August 22, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Bad News with Chemicals, Some Good News

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Smallmouth bass

Smallmouth bass

Mutant fish in Susquehanna. In this story, Al Jazeera America reports on what’s happening to male smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River, a major feeder of the Chesapeake Bay. In June the US Geological Survey reported it had found intersex fish—males with female eggs in their testes. In addition, the fish have open sores on their bodies, a sign of immunosuppression. The USGS report says that fertilization chemicals are partly responsible, such as the estrogenic compounds, natural and artificial hormones in animal manure. The article quotes John Arway, of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission: “We’ve been trying to explain that the river is sick … And the problem is not because of what we’re doing for the water. It’s because of what we’re doing for the land.” The article adds, “The report says there is a significant correlation between the percentage of land used for agriculture in a watershed and the number of intersex fish downstream in a river.” The same problem was encountered in the Potomac several years ago, attracting transient attention from Congress whose members were drinking water drawn from the Potomac. Atrazine, an agricultural herbicide now contaminating groundwater and surface waters across the country, is a known endocrine disruptor and was thought the likely culprit causing the Potomac intersex bass. @nateschweber

Corn, soy, schools. In this story, the Des Moines Register cites a report by the Environmental Working Group that has found that nearly 500 elementary schools across the United States are within 200 feet of a corn or soybean field. Why does this matter? Because many corn and soybean producers rely on pesticides to grow their crops. The report comes out a time when Dow AgroSciences is awaiting approval (this fall) by the EPA on its new product, Enlist Weed Control. As I’ve mentioned in a past post this product includes genetically engineered soy and corn, which can withstand two herbicides and are designed to work in sync with Dow’s product Enlist Duo herbicide, a proprietary mixture of glyphosate and 2,4-D herbicides. It would compete in the marketplace with Monsanto’s Roundup-ready products, which withstands only one herbicide, glyphosate, aka Roundup. The herbicide known as 2,4-D is a component of Agent Orange. How prudent is it to apply these herbicides regularly to fields within 200 feet of elementary schools? @cdoering

EPA’s approval of pesticides. As reported by the San Francisco Gate, a judge has dismissed most of a suit brought by environmental groups against the EPA for allegedly approving pesticides irresponsibly. The plaintiffs, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pesticide Action Network, says the EPA approved the sale of pesticides without consulting with scientists about their safety. From the story: “The chemicals include warfarin, a rodenticide that the environmentalists describe as highly toxic to wildlife; permethrin, a potent insecticide; and malathion, which touched off a battle between environmentalists and farmers when California used it against destructive outbreaks of the Mediterranean fruit fly in 1981 and 1989.”

News to food. The Chicago Tribune reports that the city of Chicago will be allowing permits for a nonprofit organization that will convert newsstands into healthy food kiosks. The menu includes tofu scrambled wrap and an Asian kale salad with pickled shiitake mushrooms; the effort is part of the city’s Emerging Business Permit program. @pang

Veterans heal on the farm. This USA Today story profiles a veteran who has found that running a farm can be good therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is quoted as saying that the recently completed farm bill also offers several new programs aimed at making it easier for beginning farmers, including veterans, to enter the business.

Building resilience in a vulnerable food system. Singapore, an affluent tiny island nation, imports about 90 percent of its food, and farms occupy about one percent of the nation’s land. This NPR story tells us about what a new generation of farmers is doing in Singapore to improve food security, from vertical gardening, urban gardening, and aquaponics.

JHU in the top 3 of food. Thanks in no small part to the work of student group Real Food Hopkins, our University has been recognized by the website The Daily Meal as being the second best college in America for food. The Hub reported on this, saying, “The site praised JHU’s commitment to sustainability, the diversity of food offerings, and its special programming, including on-campus cooking classes and food and wine pairings for seniors.” In first place was Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Urban farming plus community. A CLF-Lerner Fellow and a CLF research associate recently published a report on research-based strategies for helping urban farms succeed by developing community buy-in. The authors, Melissa Poulsen and Marie Spiker, provide helpful strategies, and CLF communications associate Kate McCleary writes about it in this blogpost.

Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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