Category Archives: Chemicals

Switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions, study shows

Study also finds that converting conventionally farmed land would not overly harm crop yields or require huge amounts of additional land to feed rising populations

 
Employees work on a salad field on an organic farm in Brodowin, Germany
Employees work on a salad field on an organic farm in Brodowin, Germany. Photograph: Axel Schmidt/Getty Images

Converting land from conventional agriculture to organic production could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the run-off of excess nitrogen from fertilisers, and cut pesticide use. It would also, according to a new report, be feasible to convert large amounts of currently conventionally farmed land without catastrophic harm to crop yields and without needing huge amounts of new land.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that by combining organic production with an increasingly vegetarian diet, ways of cutting food waste, and a return to traditional methods of fixing nitrogen in the soil instead of using fertiliser, the world’s projected 2050 population of more than 9 billion could be fed without vastly increasing the current amount of land under agricultural production.

This is important, as converting other land such as forests, cerrado or peatlands to agricultural use would increase greenhouse gas emissions from the land. The authors found that an increase in organic farming would require big changes in farming systems, such as growing legumes to replenish nitrogen in the soil.

However, other scientists were cautious over endorsing the report’s findings, pointing out that the size of the world’s agricultural systems and their variability, as well as assumptions about future nutritional needs, made generalisations about converting to organic farming difficult to make.

Sir Colin Berry, emeritus professor of pathology at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “As for all models, assumptions have to be made and what weight you attach to which item can greatly change outcomes. The assumption that grassland areas will remain constant is a large one. The wastage issue is important but solutions, not addressed here, to post-harvest- pre-market losses will be difficult without fungicides for grains. Some populations could do with more protein to grow and develop normally, despite the models here requiring less animal protein.”

 

Les Firbank, professor of sustainable agriculture at Leeds University, said: “One of the question marks about organic farming is that it can’t feed the world. [This paper] concludes organic farming does require more land than conventional methods, but if we manage the demand for food by reducing waste and reducing the amount of crops grown as animal feed, organic farming can feed the world.”

He warned: “[These] models can only be viewed as a guide: there are many assumptions that may not turn out to be true and all these scenario exercises are restricted by limited knowledge [and] are fairly simplistic compared to real life, but realistic enough to help formulate policy. The core message is valuable and timely: we need to seriously consider how we manage the global demand for food.”

Even without converting to organic production, however, the US, India, China and Russia – four of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – could turn into some of the biggest absorbers of carbon, through better management of their agricultural land.

A separate new study shows that these countries have the greatest potential for the sequestration of carbon dioxide through changing the way soils are protected, through better farming methods that can also help to preserve declining soil fertility.

Scientists said the potential of using soil as a carbon sink was equivalent to taking between 215m and 400m cars off the road, even if only small changes are made, of a kind which should be achievable on all farms. The study, published on Tuesday in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, and conducted by experts from the Chinese Academy of Science, the Nature Conservancy NGO, and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, found that farming crops differently could make a big contribution to achieving the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Today’s intensive agricultural methods, involving frequent tilling of soils and the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, could be replaced with the revival of older methods such as the increased use of manure, cover cropping, mulching and growing trees next to cropland. However, the role of land management in preventing dangerous levels of climate change has often been overlooked at the talks, where discussions over the burning of fossil fuels have dominated. This is partly because of the urgency of switching away from fossil fuels, and partly because land management is a diffuse and diverse problem spread across the globe from small farmers to agri-industrialists, whereas fossil fuel sources tend to be larger and more monolithic, such as coal-fired power plants.

The results will be presented to delegates at the UN COP23 climate talks in Bonn on Wednesday. Nations at the talks are discussing ways to increase the commitments on emissions reductions made alongside the Paris agreement, and which scientists say are currently inadequate to hold the world to no more than 2C of warming, the binding target under the landmark 2015 accord.

Pesticides damage survival of bee colonies, landmark study shows

The world’s largest ever field trial demonstrates widely used insecticides harm both honeybees and wild bees, increasing calls for a ban

Honey bee pollinating on rapeseed
Bees that foraged a lot on oil seed rape were found to be particularly at risk from disease. Photograph: kojihirano/Getty Images
 Widely used insecticides damage the survival of honeybee colonies, the world’s largest ever field trial has shown for the first time, as well as harming wild bees.

The farm-based research, along with a second new study, also suggests widespread contamination of entire landscapes and a toxic “cocktail effect” from multiple pesticides.

The landmark work provides the most important evidence yet for regulators around the world considering action against neonicotinoids, including in the EU where a total ban is poised to be implemented this autumn. The insecticides are currently banned on flowering crops in the EU.

