June 28, 2005
The newsletter of the NoSpray Coalition.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Judge Daniels issues favorable ruling on environmental legal issues in NoSpray Coalition lawsuit.
2. NoSpray Coalition forum in Brooklyn THURSDAY, June 30, 7:30 pm. Guest speaker, biologist Javiera Rulli from Argentina, and No Spray activist Mitchel Cohen.
3. No Spray Coalition general membership meeting & elections of Board of Directors, Tuesday, July 5, 7:30 pm in Brooklyn office.
4. NY Law Journal article on the NoSpray Coalition vs. NY City court case.
5. Valerie Sheppard, hero of our movement and co-founder of the No Spray Coalition, RIP.
6. Greenpeace FactSheet on Monsanto’s “Round-Up” / Glyphosate
No Spray Coalition
388 Atlantic Avenue, 3rd floor
(between Bond St. & Hoyt St.)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
hotline: (718) 670-7110
1. JUDGE DANIELS ISSUES RULING IN NO SPRAY COALITION ET. AL. v. NEW YORK CITY
U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels issued his long-awaited ruling in early June on a case brought five years ago by the NoSpray Coalition, along with a number of other organizations and individuals,* against NYC government’s indiscriminate spraying of toxic pesticides to kill mosquitoes said to be transmitting West Nile Virus.
Over the years a number of courts had eliminated the large body of evidence we presented about people who were seriously sickened by the spraying of poisons such as Malathion and pyrethroids over New York’s streets and urban environment, whittling down the case to the sole question of whether or not the City sprayed pesticides over water.
In this latest ruling, Judge Daniels agreed with most of our lawyers’ claims that spraying toxic pesticides over NYC waterways without a permit - even if unintended (and it was VERY intentional) or for a short time - constitutes a violation of the Clean Water Act, and rejected the NY City government’s claims to the contrary.
This is a very good result. Early findings on the law issues will stand as “the law of the case” for later arguments when applying the law to the facts.
This was a long-awaited and very important decision, as it carefully reviews prior case law and defines what constitutes a “pollutant” and rules that helicopters and spraytrucks can be considered “point sources” under the Clean Water Act, as well as under what circumstances pesticide-spraying might indeed be opposed legally. We expect that it will have very positive implications for environmental and social justice activists who are fighting against the misuse of pesticides across the country.
With all the legalistic interpretations now out of the way and resolved in our favor, the case will be fast-tracked and go to trial before a jury with Judge Daniels presiding to determine whether the City actually sprayed pesticides over New York’s waterways.
The full text of Judge Daniels’ ruling is posted to the website at http://nospray.org/documents/Judge%20Daniels’%20Decision.pdf
*** We’re now going to have to go into major fundraising mode to pay for the actual court case on the Facts, organizing and office expenses, literature, and so forth. *** We desperately need your help. *** Please contribute whatever funds you can spare to enable us to pursue the lawsuit and continue this very important work.
You can either make out a check to “No Spray Coalition” and mail it to 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217, or you can pay by credit card via the website: www.nospray.org. We need to raise tens of thousands of dollars literally! in the next few weeks. Contributions are NOT tax deductible, but greatly appreciated.
2. PUBLIC FORUM: ARGENTINE BIOLOGIST JAVIERA RULLI TO SPEAK IN BROOKLYN ON THURSDAY, JUNE 30TH
The No Spray Coalition, in conjunction with the Brooklyn Greens, invites you to an extraordinary public forum: “Pesticides, Genetic Engineering and Land How the BIOneers are engineering the new colonization of land in South America while also poisoning us here at home.”
Featured speakers are biologist Javiera Rulli, and anti-pesticide activist Mitchel Cohen.
THURSDAY, JUNE 30th
7:30 pm (7 pm for socializing and eating)
NoSpray Coalition Office: 388 Atlantic Ave. (between Bond and Hoyt Streets), Brooklyn NY.
F-R-E-E (Please bring food and drink to share)
A, C or G train to Hoyt-Schermerhorn St.;
2,4 or 5 train to Nevins St.;
or (long walk) N,Q,B,D,R train to Atlantic Ave./Pacific Street.
Also, the #63 bus stops right near the office.
In addition to the ongoing (but much reduced, thanks to the hard work of many activists) West Nile mosquito spraying, New York City parks were, over the last few months, pounded with Monsanto’s Round-Up herbicide (glyphosate), the same toxic brew being sprayed over Argentina’s genetically modified soy fields. The speakers will be exploring the connections between the mass spraying of pesticides and herbicides in the U.S., the genetic engineering of agriculture, and the mass evictions of peasants and indigenous people from their lands in other parts of the world.
We will also discuss the role of large environmental groups (such as the World Wildlife Fund) in helping to “manage” and subvert the indigenous resistance to the spraying and genetic engineering comensurate with the theft of their lands.
About Javiera Rulli and her work:
Argentina is the world’s 2nd largest producer after the U.S. of genetically modified crops, which are designed to withstand repeated pesticide spraying (while everything else around them dies). Other G.E. crops are engineered to produce pesticides in every cell of the plant. And a new GE technology would have “designer seeds” grow only with the spraying of the company’s particular pesticide, developed exclusively to trigger that plant.
Currently, there is a huge expansion in the amount of genetically engineered Round-Up Ready soy being planted for foreign markets, leading to:
– a catastrophic social and environmental crisis
– mass evictions of peasants and indigenous people
– violence, and serious human rights violations
– poisoning of people and nature
– contamination rivers and groundwater with pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms
– 56 percent of the population now under the poverty level
From being known as the world’s grain barn, Argentina has become a “soy dictatorship” of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with a growing external debt.
Over 99% of all soy production in Argentina is genetically modified, consisting of the variety of RR soy, resistant to the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate), and produced and patented by Monsanto. The implementation of large-scale intensive agriculture has brought about a loss of agricultural biodiversity and the destruction of local economies. The industrial agriculture has resulted in the concentration of land in the hands of big landowners and giant corporations, resulting in the expulsion of rural workers and small and medium-sized producers. As a result, today more than half of population survives under the poverty level.
The militarization of neighboring countries, such as Paraguay, is directly related to the genetically engineered soy expansion. Last week in Paraguay, growers of GM soy from Brazil crossed the border and attacked a peasant community, TEKOJOJA, in Caaguazu, Paraguay, in order to drive them off their lands, claim them for themselves and plant genetically engineered soy. They evicted 270 people, burned down 54 of the houses and all of the non-GMO crops. Two local farmers were killed — ÁNGEL CRISTALDO and LUÍS TORRES — many people were injured and 130 people arrested, amongst them many women and children.
Javiera Rulli is a biologist that works on issues of agriculture and food sovereignity in Argentina. She has worked in Holland with ASEED Action for Solidarity, Equality, Ecology and Diversity and participated in the antiGenetic Engineering and Food Sovereignty campaigns. She returned to Argentina to live and work in a Kolla community in the Yungas, the tropical montane forest region in the Northwest of Argentina.
In 2004/5, Javiera Rulli helped organize the Iguazu Counter Conference, alongside the GRR and the MOCASE (Via Campesina Argentina). This was a forum called in response and parallel to “the Business Round Table on Sustainable Soy” initiated by the World Wildlife Fund. The Counterconference brought together a wide scope of peasant movements (Via Campesina Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina), indigenous organizations, unemployed organizations and ecology groups aiming to consolidate a common position and to coordinate future strategies for a different agricultural model, based on principles of food sovereignity, land reform and local development.
This forum should be very interesting, as well as providing us with international links to expand our anti-pesticide struggle. If you are in New York on June 30, please come.
3. NO SPRAY COALITION MEMBERSHIP MEETING
In addition to the forum, we will also be holding a NoSpray Coalition strategy meeting on Tuesday, July 5th, 7:30 pm at our office at 388 Atlantic Avenue, 3rd floor, Brooklyn, NY.
All NoSpray members in NYC: Please come!!!!
Please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org. At this meeting we will
– do some follow-up work on international work coming out of the forum
– elect our Board of Directors
– hear updates from our lawyers on the lawsuit
– updates on proposed Environmental Protection Agency pesticide label changes
– plan to distribute literature to every health food store in the City (and place flyers on the website so that activists in other parts of the country could modify and use them)
– discuss specific ways to protest the City Parks Department’s mass-spraying with Round-Up / Glyphosate
– and other matters related to the lawsuit and negotiations with the City
4. ARTICLE ABOUT NOSPRAY LAWSUIT IN NEW YORK LAW JOURNAL
Suit Over West Nile Spraying Goes Forward Against City
New York Law Journal
June 13, 2005
By Mark Hamblett
A FEDERAL JUDGE has refused to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that New York city violated the federal Clean Water Act when it sprayed to prevent West Nile Virus.
Southern District Judge George B. Daniels said it would be up to a jury to decide whether the city violated the act by spraying over water from a helicopter in 1999 and 2000.
The decision in No Spray Coalition, Inc. v. The City of New York, 00 Civ. 5395, also denied the summary judgment motion brought by the coalition, which has challenged the city’s spraying program on several fronts since it began confronting West Nile in the late 1990s.
The city acted after some residents of Queens, followed by residents of other boroughs, became ill from the mosquito-born virus. The city began spraying by helicopter and truck in 1999 and has continued spraying each year with the reappearance of the virus.
Opponents of the program sued in 2000, but their claims under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the state and city Environmental Quality Review Acts were dismissed.
But the district court refused to rule on claims brought under the Clean Water Act, leaving “for another day the question of whether spraying insecticides directly over rivers, bays, sound and ocean surrounding New York City as part of a prevention program would violate the Clean Water Act.”
Nonetheless, discovery was allowed to proceed on the Clean Water Act claim, which alleged the city violated §301(a) by discharging pollutants into navigable waters without either a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit or a State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit.
After discovery, the District Court granted summary judgment for the city, saying the Clean Water Act does not allow citizens to enforce its provisions by brining suit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and the case was sent to Judge Daniels for renewal of the motions for summary judgment.
Judge Daniels said the two sides disagreed over whether the city’s actions could constitute and Clean Water Act violation. And even if its actions could amount to a violation, he said, the two sides disagree over whether there has been sufficient evidence for a finding, as a matter of law, that the city “did or did not violate” the act “by conducting its spraying without an NPDES permit.”
Among the evidence presented by the plaintiffs, Judge Daniels said, was that the city sprayed “directly over lakes, streams, ponds and marshes,” including a helicopter spraying over a marina at City Island in both 1999 and 2000 and another helicopter spraying over Mount Loretto Pond and adjacent wetlands on Staten Island. Other allegations include the Bronx River and Staten Island’s Clove Lake.
The city answered that the program does not involve the direct discharge of a pollutant into navigable waters and that it followed strict guidelines protecting against the direct application of insecticides into water. The guidelines contain setbacks of varying distances from bodies of water, such as aerial spraying no closer than 300 feet from water.
The city also argued that some of the alleged spraying involved no more than “atmospheric emissions” of pesticides that “do not constitute discharges” and that residual particles of pesticide that may have reached the water did not amount to a discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act.
But Judge Daniels said the definitions of an “addition” of a pollutant to water is “simple and plain.”
“The amount that is discharged does not affect a finding that an addition has taken place. Nor does the fact that the pesticide is initially sprayed into the air as a fine mist, if the mist descends downward toward water,” he said. “Moreover, it would be unreasonable to distinguish between a sprayed releasing a fine mist pollutant into the atmosphere over the water and a pipe that released the same single flow of pollutant directly into water.”
The reason, he said, was that violators of the act would be able to escape the consequences by simply attaching an “airborne mist blower or hydraulic sprayer to their pipe to discharge a pollutant over the water in order to escape liability or regulation.”
And Judge Daniels termed “faulty” the city’s argument that its compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act freed it from having to obtain an NPDES permit.
“The City did not have permission to spray pesticides directly over or into the water under any state or federal law,” he said. “If the City did discard the pesticides over the water, it did so in contravention” of the Clean Water Act.
Because disputed issues of material fact exist over whether the city actually discharged a pollutant, he denied the motion for summary judgment.
Karl Coplan of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, representing the No Spray Coalition, said the decision “will clearly affect the scope of the spraying they are allowed to do.”
Christopher King, senior counsel in the Corporation Counsel’s environmental law division, represented the city.
– Mark Hamblett can be reached at email@example.com
Note : The New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, (Joel R Kupferman) is co-counsel to Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic. The Law Project wrote the original Intent to Sue letter against the City – which initialed the present legal action.
5. R.I.P. VALERIE SHEPPARD, HERO OF OUR MOVEMENT AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE NO SPRAY COALITION
(The following appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of “G”, the newspaper of the NY State Greens / Green Party of New York)
Valerie Sheppard was a founding member of the No Spray Coalition — that’s how I first met her. Actually, that’s not quite accurate — I’m remembering as I write — we’d met a few years earlier in the offices of the Sheppard Foundation for a meeting she hosted against the Cassini nuclear-powered satellite that at that moment was hurtling back towards earth.
In 1995, Valerie’s son, Andrew, developed cancer. After several conventional treatments, he was not getting any better and Valerie decided to switch over to alternative treatments, which saved his life.
After that, Valerie and her cousin Sherri Culpepper established the Sheppard Foundation for Alternative Therapies to assist others in similar circumstances. The Foundation offers personal assistance, educational and referral service for alternative doctors and practitioners who provide holistic, non-toxic treatments for cancer and other degenerative diseases, with an emphasis on children. Many people today owe their lives to Valerie Sheppard and the loving, tireless work she did on behalf of those suffering the effects of poverty, poor nutrition, and environmental pollution.
Valerie organized the first No Spray Coalition forums in Harlem in 1999. The Coalition dedicated itself to fighting against the indiscriminate spraying of toxic pesticides used to kill mosquitoes said to be carrying West Nile virus. A friend of Isaac Hayes, she rang up alternative health practitioners and put them on panels with No Spray activists like author Curtis Cost, attorney Joel Kupferman, researcher Kimberly Flynn and Mitchel Cohen. It was through her work that the No Spray Coalition was able to get off the ground, and it was the people of Harlem, through Valerie’s efforts, that immediately understood the need to stop the spraying and fund our work.
Valerie was also responsible for getting our message to the spray workers. It was Valerie’s credibility, knowledge and eloquence that went out over the airwaves to a few of the spray workers who happened to be listening. And Valerie got Joel Kupferman on the radio with her, so that he could add his voice to hers in explaining that laws had been violated and people had been harmed.
Without her, the sick spray workers would not have found us, and they would not have gotten the info they needed to understand the legal and medical seriousness of their exposures, and the fact that their illnesses stemmed from those exposures. They would not have gotten to NY Environmental Law and Justice Project or to Mount Sinai Hospital to get help. They also would not have been able to come forward and provide testimony to the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and we would not have had the ammunition we needed to get Clarke Mosquito a hefty fine ($1 million!) nor to block Clarke from getting a multimillion dollar 3-year spray contract. Clarke would have been handed a license to spray anyone and anything in its path — free to be a roving menace on the streets of NY once again.
Valerie was born to Antiguan parents on August 24, 1953. She was raised in Harlem. She was the granddaughter of the Rev. Cyril O. Sheppard, organizer and secretary of the Antiguan chapter of the U.N.I.A. (the Universal Negro Improvement Association, under the leadership of Marcus Garvey).
Valerie attended Brandeis H.S. and Touro College. When she was still a youngster, her dad, Donald O. Sheppard, Sr., introduced her to macrobiotics, which he had been practicing for many years. In 1975, Valerie studied macrobiotics and eastern medicine under the tutelage of Michio Kushi at the East-West Summer Camp.
Michio Kushi was one of the original people who put forth macrobiotics in the United States. “Macrobiotics” means great or big life. Much of it focuses on the macrobiotic “diet” — a natural, whole grain & much more, chemical-free orientation — but there are also universal/spiritual principles about creating balance in life (yin/yang, acid/alkaline).
Valerie faced her first challenge against industrial (western) medicine when her eldest son, Ronald, was three months old and the hospital insisted that he undergo a spinal tap for a minor Staph infection of the eye. Valerie objected, and informed the hospital that she would treat him at home. The hospital sent the police to her house to seek medical custody, under the suspicion that he had meningitis. Valerie was forced to watch the hospital give Ronald the tap — it was negative. That was the start of Valerie’s passion to provide support for families faced with parental rights being taken away by the authorities.
As president and founder of the Sheppard Foundation, Valerie appeared on numerous radio and TV programs across the country, including the popular syndicated radio show “Night Talk” with host Bob Law, Kiss-FM’s “Open Line” with Bob Slade, and WABC-TV’s “Like It Is” with Gil Noble. She was frequently joined by singer and health advocate Isaac Hayes and comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory.
Valerie was one of only 20 highy respected and dedicated Alternative Health advocates who was ordained a Reverend, to go forth and spread, guide and carry out the “gospel” of Alternative Medicine. She created a network of alternative health providers, and helped organize them into the Foundation for the Advancement of Innovative Medicine (FAIM), to protect the rights of patients and practitioners and expand their options in use of non-conventional treatments. Sadly, in the end it was the hospital that in some ways did her in.
In September of 2002, Valerie was renovating her Bronx apartment when she took ill with no warning. Apparently, like so many others in NYC, she was exposed to mold in the walls which triggered an immune-compromising cascade of ailments. For the next two years she struggled to regain her health, with the loving support of her daughter, LaShawn, and her sons Ronald and Andrew.
Feeling weak but in her usual feisty spirit, Valerie decided — against her better judgment — to go to the nearby hospital for intravenous feeding, instead of making the taxing trip downtown to her medical provider. Here, the story gets confusing: Although Valerie went in for a very simple “feeding,” the hospital apparently refused to provide her with the nutrients she felt she required for several days. Her daughter, LaShawn, finally was able to convince the hospital to provide the necessary intravenous solution, but by then she had wasted away and was too far gone. Valerie died on July 16, 2004, and a beautiful light went out of all of our lives.
Valerie’s funeral was a very strange experience for us. Valerie’s life had deeply touched everyone there, and some felt the need to reclaim Valerie’s pagan spirituality for the patriarchal Christian messianism that they practiced. Aside from her father, children, close friends and cousin Sherri, her more distant relatives could not handle Valerie’s veganism and non-Christian spiritual and Green beliefs. The point was driven home at the gathering afterwards at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, which hosted a dinner that served mostly meat and dairy, without making even an attempt to understand Valerie’s holistic and comprehensive vision of what it meant to her to be healthy in body as well as mind, and to not eat animal products.
People like Valerie could be the subjects of an “It’s a Wonderful Life”-type movie. To paraphrase the movie: If she had not lived, it would have left such a terrible hole that many people would have fallen through.
When we went to visit Valerie, her office had an electric, there’s-lots-going-on-here vibe to it. Her father’s cats were outside in the garden running free. The cats themselves had a free vibe… as cats allowed in their natural way would… they all were friendly to each other, romping around and just being with each other in their environment. It was quite amazing — something in NYC you don’t witness too often. The cats were more Valerie’s father’s interest than Valerie’s but they completed the picture of Valerie’s office that day…. very together, dynamic, and free spirited.
Just like Valerie. Just like we’ll always remember her.
– Mitchel Cohen, Kimberly Flynn, Cathryn Swan, Robert Lederman, Jim West, Donna Reilly contributed to this remembrance. For more info on the No Spray Coalition: www.nospray.org, and FAIM: www.faim.org
6. GLYPHOSATE / ROUND-UP SPRAYING
Reports are coming from all over Brooklyn that the NYC Parks Dept. has been spraying the deadly organophosphate herbicide Round-Up — Monsanto’s hugely profitable poison (the #1 selling herbicide in the world) — around parks to kill weeds growing between the cracks in cement, and on lawns, etc.
This is the same herbicide being sprayed by aircraft all over Colombia, and on Argenina’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready soy crops.
Connie Lesold in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn first noticed the spraying and reported this (she saved the Warning sign as well), and next thing we knew the sidewalks perimetering children’s playgrounds throughout Brooklyn had turned a putrid green. Now Carl Lawrence reports the same from his neighborhood in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and Brooklyn Heights.
Clearly this is a Brooklyn-wide Parks Dept. project. Any reports from the rest of NYC?
The No Spray Coalition will be advertising a call-in blitz to NYC government to protest this misuse of toxic herbicides (phone numbers will be forthcoming). We will also be meeting with City Council members and calling for hearings. Any additional ideas on how we should proceed?
