Trial of Insecticide Used on Food

  • The EPA has been trying to stop the use of the carbofuran for four years,but corn, sunflower and potato farmers say they need the chemical to produce their crops.(Photo courtesy of thebittenword.com cc-2.0)

The future of an insecticide used on food is on trial. The Environmental Protection Agency wants to stop the use of the chemical. Rebecca Williams reports the pesticide company and some growers’ trade groups have been fighting the EPA:

Transcript

The future of an insecticide used on food is on trial. The Environmental Protection Agency wants to stop the use of the chemical. Rebecca Williams reports the pesticide company and some growers’ trade groups have been fighting the EPA:

For four years, the EPA has been trying to stop the use of the insecticide carbofuran.

The EPA says there are a couple problems. First, it’s toxic to birds. Second, the agency says carbofuran residues on food are not safe for us.
FMC Corporation makes the chemical. It’s been fighting the EPA for years. Now it’s before a U-S appeals court.
Corn, sunflower and potato farmers say they need carbofuran.

John Keeling is the CEO of the National Potato Council.

“Would there be potato production next year in the U.S. without carbofuran? Absolutely. Will it make decisions much more difficult for a lot of growers? Yes.”

The trial for the use of the insecticide is expected to last for months.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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Tomato Blight Spreading

  • The blight hitting tomatoes is actually the same blight responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-19 century. (Photo by T. A. Zitter, courtesy of Cornell University)

If you’ve been waiting all season
for that quintessential taste of
summer – a juicy, ripe tomato from
the garden – you might be disappointed.
This year a tomato blight has swept
across the Northeast and is moving
into Midwestern gardens and farms.
Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

If you’ve been waiting all season
for that quintessential taste of
summer – a juicy, ripe tomato from
the garden – you might be disappointed.
This year a tomato blight has swept
across the Northeast and is moving
into Midwestern gardens and farms.
Julie Grant reports:

Walk around this outdoor farm market in Cleveland and just say the words ‘tomato blight’ – nearly anyone in earshot has a story to tell.

Susan Myers says her home garden has given over to what she thinks is late blight.

“But it’s pretty serious. I mean, it’s like wiping out everything. I have lots of tomatoes and all the leaves are dropping. I’ve never, ever had that before.”

It doesn’t look like the farmers here are having trouble with tomato blight. Most tables are piled high with bright reds and yellows.

Skip Conant has a beautiful display of heirloom tomatoes – but he’s not sure how many more weeks he’ll have fruit to offer.

Conant: “We definitely have tomato blight. It’s been a cool, wet spring, so, yeah. There’s a fair amount tomato blight.”

Grant: “What does it look like?”

Conant: “You’ll see a yellowing and curling on the leaves and then the stem will turn brown. The plant will become a very brown. Die from basically the inside out or the bottom up.”

It’s hard to tell yet if these Midwestern growers are starting to see the same blight that decimated the northeast tomatoes.

Bill Fry is a plant pathologist at Cornell University. He’s studied late blight for 35 years. Fry says it looks like irregular shaped black spots, and can appear on the leaves or the fruit. It can destroy an entire crop in just a few days.

This is the same blight responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-19 century. Growers have seen late blight since then. But Fry says, not at these epidemic proportions.

“The fact that it’s just everywhere is, I think, is the major difference from previous years.”

This wasn’t the first cool, wet spring on record. So, why has the blight so bad this year?

It’s kind of ironic. Fry and his colleagues have been studying the problem and think it’s probably because so many people are gardening. Millions more than just last year. And lots of those people bought tomato plants at stores like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart.

“Infected plants were sold throughout the northeast in the box stores. They were transplanted to home gardens and from there the pathogen disbursed to other home gardens, to conventional and organic farms.”

Fry says you might not even notice at the supermarket. Commercial tomato growers spray lots of fungicide to keep away the blight. But organic tomatoes are getting harder to find.

