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uk: Thousands of tons of organic food produced using toxic chemicals - Soil Association approves copper sulphate pesticides

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  • Teresa Binstock
    Comment and citation-abstract follow the news item - - - - Syngenta, the agribusiness company that makes pesticides and fertilisers, confirmed that demand for
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008
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      Comment and citation-abstract follow the news item

      - - - -

      'Syngenta, the agribusiness company that makes pesticides and
      fertilisers, confirmed that demand for copper sulphate pesticides from
      organic farmers had "gone through the roof" this year.'

      - - - -
      Thousands of tons of organic food produced using toxic chemicals*

      1st January 2008

      Thousands of tons of organic vegetables sold in British shops this year
      were produced using toxic chemical pesticides, it emerged yesterday.

      Many shoppers - who pay premium prices for "naturally" grown veg - are
      unaware that any chemicals are allowed on any organic produce.

      Under Soil Association rules, a small number of sprays are permitted.

      But yesterday it emerged that increasing numbers of potato farmers have
      been asking for special permission to use large amounts of copper
      fungicide over the summer and autumn.

      According to new figures, a third of UK organic potato farmers were
      given permission to spray crops with fungicides made with copper - a
      heavy metal that can cause liver disease.

      The pesticide is one of a handful approved by the Soil Association - the
      charity that certifies and promotes organic food.

      The association's website describes it as toxic, while the EU is
      planning to ban it in the next few years following concerns about its
      health effects.

      Farmers were forced to resort to chemical sprays after one of the worst
      summers on record for potato blight - the disease that caused the 19th
      century Irish famine.

      The Soil Association said 30 per cent of its growers had applied for
      special permission to use the fungicide while industry sources said
      organic farmers had bought "close to record" amounts over the summer.

      Professor Tony Trewavas, an Edinburgh University plant scientist and
      critic of organic food, said copper compounds were 1,000 times more
      toxic than fungicides used on non-organic potatoes.

      "It's not only poisonous for people, but also for wildlife," said Prof

      "The trouble is, organic farmers haven't got anything else to replace
      it. Blight destroys the whole crop - it gets into the leaves and you end
      up with nothing. Organic farmers cannot afford to lose a crop."

      He added: "The Soil Association makes a big play out of the fact that it
      is 'natural' farming.

      "But farming can never be 'natural' - it is an unnatural thing to clear
      land of trees, plant crops and then try to stop anything else eating them."

      Syngenta, the agribusiness company that makes pesticides and
      fertilisers, confirmed that demand for copper sulphate pesticides from
      organic farmers had "gone through the roof" this year.

      The problem hit the late potato crop, harvested from September.

      Professor Lewis Smith, head of regulatory science at Syngenta, said:
      "The impact of potato blight was devastating across the country -
      although some areas suffered more.

      "Organic farmers used significant amounts of copper sulphate to reduce
      the impact. Copper sulphate is poisonous if you have enough of it. It
      can stay around in the soil and you can end up with high concentrations."

      The shortage of organic potatoes meant that Israeli and Egyptian
      varieties are already being flown in - despite the high carbon
      footprint, he added.

      Copper sulphate only works as a preventative pesticide. If organic farms
      are struck by potato blight, they are forced to remove all vegetation
      from the surface and the lift the potatoes within a few days.

      Conventional farmers complain that organic neighbours increase the
      spread of diseases like blight.

      Copper has been used for hundreds of years. It is commonly applied to
      soil as a conditioner. People need small levels in their diet. However,
      at high concentrations it can cause liver, kidney and blood disease.

      The Soil Association said it was phasing out copper sulphate - and that
      a growing number of organic farmers were switching to blight-resistant

      Lord Melchett, an organic farmer and spokesman for the association,
      said: "It was the worst year for blight in 50 years - and we had
      expected that 60 or 70 per cent of our farmers would use copper. But in
      fact, it was a much lower proportion than we predicted.

      "The standards are changing over time to reduce the amount that farmers
      can use and resistant strains of potatoes are being developed.

      "The amount that organic farmers use is tiny compared to the amount used
      on conventional farms, where it is applied as a soil conditioner."

      Sensible crop rotations can prevent the built up of copper in the soil,
      he added.

      Last year, 58 farmers applied to the Soil Association to use 2.2 tonnes
      of copper. This year, around 100 applied for permission.

      Potato blight is caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans. It spreads
      quickly in wet and humid conditions, and can destroy an entire field of

      The spores develop on the leaves and can then be washed into the soil
      where they spread to neighbouring plants. They can also be carried miles
      on the wind.

      - - - -

      *My comment *
      submitted to the DailyMail

      Copper is also implicated in Alzheimer's (eg, White AR et al 2001).
      Perhaps UK bigwigs are walking the path set by bureaucratic counterparts
      in the US. By allowing toxic molecules or dangerous levels of common
      molecules into the environment and thus into human bodies, rates of
      various pathologies increase. These trends enhance revenues for chemical
      corporations, pharmaceutical corporations, and their shareholders.

      - - - -

      J Neurochem. 2001 Mar;76(5):1509-20.
      Homocysteine potentiates copper- and amyloid beta peptide-mediated
      toxicity in primary neuronal cultures: possible risk factors in the
      Alzheimer's-type neurodegenerative pathways*.

      White AR, Huang X, Jobling MF, Barrow CJ, Beyreuther K, Masters CL, Bush
      AI, Cappai R.
      Department of Pathology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria,
      Australia. arwhite@...

      Oxidative stress may have an important role in the progression of
      neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease (AD) and prion
      diseases. Oxidative damage could result from interactions between highly
      reactive transition metals such as copper (Cu) and endogenous reducing
      and/or oxidizing molecules in the brain. One such molecule,
      homocysteine, a thiol-containing amino acid, has previously been shown
      to modulate Cu toxicity in HeLa and endothelial cells in vitro. Due to a
      possible link between hyperhomocysteinemia and AD, we examined whether
      interaction between homocysteine and Cu could potentiate Cu
      neurotoxicity. Primary mouse neuronal cultures were treated with
      homocysteine and either Cu (II), Fe (II or III) or Zn (II). Homocysteine
      was shown to selectively potentiate toxicity from low micromolar
      concentrations of Cu. The toxicity of homocysteine/Cu coincubation was
      dependent on the ability of homocysteine to reduce Cu (II) as reflected
      by the inhibition of toxicity with the Cu (I)-specific chelator,
      bathocuproine disulphonate. This was supported by data showing that
      homocysteine reduced Cu (II) more effectively than cysteine or
      methionine but did not reduce Fe (III) to Fe (II). Homocysteine also
      generated high levels of hydrogen peroxide in the presence of Cu (II)
      and promoted Abeta/Cu-mediated hydrogen peroxide production and
      neurotoxicity. The potentiation of metal toxicity did not involve
      excitotoxicity as ionotropic glutamate receptor antagonists had no
      effect on neurotoxicity. Homocysteine alone also had no effect on
      neuronal glutathione levels. These studies suggest that increased copper
      and/or homocysteine levels in the elderly could promote significant
      oxidant damage to neurons and may represent additional risk factor
      pathways which conspire to produce AD or related neurodegenerative
      Publication Types:
      * Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
      PMID: 11238735


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