The negative impacts found varied across different countries, leading the pesticide manufacturers to question whether the results of the research, which they funded, were real. The new research is published in the prestigious peer-review journal Science.

Neonicotinoids represent a quarter of the multi-billion dollar pesticide market but have been repeatedly linked to serious harm in bees in lab-based studies. Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline, in part due to loss of habitats and disease. But there had been few realistic field studies to date to address the role of the insecticides and only occasional evidence for colony-level harm in wild bees.

The new research took place at 33 large farmland sites spread across the UK, Germany and Hungary. Honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees living by insecticide-treated fields of oil seed rape were compared with those in fields where insecticides were not used in the year of the study.

The survival of honeybee colonies was reduced by exposure to the insecticides in the UK and Hungary, but not in Germany, where the bees foraged far less on oil seed rape and had lower levels of disease. The reproductive success of the wild bees was cut as the insecticide exposure increased in all three countries.

“We showed significant negative effects at critical life cycle stages,” said Prof Richard Pywell, from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and part of the research team. “If the bees are foraging a lot on oil seed rape, they are clearly at risk. This is a large and important piece of evidence, but it is not the only evidence regulators will look at.”

Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline
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Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline. Photograph: Jeremy T Kerr/Science

Scientists not involved in the research backed the conclusions. “Together, the two studies make strong contributions to the growing scientific consensus about the harms of neonicotinoid pesticides to bees,” said Prof James Nieh, at the University of California San Diego. Addressing the differences between countries, Prof Jeremy Kerr, at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said: “Neonicotinoid applications are a kind of reproductive roulette for bees. Depending on local environmental characteristics, they can materially reduce survival prospects.”

The $3m cost of the research was met by Syngenta and Bayer, the companies that sell the two neonicotinoids tested, as part of a voluntary commitment to increase the available field data. But the companies were not involved in the designing, conducting or reporting of the study.

It found that the bees in Germany got just 15% of their food from the oil seed rape fields, compared to 40-50% in the UK and Hungary. “Clearly the bees in Germany are feeding on other flower resources in the landscape and are less exposed to neonics,” said Pywell.

The scientists also discovered that the wild bees were exposed to a neonicotinoid that was not even used in the trial and concluded the harm caused may result from “persistent residues in arable systems due to their widespread and often very frequent use”.

However, both Bayer and Syngenta expressed doubt about the “simplistic” interpretation of complex and “inconsistent” results. “We do not share CEH’s interpretation and remain confident that neonicotinoids are safe when used responsibly” said Richard Schmuck, director of environmental safety at Bayer CropScience.

Peter Campbell, from Syngenta, said: “The negative and positive results reported by CEH could easily be random, ie not real.” He said even taking the results at face value “demonstrates that neonics can be used safely or even with benefit to bees under certain circumstances, such as reported in Germany.”

But CEH’s Pywell said: “We stand by our peer-reviewed paper. We undertook the statistical analysis and reported the findings as we saw them and those are underpinned by the data. We are absolutely independent.”

A honeybee worker has a radio-frequency identification tag attached to its back
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A honeybee worker has a radio-frequency identification tag attached to its back that allows researchers to monitor when it leaves and returns to the colony, as well as when it is no longer active and presumed dead. Photograph: Amro Zayed/York University/Science

The second new study published in Science, carried out on corn farms in Canada, also found crops were not the main source of neonicotinoids to which bees were exposed. Instead, the contaminated pollen came from wildflowers, as has been shown recently in the UK.

“This indicates that neonicotinoids, which are water soluble, spill over from fields into the surrounding environment, where they are taken up by other plants that are very attractive to bees,” said Nadia Tsvetkov, at York University in Canada and who led the research.

“The detection of the potential long-term persistence of neonicotinoids in the soil by both studies raises the spectre of a reprise of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring,” said Prof Robert Paxton at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany.

The Canadian research also found that the presence of realistic levels of a fungicide made the neonicotinoids twice as toxic to bees. “The effect of neonicotinoids on honey bees quickly turns from bad to worse when you add the fungicide boscalid to the mix,” said Prof Valérie Fournier, at Laval University in Canada and also part of the team. Pesticides are not tested in combination by regulators and Kerr said: “This study shows that mixtures matter.”

 

New publication from Garden Organic – The Principles of Organic Gardening

What are the fundamental principles behind organic gardening? We know about not using toxic chemicals, but in truth there is more, much more, to creating a resilient and healthy natural growing space.

Garden Organic is pleased to announce the publication of a new booklet which neatly summarises the five organic gardening principles. Feed the soil, encourage wildlife, use resources responsibly, avoid harmful chemicals and keep your growing area healthy. Based on over 60 years of research, the easy to read Principles explains the thinking behind each of the above.

