Drew Lyon, Endowed Chair in Small Grains Extension and Research, Weed Science, Crop & Soil Sciences, Washington State University, sent the following email to a WSU email list about irrigated agriculture on April 13, 2017:
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is seeking public comments on proposed rule changes for the use of restricted use herbicides. The current rules are complex, confusing, and in many cases outdated. The proposed rule changes were agreed upon by a workgroup consisting of various agricultural sector representatives and representatives from WSU. This Timely Topic summarizes the proposed rule changes and has links to the Preproposal Statement of Inquiry and The Explanation of Possible Rule Changes. If you are involved in any aspect of weed control in Washington [and this includes people who might be exposed to herbicides, ed.], you should take a look at the proposed rule changes and consider providing your comments to the WSDA.
This upcoming rule making process opens the door for concerned citizens to make our feelings known about the excessive, ubiquitous and unwise use of toxic herbicides (chemicals that are designed to kill plants), be it on the far-away farm that produces our food or the roadside in front of our homes; the pasture where the cows that produced the fertilizer for our gardens grazed or the city park where our children play.
The proposed changes sound a bit like Trumpian de-regulation at work– making herbicide application regulations less “onerous” for chemical-dependent agriculture and municipal and county governments to comply with, but also coming at the cost of increased risk to families and our ecosystem (imagine airplanes laden with toxic chemicals flying over populous cities and towns! –currently banned). The specific changes being called for (the elimination of numerous existing rules, see below) appear on the surface to be somewhat mundane and technical in nature, but make no mistake: The rules that are being proposed for elimination were originally put in force for good reasons, likely as a result of citizen action in the past in the face of known and identified hazards. We need to push back against these unwise proposals.
All rule-making and rule-changing that the State of Washington engages in must include the solicitation of public comments and public participation in official hearings that examine the proposals. As citizens, we should keep this in mind: When we comment on these proposed rule changes, the officials receiving our comments will likely bristle if we mention concerns we have about herbicides that don’t directly address the specific changes being proposed. Well, too bad. Our comments will still become part of the official record and, if enough of us rise to this occasion and give them an earful about how angry we are about the cavalier application of herbicides on our food crops and in our landscape, those officials will be on notice that more fundamental changes than the technical ones being proposed are in order. If we flood them with comments, try as they might, they will not be able to ignore us. This is the fight we need to prepare ourselves for. The official comment period is likely to begin in the fall of 2017.
If you do want to respond technically to the specific rule changes being proposed, Beyond Pestcides and Pestcide Acton Network could and should be consulted and engaged for expertise in issuing comments.
This is the WSU website referred to in the email from WSU’s Drew Lyon (please note, the comment form on this website is NOT the form for making official comments to the rule-making process):
From the website: " The Department [WSDA] is seeking public comment on the proposed rule changes before filing an official rule-making proposal sometime in the fall of 2017."
The Department is considering the following changes:
Amending nozzle and pressure requirements in the three WAC chapters to reflect current standards that applications must be made by creating a droplet spectrum size (e.g., medium, coarse or very coarse) that is in conformance with ASABE (American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers) standards;
Repealing the 85 degree Fahrenheit cut-off requirement in individual county rules since it is in the statewide rule (redundant);
Repealing maximum wind speed restrictions in individual county rules and adding a maximum 15 mph wind speed restriction to the statewide rules;
Repealing restriction in statewide rules that limits the addition of oil carriers and adjuvants [helper chemical] to one pint per acre;
Repealing restrictions in individual county rules that prohibit use of oil type carriers for brush control during certain times of the year;
Repealing restriction in statewide rules that prohibits mixing, loading and equipment decontamination (also aircraft takeoff and landing) in a manner that causes damage to susceptible crops;
Repealing restrictions in counties and specific “Areas” of counties that limit mixing loading of aircraft to formulations that can be applied in the Area where the airstrip is located;
Repealing the prohibition in statewide rules on turning or flying low over cities, towns, residences and other sensitive sites;
Repealing the prohibition in the statewide rules for storing use-restricted herbicides in “Areas” where their use is prohibited unless they are in a sealed container and the outside of the container is not contaminated; and
Repealing the provision in the statewide rules that indicates application of use-restricted herbicides through irrigation is subject to the same requirements as ground applications except for nozzle size and pressure requirements.
Someone who is concerned about the health and ecological hazards related to herbicide application might take the opportunity, when the official comment period commences, to send comments on these proposed rule changes and let your views be known to state officials about the general over-use of herbicides on our farms, yards, roadsides and parks and the inherent hazards that come with that.
