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JUNE 2017

ISSN 2514-5770

PESTICIDE NEWS The Journal of Pesticide Action Network UK

An international perspective on the health and environmental effects of pesticides

Organic Uprising: How a town in Italy said "Yes!" to a pesticide-free future

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: »Links between pesticides and breast cancer »Neonicotinoids - an update »New bee declines & pesticides factsheet »Introducing our new Head of Policy & Campaigns Ägidius Wellenzohn, organic fruit farmer. Credit: Douglas Gayeton

Mals: The story of an organic Italian town and the community that made it happen By Philip Ackerman-Leist

Orchards in the valley floor were laid out in laser-straight lines and green and black hail The people of Mals are no strangers to nets accentuated the new orchards advance invasions or to putting up a fight. Located in towards Mals. All of the towns further the western tip of the autonomous province down in the Vinschgau Valley had already of South Tirol in Italy and straddling the succumbed to the invasion. Apple orchards convergence of three major valleys where had replaced what was once a diverse Italy, Switzerland, and Austria meet, the agriculture that had supplied the region town of Mals is strewn with castles and with much of what it needed to survive. medieval watchtowers in various states of Mals (also known by its Italian name, Malles glory and disrepair. Each ancient bastion is a reminder that “Malsers� have long known Venosta), the uppermost town in the valley, was the only town in which the traditional how to stand their ground. agricultural patchwork of livestock, However, the invasion that they have faced vegetables, grains, and fruits remained in these early years of the 21st century has relatively intact. As a result, Mals was been something much different. Row upon largely untainted by intensive pesticide use, row of perfectly trellised apple trees have and its citizens were beginning to capitalize been stealthily marching up the valley, often upon an organic future. shrouded in the tractor-whipped fog of pesticide drift. This incursion has been more gradual than those of the past, but the likely permanence of the takeover seemed ominous.

Map of Mals. Credit: Douglas Gayeton


An increasing number of farmers in Mals were transitioning to organic and many were working together to grow more local grains for the valley’s traditional rustic breads. With menus highlighting local farm products, a village to village network of bike paths, and green energy initiatives, the town was also capitalizing on ecotourism, even boasting the region’s first certified organic hotel.

The Vinschgau, was once known as the 'Breadbasket of the Tirol', supplying the Vatican and the British Royal Family with its exceptional grains. Nonetheless, the cut-throat competition of the international grain market led to a plummeting of grain production in the area, going from a peak of 4200 hectares to a mere 50 hectares today. Meanwhile, the reputation of South Tirolean apples sky-rocketed in the latter half of the 20th century, and the province is now Europe’s largest contiguous region of apple production. Today, one out of every seven apples in Europe comes from the South Tirol, with a total annual harvest of approximately one million tons. Such intensive production also means that the South Tirol now has the highest pesticide use in Italy, on a per hectare basis.

Unusually broad and dry for a valley in the Alps, the Vinschgau runs east to west and is known for the Vinschgerwind, a wind that can blow for weeks at a time. However, the valley is much better known for its best-preserved inhabitant, the Ice Man, a 5300 year-old mummy discovered in the melting remains of a glacier only about 20 miles from Mals. The grains, legumes, and meats that the Ice Man ate are still part of the valley’s traditional diet, a diet to which many are now returning for health reasons.

The fate of Mals hung in the balance. Would the people of Mals fall for the allure of the apple or opt for an organic revolution?


Mals: The story of an organic Italian town (continued...) With tourism as the primary economic engine of the region, the citizens of Mals could see the coming dilemma: if they traded their rich agricultural heritage for a pesticideintensive monoculture, then the health of citizens, the environment, and eco-tourism would all be in peril. However, coming to such a conclusion ran headlong not only into the region’s most powerful lobbying interests, but it also brought to the light the serious economic quandaries of farmers trying to eke out a living from small parcels in challenging terrain. Apple farmers in the region earn net incomes of 25,00040,000 Euros per hectare, without the pressures of constant labour throughout the year, a stark contrast to the long hours and financial struggles of area livestock farmers. Given the financial realities, some livestock farmers naturally opted to raise apples instead of animals, while other farmers and landowners simply sold out entirely to wealthier apple farmers. The situation was exacerbated because farmers in Italy pay no income tax, giving wealthy apple farmers a serious economic edge. An organic dairy farmer, Günther Wallnörfer, turned out to be the first farmer to feel the effects, and he would soon become the face of an unprecedented organic uprising. Günther uses a number of different parcels for growing hay, vegetables, and grains and pasturing his cattle. He had transitioned to organic in 2001 in order to increase his profits and save his family’s farm, so he was justifiably unnerved when he saw the first apple orchards established next to his hay meadows in 2010. With a required buffer of only three meters between his hay meadows and the new orchards, he realised that he had to have his hay analysed for pesticide residues. The results would set into motion an unprecedented democratic process for creating the world’s first pesticide-free town. The apple cart was about to tip… Günther’s worst fears were confirmed: his hay was tainted with a variety of pesticides, and in order to maintain his organic certification, he would have to remove the entire crop from his farm. Günther reached out to Ulrich Veith, the new mayor of Mals, and soon thereafter to the provincial governor. While the provincial governor was sympathetic to Günther’s dilemma, he thought the best solution would ultimately be to establish a research orchard near Günther’s farm to use the results to review required buffers and other regulations. 4

Apple Farming. Credit: Douglas Gayeton

Mals: The story of an organic Italian town (continued...) Mayor Veith, on the other hand, clearly understood that the combined effect of the Vinschgerwind and Mals’ small field sizes meant that buffers of several meters were not going to work. Furthermore, an influx of pesticides ran headlong into Mals’ longterm vision of a vibrant local economy built upon a healthy and diverse landscape for residents and tourists alike. Sadly, Mals was one of the few places left in the South Tirol that could still differentiate itself in that regard.

Organizations supporting environmental concerns and alternative approaches to agriculture began collaborating to offer a series of informational meetings and public discussions about potential strategies for mitigating the impacts of pesticides—or eliminating them altogether. While the discussions remained serious, two new groups sprang up with the intent of building awareness. The group Adam & Epfl convened discussions and information sessions on the impacts of pesticides, and they even coordinated an overnight placement of brightly painted serpents throughout the town as a reminder to resist the temptation of the apple in their local paradise.

Word of Günther’s predicament quickly spread, and groups gathered over the coming months to discuss different solutions. Organic farming associations and environmental groups met with representatives of the powerful farming lobby and government officials, trying to find solutions that would protect the citizens and eco-entrepreneurs of Mals from pesticide drift.

Weary of the absence of female perspectives in the debate and eager for a positive political response, an informal alliance of concerned women quickly became the social media and communications hub of the initiative. Dubbed “Hollawint,” a dialect phrase meaning “Stop right there!,” this eclectic group of women had a penchant for turning bedsheets into banners and transforming an anti-pesticide campaign into a clarion call for a healthy and sustainable future.

Some citizens began to wonder about the possibility of a pesticide ban, and a local environmental group hired a public firm to survey local residents to determine their opinions on the potential influx of fruit monocultures and synthetic pesticides.

The results took everyone by surprise:

As concerned citizens coalesced, they decided that respected local experts needed to call on the mayor and provincial officials to protect the health of his citizens and the local environment. Under European Union law, a mayor is permitted to do what is necessary to protect the health of his or her citizens, so the physicians, dentists, veterinarians, pharmacists, and biologists of the region drafted a manifesto calling for action.


of Mals citizens considered the issue of encroaching fruit production and pesticide use in the township to be a critical issue.

The virtual unanimity of the local scientific and health professionals sent shock waves through the region and helped galvanize public opinion, but the Malsers had to find a way to turn political action into policy. 5

Mals: The story of an organic Italian town (continued...) After several attempts by provincial authorities and lobbyists to prevent it, in the late summer of 2014, the municipality of Mals put forward a referendum asking the townspeople whether public officials should consider regulations to protect public and environmental health through the prohibition of highly toxic and synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

For the next 19 months, the Mals town council worked to develop a set of ordinances that would fulfil the public mandate while not stepping outside of the legal parameters of the province, Italy, or the European Union. Throughout their deliberations, the town council had to balance what regulations could be implemented immediately versus what might be held up in litigation for months or years on end, while more apple orchards appeared and more pesticides were sprayed.

The referendum was grounded in the Precautionary Principle—the idea that the burden of proof for the safety of a product lies with its proponents, not those consuming or exposed to it.

In March of 2016, Mals achieved an international milestone when Mayor Veith presented the town council’s initial regulations (summarised in three categories: 1. All pesticides in the two most toxic classes of pesticides are forbidden. 2. For the application of all other pesticides, a fifty-meter buffer is required. Due to the parcel sizes in Mals, this buffer requirement is, in effect, a ban. The town will conduct analyses for pesticide drift, and any documented violations will result in the banning of those synthetic substances. 3. The town will advance organic agriculture. It will begin by purchasing organic foods in its schools and providing financial support for organic production and farmers transitioning to organic.

Polling was open for two weeks to ensure strong voter participation. When the votes were tallied, 65% of eligible voters had participated, and


voted in favour of a pesticide-free municipality.

With unanimous approval, the town council of Mals decided to chart a new path that would protect their deep agricultural heritage and their children’s future, despite continued pressures and attacks from lobbyists and government officials.

Mals had set its sights on achieving a goal no other community in the world had yet attained. It was uncharted terrain.

But organic has always involved upsetting the apple cart...

Philip Ackerman-Leist is author of the forthcoming book, A Precautionary Tale

The Story of How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement, to be released in November 2017 by Chelsea Green Publishing.

A professor of Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at Green Mountain College, he also raises heritage American Milking Devon cattle on his farm in Vermont (USA). 6

Neonicotinoids - current state of play in the EU A recently leaked European Commission document has indicated that a full ban of three neonicotinoids is intended this year. Imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin are currently subject to an ongoing ban introduced in 2013. As expected there has been an outcry from the pesticide industry, and associated supporters, about the effects of such a ban and they are fighting against it.

NEWS FLASH! As the above article was going to press the results of a long term field trial on the effects of neonicotinoids was released. Funded by pesticide manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta, the study was carried out by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and looked at the effects of bees exposed to neonicotinoids on winter oil seed rape crops in Germany, Hungary and the UK. The two neonicotinoids tested in the trials were clothianidin and thiamethoxam, both applied as seed treatments in realistic doses.

Draft motions were introduced to the ENVI Committee (Environment Committee) in the European Parliament by the propesticide industry Conservative MEP, Julie Girling. They called on ENVI to reject the introduction of a full ban and to use their position to influence the decision of the Commission once it is formally made. These motions were voted down by a massive majority – 43 against, only 8 in favour. A European Commission official, reported in the Guardian: “The principle of the regulation is that safe use must be demonstrated, not the other way around. There is no other choice for the commission than to act.”1

The study clearly shows that neonicotinoids are harmful to both honey and wild bees. Exposure to neonicotinoids reduced the overwintering success of honeybee colonies. In wild bee colonies lower reproductive success, indicated by reduced queen numbers and egg production, was attributed to neonicotinoid exposure. Lead author, Dr. Woodcock, stated that, "The neonicotinoids investigated caused a reduced capacity for all three bee species to establish new populations in the following year, at least in the UK and Hungary." The results of these comprehensive field trials clearly show that it is the end of the road for neonicotinoids. When these results are added to the mountain of evidence already pointing to the harm caused by neonicotinoids it is clear that the only course of action for the European Commission is for a complete ban on their use across the EU.

Over the last few years there has been a huge number of independent, peerbased scientific studies clearly showing that the use of neonicotinoids poses an unacceptable risk to the health of bees and other pollinator species. The final decision on the ban is due in the autumn of 2017. It is hard to envisage a return to the use of neonicotinoids in the EU. However, there is the possibility that post-Brexit banned pesticides, like neonicotinoids, could be brought back into use. More here:

One point that this study and all the previous studies also highlight are the shortcomings in the regulatory approach to pesticides. As one of the research team for this study stated, "Our findings also raise important questions about the basis for regulatory testing of future pesticides." Indeed! Read the full study: http://science. tories-aim-block-full-eu-ban-bee-harming-pesticides 1


New: Bee Declines & Pesticides Factsheet 10 The 10th factsheet in our series of informative reference articles on Bee Declines & Pesticides is launched today. The latest issue highlights the often forgotten effects of pesticides on the many different species of insects that are natural enemies of pest insects. They provide biological control, keeping the number of pest species in check. They are often highly sensitive to pesticides. This factsheet looks at recent research showing that the neonicotinoid group of insecticides may be harming valuable natural enemies as well as pollinators.


Breast cancer and pesticides - a personal view by Grazia De Michele

Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes around every October. It is difficult to miss. Pink products invade store shelves, fundraising events are organised to raise money for breast cancer charities and women are invited to check their breasts. The initiative was first launched in 1985 in the United States by the pharmaceutical arm of the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), the British chemical giant that manufactures tamoxifen, the most widely used breast cancer drug in the world.

breast cancer. However, Syngenta also manufactures atrazine, an herbicide widely used in the United States where it has contaminated ground and surface water. Atrazine is a potent endocrine disruptor and actually increases the activity of aromatase in human cell lines. Scientists have been scathing of this hypocrisy: Tyrone Hayes, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, said

"the company that’s giving you atrazine, which turns on your aromatase, turns around and sells you an aromatase blocker and says it’s a thousand times better than any other breast cancer treatment”.3

Interestingly enough, ICI also produced pesticides such as the toxic herbicide paraquat, first commercialized in the early 1960s. Since then, several epidemiological and laboratory studies have pointed to possible links between paraquat and breast diseases, including cancer1. In 1990, the company was sued by the US federal government for having illegally dumped PCBs – which are classified as human carcinogens by the World Health Organization – and DDT in Los Angeles and Long Island harbours2.

Denying the evidence

There is growing concern over the close ties between pharmaceutical and pesticide companies. Breast cancer is often depicted as an individual problem, caused by the unhealthy lifestyle choices of those affected. Environmental and occupational risk factors, including exposure to pesticides, need to be considered as causes of the disease.

Hormone hypocrisy

In 1993, ICI demerged its pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and specialty businesses and formed a new company called Zeneca. Later, in 1999, Zeneca and the Swedish pharmaceutical company Astra AB merged to form the London-based AstraZeneca. The following year, the merger of the agrochemical divisions of AstraZeneca and Novartis created Syngenta, one of the biggest agribusiness corporations in the world today.

Breast cancer survival rates have improved4, thanks to the availability of new generation treatments. The reality, however, is that the disease still kills about 12,000 women in the UK5 and more than 40,000 in the US6 each year. Even mainstream cancer charities fail to acknowledge the link between exposure to chemicals and cancer. Health activists and scientists have recently raised an issue about the quality of the information provided to the public about the disease in the UK.

In the last ten years, both AstraZeneca and Novartis have profited from a new class of drugs known as Aromatase Inhibitors, presented as the new frontier in the treatment of hormone responsive 9

Breast cancer and pesticides - a personal view (continued) An open letter7 signed by various organisations was sent to what is now Breast Cancer Now (BCN), the UK’s largest breast cancer research charity. It requested that they update their booklet ‘Breast Cancer Risk – The Facts’ about the environmental risk factors related to the development of the disease. Signatories found that the booklet characterised the role of environmental exposure to chemicals in breast cancer as ‘doubtful’ and that its only mention of occupational risks for breast cancer was in connection with shift work. They were particularly concerned about the following statement:-

“Overall, there is no good evidence that exposure to environmental chemicals increases your risk of breast cancer, based on the levels you would normally be exposed to in the UK…Some chemicals such as pesticides have a similar structure to the female hormone oestrogen. This has led to speculation that these chemicals can increase the risk of breast cancer. However, the hormone-like effects of these chemicals are thought to be far smaller than the effects of natural oestrogen”.

A way forward

It is time for accurate information about the known and suspected causes of breast cancer to be provided. And women should demand that the precautionary principle is applied by regulators. Dressing in pink, running for the cause or donating money will not stop the production of toxic substances, breast cancer diagnoses and deaths. Making our voices heard at a political level will. Early Day Motion 588 “Breast Cancer and Environmental and Occupational Toxicants”, put forward by Caroline Lucas MP11, asked the UK House of Commons to call on “the Government to support and act on primary prevention through the urgent inclusion of environmental and occupational risk factors into all National Cancer Plans and strategies”. From Pink to Prevention continues the struggle. Grazia De Michele is an Italian-born historian and health activist currently based in the UK. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, at the age of 30. She is currently a partner of the Breast Cancer Consortium and a volunteer at PAN UK. She has co-edited two special issues of the Breast Cancer Consortium Quarterly about the living experiences of women diagnosed with breast cancer (2014) & those of caregiver for someone living with and dying from the disease (2015).

Several scientific studies have suggested that the timing of the exposure to endocrine disruptors, especially in utero, childhood and puberty, even at low doses plays a prominent role in the onset of diseases such as breast cancer8, 9. Chemicals in the environment are still not listed as a breast cancer risk in the latest version of the ‘Breast Cancer Risk – The Facts’ booklet published by Breast Cancer Now in July 201510. The role of endocrinedisrupting chemicals (EDCs) as risk factors continues to be dismissed. 10

Breast cancer and pesticides - a personal view (continued) References


Breast Cancer Research UK, 2016. Breast Cancer Mortality Statistics. cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer/ mortality

Breast Cancer Now, 2015. Breast Cancer Risk – The Facts. booklet_pdf_final_sept_2015_1.pdf, 2016. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. 1 Watts, M., 2013. Pesticides and You. Pesticide Action Network statistics Asia and the Pacific. 7 From Pink to Prevention, 2015. Open Letter. 2 Jain, L., 2013. Malignant - How Breast Cancer Becomes Us. open-letter-to-breakthrough-and-breast-cancer-campaign.pdf Berkeley: University of California Press. 8 Thongprakaisang, S.; Thiantanawat, A.; Rangkadilok, N.; 3 The Land Stewardship Project and Pesticide Action Network Suriyo, T. and Satayavivad J., 2013. Glyphosate induces human North America, 2010. The Syngenta Corporation and Atrazine, breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors. Food and the Cost to Land, People and Democracy. Chemical Toxicology, 59, pp 129-136. 9 Defarge, N.; Takács, E.; Lozano, V.; Mesnage, R.; Spiroux AtrazineReportBig2010.pdf de Vendômois, J.; Séralini, G.E. and Székács, A., 2016. 4 Breast Cancer Research UK, 2016. Breast Cancer Survival Co-Formulants in Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Disrupt Statistics. Aromatase Activity in Human Cells Below Toxic Levels. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer/ Health: 13(3), p 264. survival 5


Early day motion 588 – UK Parliament. 11


Find these and other posts at: PLEASE NOTE: The University of Cape Town is currently accepting applications for their diploma in Pesticide Risk Management. Full details -


NEWS FROM THE NETWORK: PAN UK welcomes Josie Cohen as Head of Policy & Campaigns. Josie has spent the last 15 years working as a campaigner for a range of organisations including the League Against Cruel Sports and Save the Children UK. For the past eight years she has focused on social, environmental and human rights issues associated with large-scale agriculture. Josie is extremely excited to join us at such a pivotal time for both the organisation and the UK’s relationship with pesticides. Brexit offers a The senator behind France’s massive opportunity to move away ban on pesticides for domestic from industrial-scale pesticideuse has submitted a draft dependant agriculture. It’s an European resolution calling on opportunity we intend to take! the EU to follow the French example and implement a full ban on the non-agricultural use of pesticides. Read more at

Congratulations to Kristin Schafer who took on the role of Executive Director at PAN North America in June. Kristin has worked at PAN since 1995 in many roles, including international campaign coordinator, campaigns department director, and most recently program and policy director.

1,148 children

poisoned by pesticides worldwide in past 5 years Read more at 2000 Ethiopian smallholder pesticide-free cotton farmers achieving average yields over 100% higher than before. Read more at 12

PAN UK - Pesticide News - Issue 108  
PAN UK - Pesticide News - Issue 108