By Jessica Corbett
While much of the world focuses on the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 1.6 million people across the globe, East Africa is battling the worst invasion of desert locusts in decades — a months-long "scourge of biblical proportions" that experts warn could get worse with a larger second wave already arriving in parts of the region.
- Locust Swarms Prompt Somalia to Declare National Emergency ... ›
- Worst Locust Swarm to Hit East Africa in Decades Linked to Climate ... ›
- Climate Crisis Brings India's Worst Locust Invasion in Decades - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The EPA announced that soybean farmers in 25 states are allowed to spray Alite 27, a cancer-causing weedkiller known to drift 1,000 feet. fotokostic / iStock / Getty Images Plus
In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that soybean farmers in 25 states are allowed to spray Alite 27, a cancer-causing weedkiller known to drift 1,000 feet from where it was sprayed, according to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
To approve new use for the herbicide, which has the chemical name isoxaflutole and is manufactured by German-chemical giant BASF, the EPA had to skirt around the usual public comment period for the decision. The registration for isoxaflutole was opened for public comment, but it was never listed in the federal register. Agencies almost always provide notice that they are considering a new rule in the federal register, according to to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
"The press release caught everyone off guard, we were just waiting for the EPA to open the comment period, and we never saw it," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, referring to an EPA press release, as the AP reported.
The spray, which is already used on corn in 33 states, can be sprayed on crops that have been genetically engineered to resist the herbicide. Commodity farmers praised the decision and touted the weedkiller as an indispensable tool in their arsenal of supplies to push back against new "super weeds" that have grown resistant to several types of herbicides, including glyphosate, or RoundUp, the most commonly used herbicide in the U.S., as to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting reported.
"One of the biggest challenges growers face is resistant weeds, and the soybean market needed a new residual active ingredient to help fight against them," said Darren Unland, Technical Marketing Manager, BASF Agricultural Solutions, in a company press release. "Alite 27 herbicide will provide growers with another pre-emergent herbicide option to layer into their herbicide program for effective, season-long control."
Comments like Unland's were the only ones that appeared in the public register. In fact, there were 54 comments in the public register and all of them were in praise of Alite 27, neglecting that it is a known carcinogen and that the drift of the herbicide is potentially harmful to nearby farms and farmers.
"Clearly no one from the public health community knew about this because no one commented," Donley said, as The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting noted. "Yet there was all these industry comments, all these positive comments. Someone was tipped off that this docket had been opened. One side was able to comment, the other wasn't."
While BASF and the EPA insist that they followed protocol and there was a month-long protocol for issuing public comment, the one-sided comments certainly raise eyebrows. The EPA, however, did put limits on the use of the potent herbicide, only allowing it in certain counties in 25 states and not in Indiana or Illinois, the two largest soybean-producing states.
"This is basically an herbicide that shouldn't be approved at all for any use. It's that bad really on both the human health and environmental fronts," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit public interest and environmental advocacy organization working to protect human health and the environment, according to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
Freese insisted he was ready with an arsenal of facts for the public comment period, but he never saw it. Amongst the facts that Freese wanted to present was the EPA's own statement that isoxaflutole is a likely carcinogen that damages human liver enzymes, it contaminates ground water, it travels long distances from where it was sprayed, and its label is extremely complicated. It requires farmers to know their soil type and the height of their water table.
"It's outrageous," Freese said to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. "They knew this is a bad news chemical, and it was very likely done because they didn't want to give environmental groups the opportunity to comment on this, so they can avoid scrutiny."
- EPA Uses Coronavirus as an Excuse Not to Regulate Polluters ... ›
- 'Troubling Allegiance' to Pesticide Company: Trump's EPA Claims ... ›
- EPA Updates Plans to Limit Use of Science in Decision-Making ... ›
- EPA Is Hiding Information About New Chemicals: Green Groups Sue ... ›
- EPA Doubles Down on Its Attempt to Censor Science - EcoWatch ›
Both Eastern and Western monarch butterflies are seeing their populations plummet precipitously, worrying scientists that the future of the species is in peril, according to multiple surveys of butterfly populations.
- Monarch Butterfly Population Plummets in California - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal ›
By Carey Gillam
A California shareholder of Bayer AG on Friday filed a lawsuit against the companies' top executives claiming they breached their duty of "prudence" and "loyalty" to the company and investors by buying Monsanto Co. in 2018, an acquisition the suit claims has "inflicted billions of dollars of damages" on the company.
- Cancer Takes Toll as New Roundup Trials Near - EcoWatch ›
- Bayer Apologizes Over Secret List of Monsanto Critics - EcoWatch ›
- Bayer and BASF Ordered to Pay $265 Million to U.S. Peach Farmer ... ›
5 Biggest Pesticide Companies Are Making Billions From 'Highly Hazardous' Chemicals, Investigation Finds
Poor people in developing countries are far more likely to suffer from exposure to pesticides classified as having high hazard to human health or the environment, according to new data that Unearthed analyzed.
- 5 Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Beds - EcoWatch ›
- Insects Could Go Extinct Within a Century, With 'Catastrophic ... ›
Organic farmers in Africa face an arduous journey getting cropland certified, limiting exports and frustrating farmers who say ecological practices could increase food security while protecting the land.
Fighting Hunger<p>Conventional farming uses artificial fertilizers and pesticides, some of which kill wildlife and may damage human health, particularly in countries where they are poorly regulated or overused.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/why-biodiversity-loss-hurts-humans-as-much-as-climate-change/a-48579014" target="_blank">A landmark report on biodiversity</a> published by UN-backed scientists last year found that converting land for intensive agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of wildlife loss and degradation of nature — and that this, in turn, endangers the global food system through the less of healthy soil, clean waterways and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/insect-apocalypse-dying-ecosystem-species-loss-a-52160360/a-52160360" target="_blank">insects that pollinate plants</a>.</p>
Access to Finance<p>The area of organic farmland in Africa has doubled in the last decade to 2.1 million hectares, FiBL data shows, with the biggest organic centers in North and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/feeding-east-africa-locals-skeptical-of-gm-crops/a-42385062" target="_blank">East Africa</a> and the crops they grow enjoyed the world over. In Kenya, nuts and coconuts dominate organic output. In Tunisia it is olives. Ethiopia and Tanzania are big coffee-growers, while in Uganda, home to the most organic producers in Africa, the crop of choice is cacao.</p><p>Despite some successes, farmers such as Nashera and Koleta, in Kenya, are caught in a bind between domestic markets not willing to pay a premium for organic food and wealthier regions to which they cannot export without expensive certification. A survey of African farmers by UNCTAD in 2016 found that a quarter of stakeholders thought access to finance had gotten more restrictive in the last five years. Only 13 percent said it had become more efficient.</p><p>But the industry is held back by more than just money, said Okisegere Ojepat, CEO of trade association Fresh Produce Kenya. A lack of crop-specific research and equipment, including understanding of weather patterns and pest control, is keeping farmers from innovating. Pushing for more organic farming without building technical capacity would not be sustainable in the long run, said Ojepat. "It is a double-edged sword."</p><p>Organic farmers looking to reach markets abroad are trying short-term fixes. To reduce the cost of certification — which requires paying auditors from Europe and North America to fly in and inspect farms — organic farmers could apply to be certified together, said Claire Nasike, founder of environmental educational charity the Hummingbird Foundation and an agroecologist at Greenpeace Africa, which has trained a network of farmers who are now applying to be certified as a group.</p><p>"The farmers are able to hold each other accountable," said Nasike. "If one person messes it up, the entire group's certification is cancelled."</p>
Corteva, formerly part of the chemical manufacturing giant Dow Chemical, announced today that it would stop making chlorpyrifos — a toxic, brain-harming pesticide commonly sprayed on various U.S. food crops, including apples, oranges, and berries — by the end of the year.
- California, Nation's Top User of Chlorpyrifos, Announces Ban on ... ›
- 'Finally!': Court Orders EPA to Stop Stalling Potential Ban on ... ›
Human activity threatens to make summer nights a little less magical.
Habitat Loss<p>"Lots of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/wildlife" target="_self">wildlife</a> species are declining because their habitat is shrinking," Lewis said in a <a href="https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/lights-out-fireflies-face-extinction-threats-habitat-loss-light-pollution-pesticides" target="_blank">Tufts press release</a>, "so it wasn't a huge surprise that habitat loss was considered the biggest threat."</p><p>However, some firefly species are particularly vulnerable because they require very specific conditions. The Malaysian firefly <em>Pteroptyx tener</em>, famous for its synchronized light shows, needs mangroves to flourish. Previous research had noted the species' decline due to the clearing of mangroves to plant <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/palm-oil">palm oil</a> plantations and aquaculture farms.</p>
Light Pollution<p><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/light-pollution" rel="noopener noreferrer">Artificial light</a> is a major problem for fireflies because they use their famous bioluminescence to find mates, and bright human lights can disrupt these courtship signals.</p><p>"In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms – including our own – light pollution really messes up firefly mating rituals," study coauthor and Tufts PhD candidate Avalon Owens explained in the press release.</p>
Pesticides<p>The use of agricultural pesticides like organophosphates and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/neonicotinoids" rel="noopener noreferrer">neonicotinoids</a> threatens fireflies, especially during their larval stages, when they spend as many as two years living below the ground or underwater. This makes them especially sensitive to pesticides that end up on lawns or in the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/soil" rel="noopener noreferrer">soil</a>, according to Popular Science.</p><p>While more specific research is needed on the impact of these chemicals on fireflies, the evidence suggests that they are harmful to the glowing bugs as they are to other insects, the Tufts release explained.</p>
'Insect Apocalypse'<p>Indeed, the plight of fireflies is reflected across the insect class. A <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/insect-apocalypse-will-have-dire-con-sequences-for-all-life-on-earth-report-warns-2641341433.html" target="_self">November 2019</a> study warned that 41 percent of insects are threatened with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/species-extinction" rel="noopener noreferrer">extinction</a>, which could lead to an "insect apocalypse" with serious consequences for humans and other life on Earth.</p><p>Dave Goulson, the University of Sussex biology professor who authored that study, <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/03/world/fireflies-extinction-risk-scn/index.html" target="_blank">told CNN</a> that the threats of habitat loss and pesticide use were also the leading causes of the overall insect decline.</p><p>"Of course fireflies are particularly vulnerable to light pollution, more so than perhaps any other insect group, so it makes sense that this also emerges as a major concern," Goulson said.</p><p>Lewis expressed hope that focusing the spotlight on fireflies could raise awareness about the plight of insects generally and build the will to save them.</p><p>"Fireflies are actually an insect that everybody can get behind," she told Popular Science.</p>
- Acting Now Could Save Bugs From Insect Apocalypse - EcoWatch ›
- 'Insect Apocalypse' Will Have Dire Con sequences for All Life on ... ›
- Pesticide Touted as Neonicotinoid Replacement Still Harms Bees ... ›
- Fireflies' Glow Could Soon Be Extinguished by Human Actions ... ›
An Andean condor in the conservation breeding program at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. John R. Platt / The Revelator / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0<p>The deaths are particularly alarming because condors already face a range of other threats, including illegal hunting, lead poisoning (similar to <a href="https://therevelator.org/saving-california-condors/" target="_blank">California condors</a>) and collisions with power lines.</p><p>On top of that, their populations grow slowly under the best of circumstances.</p><p>"Condors have a very low reproductive rate," Piña explains. They don't reach sexual maturity until they're 9 or 10 years old, and then they only nest every two years and raise a single chick at a time.</p><p>It's now likely that more Andean condors are dying than are being born.</p><p>"These deaths occur at a rate and on a scale that does not allow the natural recovery of individuals to the population," says Piña.</p><p>And it's not just the condors being killed. The bodies of animals from eight other species have been found near dead condors, according to the paper. These include American black vultures (<em>Coragyps atratus</em>), kelp gull (<em>Larus dominicanus</em>), Molina's hog-nosed skunks (<em>Conepatus chinga</em>) and pumas (<em>Puma concolor</em>).</p><p>The poisons are also potentially harmful to humans. "There are oral records of cases of people poisoned by the placement of these poisons," Piña says. This poses a risk for officials tasked with cleaning up kill sites. The EPA links acute short-term <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/parathion.pdf" target="_blank">parathion exposure</a> to central nervous disorders, depressed red blood cell activity, nausea and other health risks.</p>
An Andean condor spreads its wings at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. John R. Platt / The Revelator / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0<p>With the condors fulfilling so many important roles, and the frequency of poisonings increasing, how do we solve this problem?</p><p>Piña and his fellow researchers recommend a three-tier approach.</p><p>The first involves educating livestock owners about the importance of condors and the health risks from the pesticides. "We believe that working on education about the dangerousness of the use of these toxic baits is one of the lines of action needed to address this problem," Piña says.</p><p>That won't solve everything, he acknowledges, because some people already know the poisons are dangerous but use them anyway.</p><p>That brings us to the second solution: protecting livestock. "It's essential to find ways to reduce predation without affecting environmental health," Piña says. "An example could be the incorporation of cattle protection dogs, which have been shown to considerably reduce predation in Patagonia Argentina." The researchers have started studies with cattle breeders to understand various techniques already in use in different parts of the country, as well as how ranchers perceive livestock losses they experience.</p>
- Ecuador Announces New National Park in the Andes - EcoWatch ›
- Pesticide Food Poisoning Suspected as 10 Die After Funeral in Peru ... ›
Hanging on a gate is a sign reading: "Potatoes — healthy and delicious." The slogan, to which the word "rare" could justifiably be added, is in line with Cornel Lindemann-Berk's philosophy of quality over quantity. "We don't have enough rain in the summer," he tells DW. "And since we don't want to water them, we've turned this weakness into a strength."