The booklet aims to help you your own growing methods, so that you can progress along the journey towards becoming truly organic. Based on the original Organic Gardening Guidelines, it has helpful Do’s and Don’ts, plus new sections and beautiful illustrations. “This should be a best-seller,” writes one member. “It is packed with important information.”

The Principles of Organic Gardening can be downloaded free of charge from gardenorganic.org.uk/principles. Alternatively, we can send you a copy by post, all we ask is a suggested donation of £2.50 to cover postage and package. You can do this here, selecting ‘Donation for Principles of Organic Gardening’ from the drop down options.

Posted: 
Monday, 5 June 2017

Your dinner is probably contaminated.

 

 

 
 
 

The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) 2016 Open Event

The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) are planning their 2016 open event. The event is free and is an opportunity for those interested in pesticide residues in food to learn more about the work of the committee and its role in the national food testing programme.

The event will be held on Wednesday 19 October at the National Railway Museum, York.

The theme for this year’s open event is past, present and future of pesticides in food, there will be talks from:

Dr Paul Brantom, Chairman of PRiF, introducing the work of the committee and explaining how the committee check results against safety and legal requirements.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will explain how foods are selected for the programme and how this has changed over time, including information on the latest results and the current testing programme.

Dr Sadat Nawaz and Mike Dickinson from Fera Science Ltd will explain how samples are tested for a wide range of pesticides at low levels, including safeguards on the quality of results.

Chris Wallwork from Agrii Ltd who gives technical advice to farmers and Christian Maltby from Barfoots of Botley, one of the UK’s leading vegetable growers, will give seperare talks explaining how UK farmers adapt to meet the requirements of the law, their customers and the consumer.

We would be very grateful if you could pass information about the event to anyone you think may be interested using, any social media tools that may be available

To book tickets for this free event please visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-expert-committee-on-pesticides-in-food-prif-open-event-2016-tickets-26028769751

Rachel Merrick Pesticides Policy TeamHealth & Safety Executive

Chemicals Regulation Division, Ground Floor, Mallard House,

Kings Pool, 3 Peasholme Green, York, YO1 7PX.

(:Tel: +44(0)2030 281222 | ext.1222 |

*:rachel.merrick@hse.gov.uk

www.hse.gov.uk/CRD

Follow HSE on Twitter @H_S_E

PRiF logoJoin us for the PRiF Open Event 2016 in York. For more details or to book a ticket visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-expert-committee-on-pesticides-in-food-prif-open-event-2016-tickets-26028769751

Glyphosate victory

18 months ago, Monsanto’s vast chemical-agricultural empire was rock solid.

Now, after over 2 million of us ran 20 campaigns, with millions of signatures, messages, phone calls, stunts, advocacy meetings and media stories… the future of the ‘Monsanto model’ is actually in question!!

The European Union just refused to grant Monsanto a new license for its flagship product – the pesticide glyphosate. This is massive – glyphosate accounts for up to a third of all Monsanto’s revenue!

“Looking to where we were in the beginning of this year and where we are now, Avaaz is indisputably the driving force of the fight for glyphosate discontinuance.”
Pavel Poc, Vice-Chair of the EU Parliament’s Environment Committee, and key leader of the glyphosate fight

Collage Monsanto model

This is far from over. But it’s an utter game-changer for countries like Germany, France and Italy to challenge the basis of Monsanto’s entire business model.

Avaaz delivers glyphosate petition at the EU parliament
Avaaz petition delivered to European Parliament

We haven’t been knee-jerk anti-pesticide. Our campaign calls for a suspension until independent science determines the safety of glyphosate. We’ll keep fighting, but if the EU allows 18 months for a new scientific process to weigh in, and we can ensure that process is truly independent, we could win this!!

We can also use the next 18 months to focus scrutiny on the global environmental impact of the Monsanto model, which is turning the surface of our planet into strange, toxic “biodeserts” where only one genetically modified Monsanto crop can grow.

Like with climate change and the Paris agreement, Avaaz has mobilised people on this issue at an unprecedented scale – we’ve taken the fight against Monsanto to a whole new level, and now it’s up to all of us, over the next 18 months, to win it.

First big oil, now Monsanto. We are taking on the dragons of our world. But if we stick together, and choose to believe and act, we can do anything.

With hope and determination,

Ricken, Alice, Bert, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team

PS – For more detail on all the tactics, meetings, and story of Avaaz’s glyphosate campaigning in the last year, here’s a summary.