But chefs and tomato lovers who’ve waited all season for those locally-grown heirloom – and especially organic – tomatoes aren’t finding what they want in markets in the northeast.

Back at the Cleveland market, chef and restaurant owner Karen Small has been waiting for tomato season – and it finally hit. She depends on this market for her produce and stops at just about every stand.

But as Small hears farmer after farmer describe what they think is late blight – she’s worried about the weeks to come.

“We’re accustomed to having tomatoes well into September, and maybe that’s not going to happen this year.”

Small plans to go home and rip out the tomato plants in her home garden – after hearing late blight described so many times, she’s pretty sure her tomatoes are infected.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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EPA Rules on Pesticide Residue

  • One crop that Carbofuran was used on is potatoes (Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of the USDA)

The Environmental Protection Agency says no amount of the pesticide carbofuran is safe on food. Mark Brush has more on the new EPA rule:

Transcript

The Environmental Protection Agency says no amount of the pesticide carbofuran is safe on food. Mark Brush has more on the new EPA rule:

The EPA has been phasing out this insecticide, but it’s still used on some crops like rice, corn, and potatoes.

When people are exposed to carbofuran, it can cause damage to the nervous system. And the EPA is particularly worried about kids exposure when eating food or when drinking water near treated farm fields.

Potato farmers say they use carbofuran to kill bugs that resist other pesticides.

John Keeling is the CEO of the National Potato Council. He says they were hoping the EPA would let them keep using it.

“We had tried to work with the agency to modify use patterns, or limit the use to particular areas, so that we could continue to use the product – but they obviously didn’t continue in that direction.”

FMC Corporation makes the chemical. Officials there issued a statement saying they’ll fight the EPA’s new rule.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Potato Forks Better Than Plastic?

  • Companies are making disposable utensils from things like corn, potatoes, and sugarcane (Photo by Jessi Ziegler)

Biodegradable silverware has
popped-up in local coffee shops, fast
food joints, and even the Olympics.
But how eco-friendly are biodegradable
utensils? Kyle Norris has this report:

Transcript

Biodegradable silverware has
popped-up in local coffee shops, fast
food joints, and even the Olympics.
But how eco-friendly are biodegradable
utensils? Kyle Norris has this report:

Companies are making disposable utensils from things like corn,
potatoes, and sugarcane. And many brands label their silverware as
biodegradable.

Sarah Burkhalter is a news producer with the environmental
journalism website, Grist.org. She says making silverware from
materials other than plastic is a step in the right direction.

“But I think that the encouragement should not be for people to feel
like they can use a fork for three minutes then toss it in the compost
and be done with it. I think the emphasis needs to be on reusing your
silverware. Whether that be metal or plastic or corn.”

Burkhalter says the other tricky part is that you need to read the
manufacturer’s instructions. She says many of these utensils are only
biodegradable in special composting facilities.

Which means the utensils will not biodegrade if you toss them into a
backyard composting bin.

For The Environment Report, I’m Kyle Norris.

Related Links

Heirloom Seeds Preserved in Gardens

  • The produce we see in stores today are bred for uniformity in color and size. Heirloom seeds grow vegetables that look different, and those who grow them say they taste better too. (Photo by Deon Staffelbach)

Planting a seed has a pretty obvious purpose: once you put it in the ground, if you’re lucky, a few weeks later something pretty or useful pops up. But for some people, seeds are a lot more than that. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:

Transcript

Planting a seed has a pretty obvious purpose: once you put it
in the ground, if you’re lucky, a few weeks later something pretty
or useful pops up. But for some people, seeds are a lot more than
that. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:


Greenfield Village is a historical village that’s part of the Henry Ford
Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The village has one of those “living history”
farms where people do things like shearing sheep and chopping wood, while
dressed in 19th century clothing.


They try hard to make the farm authentic,
and part of this has to do with the seeds they plant — they’re the very same
kinds that 19th century farms in this part of the country would have used.
They’re called heirloom seeds. Jim Johnson is the manager of special
programs at Greenfield Village. He says that the vegetables that heirloom
seeds produce aren’t what people are used to seeing.


“They’re lumpy and bumpy and sometimes have a strange look to them, but some of these varieties have a taste that cannot be compared to the things you can find on the supermarket shelves today. Most of the things you can find today in the standard produce section, they’re grown to be uniform, they look appealing to the eye, but typically they don’t have a very good taste and have been around for a while.”


Johnson says that it’s important to use seeds that are authentic. That’s
because what people plant, can show a lot more about them than just what
they eat. Laura Delind is an anthropologist at Michigan State University;
she says that even the names of seeds, can say a lot about a group. She
points to a seed grown by traditional farmers in Africa, that has a much
more telling name than what you’d see on a seed packet at your local
hardware store.


“It grew at a time when a majority of other beans didn’t. And what I found compelling is the seed was called ‘So the Grandparents Can Survive.’ Inherent in the seeds is a whole set of social relationships, responsibilities, cultural understandings, and a collective wisdom about how to manage, live well in a particular place.”


Delind says that in the U.S. we’ve lost a lot of this. But for many people, growing heirlooms isn’t just a thing of the past or something that people do in far-off countries.


Heirloom gardening has become more popular in recent years. In part that’s
because of the taste. It’s also because people have become more concerned
about commercially developed seeds, which are sometimes genetically
modified. Royer Held offers classes about heirloom seeds. He says that
planting, saving and sharing heirloom seeds, are important for a lot of
reasons, especially now when the food we eat comes from fewer and fewer
places.


“People are giving up the cultivation of these varieties they’ve maintained over centuries and millenia. We’re basically at risk of losing a lot of very unique agricultural material. And what we’re trying to do here in Ann Arbor is to encourage the gardening community here to take on as their personal responsibility the maintenance of these varieties.”


Although Royer Held is a long-time gardener, he can’t say that he’d given
that much thought to spreading the word about heirlooms until a couple of
winters ago. When bad weather kept him inside, he passed the time reading.
In one book he found that that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kept
supplies of lots of heirloom seeds that weren’t widely available.


He requested several kinds of potato seeds from the agency. When they arrived
he and his friend Marcella Troutman planted them along with some other
heirloom seeds. They saved the seeds and cuttings from the new plants, and
now they’re making these available as well as trying to get people used to
the idea of saving their own seeds. She says that people can be a little
intimidated by the idea.


“They almost think it’s not going to be as good as having bought seeds in a packet from a reputable seed company.”


She hopes that in time, people will get over this. Royer Held adds that saving seeds and sharing them with your friends are all part of what makes gardening rewarding.


“If you grow heirlooms, you should save the seeds, because it’s only by saving the seeds that you can allow the plants to grow and develop and adapt to particular growing conditions. And if you do, save enough for your friends because they might want some too. And if they take time, they’ll probably wind up liking them better, which gets us back to why we all garden.”


They hope that in the end, people will get comfortable enough to start creating and sharing their own varieties.


For the GLRC, I’m Nora Flaherty.

Related Links

Potato Farms Create ‘Super-Sized’ Problem (Part 1)

Ron Offutt grows more potatoes than anyone else in the
world. He grows them for the French Fry market. Press reports call him
the Sultan of Spuds and the Lord of the Fries—but his success has an
environmental price, as people in small towns near his potato farms have
learned to their dismay. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary
Losure reports in the first of a two part series:

Potato Farms Create ‘Super-Sized’ Problem (Part 2)

Ron D. Offutt is the biggest potato grower in the world.
His privately owned company raises 1.8 BILLION pounds of potatoes a
year. They go to make French fries for fast food chains like McDonalds
and big potato processors like J.R Simplot. But Offutt’s
success has a downside. Many people who live near his potato farms
worry about the pesticides sprayed on his fields…but they soon find
they’re up against a system much bigger than they are. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Mary Losure reports, in the second part of a two part
series: