Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pesticides in child care - not a pretty picture

We've all done our homework and gotten the pesticides out of our homes, yards and gardens, right? Many of us have even worked with our schools over the years to get them to switch to safer Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. But what about child care centers?

A new report out this week from Toxic Free North Carolina, Avoiding Big Risks for Small Kids, takes a look at how child care centers are managing pests in our state – and reveals a less-than-heartening picture. Compared with public schools, who are rapidly adopting IPM in North Carolina, child care centers are lagging way behind.

_ Most of the child care centers we surveyed use old-fashioned, higher-risk practices like broadcast pesticide spraying inside the facilities. Even when the center contracted with professionals, the survey found both widespread overuse of pesticides, and a troubling lack of safety precautions like warning signs or safety information provided about the chemicals being used.

_ The survey also found very limited adoption of safer practices, such as IPM. The US EPA recommends IPM for schools, child care centers and other sensitive areas because it focuses on preventing pest problems and minimizing pesticide spraying. In contrast with NC public schools, child care centers have hardly begun to adopt this common-sense practice. Fewer than 24% of child care providers reported using practices that qualify as IPM – but those who did also reported fewer serious pest problems.

So what can parents & child care providers do about this? Check out the list of five questions that parents should ask their child care providers to find out what they’re doing. There's also a resource for child care providers on how to contract for safer pest management in their facilities.

We know well that kids and pesticides don't mix, but this report makes clear that North Carolina child care providers still need to hear that message. So let's get it out there!

Download the report, get the fact sheets and learn more at Toxic Free NC's website.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Food Safety Bills in Congress

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Christopher Grohs.

US Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has issued a proposal for revamping the current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that’s causing an uproar among advocates of organic farming, and has generated a lot of chain emails about protecting organic farms. The proposal would split the FDA into two separate groups, establishing a new Food Safety Administration. With all the recent outbreaks of salmonella and food contamination, it’s of little surprise that Americans are pushing for stricter regulations and greater accountability in the food production sector. Though the bill is coming from a place of concern for food safety, some advocates for organic farming contend it contains many provisions that could be detrimental to small-scale organic farmers.

According to Gov Track's article on HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, the bill will “establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes.” To accomplish these goals, the government will increase its power and presence over the food industry by giving a newly created Food Safety Administration control over all farms, which will be reclassified as “Food Production Facilities.”

The proposed regulations appear to be prohibitively hard for small farmers to comply with, and so would favor massive, corporate factory farms. Organic farming advocates argue that the string of food safety scares in the US are the result of mishandling by large, corporate agricultural facilities and not small-scale organic farmers, so why punish them?

Interestingly, Elanor over at The Ethicurean reports that HR875 isn't moving much in Congress, but meanwhile several other food safety proposals might be bigger threats. Read her post here.

Whatever the case may be with these different proposals flying around Capitol Hill, it's clear that most would, in effect, put a small band-aid on a huge problem. The current commercial food system is a failure on food safety, and on many other fronts as well: labor rights, sustainability, humane treatment of animals, public health and more. We won't achieve food safety without a significant overhaul.

With our new, more food-minded administration in the White House and the USDA, we can't let our guard down. Rather, we must redouble our efforts to support our local farmers, talk to our neighbors about supporting organics, and let our state and federal representatives hear that local and sustainable farming is important to us.