The Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, is drying up, revealing a bed packed with toxic chemicals, the residue of a century of runoff from Imperial Valley farms. Public-health experts worry that those chemicals pose a grave risk to the health of people who live nearby, mostly farmworkers, the elderly and families too poor to relocate, as Lindsay Fendt reports in FERN's latest story, published with The Weather Channel. (No paywall)
The 2016 acquisition by Bayer of seed and chemical giant Monsanto has turned out to be a rotten deal. Shares in the German company have fallen 30 percent since the $63 billion deal closed, and are now at just 50 percent of their value in 2015, when the company was Germany’s most valuable.
Farmers have been using the weed killer glyphosate – a key ingredient of the product Roundup – at soaring levels even as glyphosate has become increasingly less effective and as health concerns and lawsuits mount. Nationwide, the use of glyphosate on crops increased from 13.9 million pounds in 1992 to 287 million pounds in 2016, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey. (No paywall)
The Food and Drug Administration says it has not found illegally high residues of the weedkiller glyphosate in samples of corn, soy, milk or eggs. But informal work by its scientists found residues in an array of commonly consumed food, said the Guardian. The FDA has been testing food for traces of glyphosate for two years and will likely release an official report later this year or in early 2019.
Syngenta announced this week that it will pay $550,000 in fines after the Environmental Protection Agency found that it misused the pesticide chlorpyrifos at a test field in Hawaii. The fine is dramatically lower than the nearly $5 million initially sought by the Obama administration. Scott Pruitt, Trump's EPA chief, overruled a recommendation by agency scientists to ban chlorpyrifos for agricultural use.
At a high-tension House hearing, members of Congress and expert witnesses yet again debated the safety of the pesticide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, the most popular herbicide in the world. The hearing, convened by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, brought a diverse panel to weigh the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of the chemical’s safety against the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s assessment.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey found neonicotinoid insecticides in 74 percent of the water samples they analyzed from 10 major tributaries of the Great Lakes. The insecticides were "detected in every month sampled and five of the six target neonicotinoids were detected." Environmental Health News says the study "suggests the Great Lakes' fish, birds and entire ecosystems might be at risk" from the insecticides that are believed to be a factor in high mortality rates of honeybees.
Hundreds of schools in the Midwest "nestle against fields of corn and soybeans that are routinely sprayed with pesticides that could drift onto school grounds," but states "do not require any kind of buffer zones and seldom require any notification that pesticides are about to be sprayed," says the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Nine states in other parts of the country, with California the most prominent, have laws that mandate buffer zones.
Effective Jan. 1, California farmers will be prohibited from spraying pesticides within a quarter-mile of public schools and licensed day-care centers from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days under a rule issued by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation. Regulators say the rule is among the strictest in the country, according to The Associated Press.
In Cuba, a movement of rural, organic farms is trying to both feed the island's people and heal its soil, writes Roger Atwood in FERN’s new story with The Guardian. In recent years, Cuba has been romanticized as an island full of urban farms, but in reality the government imports 60-80 percent of the nation's food and farmers make abundant use of agro-industrial chemicals and synthetic fertilizers on their farms. Yet, an increasing number of growers are realizing the virtues of organic.