Non-agri­cul­tural Use of Pes­ti­cides to Be Banned by French Sen­ate

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Pes­ti­cides kill. That is what they are in­tended for. How­ever, many of them don't just kill the in­sects they are tar­geted against. While they can save hu­man lives when used against things like mos­qui­toes and bed bugs, many of them also sicken or kill needed in­sects, mi­crobes, wildlife and hu­mans.

As health sciences have pro­gressed we now bet­ter un­der­stand the risks of us­ing pes­ti­cides and now know that many of them are too toxic to keep us­ing.

It is only re­cently that sci­ence has started to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of hu­man gut mi­crobes (mi­cro­biome) and the role of the mi­cro­biome in our health. Most pes­ti­cides have never been tested on the hu­man mi­cro­biome and not in the com­bi­na­tions com­monly found in our food.

A num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries are com­ing to­gether to block the use of all non-agri­cul­tural pes­ti­cides — a im­por­tant step in the right di­rec­tion. The French Sen­ate just an­nounced its back­ing for the move.

The an­nounce­ment, made on May 31 by Se­na­tor Joël Labbé, was greeted with a strong wel­come by con­sumers, en­vi­ron­men­tal and health or­ga­ni­za­tions groups. France has been ac­tive in this arena for some time, hav­ing al­ready banned all pes­ti­cides in green pub­lic spa­ces through­out the coun­try since Jan­uary 2017, with the sole ex­cep­tions be­ing at rail­ways, air­ports and along road­ways. When the new law passes, some­thing ex­pected not long from now, it will block the use of pes­ti­cides in pri­vate gar­dens. It will also pro­hibit sales of pes­ti­cides to non-pro­fes­sional users. Both parts of that law would go into ef­fect as of Jan­uary 2019.

In con­trast to this im­por­tant for­ward progress in Europe is the back­ward move­ment in the U.S. and the in­fes­ta­tion of Trump­ism at the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA). Un­der Scott Pruitt, who has sin­gle-hand­edly rolled back much of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tougher stands on emis­sions reg­u­la­tions and is now mov­ing to do the same for pes­ti­cides, it seems like any­thing the U.S. agribusi­ness gi­ants want to poi­son us with is more than wel­come as long as it makes money for them.

In one of its lat­est moves, the EPA is look­ing soon to al­low three widely used organophos­phate pes­ti­cides: chlor­pyri­fos, malathion and di­azi­non. All three had been sched­uled for ban from wide­spread use prior to

the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion tak­ing power. All three had been, for years, iden­ti­fied as hav­ing ma­jor health risks to en­dan­gered species and hu­mans as well, with ma­jor bans hav­ing been in place since back in the early days of Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Scott Pruitt ap­pears to be in the process of chang­ing all that, in part from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­ing deeply in the pock­ets of Dow Chem­i­cal, the com­pany who would ben­e­fit most by wide­spread use of the pes­ti­cides. See “Trump’s Pes­ti­cide War on Kids” (Trav­el­ing Minds, May/june 2017) for more on these chem­i­cals, why they were to be banned and why that ban may be re­versed.

New pes­ti­cides are com­ing up for review al­most ev­ery day in the United States, and with the cur­rent EPA per­ver­sion in place, it looks like they will get a fast and pos­i­tive rul­ing for all of them re­gard­less of how dan­ger­ous they are. One such chem­i­cal that might make its way into the U.S. ecosys­tem soon, if the in­ven­tors have their way, is a new form of the pes­ti­cide dichlorodiphenyl­trichloroethane, also known as DDT.

The pre­vi­ous form of DDT was sold for years es­pe­cially in places such as where mos­quito-borne malaria was present. That changed as many sci­en­tists be­gan ex­pos­ing the highly toxic na­ture of the chem­i­cal and its per­sis­tence in the bi­o­log­i­cal food chain. It would ap­pear in­tact in wa­ter runoff from agri­cul­tural fields, get into the wa­ter sys­tem and ap­pear in fish, birds and then other an­i­mals. Eggs from birds who had in­gested DDT were thin­ner, re­sult­ing in lower birth rates; this no­tably af­fected the eggs of the then-en­dan­gered pere­grine fal­cons and Cal­i­for­nia con­dors, among other species. An­i­mals in the food chain also died from the chem­i­cal.

Then, Rachel Car­son, the writer of Silent Spring, a 1962 work for the gen­eral pub­lic, ex­posed the hor­ri­ble truth about the dangers of the chem­i­cal for all to see. That book is seen by many as hav­ing sin­gle-hand­edly launched the modern en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist move­ment.

After Car­son’s book came out, the num­ber of sci­en­tists de­mand­ing an end to the wide­spread use of DDT greatly in­creased. By the 1970s and 1980s, agri­cul­tural use of the chem­i­cal was banned in most de­vel­oped coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States, by 1972. It was fur­ther re­in­forced by the Stock­holm Con­ven­tion on Per­sis­tent Or­ganic Pol­lu­tants, a rul­ing that went into ef­fect in 2004 that re­stricted DDT use solely to what was known as vec­tor con­trol for ex­tremely crit­i­cal health emer­gen­cies.

This pre­vi­ous form of DDT was in a form eas­ily ab­sorbed by all liv­ing things around it. Dis­closed in the jour­nal Ange­wandte Chemie, the de­vel­op­ment of a new crys­talline form of the chem­i­cal was re­cently an­nounced. The chemists in­volved in the study sug­gest the new form may be less dan­ger­ous than its pre­de­ces­sor.

The new chem­i­cal could be just that – “less dan­ger­ous” – but that kind of phras­ing raises ma­jor con­cerns, es­pe­cially since it still in­cludes the haz­ardous na­ture of the chem­i­cal at its core. The long-term sta­bil­ity of the crys­talline form of the chem­i­cal, and the po­ten­tial for new dangers from this still-highly-toxic chem­i­cal, should re­quire ex­ten­sive test­ing be­fore it is widely used.

Un­der the Pruitt-run EPA, the ap­proval of the wide­spread use of this new in­no­va­tion might start its wide­spread killings faster than most might imag­ine.

In France and much of Europe, at least, it looks like this new form of DDT, re­gard­less of how miraculous it might be, may never be re­leased for use be­cause it would be for non-agri­cul­tural use. One can only hope such sense will even­tu­ally re­turn to those run­ning the EPA.

For us to stop poi­son­ing our­selves and our planet we need a fun­da­men­tal shift in our cul­ture. We need to re­think our en­tire re­la­tion­ship to na­ture, learn more about and from na­ture and work with it in­stead of against it. And we need to take the profit mo­tive out of food pro­duc­tion.

One ex­am­ple of where our ig­no­rance leads to our down­fall is in the study of how in­sects per­ceive and re­spond to light, sound, odors and mag­netic fields. Es­teemed en­ty­mol­o­gist Prof. Philip S. Cal­la­han found that modern in­dus­trial agri­cul­tural meth­ods ac­tu­ally at­tract harm­ful in­sects while more nat­u­ral farm­ing meth­ods that bet­ter sup­port crop health don't. He also dis­cov­ered that merely adding para­m­ag­netic rock dust to soil could greatly in­crease crop health and yield while not at­tract­ing harm­ful in­sects.

But, com­pa­nies like Mon­santo can't make bil­lions off of rock dust and healthy crops with no in­sect in­fes­ta­tions, so Cal­la­han's re­search has been sup­pressed and most farm­ers sim­ply don't know that there is a bet­ter way to pro­duce food.

You can help cre­ate a smarter, health­ier world by sup­port­ing your lo­cal or­ganic farm­ers in­stead of sup­port­ing the de­sc­truc­tive agro-chem­i­cal in­dus­try.

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