organizations investigate, evaluate or validate reports of ill-effects from pesticides is agonizingly slow. The results are often questionable, to say the least. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) established the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) which had its first meeting in 1963 and annually thereafter. In 2005, WHO was warned that a geological survey in Denmark and Greenland had found glyphosate levels in groundwater at 5 times the level permitted under EU permitted levels for drinking water. Being concerned about 'Chemical hazards in drinking-water - glyphosate and AMPA" (Aminothylphosphoric acid, a by-product of Glyphosate), the Joint Meeting was asked to re-evaluate glyphosate. The resulting JMPR report on glyphosate described the results of feeding GM modified maize and soya beans to a lactating goat and six laying hens, and reviewed the various field studies relating to glyphosate, which of course were carried out by the agrochemical firms producing the herbicide. Unsurprisingly, the Meeting concluded that neither long-term nor short-term intake of glyphosate was likely to pose a risk to public health. Did the report reassure those who had expressed concerns about the groundwater pollution? I doubt it.

A 2006 JMPR report sponsored jointly by FAO and WHO with the support of the International Programme on Chemical Safety was entitled 'Pesticide residues in food - 2006. Toxicological evaluations'. It starts with a disclaimer that "The summaries and evaluations contained in this book are, in most cases, based on unpublished proprietary data submitted for the purpose of the JMPR assessment". Indeed. That doesn't sound either balanced or objective. Thirteen main types of pesticides are evaluated through animal studies conducted on behalf of the agrochemical firms. For instance Crompton Corporation, part of agrochemical company Chemtura, submitted 29 unpublished papers relating to Bifenazate, a new acaricide for killing spider mites, "intended for use on apples, pears, nectarines, peaches, plums, prunes, strawberries, grapes, hops and ornamentals". Boscalid is a fungicide used "against a broad spectrum of diseases in a wide range of crops", and thirty unpublished studies submitted by BASF AG Germany were evaluated by the JMPR. Bayer CropScience (Germany) submitted 142 unpubished studies in support of cyfluthrin, "a synthetic cyano-containing pyrethroid insecticide", and its derivative beta-cyfluthrin, a new combination at the time of the report.

The studies submitted for the evaluation involved unspeakable suffering for hundreds of animals subjected to inhumane experiments, including dogs, goats, rats, rabbits and hens. In the 2006 report, most of the unpublished studies evaluated were classified as comnplying with good laboratory practice. However, in the case of cyfluthrin: "Not all pivotal studies with cyfluthrin were certified as being compliant with good laboratory practice (GLP). These studies were carried out before the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines on GLP were promulgated. However, the quality of these studies was considered to be acceptable."

Effects seen in the laboratory from tests on rats, mice, dogs or other animals are not necessarily relevant to the human experience. If nothing else, humans don't live under laboratory conditions. Long-term ill-effects from ingesting pesticides, the effects on unborn babies and those on growing children can only be seen through experience and observation over the years. Can we afford to wait and see?

Science and myth

The principle of killing plants with poisons is hard to understand or justify. Science is being misused to support pesticide use. Chemical pesticides have been in use for many decades on the assumption that they are 'safe' - until proven otherwise. New pesticides are always touted as being safer than previous versions, very often on the flimsiest evidence. DDT was sold on a large scale in the United States and round the world as the definitive answer to the problem of invasive and illness-causing insects such as the malarial mosquito. A 1947 propaganda film promoting the product for malaria control even showed a character depicting an entomologist apparently eating the poison in a bowl of porridge. Another propaganda film from 1946 aimed at the American market enthused about the use of DDT in the form of Pestroy as an insecticide to be used in all corners of the home, as well as through blanket bombing from aircraft.

DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, although doubts about DDT's safety had been voiced many years previously, most strongly through Rachel Carson's book 'Silent Spring', published in 1962. The 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants, with 152 signatories, came into effect in 2004. It established complete bans on several pesticides, and restricted use for DDT, which could still be used against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Cause for concern

Data concerning the effects of pesticides are collected and collated on a database called 'Beyond Pesticides, Protecting Health and the Environment with Science, Policy and Action'.' It lists asthma, autism and learning disabilities, birth defects, reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and several types of cancer as being linked to pesticides with increasing certainty.

Neurological diseases associated with pesticides are a particular concern. For instance, links between Glyphosate (the active agent in herbicides like Monsanto's Roundup or Syngenta's Touchdown) with Parkinson's disease have been demonstated in a 2003 study from Brazil, a 2011 study from China reporting on a patient who had worked in a factory producing glyphosate, and a 2012 study entitled 'Glyphosate induced cell death through apoptotic and autophagic mechanisms'. In January 2013, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) published a study linking a fungicide called benomyl with Parkinson's disease. That fungicide has been banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In February 2014, the UCLA researchers published a further study investigating possible links between a number of other pesticides and Parkinson's disease. They found eleven which could increase the risk of developing Parkinson's, even at lower levels than were commonly used in practice, while fifteen others showed no increased risk. Most worrying was the statement by lead author Jeff Bronstein that "These pesticides are pretty ubiquitous and can be found in our food supply. They are used in parks and golf courses and in pest control inside buildings and homes. So this significantly broadens the number of people at risk".

Kidney damage has been linked to pesticide use in countries across the world, with epidemics of a rare kidney disease killing thousands of people. Although the exact causes of the disease have not been established, there has been enough certainty to cause countries like El Salvador to pass measures in September 2013 banning commonly used pesticides, including Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup / Cidokor.

Animal studies showed that some pesticides were carcinogenic before this could be proved in humans. Gradually, proof is emerging that human cancers can also be caused by pesticides. Glyphosate has been linked to breast cancer. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in January 2013 identified four insecticides (three organophosphate and one organochlorine) as being specifically linked to aggressive prostate cancers. DDT and other pesticides have been linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, as have several other types of pesticide, for instance in a Canadian study published in 'Cancer Epidemiology' in 2001, and in another Canadian study from 2013 published by Springer Link. Glyphosate was among the pesticides associated with an increased risk of hairy cell leukaemia, a sub-type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, in a 2002 Swedish study published in 'Leukaemia and Lymphoma'. Pesticides have been strongly linked to childhood cancers, not only through direct exposure, but in cases where the child's father is exposed to pesticides.

Knowledge, awareness and experience

Science is moving slowly - and, it seems, reluctantly - to establish facts about ill-effects from pesticides. Sponsored studies and the arguments of the agrochemical companies are accepted at face value by many regulators, while independent studies showing evidence of pesticide risks and ill-effects are often ignored, sometimes even denigrated. The voices of those opposed on reasonable and scientific grounds to pesticide use are drowned out by the commercial chorus of the chemical profiteers.

The principle of allowing the agrochemical firms to set the stage in evaluating pesticides is deeply flawed. Poisons are being produced and marketed in frightening numbers and quantities all the time. Claims that they are safe are almost invariably on shaky ground, and most often proven untrue over time. The 2005 JMPR report on glyphosate stated very tellingly in its introduction: "Information that would be useful for the continued evaluation of the compound: Results from epidemiological, occupational health and other such observational studies of human exposure".

Full-blown scientific studies come late after the events, and have to catch up with the latest developments in the agrochemical world. The real effects of pesticides could best be seen in detailed information collected by healthcare workers. Questions about pesticide use and exposure should be as routine as asking whether the patient smokes or drinks alcohol. A question which will become increasingly important as genetically modified foods enter the Croatian market is whether the patient looks to buy organic foods and other products or not.

In the United Kingdom, even in the 1980s there was a lot of awareness of pesticide-related problems in medical circles. Myalgic encephalomyelitis, a type of chronic fatigue syndrome, was known to be endemic among farmers, especially fruit farmers, although pesticide exposure is not listed directly as a possible causative factor in current UK National Health Service information about the illness. Some years ago in the UK, a farmer came to me for treatment because of an extremely painful and swollen hand, which had been a problem for some weeks, without any obvious cause. After exhaustive investigations, it turned out that the cause was Paraquat poisoning, a herbicide he had been using on his kitchen garden. A homeopath colleague provided the cure, which took some time. Sadly, a few years later, the patient developed leukaemia. Meanwhile, his son, who did most of the large-scale spraying on their conventionally-run farm, had suffered years of ill-health with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

 

On Hvar there are surprising numbers of people who suffer from poor health. Smoking is a big factor in many of the illnesses, but it is likely that pesticide exposure plays a large part, especially in the many cases of leukaemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Parkinson's Disease and hormonal disruptions in young women. 

The dangers of pesticides show up through practice and experience. It's a risky and costly experiment in terms of environmental and human health. Poisons are just that, and poisons carry risks of harm. They should not be released for use in the environment anywhere in the world unless they are proven safe beyond doubt. As that is not possible without human experimentation, they should not be used at all.

Pesticide penetration

Pesticides have far-reaching effects. Glyphosate, for instance, has spread, way beyond the theoretical predictions. It has been found in ground-water, despite the original assurances that this was unlikely. It has also been found that fertilizers can reactivate glyphosate and cause damage to non-target plants. Most worryingly, residues of Glyphosate persist in our food. Not surprisingly, surveys to test for the amounts of pesticide absorbed by humans have shown widespread contamination. A 2011 study on Berlin residents, designed to test whether city-dwellers who were not in direct contact with pesticides were at risk of Glyphosate contamination found levels of the herbicide above the amounts permitted in drinking water in all the urine samples tested, and called for urgent action to change the practices of applying Glyphosate to food crops. A study conducted in 2013 on 182 urine samples collected from 18 European countries showed that 44% contained quantifiable levels of Glyphosate and 36% AMPA. The highest concentration of Glyphosate was in a sample from Latvia at 1.8 μg/L and the highest level of AMPA at 2.6 μg/L was in a Croatian sample. Rather than recognize the trend of ever-increasing amounts of poisons in our foods as the danger to health which it undoubtedly is, the American Environmental Protection Agency simply raised their values for what they term safe permitted levels. This flies in the face of all the evidence of the potential harm to human health associated with pesticides.

We have been warned

Many pesticide users have been lulled into a sense of false security by the claims advanced by pesticide manufacturers and their supporters. But the myths that pesticides can be benign and safe have long been challenged, for instance in a report by Andre Leu, Chair of the Organic Federation of Australia, published about ten years ago. FAO and WHO publish what they term are maximum residual levels of pesticides such as glyphosate in foodstuffs. To those who study the evidence objectively, the truth is that no level of pesticide is acceptable in human food, animal feed or the environment. The need for more stringent testing of all chemicals in common use was emphasized in a paperpublished in the Lancet Neurology in March 2014, in the light of increasing evidence that chemicals can be toxic to young children's nervous systems, and can cause neurodevelopmental disabilities including autism. Children are considered especially vulnerable to adverse effects from pesticides, which are specifically monitored by the EPA in the United States. But given the level of evidence that exists already, is it really necessary to make more animals suffer for the sake of trying to prove the contrary?

Indeed, there have been many warnings about the risks of pesticides over many years. The World Resources Institute is a global organization which has worked tirelessly since 1982 with the mission "to move human society to live in ways that protect Earth's environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations". Among its many peer-reviewed publications is a report from 1996 'Pesticides and the Immune System: The Public Health Risks'. The report states that enough is known about the effects of pesticides on the immune system to take preventive action, even though more needs to be known about the exact linkages. The executive summary states of the study: "Although some pesticides have been restricted or banned because they pose risks of cancer, birth defects, or neurological damage, little attention has so far been given to what may be their greatest risk: impairment of human and animal immune systems. According to this new report, there is considerable evidence that widely used pesticides may suppress immune responses to bacteria, viruses, parasites, and tumors, making people significantly more vulnerable to disease....The authors show that steps now underway to resolve this issue are far from adequate. If pesticides are undermining people's ability to withstand infectious and parasitic diseases -- still the world's main causes of death -- then pesticide policy must be profoundly altered. This report may be a path-breaking step in that direction."

Even the slightest element of doubt about pesticide safety should be cause enough to stop their use.

EU aiming to limit pesticide use

The EU has been more robust than FAO and WHO in addressing the problems of pesticide contamination and encouraging the growth of organic farming. Croatia's entry into the EU on July 1st 2013 brought with it many new restrictions and regulations. Among the more helpful, potentially, are the regulations governing the use of pesticides. The aims are "to reduce the risks and impacts attached to pesticide use on people's health and the envirnoment". One of the possible recommended actions is total ban: "EU countries minimise or ban the use of pesticides in critical areas for environmental and health reasons". This could well apply to Hvar.

Another action relates to training pesticide suppliers and users in responsible practices: "Professional pesticide users, distributors and advisors get proper training. EU countries establish competent authorities and certification systems". According to the EU 2009 Directive, EU Member States had to establish systems of initial and additional training for distributors, advisors and professional users of pesticides and certification systems by November 26th 2013. In accordance with EU regulations, Croatia has produced its National Action Plan relating to pesticides, including a new system of training distributors and professional users.

Non-professional pesticide users

The EU regulations may or may not help to introduce rationalization of pesticide use in industrial agriculture. The problem on Hvar, and probably elsewhere, is that many pesticide users are not professionals. Many have no understanding of the nature of the poisons they are handling and spreading around. And very many have never read the instructions, or, if they have, they've forgotten what the instructions said. These are the people who need educating, and apparently they are not covered under the legislation.

The most widely used herbicide on Hvar is Cidokor, the Croatian name for Roundup, whose active ingredient is Glyphosate. Recently Syngenta's Ouragan (Touchdown) has been heavily promoted on the island as an "eco-product", despite being based on Glyphosate, the same active ingredient as Cidokor / Roundup. Between January and March 2014, in contrast or defiance to the EU's policies aimed at limiting the use of pesticides, Glyphosate preparations have been sprayed liberally around fields and along some roadsides, including the Stari Grad Plain (the historic Ager or Hora) which is on UNESCO's cultural heritage list. The sprayers are blasé about their actions. Their reasoning goes something as follows: "It's the mildest poison there is"; "It doesn't go into the vines / olives / fruits / vegetables"; "it doesn't last in the soil", "I don't have time to control weeds any other way". Many admit to using more of the pesticide than stated in the instructions - just as the 1946 film proudly proclaimed that Pestroy contained more DDT than the government recommended at the time. The Roundup / Cidokor / Glyphosate over-users assume that greater quantity makes the poison more effective. In fact the opposite is true. Quoting Australian website www.roundup.com: "...be sure not to exceed the recommended dosage. The exact quantities are calculated so that glyphosate kills the weeds entirely in a certain time frame, this is because the chemicals must reach the roots before leaves are completely dead. Therefore, an excessive quantity of weed killer could prematurely kill the leaves, rendering the treatment useless." Protective clothing is also emphasized: "..all application of these chemicals should be carried out wearing rubber gloves, garden boots and long-sleeves." Similarly, the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers practical safety tips for pesticide users which include wearing protective clothing and changing clothes immediately after applying pesticides.

Why do people believe glyphosate-based herbicides are safe and innocuous except to weeds? Glyphosate in itself was thought to have low toxicity, but this is increasingly being shown to be untrue. Glyphosate forms about 48% of preparations like Cidokor / Roundup Classic. It is mixed with a surfactant, polyoxyethyleneamine, for application on plants, and the sufactant possibly increases glyphosate toxicity by several orders of magnitude. Recent studies indicate that Roundup is "toxic to human DNA at concentrations diluted 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications". The studies through which Roundup was allowed on the U.S. market were on Glyphosate alone, not on the full product. Unbelievable, but tragically true.

Is 'responsible use' the answer?

As the dangers of pesticides have become so obvious that they cannot be ignored entirely, pesticide proponents often refer to 'responsible use' as the answer to the problem. This entails following the isntructions to the letter, using only as much pesticide as is prescribed, repeating applications at the prescribed intervals and using protective clothing.

One of the issues of responsibility which never seems to be addressed is how to publicize appropriate warnings. People need to know when pesticide spraying is about to happen, when it is in the process of happening and when it has just happened. In most countries, cultivated fields are accessible to walkers, and they, as well as any dogs which might accompany them, should be protected against exposure.  

On Hvar the fields are mostly so small that one's neighbour's pesticides are inevitably a problem for anyone who wants to farm organically. The proximity, coupled with the fact that pesticides travel through air, soil and in underground water, make conventional and organic farming incompatible on the island. In practice, organic farming is impossible if neighbouring fields, even those some distance away, are doused in chemical poisons. 

Natural alternatives

Natural pesticides and methods to control unwanted insects, plants and rodents have been in use throughout human history. They are extremely relevant today. Apart from strimming, rotavating and ploughing, the traditional way of controlling unwanted plants in Hvar fields was to plant vegetables such as beans among the vines, cabbages under the almond trees. This is known technically as intercropping. You get useful healthy food crops without dangerous poisons, a double benefit. It was also commonplace to take out old vines and plant the fields with vegetables or other crops for a time, as a type of crop rotation. Encouraging the spread of clover under the olive trees created the double benefit of keeping unwanted plants out and fixing nitrogen in the soil, making arificial fertilization unnecessary. There are experiments in creating natural alternatives to chemical herbicides, and there are many organic products available for weed control. Unwanted insects can also be controlled by natural means, especially through good preventive practices including encouraging beneficial insects, and using nematodes.

It is possible to farm successfully organically. In many countries, efforts are being made to turn away from chemical pesticides in favour of more natural farming methods, even in large-scale agriculture, for instance in Vietnam  and Australia. Novel methods have been used in India to persuade farmers to go organic. In Croatia organic farming is not well developed, but it has been reported that vegetable growers in northeastern Croatia are showing increasing interest in abandoning conventional practices. Well, it's a start. More hearteningly, since 2013 some Croatian farmers have joined the WWOOF Independents Scheme which invites volunteers to come and work on organic farms in different countries around the world. Croatia does not yet have a national WWOOF group, by contrast with neighbouring Serbia, which joined in 2011 and Macedonia, which joined in 2007.

There are organic farmers on Hvar. One of them is Jakov Franičević (pictured above), owner of the highly prized restaurant Konoba Humac, who has battled for the acceptance of organic farming methods for the best part of thirty years. Jakov and his wife Keti have also worked tirelessly to preserve Hvar's cultural heritage, including its landscape, dry walls and old stone buildings. He has often been derided and criticized in the past for his 'green' beliefs and practices, but the tide is turning, and many of those who were previously sceptical are now going organic. If the whole island abandons chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, the environment will be saved and better health ensured for future generations. If not.....

WHEN YOU POISON NATURE, YOU POISON YOURSELF AND ALL AROUND YOU

GO HVAR GO - ORGANIC!

© Vivian Grisogono 2014

 

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    The story of the biodiversity crisis starts with a cold-case murder mystery that is tens of thousands of years old. When humans started spreading across the globe they discovered a world full of huge, mythical-sounding mammals called “megafauna”, but by the end of the Pleistocene, one by one, these large animals had disappeared. There is no smoking gun and evidence from ancient crime scenes is – unsurprisingly – patchy. But what investigators have learned suggests a prime suspect: humans.

    Take the case of Genyornis, one of the world’s heaviest birds, which was more than 2 metres tall and weighed in excess of 200kg. It lived in Australia until, along with many other megafauna, it went extinct 50,000 years ago. In North America, giant beavers weighing the same as a fridge and an armadillo-like creature called a glyptodon, which was the size of a small car, existed until about 12,000 years ago, when they, too, went extinct. In all, more than 178 species of the world’s largest mammals are estimated to have been driven to extinction between 52,000 and 9,000BC.

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  • Conservationist says if world leaders do not go to the summit a strong deal to halt and reverse nature loss is at risk

    Chris Packham is urging the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to attend a key nature summit to protect the planet for the sake of his great-grandchildren because we are “very close to the point of no return”.

    The Cop15 biodiversity summit being held in Montreal from 7-19 December is the nature equivalent of the recent Cop27 climate summit in Egypt, with governments from all over the world expected to agree targets to halt the destruction of the natural world. But world leaders are not expected to attend the once-in-a-decade meeting where the next 10 years of targets will be agreed.

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  • Kendal, Cumbria: Here in the river we do our best to remove the waste that is at least visible to the naked eye

    On a bright autumn morning, a colourful gathering is taking place on the banks of the River Kent. A team of local river guardians, campaigners and attenders at the Kendal Mountain festival has assembled to help with a regular river clean. We spend a cheery hour clearing the water and the banks of packaging, poo bags, broken hardware, stray underpants and diverse industrial debris.

    Some of what we find has started to erode, corrode or decay, and I’m struck by how fragments of pot, bone, tumbled glass and natural fibre, and even some metals, feel almost wholesome in this context. Not so the plastics. The durability that makes these laboratory-created materials so useful has no match in nature. Most don’t break down in the environment, they just fragment, resulting in a distribution inversely proportional to their size. Hence 95% of microplastics in waterways measure less than 40 microns, too small to be filtered out, and most are wholly invisible. Those smaller than 5 microns are tiny enough to be absorbed into animal and plant tissues though gut walls or roots. We now find them everywhere we look, in blood and flesh, in sap and fruit, in milk and the bodies of the unborn.

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