Friday, March 4, 2011

Farmer's Weekly

Two articles have recently appeared in "Farmer's Weekly" magazine.

The first is an interview with Gerhard Verdoorn, spokesperson for the agricultural chemical industry in South Africa.   Whenever there is negative media publicity about the agrichemical industry in South Africa, Verdoorn is first to jump on the bandwagon in an attempt to trash everyone else's opinion and to put out the fires.

In an earlier blog  (Tues 28 Sept 2010  "Are the experts pulling the wool over the eyes of South Africans") we discussed Verdoorn's motives.

The articles below, give you both sides of the story, and we leave it up to you, the readers, as to why Verdoorn would take the stance that he does.

Lobbyists base arguments on fiction, not fact
Farmer's Weekly  31-01-2011

“Those lobbying against pesticides are looking for a soft target and an easy way to make money,” he added. “They base their arguments on assumptions and twist the truth to suit them. The so-called facts they publish are simply hogwash.”

And technology has made the dissemination of false information even easier. “Anyone can start their own website or send damaging e-mails driving their own opinions as fact.”Glyphosate, for example, has been labelled the most carcinogenic substance in the world by lobbyists. But if this was the case, we would all have been dead a long time ago, said Dr Verdoorn. “It’s also been said that South African farmers use banned substances. But just because something is banned in other countries, doesn’t mean it’s banned here. The conditions everywhere are different.“Lobbyists exploit the fact that there have been a few incidents in the past where pesticides were used incorrectly and problems followed. But these were isolated incidents where the instructions were not followed.”

Unfortunately, they’re remembered forever and cited as the norm, said Dr Verdoorn.He added that the public is often misled into overlooking other factors that cause illness – like the changing of the seasons and air pollution. “It’s then easier to blame pesticides for asthma, headaches and hay fever because someone has seen it being sprayed on a nearby farm.”Scientists need to challenge lobbyists who seek to disseminate misleading or false information, said Dr Verdoorn. But unfortunately, they’re often too busy with research to pay attention to unfounded reports. Or else, when they do comment, they do so anonymously, and an unknown source isn’t “credible,” he cautioned. – Lindi van Rooyen

Who are the ‘Lobbyists’?
Farmer's Weekly  18-02-2011

Click on link to see full story including images

One of my favourite pictures of my father is of him standing in his Sunday best among the cherry blossoms in his beautiful garden. He was an avid gardener and so was my mother. They both loved flowers.
I contracted polio as a child, during the Second World War. In the lean years that followed, with my father’s meagre income as a railway clerk, my mother grew flowers to pay for my treatment. She sold them door-to-door until she had a regular clientele among the wealthier people in our neighbourhood, who bought her flowers every weekend.

It was also the age of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) – the magic powder, developed during the war. We had no reason to fear DDT, as it was said to be safe to use. The word “cancer” was still unknown to us. My mother used it copiously to stop insects from damaging her flowers and often came into the house covered in white powder. I spent much of my time helping her.
Later my father, who first specialised in roses, became fascinated by aloes and was quite liberal in his insecticide use to protect them against the many bugs. I, however, was more interested in the multitude of insects – but they’re largely gone now and so are my father and mother.
My mother was the first to get cancer and, after a long battle, lost the fight against it. My father also got cancer and so did I. Fortunately, the surgeon’s scalpel could cut mine away, but my father died. Only my brother, born after my mother’s flower-selling days, has been cancer-free. And as far as I could determine, cancer never affected any of our ancestors.

Puzzling news report and cooked research

Nobody can blame me for being suspicious about the excessive use of chemicals to which we were constantly exposed, but to which our bodies had little resistance. In my younger days I noticed a huge raptor decline, equipped myself with toxicological knowledge, and travelled countrywide to deliver hundreds of lectures and talks to farmers, gardeners and housewives about wise pesticide use.

This brings me to a Farmer’s Weekly news report “Lobbyists base arguments on fiction, not facts” by Lindi van Rooyen (4 February 2011 issue), which I found rather puzzling, to say the least. Lindi reports on a paper presented by Griffon Poison Information Centre (GPIC) spokesperson Dr Gerhard Verdoorn at the Combined Congress in Pretoria. She quotes Dr Verdoorn: “Those lobbying against pesticides are looking for a soft target and an easy way to make money. They base their arguments on assumptions and twist the truth to suit them. The so-called facts they publish are simply hogwash.” The words “lobbyists”, “lobbying” and “lobbyist” appear five times in this short report.

These words made me wonder what was behind them. I first thought the news report might have contained comments, from various sources, on the biased and subsequently discredited report by CropLife SA about its investigation in and around the town of Groblersdal into how pesticide residues inhibit the immune system. Of the 50 pesticides “most sprayed” by air during the 2008/2009 season, the company sampled only two – number 19 and 21 on the list. The third pesticide the company sampled wasn’t even on the list. Methomyl, sprayed 133 times, was number one on the top-50 list. The top five pesticides were sprayed a combined 290 times, while the two that CropLife SA sampled were only sprayed 19 times. The company only took samples in citrus orchards, not cotton or maize lands where extensive aerial spraying was done.

Was it a case of crooked scientists and cooked research?

Government on the right track

I was still pondering this when I read a notice in the Government Gazette (24 December 2010 issue) by agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. The department’s policy on pesticide control is to be amended, and the minister intends to replace the 60-year-old Act 38 of 1947 with a new act. Old pesticides and those with high risk to human health and the environment are to be re-evaluated, and many could be banned. This would mean a healthier environment and food, less overcrowding in hospitals, an improved image of agriculture and perhaps a more responsible agro-chemical industry. The minister must be commended if she achieves this.
The notice states that, “Scientific and medical journals increasingly report the risks posed to human health by pesticides, including links between pesticides and diseases such as cancer and hormone disruption”. This presumably also applies to the “so-called facts” that “are simply hogwash”.

The document continues, “The mounting evidence of the negative impacts of pesticides on wildlife and the environment has prompted South Africans to register their disapproval of pesticides and take action to reduce their use”. Are these South Africans the “lobbyists” referred to in the news report? That this would cause extreme anxiety and panic in the chemical industry is understandable. The industry still makes easy money with many pesticides which have been banned in the rest of the developed world long ago, and are now dirt-cheap on international markets. Its reckless party could soon end. But why should this concern and upset Dr Verdoorn? In light of what I wrote last week about our vulture population’s shocking demise, also from the illegal use of the pesticide aldicarb, does the GPIC not welcome stricter control?

Does the dissemination of this information and the fact that, for many years, I warned against the irresponsible and excessive misuse of pesticides make me a lobbyist? I hope not. Or did I only do what the GPIC should have been doing? A dictionary defines a “lobbyist” as “someone who is employed to persuade legislators to vote for legislation that favours the lobbyist’s employer”. Who, then, are the true lobbyists?
Is it not those who, in the coming weeks, will beat a path to minister Tina’s door to persuade her to forgo her intended plans? I trust the GPIC won’t be among them.
Contact AbrĂ© J Steyn on 083 235 4822 or email    

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