Press Release, January 19, 2009
Coalition against Bayer Dangers
Take Glufosinate off the Market immediately!
Bayer´s herbicide among 22 most dangerous substances / Coalition also demands ban on glufosinate-resistant plants
The Coalition against Bayer Dangers demands an immediate ban on the herbicide glufosinate and a suspension of all approvals of glufosinate-resistant crops. European Parliament members voted last week to ban pesticides classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction. Permits for 22 substances, among them glufosinate, will not be renewed.
Philipp Mimkes from the Coalition against Bayer Dangers: “Pesticides such as glufosinate that have been proven hazardous for operators, consumers and the environment must be removed from the market straight away. The EU ban on glufosinate must also have consequences for the approval of GM crops: no more permissions for glufosinate-resistant plants must be granted in the European Union!
Bayer CropScience, based in Germany, sells glufosinate under the trademarks Basta and Liberty. The substance is one of the best-selling herbicides in the world, with sales in 2007 of 241 million. Bayer is currently expanding glufosinate production capacity in Germany.
A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) evaluation states that glufosinate poses a high risk to mammals. The substance is classified as reprotoxic, with laboratory experiments causing premature birth, intra-uterine death and abortions in rats. Japanese studies show that the substance can also hamper the development and activity of the human brain. The new EU regulation declares a ban on all CRM (carcinogenic, reprotoxic and mutagenic) pesticides from categories I and II. Glufosinate is classified as falling in reprotoxic category II. Already in 2006 Swedish authorities demanded an EU-wide ban.
In the U.S. and Latin America the ingredient is widely used as a “super herbicide for genetically modified crops, mainly on rapeseed, maize, soy bean, cotton, rice and sugar beet. Bayer requested EU approval for several glufosinate-resistant plants, among them a genetically altered rice (LL Rice 62). In 2006 a similar rice (LL Rice 601) that was never approved was found in food supplies across the world and led to the largest GM contamination scandal so far.
The Coalition against Bayer Dangers also demands that BAYER publishes all studies on pesticides and chemicals. Jan Pehrke from the Coalition said: “Industry must not be allowed to hide unwelcome information. Full public access to health and environmental data about substances that are released into the environment and used on our food is necessary.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 26, 2009
Pitt expert's work targets pesticides' ecological risks
Next to Pymatuning Reservoir in northwestern Pennsylvania are 700 water-filled tanks that may provide the answer to just how risky pesticides are to the environment and human health.
The tanks are filled with tadpoles, and University of Pittsburgh ecologist Rick Relyea has used them over the past several years to show how lethal many of the most commonly used pesticides are, even in concentrations below allowable levels.
That's significant not just because frogs are an important part of nature's food web but because these delicate creatures may function as an early warning system for environmental threats to human beings.
Over the last four years, Dr. Relyea and his colleagues have shown how ubiquitous chemicals like the weedkiller Roundup, malathion and endosulfan kill off large proportions of some frog species and may be contributing to the worldwide decline in the amphibian population.
In 2005, he showed that Roundup, the most commonly used herbicide in the world, killed more than 70 percent of the tadpoles in his tanks when it was present in just a third of the maximum concentration expected in nature. The chemical also killed more than 80 percent of land frogs after just one day of exposure to the recommended dosage of Roundup Weed & Grass Killer.
Last year, his team demonstrated that malathion, which is used for mosquito and insect control around the world, was deadly for one species, the leopard frog.
Malathion didn't kill the leopard frog tadpoles directly. Instead, it obliterated tiny creatures known as zooplankton, which normally eat algae.
Without the zooplankton nibbling away, the algae in the tanks grew so thick that it blocked sunlight from reaching another type of algae that lived on the bottom of the tanks and is the primary food source for the leopard frog tadpoles.
The chain reaction starved many of the tadpoles and kept them from metamorphosing into frogs.
