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.

Related Links

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.

Related Links

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

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:

Determining the True Price of Produce

Many farmers are upset about the gap between what they earn for
their
crops, and what consumers pay at the supermarket. Now, a growers’
association is publicizing the disparity on the Internet. The "produce
price index" shows what farmers get for crops, compared to the retail
price…and gives the price spread between the two. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports: