Pesticides: cause for alarm

Published in Poisons Beware

From October 1st 2016, the sale of Roundup (Croatian Cidokor) and 11 other similar glyphosate-based herbicides was banned in the European Union. The ban should serve as a wake-up call to all users, supporters and promoters of pesticides.

Handle the earth with respect and care. It will pay dividends. Handle the earth with respect and care. It will pay dividends. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The ban came under a Commission Implementing Regulation dated 1st August 2016 (ref. 2016/1313). Although glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicides concerned, the ban was specifically related to formulants, the substances with which glyphosate is mixed for use. The Croatian Ministry of Agriculture announced the ban on both its websites on September 20th and 21st 2016. Registration holders were obliged to inform distributors, and ensure the removal of all stocks from the market by December 31st 2016.

Cause for celebration? Well...

When a substance on public sale and in common use is found to be dangerous, the normal practice is for that substance to be recalled from all suppliers and users immediately. Further sale and use of the substance is prohibited as soon as the ban comes into force. The manufacturer is usually ultimately responsible for the collection and (safe) disposal of the recalled product. A system is put into place nationwide, also publicized and enforced, to ensure that the hazardous product is removed from the public domain in the shortest possible time. None of this happened in the case of Roundup, which continued to feature large among the world's freely available pesticides. Yet Roundup is undeniably dangerous. In 2017 the French Environment Agency granted approval for Roundup Pro 360. This led to a Court case in Lyon, with the judge ruling on 15th January 2019 that the authorization should be annulled and the product banned.

Pesticide bans in practice in Croatia

Responsibility for overseeing the approvals, sales, distribution and use of pesticides in Croatia is shared between Ministries.

The Ministry of Agriculture is a main source of information for pesticide users. It has a search section on its website which provides information on all the pesticides which are approved for use in Croatia. It does not seem to provide a complete list of approved pesticides, although there is a list of the ones allowed for non-prodessional use. The search section identifies individual pesticides, with information about ingredients, usage and approval status, There are various options for searching. The simplest version is to type in the name of the product you are interested in, stating whether it is for professional or non-professional use. Under the search button ('Traži') the link to the product is shown.

How does the listing system work in practice?

Almost two months after the EU ban on sales of Roundup /Cidokor came into force, the Ministry of Agriculture still listed three Cidokor products without any obvious warning about the ban. Cidokor was in the sub-list of products which had lost their licence, which is a separate search. But anyone looking up Cidokor without knowing it was banned would have no reason to search beyond the information page, which shows the approvals as if they are still in force.

From the Ministry of Agriculture listing, 29th November 2016.

Under its English name, however, Roundup carried a warning in red letters that it was no longer approved. For Roundup Biactive, the red-letter heading stated that existing stocks could be used and sold up to the 'permitted date', which in the following paragraph was given as January 1st 2017, while stocks could be held in store until 1st January 2018. Odd, given that the product approval, first granted in Croatia in 1999, ran out on 1st July 2016. So Roundup Biactive went into extra time as a result of the EU ban.

Another example is the insecticide Pyrinex 48EC. The approval for Pyrinex 48EC in Croatia was granted from September 25th 2015 and was due to last until January 31st 2019, for professional use only. However, the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been giving increasing warnings about the health hazards relating to Pyrinex's active substance Chlorpyrifos since 2002. A review in 2014, updated in 2015 detailed the unacceptable effects on human (especially children's) health, birds, fish and earthworms. Following a review by the European Union, the United Kingdom issued a partial ban in September 2016. However, like Roundup, it continued to be produced, sold and used around the world. In August 2018, a Federal Appeals Court in the United States ordered a ban on Chlorpyrifos.

Pyrinex 48EC was added to the Croatian Ministry of Agriculture's list of disallowed pesticides on March 25th 2016.The initial search for Pyrinex 48EC throws up two links: only one carries the red-letter warning that it has been de-registered, while the other does not.

From the Ministry of Agriculture list of approved pesticides, November 2016.

The list of chemical pesticides which are no longer registered in Croatia dates from present time back to 2011 on the Ministry of Agriculture website, and provides the following numbers: in 2016, 38 chemical pesticides were disallowed or de-registered up to the end of November; in 2015, 32; 17 on 2014; 260 in 2013; 96 in 2012; and 13 in 2011.

The Ministry of Agriculture granted the approval for Pyrinex 48EC at a time when the product's primary ingredient was already the subject of major concern by the very authority which had previously deemed it safe. Its approval therefore lasted some six months only. The period allowed for using up stocks was many times longer.

The question of leftover stocks

Despite time being allowed to sell and use up spare stocks, there will presumably be at least some left over. What will happen to those? Will they be collected and 'safely' destroyed? The signs are not good. As it is, there is little provision for safe disposal of empty pesticide packaging, especially on Hvar. Much of it ends up in the communal rubbish or worse still in the environment, contrary to existing laws.

Hazardous contents, hazardous packaging. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The glyphosate story

Monsanto's Roundup was first marketed in 1974, although its active ingredient glyphosate had been discovered in 1950. In the United States, its approval in 1974 was for 'industrial non-crop use in agriculture'. Its permitted applications were quickly extended, and by 1980 Roundup was a worldwide bestselling weedkiller. Monsanto's US patent on glyphosate was allowed to expire in 2000. By 2012 the EU had registered some 2000 glyphosate-based herbicides made by many different companies for use on croplands. Given the unwelcome presence of glyphosate in human urine, one could be forgiven for calling the ban on just 12 glyphosate herbicides as 'pissing in the wind'. Farcical but not funny.

Glyphosate's approval has always been the subject of controversy, sparking concern and criticism among independent scientists and environmentalists. Industry-sponsored unpublished 'safety' studies, conducted on animals, formed the main supporting evidence for official approval in the United States, Europe and consequently around the world. When the EU was asked in 2010 by Monsanto to re-approve the use of glyphosate in herbicides, the permit was due to expire in 2012. However, the review was delayed until 2015, with a further extension until June 2016. In the meantime, EU Parliamentarians recommended a total ban on the substance, but were thwarted by the European Commission, which initially proposed extending the permit for a further 15 years, a demand which was subsequently reduced to 18 months. Meanwhile, European Parliamentarians agreed to the Commission's proposals to ban the co-formulant POE-tallowamine, resulting in the ban on Roundup sales.

An independent study published in 2012 showed that important data indicating glyphosate's ill-effects had been suppressed from the evidence used for approval. Almost simultaneously with the EU's ban on Roundup in 2016, the American EPA approved a dicamba-based herbicide developed by Monsanto for use on its next generation of biotech (genetically modified) crops. The new herbicide was developed in response to the increasing problem of glyphosate-resistant weeds. As dicamba had allegedly caused serious environmental problems in its previous use, the approval of the new version was greeted with widespread concern.

Powerful lobbying, forceful marketing

The agrochemical industry is rich and powerful. It is exceptionally skilful in dominating the market, quelling opposition, and recruiting support from politicians and scientists. Pesticide advertising is widespread and shamelessly misleading. The agrochemical companies have succeeded in creating the ultimate spin in relation to proofs of safety. One of their biggest promotional successes was to re-define poisonous pesticides as 'plant protectors'. That euphemism has helped deflect attention from pesticides as poisons and potential health destroyers.

The 'Glyphosate Facts' website: a smooth, attractive cover-up?

At the end of November 2016, nearly two months after the EU ban on Roundup sales, the 'Glyphosate Facts' website made no mention of it. The Monsanto website, which covers most of the world, with Monsanto news given in a multitude of languages, was equally silent on the subject.

Concerned independent scientists, regulators and environmentalists are forced to argue the toss with a tireless, well-oiled propaganda machine. Arguments are bandied to and fro over decades. Meanwhile, untold damage is being done to land, sea and air, and human health problems are multiplying.

Caution should prevail

Pesticides should be proven beyond doubt to be completely safe before being approved for use. Most consumers believe that approved pesticides have been proved safe. This is not so. The evidence that they are not safe has been sidelined by the industry in many different ways. The burden of proof has been thrown on to the people opposing the development and use of dangerous pesticides. To make their task more difficult, words are being twisted to create impossible conditions for scientists seeking to establish risk evaluations and ill-effects. This was especially true when Euro-MPs were due to consider the European Commission's proposals for identifying and regulating hormone disrupting chemicals in December 2016.

Pesticide safety is always in doubt. As they are poisons, pesticides cannot be tested on humans. The human testing is done once the pesticides are put into use. We are the guinea pigs in practice (following in from the tragic dogs, rabbits, rats, chickens and countless other animals who have been tortured with force-fed pesticides for the sake of 'proving' the agrochemical industry's point). There is no such thing as 'sustainable use' of pesticides. For safety's sake, pesticides should not be used. That is the precautionary principle. The agrochemical industry has turned the precautionary principle on its head.

The organic way: rotavating for clean soil between vines. Photo Vivian Grisogono

The very limited EU restriction on a few glyphosate-based herbicides was a minimal response to long-held, well-founded, far-reaching concern. Its most useful effect will be to make people realise that dangerous substances are being used long-term in our environment, causing damage on many levels, including in the human and animal food chain. Proper safeguards are lacking; and the regulatory bodies are not dealing with the potential hazards effectively.

The fact that previously approved chemical pesticides are subsequently disallowed, especially after being in use for several years, should ring alarm bells round the world. Clearly there are deep flaws in the regulatory system which are putting public health at risk.

Do chemical pesticides work?

The short answer is no. Or more precisely, only in the short-term. Chemical herbicides have resulted in the proliferation of 'superweeds'; chemical rodenticides have been behind the rise of 'super-rats'; and following widespread use of chemical insecticides there are ever-increasing numbers of mosquitoes, and even 'supermoths'. These results are all the more unsatisfactory when set alongside the untold collateral damage to the environment and human health. The bottom line is that healthy crops can only grow in uncontaminated soil.

Freedom of choice

While the EU has to approve active substances in products such as pesticides, it is up to individual Member States to allow them to be sold on their markets. Member States have the right to 'grant, refuse or restrict the use of a specific product'. In July 2016, Malta became the first EU country taking steps to ban glyphosate-based herbicides outright, with many localities on Malta having already done so. It would be great news if local authorities in Croatia followed Malta's lead. Even better if the central government took the initiative of outlawing pesticides and promoting organic agriculture and proper sustainable care for the environment. If they did, there would certainly be significant savings in health expenditure.

Even if the powers-that-be do not want to lead the way, individuals can achieve much. If end-users stop buying chemical pesticides, the market will disappear. The EU ban on a handful of pesticides will achieve precious little in itself. But it might serve to alert even just a few people to the harm being done. It might persuade some to give up using pesticides. If so, it will have done a deal of good.

BEWARE, BE AWARE!

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2016, updated January 2019

 

Media

You are here: Home poisons be aware Pesticides: cause for alarm

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Heavy rain has led to 107 flood warnings across much of England and parts of Wales

    Flood barriers have been erected in the historic town of Stratford-on-Avon after more than 100 warnings were issued across the country as a result of wet weather.

    The Environment Agency (EA) took steps to protect some of the key sites associated with William Shakespeare, including the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the banks of the Avon.

    Continue reading...

  • Rightwing parties reject proposals as lagoon city faces worst flooding in 53 years

    Veneto’s regional council rejected a plan to combat climate change minutes before its offices on the Grand Canal, in Venice, were flooded, it has emerged as the city continues to battle high water levels.

    Venice has been hit by recurrent flooding since Tuesday, with 70% of the lagoon city engulfed on Friday morning as the acqua alta, or high water, level reached 1.54 metres amid heavy downpours.

    Continue reading...

  • Young XR members travel by canoe into heart of Amazon to form ‘forest pact’ with indigenous groups and land activists

    The search for solutions to the climate crisis does not get any more radical, far-reaching or deeper into nature than the alternative climate conference currently taking place in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

    In the past few days, European climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion youth activists have travelled by motor canoe deep into a region known as Terra do Meio to share ideas with indigenous leaders, forest dwellers, environmental activists and Brazil’s leading climate scientists, anthropologists and archaeologists. The Russian punk anarchist Nadya Tolokonnikova, of Pussy Riot, was also set to join the gathering along with local artists and Catholic bishops.

    Continue reading...

  • Since climate campaigner’s transatlantic adventures, more people are looking to travel by sail

    Hitching a ride on a sailing boat across the Atlantic might sound like a far-fetched endeavour reserved for the famous and well-connected. But Greta Thunberg has now managed it twice in three months – and her antics appear to be inspiring a growing, if nascent, movement in sail-hitching.

    Maritime hitchhiking has hitherto been reserved for sailors looking for experience on different routes and vessels.

    Continue reading...

  • EU’s lending arm to become first ‘climate bank’ by ending financing of oil, gas and coal projects after 2021

    The European Investment Bank has agreed to phase out its multibillion-euro financing for fossil fuels within the next two years to become the world’s first ‘“climate bank”.

    The bank will end its financing of oil, gas, and coal projects after 2021, a policy that will make the EU’s lending arm the first multilateral lender to rule out financing for projects that contribute to the climate crisis.

    Continue reading...

  • Lucy Hughes, 24, wins £30,000 international prize for compostable MarinaTex

    A bioplastic made of organic fish waste that would otherwise end up in landfill – with the potential to replace plastic in food and drink packaging – has landed its UK designer a prestigious international award and £30,000 prize.

    Lucy Hughes, 24, a graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, scooped the James Dyson award for her biodegradable and compostable material known as MarinaTex.

    Continue reading...

  • Businesses and residents say they feel helpless as they brace for next high tides

    As tourists posed for selfies at St Mark’s Square on Wednesday evening, shop owners mopped the floors of their premises and cleared debris while assessing the cost of the damage caused by record high tides.

    “An apocalypse happened,” said Antonella Rossi, who owns a handmade jewellery shop under the portico that surrounds the square.

    Continue reading...

  • Lancet Countdown tracks impacts of global heating covering disease, wildfires and malnutrition

    The climate crisis will determine the lifelong health of today’s children, doctors have warned, noting that global heating was already causing harm.

    Children are especially vulnerable and the global team of researchers say rising temperatures mean the bacteria causing deadly diarrhoea will thrive while poorer crop yields could lead to more malnutrition.

    Continue reading...

  • Dramatic shift from wet to dry climate could have caused crop failure in Neo-Assyrian empire

    The Neo-Assyrian empire was a mighty superpower that dominated the near east for 300 years before its dramatic collapse. Now researchers say they have a novel theory for what was behind its rise and fall: climate change.

    The empire emerged in about 912BC and grew to stretch from the Mediterranean down to Egypt and out to the Persian Gulf.

    Continue reading...

  • Exclusive: tiny particles produced by motor traffic can invade the brain and carry carcinogens

    New research has linked air pollution nanoparticles to brain cancer for the first time.

    The ultra-fine particles (UFPs) are produced by fuel burning, particularly in diesel vehicles, and higher exposures significantly increase people’s chances of getting the deadly cancer. Previous work has shown that nanoparticles can get into the brain and that they can carry carcinogenic chemicals.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds