When it Comes to Pesticides and Kids, The EPA Looks the Other Way

HOMESTEAD, FL – SEPTEMBER 09: Stephen Jenner, from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, sprays an insecticide under an avocado tree where some Oriental fruit flies were found on September 9, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. The discovery of the flies has forced the state to quarantine about 85 square miles of farmland in Southern Miami-Dade county until they have been eradicated. The flies have the potential to damage Florida’s $120 billion agriculture industry. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It’s easy to lose count of all of the pesticides that are sprayed on crops in the U.S., and well-nigh impossible to know all of the names (dichloropropene and pyraclostrobin and spinetoram and on and on). But it’s not hard to guess who gets hit hardest by all of these chemicals: kids, whose brain, nervous and hormonal systems are still developing at the time of exposure. What’s more, a new pesticide introduced today will have fewer years to build up in the tissues of, say, a 50-year old, compared to a child who will accumulate a lifetime load of the stuff.

That’s the biggest reason that, in 1996, Congress passed and  Bill Clinton signed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The legislation represented one of the most effective crackdowns on pesticides in the food supply to date, requiring the Environmental Protection Agency not simply to establish a safe threshold of exposure for the population as a whole, but to limit permissible levels much further—10-fold further in fact—to ensure that children are protected too. The legislation benefits everyone of course: Ten times less pyraclostrobin on your apple is a good thing no matter how old you are, but it’s children who are the most important beneficiaries.

But a law is only as good as its enforcement and a new study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, —a nonprofit advocacy organization—and published in the journal Environmental Health found that when it comes to the FQPA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is laying down on the job. The group surveyed 47 non-organophosphate pesticides—a category that tends to persist in soils—and found that the 10-fold safety standard was being applied only to five of them.

“The FQPA was a revolution in how we think about pesticides’ effects on children,” said Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook in a statement accompanying the release of the study, “but it does no good if the EPA doesn’t use it.”

In response to the study’s release, an EPA spokesperson told TIME: “EPA takes our commitment to protect public health, including our most vulnerable populations, and following the law seriously. EPA uses the default 10X safety factor unless a wealth of high-quality, peer-reviewed data has shown an alternative safety factor can provide an equal amount of protection.”

The study, which stands by the the ten-fold standard as the true gold standard, looked back at FQPA enforcement from as early as 2011, during the Obama administration—generally seen as an environmentally friendly presidency—and saw the same spotty pesticide enforcement even then. But the Obama White House did take some proactive steps, seeking to extend the 10-fold standard to organophosphate pesticides as well, which break down relatively quickly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but while they are around can be even more toxic than other varieties of pesticides, affecting the nervous system in much the way sarin and other nerve gasses do.

Under the Trump Administration, however, the Obama ruling was reversed for the most widely used organophosphate, known as chlorpyrifos. Nonetheless, Corteva Agriscience, the nation’s largest manufacturer of the chemical, under pressure from multiple states that are banning its use, announced on Feb. 6 that it would voluntarily agree to stop producing it.

It’s a manifestly good thing that in that one case, market forces were sufficient to stop a bad chemical from getting into the food supply. But it’s a manifestly bad thing that in a far larger share of cases, apparently the health of America’s children does not have the same power in Washington.

“With the FQPA legislation, Congress clearly gave the EPA the power to protect children’s health from pesticides,” says Olga Naidenko, vice president of science investigations at the Environmental Working Group, and lead author of the paper. “The EPA should be able to fully use this authority without waiting for additional instructions, if the EPA leadership decides to do so.”

By Jeffrey Kluger February 12, 2020

Source: When it Comes to Pesticides and Kids, The EPA Looks the Other Way

View full lesson: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/do-we-reall… Annually, we shower over 5 billion pounds of pesticides across the Earth to control insects, unwanted weeds, funguses, rodents, and bacteria that may threaten our food supply. But is it worth it, knowing what we do about the associated environmental and public health risks? Fernan Pérez-Gálvez weighs the pros and cons of pesticides. Lesson by Fernan Pérez-Gálvez, animation by Mighty Oak.

By Raising Productivity, Agtech Boosts Value Of Farmland

Against the backdrop of the partial shutdown of the federal government, U.S. farmers and ranchers are no doubt looking for a happier new year in 2019. The burgeoning agtech sector could brighten things up by continuing to boost productivity and reverse the market setbacks of 2018. Not since the 1980 embargo on U.S. grain exports to Russia have farmers been so pressured by the vagaries of global trade policy. The statistics are telling. According to the USDA’s World Outlook Board, soybean exports hit by the retaliatory tariffs put in place by top importer China dropped in 2018 by about 11%.

 

Source: By Raising Productivity, Agtech Boosts Value Of Farmland

Can Blockchain Technology Make Agriculture Safer – Hiroyuki Shinohara

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Smart contracts built on blockchain technology may eliminate the need for middlemen. Energy grids could use that tech to increase cybersecurity. And aerospace suppliers look to blockchain as a potential investment in keeping track of their supply lines and boosting efficiencies.

But perhaps one of the most unexpected – and impactful – applications of blockchain may be in agriculture.

Blockchains could ensure vegetable quality

The blockchain is a byproduct of Bitcoin, but its application range is infinite. Blockchain can have a significant impact beyond the internet, and it is likely the concept will be applied to all industries in the future. One example of this potential is in quality assurance – a process all businesses must contend with.

An active example of the impact of blockchain technology on agriculture is the increase in traceability of agricultural products. In Aya-cho, Higashi Morokata-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan, demonstration experiments are being carried out using blockchain technology to assure the quality of organic agricultural products. The data recorded includes who farmed the product, condition of the soil, nature of the pesticides and production environment. This proves the quality of the product.  Agriculture experts are taking notice of these products, too, which trade at almost twice the market price due to the spotlight on them.

In the manufacturing industry, the traceability of parts has been advancing significantly. The same cannot be said for that of software, though the role of software in terms of products and services will become more significant in the future. When this happens, businesses must assure the quality of the software by disclosing who wrote the program and how it was written. The blockchain should be an important part of this assurance process.

Keep information in a virtual safe

In the years to come, a company’s survival will greatly depend on “the amount of useful information” it possesses. One example is Uber, a car dispatch service provider. They are a well-known business, but like any other, they are looking further into the future to see “how they can optimize the huge customer data base they possess for their next business endeavor.” Uber may just completely change the logistics of the world by making use of “movement of people” data accumulated by their dispatch service. Imagine the impact on Japanese business if leaders thought so deeply about the relevance of their future data and technology.

Since the introduction of IoT, the number of data-collecting sensors and amount of information collected from them has dramatically increased. IoT technology becomes more capable by the day. However, too many companies use a low-security system to manage high-value information. Japan is a developed country with a strong manufacturing base, and it is the only country that can create its own social infrastructure from beginning to end. If Japanese manufacturing companies were to turn their expertise into data and store it in a trustworthy blockchain, that shift would create huge value.

Requests would come from all over the world from those who want to analyze the data. Furthermore, utilization of this data could bring about new innovations, such as a never-before-seen refinement of strong metals. Ultimately, to make use of this data, we have to keep it in a safe. That safe is a blockchain.

African Agri-tech Startups Boom With 110% Growth Since 2016

Investments in agriculture technology in Africa have seen $19-million invested in the past two years, with a new report showing agri-tech startups have grown 110% in the period.

There are 82 agri-tech startups operating across the continent at the start of this year, 52% of which started in the last 24 months, according to the Agrinnovating for Africa: Exploring the African Agri-Tech Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 report by Disrupt Africa.

Kenya and Nigeria both lead the agri-tech markets, followed by Ghana, and collectively account for over 60% active startups in the sector.

Although the report tracks annual startup activity in the agri-tech space since 2010, the authors say it began to boom in 2016, after which 43 new ventures were launched.

“The research shows that while Kenya was the early pioneer of the African agri-tech sector, accelerating interest in West Africa over the past two years means this region now dominates the market; and is home to two of the top three agri-tech ecosystems on the continent,” Disrupt Africa co-founder Tom Jackson said in a statement. ““Everyone knows how important the agricultural sector is across Africa, but until very recently it remained relatively untouched by tech innovators. That is suddenly changing as entrepreneurs and investors realize the scale of the challenges facing farmers, and spot opportunities to reach huge addressable markets.”

Fundraising grew 121% from 2016 to in 2017 alone.

“The scope for innovation in the agricultural sphere is vast – a refreshed take on the sector could unlock huge value for the whole of Africa,” says Gabriella Mulligan, co-founder of Nairobi-based Disrupt Africa. “Behind the scenes, there has been formidable acceleration in the agri-tech market recently, and it is one of the most interesting spaces to watch in Africa today.”.

The report shows how the continent’s entrepreneurs are already disrupting the agricultural industry, she adds, especially in using e-commerce agri-focused platforms accounting for 32.9% of startups.

One such entrepreneur is Ntuthunko Shezi, whose startup is called Livestock Wealth and sells a “share” in cows in South Africa. Calling it “crowdfarming” he believes people can invest in cattle, which have traditionally been a signifier of wealth in Africa, instead of stock markets.

“Given the space that Africa has, this business model could help the continent once again become the breadbasket of the world,” Shezi said at TEDxJohannesburg’s #HackingTheFarm event in Johannesburg in March.

“We can grow through crowdfarming. Sole ownership isn’t possible for a lot of people, but partial ownership is.”

Thato Moagi is a 27-year-old farmer in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province, who traded the upmarket Bedfordview suburb of Johannesburg for the Legae La Banareng Farms, where she is he managing director and overseas crop and livestock production.

“Young people don’t have access to finance, which is why the average age of farmers is high, 60 years old. This is also why young people aren’t getting into farming. There is also no direct focus on a particular sector of the industry. The private sector right now are entirely unincentivized to fund young farmers,” says Moagi, who was chosen by the South African National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as the Young Farmer of the Year in 2015. She was also named the Female Entrepreneur of the Year 2015.

“Agriculture isn’t very sexy,” says Joshua Ngoma, a mining engineer who now works with entrepreneurs through the Enterprising Africa Regional Network (EARN) Group he founded in 2013.

How do you change that perception? he asked the TEDxJohannesburg audience. “You change this by introducing young people to the tech that changing farming. Solutions to society shouldn’t be complex. Take luggage. If you were born in my time we had to carry everything giving us bad backs and pinched nerve – until someone decided to put wheels on their bag. Those wheels have change the way we travel for the better.”

“How do you put wheels on agriculture?” he asked.

His solution is to train young farmers but also to give them business and technical skills training. “We also need to change the exit plan. This is a 360 degree model; while training progresses the program looks at funding options for the, either by buying land from the government or tribal authorities. Once they’re settled they can begin work and start producing.”

His network also offers access business and agricultural specialists to help operate the business much like other startup initiatives do in the tech space.

Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine. Based in Johannesburg, his TED talk on innovation in Africa has had more than 1.4m views.

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