In another study last year, the Relyea team found that a "cocktail" of 10 common pesticides killed nearly all the leopard frog tadpoles in the tanks, even when each one was under the limits considered safe.
Closer analysis showed the main culprit in the cocktail was endosulfan, a nerve agent used to combat such insects as aphids and cabbage worms, but which is risky enough that it has been banned in the European Union and some Asian and West African nations.
Unlike other nerve agents, Dr. Relyea said, endosulfan works by overstimulating an animal's nerves. Tadpoles affected by the insecticide, he said, "would turn cartwheels. They would just spin and spin and spin and then die."
The same cocktail, however, had almost no effect on another common species, gray tree frog tadpoles. In fact, those tadpoles tended to thrive once their leopard frog competitors were wiped out.
Even though Dr. Relyea has focused much of his recent research on the dangers of pesticides, he doesn't consider himself "anti-pesticide."
"As a kid I grew up on a farm spraying all kinds of pesticides, so I recognize the benefits. But we really haven't put a lot of attention on the side effects they have on organisms that we're not trying to kill. We're not surprised when pharmaceuticals have unintended side effects, so we shouldn't be surprised when pesticides do."
And while his research hasn't proved the pesticides have human health effects, he said we should pay close attention to that possibility.
"I think what's clear is that pesticides have an immense potential for unintended impacts, and organisms -- humans or otherwise -- are immensely complicated, and those unintended impacts are really hard to predict," especially when you consider that today's commercial pesticides as a whole contain more than 800 active ingredients.
Dr. Relyea didn't start out to be a frog expert.
While doing his master's work in wildlife management at Texas Tech University, which largely involved putting radio collars on mule deer and tracking their movements, he came across the work of Earl Werner, an amphibian expert at the University of Michigan.
He became fascinated by frogs and decided to make an abrupt career switch, going to the University of Michigan to earn a doctorate under Dr. Werner's tutelage.
One of his first experiments was studying the way that gray tree frog tadpoles grew new tails when they sensed that predators were nearby.
When tadpoles are devoured, they release a smell into the water that the other tadpoles can sense, and some grow bigger, bright orange tails in response. The new tails not only let them swim away from danger faster, but if they are caught, the predators tend to chomp off their colorful tails, which can then grow back.
While working on a postdoctoral project in Missouri, Dr. Relyea said a fellow graduate student who was studying a pesticide suggested they should see whether the chemical would interfere with the tadpoles' ability to sense predators.
The resulting experiment showed that the only tadpoles that died were those that were exposed both to the smell of predators and the pesticide, which led Dr. Relyea to the conclusion that pesticides could be especially dangerous if amphibians were under stress.
Dr. Relyea's ongoing work already has had some real-world results. After the Roundup study was published, Congress demanded that the U.S. stop spraying the herbicide over wetlands in Colombia, where the government was trying to stop illegal coca cultivation.
In the future, he would like to see the federal Environmental Protection Agency start to use at least one amphibian species in standard testing of new pesticides.
Right now, the EPA tests pesticides on lab rats or mice, birds, fish and a small plankton called Daphnia. The fish are supposed to stand in for all 6,000 species of amphibians, Dr. Relyea said, but "sometimes that's not a reasonable stretch."
To those who might argue that he wants to save frogs at the expense of safe food for people, he said that's a "false trade-off."
"That assumes you either have amphibians or you have the use of pesticides, but we have lots and lots of pesticide options" that might not be nearly as dangerous as the ones now on the market, "so none of this is a trade-off between frogs and safe food."
Still, he admits to loving frogs. And he's not alone.
"My wife and I have a perpetual debate over the cutest frog species in Pennsylvania, because she's also an aquatic ecologist. She argues that the gray tree frog is the cutest, in part because it has the little suction cup toes so it can walk up the glass on your house, and I of course argue that the wood frog is the cutest because it has the little yellow stripe across the eyes and is called the bandit of the forest.
"We have this debate every year," he said, "but I'm certain like with most things, she's probably right."