Avaaz.org is a 44-million-person global campaign network
that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 18 countries on 6 continents and operates in 17 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Urgent Glyphosate petition

Glyphosate weedkillers like Roundup should be completely banned now that the WHO says the chemical is “probably carcinogenic”. But the European Commission still seems determined to put Monsanto’s interests before public health concerns.

In March, the Netherlands joined France, Sweden, and Italy to oppose a new 15-year licence for glyphosate. Undeterred, the European Commission has tweaked the glyphosate license proposal a little to win over the Netherlands. We need to come together now to make sure the Netherlands government stands up to the agrochemical lobby and the Commission.

Concerns about the harm of the world’s most popular weedkiller are reaching a breaking point. Which means that the vote will be a close one, and “swing vote” countries like the Netherlands have the power to effectively ban glyphosate in the EU.

Tell the Netherlands government to use its decisive vote to effectively ban glyphosate.

Last month, MEPs backed a ban of glyphosate not only for hobby gardeners and in green spaces like parks and playgrounds, but also in agriculture, where crop diversification and mechanical means are sufficient for the necessary weed control. They also called for strict limits on pre-harvest applications – — proof that lawmakers are coming to understand the dangers of Monsanto’s favorite pesticide. Yet, the Commission is ploughing ahead regardless – while experts say we need an outright ban in order to protect against contamination of our food, water, and soil.

Greenpeace EU’s food policy director, Franziska Achterberg compared renewing the glyphosate licence without proof of its safety to “skydiving without checking your equipment first.” And two months ago, the Netherlands agreed and played a crucial role in delaying the vote pending further research.

In March, together we gathered over 240,000 signatures asking the European Parliament to ban the pesticide. And voices from Big Agrochemicals expressed how “upset” they were that politicians heard our concerns — which means we’re striking a nerve in a big way. Now, we need to target our pressure on the Netherlands and make sure they vote in the interest of the people they represent, not Monsanto.

Call on the Netherlands to stick to its commitment to protect us from the dangers of glyphosate and vote against the Commission’s proposal.

The Netherlands’ vote could make or break the future of glyphosate in the EU.

Tell the Dutch government to stick to its principles and oppose the reauthorization of the harmful pesticide.

Thanks for all that you do,
Nabil, Eoin and the team at SumOfUs

**********
More information:

European commission plans to relicense ‘carcinogenic’ weedkiller, The Guardian, 22 April 2016.
[In Dutch] Letter from the government of The Netherlands regarding EU’s glyphosate licence, Rijksoverheid.nl, 1 April 2016.

SumOfUs is a worldwide movement of people like you, working together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable path for our global economy. Please help keep SumOfUs strong by chipping in £3 or become a SumOfUs core member with a regular monthly donation.

Glyphosate campaign

The EU is currently deciding whether to reissue the licence for the use of glyphosate.  This is in spite of a report from the World Health Authority that it is potentially carcinogenic (see below). We need you to support our campaign for a ‘No’ vote when the EU Commission next meets.

An EU environment committee has already voted overwhelmingly against the relicensing. The decision now rests with the EU executive, who will discuss the matter in mid April.

To voice the concerns of Garden Organic and our supporters, we will be sending a letter to Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner, asking him to consider the vast amount of independent scientific evidence compiled in the recent report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), commissioned by the World Health Organisation. This report indicates that glyphosate alone, as well as in chemical formulations, causes genotoxicity in both humans and animals.

In the coming days we will be collecting as many signatures as possible to sit alongside ours and show the committee just how important this issue is. We would like to urge all our members and supporters to read and sign the letter, before 10am on Monday 4th April when we will be sending it off.

Read and sign our letter now

Thank you

Support our campaign for a ‘no’ vote on the relicensing of glyphosate

Glyphosate key facts

  • Glyphosate is a toxic herbicide used to kill weeds. It is rarely used on its own, but as part of a chemical cocktail, for instance with the trade name Roundup. It is the most widely and heavily used chemical used by farmers, gardeners, growers and city councils worldwide.
  • In July 2015, The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), acting on behalf of the WHO, classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This is based on positive findings of carcinogenicity in regulatory animal studies, as well as limited evidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, particularly amongst farmers.
  • Makers of glyphosate claim that it is unlikely to pollute the water (ground or surface). However, researchers have found traces in wells and ground waters in countries as diverse as Holland, Spain and Canada. It has been found in the residues on the sides of UK reservoirs, and recently Guernsey Water Company found 19 of 20 samples contained glyphosate. Water contamination is probably as a result of drift from spraying, or from soil run off and erosion.

For information about this issue, including the sources of the information contained within this email, and advice on organic weed control methods, click here.

Background on the EU decision can be read here.