For example, consider Round-up (Glyphosate), singularly the most used herbicide in the world. Manufactured by Monsanto, Round-up is routinely used as an herbicide by chemical-dependent agriculture, governments and homeowners in the Inland Northwest. Its popularity is the result of a massive, decades-long public relations campaign on the part of Monsanto that has successfully, but falsely convinced people that Round-up is a “low-toxicity” herbicide.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), released a finding on March 20, 2015 concluding that there is sufficient evidence that Glyphosate causes cancer, based on laboratory studies. In March 2017, after a pitched court battle with the Monsanto corporation, the prevailing State of California has now listed Glyphosate as a cancer-causing chemical (a carcinogen). In addition, acute poisoning of workers and homeowners who apply Round-up, or work where Round-up is applied, is not uncommon. In one study, “Six hundred one patients were identified; the majority ingested a concentrated formulation (36%, w/v glyphosate). Twenty-seven percent were asymptomatic, 63.7% had minor poisoning, and 5.5% of patients had moderate to severe poisoning. There were 19 deaths (case fatality 3.2%) with a median time to death of 20 h. Gastrointestinal symptoms, respiratory distress, hypotension, altered level of consciousness, and oliguria [the production of abnormally small amounts of urine] were observed in fatal cases. Death was strongly associated with greater age, larger ingestions, and high plasma glyphosate concentrations on admission (>734 microg/mL).”
The Monsanto corporation has famously bred genetically-engineered (GMO), “Round-up Ready” crops, some of which are grown by large Inland Northwest farms. These GMO crops are not supposed to be affected by being sprayed with the herbicide Round-up (Glyphosate), so farmers can spray their crops and only kill the weeds, leaving the crops to grow. Much of our region’s alfalfa, canola, corn and sugar beets are “Round-up-ready,” GMO versions where the application of Glyphosate is routine. Not only have the dangers from Glyphosate application increased exponentially since the introduction of “Round-up Ready” crops into our region, but with it also comes the problem of “genetic trespass” which is when pollen containing laboratory-altered chromosomes from GMO crops contaminates the seeds of non-GMO crops that are growing within reach of the altered pollen. Already, almost all the corn grown on the planet has been contaminated with Monsanto’s altered chromosomes. Numerous studies indicate that consumption of GMO corn carries with it some risk to the health of the humans or livestock that consume it. It’s only because Monsanto is a corporate giant that has the resources to abuse the legal and legislative systems as it sees fit has such a crime as the massive, global contamination of crops through genetic trespass been allowed to occur. Monsanto derives close to a third of its $15 billion in annual revenues from sales of glyphosate and glyphosate-related products such as "Round-up Ready" seeds.
In another troubling development arising from Trumpian support for corporations at the expense of the welfare of people, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in March abandoned its plans to test the U.S. food supply for the presence of glyphosate residues even while other government and independent studies have confirmed Glyphosate residues in food are common. Prior to that, in November, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had abandoned plans to test food for Glyphosate. Earlier in 2016, one of the FDA’s senior chemists analyzed glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal and reported that some honey samples contained residue levels well over the limit allowed in the European Union. Residues in oatmeal were linked to the use of Glyphosate to “dry down” oat crops in the field prior to harvesting (spraying a toxic chemical on a food crop just before it’s harvested!!??). Those findings prompted at least one major commercial buyer of oats, the Canadian company Grain Millers, Inc., to stop buying oats that have had Glyphosate applied prior to harvest. The FDA has also found Glyphosate residues in baby food. According to the Environmental Working Group which expends a lot of its resources analyzing pesticide residues in food, Monsanto itself defined an “extreme level” of Glyphosate contamination as 5.6 milligrams per kilogram of plant weight. “Norwegian scientists found a whopping 9 milligrams of Roundup per kilogram, on average”, on soybean plants they analyzed from Iowa. In addition, the practice of using Glyphosate to dry down field crops started in the mid 1970’s and has grown steadily since then. This time period coincides with a rapid increase in the incidence of wheat allergy and celiac disease, leading many to speculate that there is a causal relationship.
According to EcoWatch, “along with wheat and oats, glyphosate is used to desiccate a wide range of other crops including lentils, peas, non-GMO soybeans, corn, flax, rye, triticale, buckwheat, millet, canola, sugar beets and potatoes. Sunflowers may also be treated pre-harvest with glyphosate, according to the National Sunflower Association.”
[Dr. Charles] Benbrook** says that a large portion of edible beans grown in Washington and Idaho are desiccated with glyphosate. There are no statistics kept on the number of acres of wheat or other crops that are desiccated with glyphosate, according to [Joel Ransom, an agronomist at North Dakota State University]. While the pre-harvest use of glyphosate may account for a small amount of overall use of the herbicide, Benbrook says this still has a huge impact. “It may be two percent of agriculture use, but well over 50 percent of dietary exposure," he said.
Recently, new scientific information has emerged linking Glyphosate with “adverse birth outcomes” among populations of women who live in areas where the chemical is applied, such as farming communities in the American Midwest. Now that it is known that Glyphosate is used to dry down food crops and that residues persist in our food, the risk to reproductive health is a nation-wide problem. According to the Children’s Environmental Health Network,
Prenatal and early-life exposures to herbicides have been linked to a range of adverse reproductive outcomes, developmental abnormalities, and chronic diseases. Women and children in areas where a high percentage of the landscape is sprayed with herbicides annually are at heightened risk.
Research over 30 years shows that exposures during the first trimester of pregnancy are the most likely to trigger reproductive problems and developmental deficits (e.g., lower IQ or birth weight, impaired immune response, metabolic disorders).
In addition, herbicide exposures can trigger epigenetic changes in the developing child that can increase the odds that later in life, a person will struggle with overweight and/or diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or neurological and immune system problems. Emerging science suggests that some epigenetic impacts can become part of the human genetic code, and thereafter be passed on to future generations.
Clearly, using a toxic herbicide to dry down food crops prior to harvest is a major problem. It should be priority one in terms of forcing the end of the practice. Tightening up regulations on the application of Round-up and other herbicides in the Inland Northwest is called for, not the loosening of regulations as the proposed rule changes call for.
Breaking News Re Round-up: It's Worse Than You Think
In March, 2017, the New York Times reported the following, reinforcing the view that Glyphosate is not as safe as has been advertised and highlighting illegal and unethical collusion between the Monsanto corporation and regulators:
The reputation of Roundup, whose active ingredient is the world’s most widely used weed killer, took a hit on Tuesday when a federal court unsealed documents raising questions about its safety and the research practices of its manufacturer, the chemical giant Monsanto.
Roundup and similar products are used around the world on everything from row crops to home gardens. It is Monsanto’s flagship product, and industry-funded research has long found it to be relatively safe. A case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.
The court documents included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
“Superweeds” Usher in a New Era of Even More Toxic Herbicides
The over-use of Round-up has resulted in the proliferation of “super weeds” that have survived being sprayed by it and have, as a result, developed resistance to the chemical. Because the problem of super weeds resistant to Round-up has grown to such an extent, chemical-dependent agriculture is moving to replace “Round-up Ready” GMO crops with GMO crops that are tolerant to even more toxic herbicides, 2,4-D and Dicamba, among others. For the latest on these developments, visit the Children’s Environmental Health Network’s website. 2,4-D has the dubious distinction of being one of the herbicides in Agent Orange, responsible for the poisoning of huge numbers of Vietnamese people as well as American troops during the Vietnam war due to 2,4-D’s contamination with the highly toxic poison Dioxin. 2-4,D’s health effects include sensitizer/irritant, carcinogenicity, endocrine [hormone] disruption, developmental and reproduction problems and neurotoxicity. “Health effects of 2,4-D are of particular concern due to its widespread distribution and ability to drift off-site. Levels of 2,4-D have been detected in indoor air and surfaces (floors, tables, windowsills) following lawn application of the herbicide. In these instances, exposure levels for children are significantly higher...” (beyondpesticides.org). Dicamba is also routinely contaminated with Dioxin.
Unless citizens speak up and regulations are strengthened, we will see a large increase in the use of 2,4-D, Dicamba and similar herbicides in the Inland Northwest in coming years.
Killers that Keep on Killing
The upcoming public comment period could also be an opportunity to open up discussion on the inappropriateness (read "ban") of any herbicide that cannot be controlled "downstream" such as Clopyralid, Picloram, Atrazine and other “persistent herbicides” that kill when contaminated manure or mulch is used on farms & gardens.
Sadly, these days, it’s a total gamble when farmers and gardeners obtain manure, topsoil, compost or even straw mulch for their fields and gardens. A gamble? Why? Because there is increasing likelihood that those materials are contaminated with herbicides that can keep on killing plants long after killing the plants that they were intended to kill. It works like this: Say a farmer has unwanted weeds growing in their alfalfa crop. They might apply one of these persistent herbicides on those weeds. Later, the alfalfa crop containing residues from the herbicide application is harvested and made into hay bales that are then fed to cattle. The herbicides can survive their passage through the animal’s digestive system. The cattle rancher might unwittingly offer the manure from those animals for sale to farms and neighbors for use as fertilizer, but instead of making crops grow better, the contaminated manure can kill or severely deform the crops grown with it. What the hell? How is it legal for a chemical company to sell a product that keeps on killing long after and far away from where it was intended to kill. Such products need to be banned. It’s only because these powerful chemical corporations have highly paid lawyers to defend their offensive practices when challenged in court, as well as lackeys in government regulatory positions who do the corporations’ bidding because of their incestuous ties to the corporations they are tasked to regulate (the “revolving door” syndrome when individuals rotate jobs between government agencies and the corporations those agencies are tasked to regulate). Pure corruption. Only when enough people raise their voices against this entrenched old-boy network will things be set right. The upcoming public comment period on the proposed herbicide rule changes is a good opportunity for the people to be heard.
When you take your children to your local park, you probably are not expecting them to be exposed to toxic chemicals as they play, but chances are, that is exactly what’s happening. This is because federal, state, county and municipal governments, which manage public parks, are some of the largest purchasers of herbicides and the herbicide manufacturers expend vast resources sending salesmen out to peddle their wares to these high-volume purchasers.
Fortunately, concerned parents have begun to not only question the wisdom of spraying parks and schoolyards with pesticides (“pesticide” is a blanket term that includes insecticides and herbicides), they have called on local and state governments to end or restrict the practice. Some citizen-led activism has resulted in local ordinances requiring government agencies to adopt organic (no synthetic chemicals) weed and insect management practices or “integrated pest management” (IPM) strategies (IPM applies detailed knowledge about the targeted pests in order to eliminate or reduce the amount of chemicals used, for example, using knowledge of an insect’s life cycle to determine the optimum time to apply chemicals rather than using the once-routine “spray schedule” that applied chemicals on a regular basis throughout the spray season, even during times when it is now known that spraying was ineffective). Some localities have now required the posting of signage on public property where chemicals have been applied.
The non-profit organization Beyond Pesticides has an entire page on their website devoted to educating citizens on how to organize local campaigns to eliminate or reduce the use of pesticides by their local governments including a model ordinance that people can press their local governments to adopt, but don’t think this is an easy task. At every step of the way, the chemical manufacturers aided by their good old boy allies in government as well as the notorious, right-wing anti-democracy group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are working to throw roadblocks in the path of citizen action around these issues. In fact, according to Beyond Pesticides, it is flatly, outrageously, illegal for local governments to enact laws governing pesticides in the majority of states including Idaho and Oregon. The State of Washington, according to Beyond Pesticides, once had what they call an “explicit right to petition” that reaffirms localities’ authority regulate pesticides at the local level in the form of the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA’s) Pesticide Advisory Board, however, that is no longer the case as this board has been dissolved and defunded, leaving it an open questions as to how Washingtonians are to influence pesticide policy in the state. The People of Washington should organize to remedy this situation. One way to do this is to inundate WSDA with comments on the proposed changes to herbicide rules, putting them on notice that the public is engaged and concerned and will not allow the absence of a Pesticide Advisory Board to give regulators and chemical manufacturers a green light to abolish herbicide local regulations.
According to Beyond Pesticdes,
“The Takoma Park, Maryland City Council unanimously passed the Safe Grow Act of 2013, which generally restricts the use of cosmetic lawn pesticides on both private and public property within the city’s jurisdiction. This landmark victory was the first time that a local jurisdiction of this size in the U.S. has used its authority to restrict pesticide use. While this type of local law has taken hold in provinces across Canada over the last seven years, its adoption in the U.S. is a watershed moment for public health and environmental advocates, raising the larger question as to why it hasn’t happened sooner and more widely across the country. The answer– state laws that preempt, or take away, local authority to restrict pesticide use. Currently , 43 states have some form of state law that preempts local governments’ ability to regulate the use of pesticides.” Read more…
We Were Blind, But Now We See
The blind acceptance of routine pesticide use is a hold-over from the mid-20th century’s complacent acceptance of and “gee whiz” attitude towards technical innovation, especially with regards to the chemical industry. “Wow,” people thought back then, “isn’t it amazing that ‘they’ can produce a chemical to solve just about any problem.” It wasn’t until some folks with critical thinking skills began to question whether these new chemicals, most of which had never existed before in the universe, might carry with them hazards to the health of people and ecosystems, that any scrutiny at all was applied to their wide-spread use.
One of these early critical thinkers was a woman named Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964). She was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist.
"Starting in the mid-1940s, Carson had become concerned about the use of synthetic pesticides, many of which had been developed through the military funding of science [during and after] World War II. It was the US federal government's 1957 gypsy moth eradication program, however, that prompted Carson to devote her research, and her next book, to pesticides and environmental poisons. The gypsy moth program involved [government-ordered] aerial spraying of DDT and other pesticides (mixed with fuel oil), including the spraying of private land ... By 1959, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service responded to the criticism by Carson and others with a public service film, ‘Fire Ants on Trial’; Carson characterized it as "flagrant propaganda" that ignored the dangers that spraying pesticides (especially dieldrin and heptachlor) posed to humans and wildlife. That spring, Carson wrote a letter, published in The Washington Post, that attributed the recent decline in bird populations—in her words, the "silencing of birds"—to pesticide overuse. That was also the year of the "Great Cranberry Scandal": the 1957, 1958, and 1959 crops of U.S. cranberries were found to contain high levels of the herbicide aminotriazole (which caused cancer in laboratory rats) and the sale of all cranberry products was halted ... The result was the book Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.” (Wikipedia)
Yet, despite all this, the cultural acceptance of herbicide and pesticide use persists, due to no small effort on the part of giant chemical manufacturers to indoctrinate the public and lobby regulators in pursuit of that acceptance and the resulting continued sales growth of their product lines. So, when governments at all levels dedicate tax dollars, hard-earned by their citizen constituents who they are busily poisoning, to purchasing more poisons for large-scale application onto parks, powerline right-of-ways and roadsides, it is all still considered the routine business of government. Meanwhile, the chemical companies laugh all the way to the bank.
Thankfully, the citizenry is waking up and the spraying of poisons by government agencies has begun to be viewed by the pubic as anything but routine. As an example, in May of 2017, the government of Sherman County in Oregon was threatening a 2000-acre organic farm in its jurisdiction with mandatory herbicide spraying of noxious weeds (which, among other negative consequences, would have caused the farm to lose its organic certification). To its surprise, because of a citizen-led action campaign, the county received over 40,000 email messages from people across the United States condemning the threatened action, ultimately forcing county authorities to instead negotiate a non-chemical weed control plan with the farm.
Brian Baker* is one of the 40,000+ individuals who sent comments to the Sherman County authorities regarding the threat of forced herbicide spraying on Azure Standard's organic farm in Oregon. Baker is Research Consultant at Belcairn Concerns of Eugene, Oregon, a consulting firm serving organic farmers and the organic industry. He sent a letter to authorities in Sherman County laying out the argument against such misguided policy. "Mandatory spray programs where organic farmers were involuntarily subjected to pesticides motivated me to leave academia and pursue activism," he said in a Facebook post. "Laws allowing public authorities to declare farms 'nuisances' and spray them with pesticides without permission by the farmers– and even bill them for the treatment– have been on the books for over a century. We've learned a lot since then, and to see the antiquated laws invoked is nothing more than harassment," writes Baker. In this instance, reason has prevailed, but not without a large outpouring of citizen support for a more rational policy towards herbicide use.
The upcoming official comment period in Washington State on these proposed herbicide rule changes provides another opportunity for Washingtonians to let policy makers know, in no uncertain terms, that the days of routine acceptance of herbicide application are coming to an end. While the specific rule changes in question are technical in nature and somewhat arcane (although no one should have a problem understanding that increasing the wind speed for when herbicide spraying is allowed is a very bad idea), people should not feel restricted to commenting on just these technical issues. The official announcement of the upcoming rule-making process states that authorities will be soliciting feedback from “affected stakeholders.” Make no mistake, this is an attempt to make anyone who isn’t a licensed pesticide applicator feel unwelcome when it comes to offering comments on the proposed rule changes, but when it comes to the spraying of toxic chemicals, we are all “affected stakeholders.” Your voice is just as important and it’s not up to officials to determine who may speak and what they may speak about.
The Inland FoodWise Newsletter will keep subscribers informed about developments, such as the announcement of the opening of the official comment period, through our email Action Alert system that will be sending this and similar alerts to subscribers between issues of the newsletter to keep you informed of current developments in our regional food system where your voice is needed.
* Brian Baker is former International Research Networker at Forschungsinstitut fur biologischen Landbau (FiBL), former International Research Networker at Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), former Senior Research Fellow at The Organic Center, former Executive Director at Alfred State College, former Research Director at the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). He studied Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley, Resource Economics at Cornell University and Political Science/Economics at SUNY New Paltz.
** Charles Benbrook, PhD, is President at Benbrook Consulting Services and Visiting Professor at Newcastle University in the UK. He is also a member of the science team with the Children’s Environmental Health Network’s project Herbicide Use and Birth Outcomes in the Midwest project. From 2006-2012, he served as the Chief Scientist of The Organic Center, a non-profit organization focused on the environmental and consmer health benefits of organic food and farming. From mid-2012 through May 15, 2015, he served as a Research Profressor at Washington State University.
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