ABOUT ROUNDUP / GLYPHOSATE:
The glyphosate, Roundup, is a noncholinesterase inhibiting organophosphorous herbicide. (Malathion, on the other hand, is a cholinesterase inhibiting organophosphate.)
Within the formulation, there are inert components such as surfactants that contribute to the activity of the mixture. Polyoxyethylene amine (POEA), is a major component of these surfactants and they are the major cause of acute mucosal erosions in the mouth and the upper respiratory tract. Intoxication may result from oral (ingestion) or respiratory (inhalation) exposures.
In addition, children (and adults) track the poison into the home. Wheel chairs kick it up into people’s faces. Monsanto says that it will not affect people because glyphosate works on biochemical pathways that do not exist in people, but this is a very narrow, self-serving position (as is everything that Monsanto and the other agribusiness companies put out).
The OTHER chemical that the RoundUp is mixed with, Pendulum, is manufactured by BASF (26 Davis Drive, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, 27709), and is composed of ACTIVE INGREDIENT: pendimethalin, N-(1-ethylpropyl)-3,4-dimethyl-2, 6-dinitrobenzenamine 38.7% and so-called INERT INGREDIENTS 61.3% (not listed)
These proportions may change depending on which of the 3 kinds of Pendulum they are using.
The label says NOT to use it in iirrigation. But then the label goes on to say that it works best when it is followed by rain (which washes it into sewers and into the rivers and oceans! — they leave that part out).
Excerpts from the label for one kind of Pendulum:
This product is toxic to fish. DO NOT apply directly to water, to areas where surface water is present, or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark. Drift and runoff from treated areas may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in adjacent aquatic sites. DO NOT contaminate water when disposing of equipment washwaters.
DIRECTIONS FOR USE
DO NOT apply this product through any type of irrigation system.
The requirements in this box only apply to uses of this product that are covered by the Worker Protection Standard. Do not enter or allow worker entry into treated areas during the restricted entry interval (REI) of 24 hours. PPE required for early entry to treated areas that is permitted under the Worker Protection Standard and that involves contact with anything that has been treated, such as plants, soil, or water, is: • Coveralls • Chemical resistant gloves made of any waterproof material such as nitrile, butyl, neoprene, and/or barrier laminate. • Shoes plus socks
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintaining PPE. If no such instructions for washables, use detergent and hot water. Keep and wash PPE separately from other laundry.
From: carl lawrence
I wanted to tell you that yesterday I witnessed a Parks Dept. spray truck in Cadman Plaza spraying with a huge spray spectrum Pendulum and Roundup herbicide all over the place-in a rain storm. Of course most of it went directly into the storm drains and on out into the harbor. They had dyed it yellow so it was easy to see it every where. Are they allowed to do this? I called 311 and was put on hold until I finally hung up the pay phone in frustration. A woman said they were “cleaning” the park. We should organize against this stuff and stop it. Please pass this along. Regards, Carl
GREENPEACE’S GLYPHOSATE FACT-SHEET
Glyphosate Fact Sheet
This fact sheet describes the basic properties of glyphosate and the issues surrounding glyphosate resistance and weed control. Glyphosate is a broad spectrum herbicide used to kill crop weeds. Monsanto’s trade name for this is Roundup. Roundup Ready crops are engineered to withstand exposure to glyphosate. This allows applications of the herbicide after crop emergence, killing weeds but not Roundup resistant crop plants such as RRS (Roundup Ready Soybeans).
Chemically, glyphosate is an organophosphate like many other pesticides but it does not affect the nervous system as other organophosphates do. It is a broad spectrum, non-selective herbicide which kills all plants, including grasses, broad leaf and woody plants. It is absorbed mainly through the leaves and is transported around the whole plant, killing all parts of it. It acts by inhibiting a biochemical pathway, the shikimic acid pathway. At low levels of application it acts as a growth regulator.
There are three forms of glyphosate used as weed killers; glyphosate-isopropylammonium and glyphosate-sesquiodium patented by Monsanto and glyphosate-trimesium, patented by ICI (now Zeneca). Other common brand names are Rodeo, Accord and Vision.
Glyphosate is technically extremely difficult to measure in environmental samples. Only a few laboratories have the sophisticated equipment and techniques necessary. This means that data is often lacking on residue levels in food and the environment and existing data may not be reliable.
Use In Weed Control
Glyphosate product sales are worth $1,200 million a year. In the US, glyphosate was used on about 12-25 million acres annually in the 1980s. In the UK it was used on almost 800,000 acres in 1994. Because it is broad spectrum in action it is used to control a great variety of annual, biennial, and perennial grasses, sedges, broad leafed weeds and woody shrubs. It is used in fruit orchards, vineyards, conifer plantations and many plantation crops (e.g. coffee, tea, bananas); in pre-crop, post-weed emergence in a wide range of crops (including soybean, cereals, vegetables and cotton); on non-crop areas (e.g. road shoulders and rights of way); in cereal stubble; forestry; gardening and horticulture. Other uses of salts of glyphosate are in growth regulation in peanuts and in sugarcane to regulate growth and speed fruit ripening.
Because the shikimic acid pathway does not exist in animals, the acute toxicity of glyphosate is very low. Glyphosate can interfere with some enzyme functions in animals but symptoms of poisoning are only seen at very high doses. However, products containing glyphosate also contain other compounds which can be toxic. In particular most contain surfactants known as polyoxyethyleneamines (POEA). Some of these are much more toxic than glyphosate. These account for problems associated with worker exposure. They are serious irritants of the respiratory tract, eyes and skin and are contaminated with dioxane (not dioxin) which is a suspected carcinogen. Some are toxic to fish.
In California, glyphosate is the third most commonly-reported cause of pesticide related illness among agricultural workers. Glyphosate is the most frequent cause of complaints to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive’s Pesticides Incident Appraisal Panel. New formulations, with less irritating surfactants, have been developed by Monsanto (e.g. Roundup Biactive), but cheaper, older preparations are still available.
Glyphosate is one of the most toxic herbicides, with many species of wild plants being damaged or killed by applications of less than 10 micrograms per plant. Glyphosate can be more damaging to wild flora than many other herbicides, as aerial spraying with glyphosate can give average drifts of 1200 to 2500 feet and ground spraying with glyphosate may cause damage to sensitive plants up to 300 feet from the field sprayed. Glyphosate use is thought to affect hedgerow trees, causing die-back, and may reduce trees’ winter hardiness and resistance to fungal disease
The direct toxicity of glyphosate to mammals and birds is low. However, its effect on flora can have a damaging effect on mammals and birds through habitat destruction. The US EPA concluded that many endangered species of plants, as well as the Houston toad, may be at risk from glyphosate use.
Fish and invertebrates are more sensitive to formulations of glyphosate. As with humans, the surfactants are responsible for much of the harm . Toxicity is increased with higher water temperatures, and pH. In Australia, guidelines state that most formulations of glyphosate should not be used in or near water because of their toxic effects on tadpoles and adult frogs. The newer, non-irritant formulations such as Roundup Biactive are not included in this advice.
Of nine herbicides tested for their toxicity to soil microorganisms, glyphosate was found to be the second most toxic to a range of bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes and yeasts. However, when glyphosate comes into contact with the soil it rapidly binds to soil particles and is inactivated. Unbound glyphosate is degraded by bacteria. Low activity because of binding to soil particles suggests that glyphosate’s effects on soil flora will be limited. However, some recent work shows that glyphosate can be readily released from certain types of soil particles, and therefore may leach into water or be taken up by plants.
Impact Of Genetically Engineered Herbicide Resistant Crops
The introduction of crops engineered to be resistant to glyphosate could have two particularly damaging effects. Firstly, it will increase the use of the herbicide, and secondly, it may encourage the emergence of herbicide resistant weeds.
Monsanto claim that the introduction of herbicide resistant crops will reduce the overall amount of herbicide used. They argue that glyphosate will replace other, more environmentally damaging herbicides, because only glyphosate need be used rather than several different compounds. They also argue that weed killer will be used less frequently on resistant crops. Importantly they also consider glyphosate to be ‘environmentally friendly’ and a ‘safe’ herbicide, basing this claim on its reduced soil particle binding and low toxicity to humans.
Other herbicides used on soybeans and other crops are unquestionably harmful to the environment and human health. The question is whether glyphosate is really any less harmful and whether herbicide resistant plants will reduce the amount of potentially damaging chemical to the environment. Evaluating overall amount of use on a weight or volume basis does not allow for the differences in toxicity between chemicals. Weight or volume of total herbicide may decrease simply because glyphosate is more effective at killing plants than many other chemicals. Glyphosate is already the eleventh most widely used pesticide in the US on a volume basis. Its damaging impacts on the environment have already been described.
Whether there will be a reduction in the number of times herbicide is used is also questionable. In their documents prepared for the US authorities, Monsanto say that under current regimes, between one and five applications of different herbicides or herbicide mixtures are needed to control weeds in soybean crops, while with Roundup Ready soybeans only “one or possibly two” applications of Roundup will be needed. Yet in their information for farmers in Argentina, Monsanto recommends Roundup be used with Roundup Ready soybeans before sowing, when the young plant has three to four leaves and then whenever the farmers find weeds. This is “at least twice and probably more frequently”.
Herbicide Resistance In Weeds
One of the major concerns of weed scientists is that the emergence of herbicide resistant weeds may be encouraged by the use of herbicide resistant plants. Herbicide resistance arises in an analogous fashion to the emergence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Mutations occur in plants and when one arises which makes it resistant to the herbicide, it will have an advantage and grow and flourish when other plants are killed Resistance to glyphosate is easy to induce in plants in the laboratory. Monsanto claims resistance to glyphosate is unlikely to emerge in the field because it does not persist in soil. However, weed resistance to paraquat, an herbicide which has a shorter soil persistence than glyphosate, is already a serious problem. One weed specialist concluded, by comparison to paraquat, that “Presumably glyphosate resistance can also be obtained with multi-annual treatments” (Gressel, in Cassley et al, 1991). Roundup Ready soybeans are intended to be used with “multi-annual treatments” and so the emergence of resistance will be encouraged. Even before the increased use of glyphosate expected with the introduction of resistant crops, there has already been a report of glyphosate resistance in a weed which occurred in ryegrass in Australia.
Glyphosate resistant weeds could also arise if there is gene flow between the soybean and a related wild plant or if the soybean survives to emerge as a weed (“a volunteer”) in the subsequent crop. Gene flow is possible in the Far East where soybean originated and wild related plants exist. Herbicide resistant volunteers may be a problem where mild climates occur and overwintering of soybean is possible.
Herbicide resistant crops are an expensive problem for farmers. Having weeds resistant to another herbicide, triazine, have been estimated to cost farmers up to $10 an acre in extra weed control expenditure. There would be an extra penalty for farmers growing glyphosate resistant crops if glyphosate resistant weeds evolved, because not only would they have to change their weed control practices but they would have paid a premium for the herbicide resistant seed in the first place.
Thus herbicide resistant soybeans promise increased herbicide use and associated damage to the environment, together with an increased risk of weed resistance, which would be a costly problem for farmers.
Active Ingredient Fact Sheet: Glyphosate. Pesticide News 33 pp28-29, September 1996.
Breeze, V, Thomas, G & Butler, R (1992) Use of a model and toxicity data to predict risks to some wild plant species from drift of four herbicides. Annals of Allied Biology 121: 669-677
Carlisle S.M. & Trevors, J.T. (1988) Glyphosate in the environment. Water Soil and Air Pollution. 39: 409-420
Casley J C., Cussans G W & Atkin R K (eds) (1991) Herbicide resistance in weeds and crops. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinmann
Marrs, R H, Williams, C T, Frost, A J & Plant, R A (1989) Assessment of the effects of herbicide spray drift on a range of plants of conservation interest. Environmental Pollution 59: 71- 86
New Scientist, 6 July 1996, p6
Petition for determination of nonregulated status of soybeans with a Roundup Ready gene. Agricultural Group of Monsanto to APHIS, USDA, 1993.
US-EPA RED Facts: Glyphosate, September 1993
Yates W E., Akesson N B & Bayer D E (1978) Drift of glyphosate sprays applied with aerial and ground equipment. Weed Science 26 (6):597-604
GREENPEACE, April 1997
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