"Pesticides are not 'safe.' They are produced
specifically because they are toxic to something."(1)
-U.S. EPA, Citizen's Guide to Pesticides, 1987
By Larry Cook
We all know that chemical pesticides and herbicides kill bugs and weeds that can prevent our food from growing. But would you go into your kitchen, pull out some RAID from under the sink, spray it on your carrots or green beans, and give it to your child or their friends? Of course not. So why eat foods from farms sprayed with insecticide?
Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides accumulate in our bodies' fatty tissue, nervous system and other cells. Our body can probably handle a pesticide once in a while, but over time, continuous intake of these poisonous chemicals build up in our bodies and lead to disease, and children are the most susceptible of all to these poisons.
You may think it's necessary to use pesticides to keep bugs from eating plants, but that's not quite true. For healthy soil makes plants resilient to bug infestations. Farms that use synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers don't have healthy soils, indicated by a lack of live worms and other bio-activity,2 (as opposed to organic farming, which does).
The information on the harmful effects of synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides is staggering. Unfortunately, it is not broadcast in the media and never reaches most people. So it's up to each of us to learn about it on our own.
Take a look at these statistics:
More than 70,000 synthetic chemicals are used and more than 1,000 new chemicals are introduced every year, the vast majority of which have not been adequately tested for human safety.3
More than 4.7 billion pounds of poisonous pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on our food crops every year.4
Each year, American farmers use more than forty million tons of synthetic chemical fertilizers on croplands.5
Agrichemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, accumulate in our fat, and weaken our immune systems by suppressing our white blood cellsthe T helper cells and B cells that produce antibodies. 6
In 1996, global sales of pesticides topped 30 billion dollars.7
In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote a book entitled Silent Spring, about chemicals in our environment and on our food. The public outcry that followed forced the banning of the very lethal pesticide DDT8 and caused revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our land, water and air.
At the time, the world-famous Mayo Clinic admitted hundreds of patients who had severe diseases of the blood organs, such as leukemia. Rachel Carson quoted Dr. Malcolm Hargraves saying, "The vast majority of patients suffering from the blood dyscrasais and lymphoid diseases have a significant history of exposure to the various hydrocarbons which in turn includes most of the pesticides of today. A careful medical history will almost invariably establish such a relationship." In fact, his team found that almost without exception these patients had a history of exposure to chemicals and sprays that contain DDT, chlordane, benzene, lindane and petroleum distillates.9
Today, it's actually much worse. Remember Agent Orange, the toxic spray used by our military in Vietnam to destroy forests, which caused all kinds of health problems for our veterans and birth defects for their children? Two of the toxic chemicals found in Agent Orange, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T are sprayed on land used to grow feed for livestock10 . 2,4,5-T contains dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals in the world (far more than DDT.)
Dioxin causes cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and death in lab animals at even 1 part per trillion and will kill an animal almost immediately. Environmental Protection Agency's Dr. Dianne Courtney called dioxin, "by far the most toxic chemical known to mankind."11 Yet dioxin is legal.
Children are at very great risk. Here's some information from the Environmental Working Group:
"Ten Years After Alar [a pesticide for apples featured on "60 Minutes" that ultimately led to it being banned], apples still need a cleanup. An apple a day exposes your child to more than 30 pesticides over a year. [That's] an average of four [pesticides] per apple, with six or eight not uncommon. In 1996, the most recent year for which USDA has tested apple samples, government labs detected a total of 39 different pesticide residues on 530 samples. Ninety-eight percent (98%) of the apple samples tested were positive for pesticide residues. Pesticidescan damage the human brain and nervous system, disrupt hormones, and cause cancer.
"More than a million preschoolers consume at least 15 pesticides a day in food, according to our latest study of government data. Some 324,000 kids age 5 and under exceed federal safety standards every day for just one neurotoxic12 insecticide, methyl parathion. Methyl parathion is the most toxic organophosphate insecticide approved for use on food. It's so toxic that EPA's "daily" safe dose for the compound is 0.000025 milligrams per kilogram of human body weight. A 154-pound person would exceed the EPA "daily" dose by eating less than two one-millionths of a gram of the chemical (.002 milligrams). Some apples and peaches are so contaminated with methyl parathion that a kid can exceed the government's safe daily limits with just two bites. A 154 pound adult eating such an apple would ingest only half of the current safe daily dose, whereas it would put a 44 pound child 67 percent over his or her "safe" limit."13
Organophosphate pesticides inhibit the enzyme acettlcholinesterase, a key molecule required to permit the regeneration of acetylcholine at neuromuscular junctions and thereby control nerve to muscle transmission. Many organophosphorus compounds damage nerves directly and these conditions are largely irreversible. Animal studies show organophosphorus compounds damage the central nervous system. Neurological poisoning may take months or years to show up. Concentrated organophosphorus compounds are used to produce nerve gas, and a few drops will kill in a very short time.14 Some poisoning symptoms include stomach and intestinal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and pinpoint pupils. These pesticides change chemically as they age, becoming even more toxic.
Philip J. Landrigna, pediatrician and chair of the of the National Academy of Sciences Committee, spoke about the risks of agrichemicals on children. He said, "There should be a presumption of greater toxicity to infants and children. In such cases, the National Academy of Sciences panel called for exposure standards ten times more stringent than would normally be applied."15
Environmentalist and researcher, Lewis Regenstein's, tell us in his book, How to Survive in America the Poisoned, that "Despite the overwhelming evidence that pesticides cause cancer and are extremely dangerous to humans and the environment, almost none of these chemicals has ever been 'banned' by the government in the true sense of the word."16 Most chemicals that have been banned, have only been banned in the United States and are shipped abroad, to countries like Mexico who ship their produce back to the U.S.17
Two dozen pesticides and herbicides used today are endocrine-disrupting.18 In late 1995, a multidisciplinary group of international experts19 gathered in Erice, Sicily for a work session on "Environmental Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals20 : Neural, Endocrine and Behavioral Effects." The committee wrote: "Thyroid hormones are essential for normal brain function throughout life. Interference with thyroid hormone function during development leads to abnormalities in brain and behavioral development. The eventual results of moderate to severe alterations of thyroid hormone concentrations, particularly during fetal life, are motor dysfunction of varying severity including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hydrocephalus, seizures and other permanent neurological abnormalities. Similarly, exposure to man-made chemicals during early development can impair motor function, spatial perception, learning, memory, auditory development, fine motor coordination, balance, and attentional processes; in severe cases, mental retardation may result. Because certain PCBs & dioxins are known to impair normal thyroid function, we suspect that they contribute to learning disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder & other neurological abnormalities."21
We need to be concerned about our foods doused with pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. But what about farm workers who harvest the food? What happens to their health is a sign. The December 1997 edition of Indian Express Newspaper tells the story:
"In California's onion fields, farm workers, including children, are exposed to Methyl Parathion, a potent nerve toxin. Among Florida's strawberry fields they encounter Captan, a probable human carcinogen. In Midwestern cucumber patches they face Endosulfan, a chemical that may cause a host of health problems because of its similarity to human hormones. An unreleased US Department of Labor survey shows that 123,000 children [between] the ages of 14 and 17 work in America's fields.
There are thousands more under 14 who go uncounted. Children as young as 4 years were found to be working on fields. Mothers who can't afford day care carry infants into the fields. In Ohio this summer, 6-year-old Ramiro Silva and his sister picked pesticide-dusted cucumbers and ate them unwashed for lunch. Alejandra Renteria, also 6, sometimes refused to wear rubber gloves22 because they were too big and clumsy for her. 'My arms get itchy sometimes, but I like to work,' Ramiro said. Itchy irritations are common in pesticide exposure."23
Studies show that farmers who are exposed to pesticides and herbicides tend to have elevated risks of leukemia, lymphoma, and other cancers. According to a 1997 study by the International Labor Organization, up to 14 percent of all occupational injuries in the agricultural sector and 10 percent of all fatal injuries can be attributed to pesticides.
About half of the illnesses reported in the state of California are associated with agricultural work. And approximately 1,000 cases of agricultural pesticide poisonings are reported in the state annually. Analysts believe this figure is low, estimating that up to 80 percent of all incidents may go unreported. Studies also show that chemicals used in pesticides interfere with hormones, disrupting the normal growth and development of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and humans. Disturbing evidence includes reduced sperm counts in humans, nervous system and immune system disorders in wildlife and humans; increased birth defects and impaired sexual development in animals.
In 1977, 35 workers in a pesticide plant in Occidental, Calif. were found to be sterile due to exposure to the pesticide DBCP. At least 2,000 more workers who applied the pesticide on banana plantations in Central America were also sterilized.24 In 1978, California banned the pesticide and a year later the federal government banned all interstate use of DBCP. Nevertheless, DBCP manufacturers Dow Chemical and Shell Oil continue to sell it overseas.25
Research shows there is a link between pesticides and herbicides, and most all diseases and cancers.26 Why then, is the information not broadcast by the media, the government or even universities? The answer, of course, has to do with money.
There are eight major players in the pesticide industry: Dow, Du Pont, Monsanto, Imperial Chemical Industries, Novartis, Rhone Poulenc, Bayer, Hoechst. These companies produce toxic pesticides, along with pharmaceuticals, genetic food seed and industrial chemicals.27 These companies fund political campaigns, universities and heavy advertisement in the media.
Twelve of the leading chemical companies contributed more than $7 million from 1979-1995 to congressional campaigns. From 1979-1994, Monsanto and Dow gave $42.5 million to foundations and universities for pesticide research. From 1989 to 1993, 74 percent of 43 studies on four chemicals funded by industry or corporations indicated that the chemical was safe. In contrast, only 27 percent of 118 studies funded by non-industry scientists showed favorable results. And in California, only 2.6 percent of the state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) budget is allocated to research into alternatives.28
These large corporations also have a major influence on the media by funding newspaper and magazine articles, radio shows and television programs via advertisement. The media may report on alternative solutions, but it always goes to experts who have been funded by the chemical giants and who ultimately dismiss alternative solutions. And that is why you will never hear about the poison on your plate.
If you want your children, and yourself, to avoid toxic and persistent pesticides and herbicides, eat organically grown foods. Organic foods are grown without toxic and persistent chemicals. You can find organic foods at natural food stores and stores that carry natural products. Our children's mental and physical health, and yours too, is worth the little extra money you must spend to eat higher quality organic food.
A shopper's guide to pesticides in conventional produce
1 Pesticide Watch, http://www.pesticidewatch.org/Html/PestProblem/PestProblem.htm
2 Lecture in Washington State on Bainbridge Island 1998 by Howard Lyman, former rancher/farmer, and author of "Mad Cowboy." Mr. Lyman used to use synthetic pesticides on his farm/ranch and discovered later how poisonous they were, how the worms vanished from his soil and how the soil died. Now he devotes his time to exposing this information to the public this and other health concerns that pertain to diet.
3 Environmental Toxins and Reproductive Health, alth/library/weekly/aa061599.htm?iam=ma; http://womenshealth.about.com/health/womenshealth/library/weekly/aa061599.htm?iam=ma; and Generations at Risk: How Environmental Toxins may effect Reproductive Health in Massachusetts, http://www.igc.apc.org/psr/genrisk.html
4 Environmental Working Group, http://foodnews.org/questions.html#TOXIC
5 Chemical fertilizers have also been found to contain toxic chemicals and poisonous heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and other industrial waste by-products. This is because many of the synthetic chemical manufacturers have been buying toxic industrial waste from various companies to use in their fertilizers, which usually requires a permit for disposal because of it's toxicity to the environment. This was first brought to the attention of the people in Seattle in 1997 when newspaper columnist Duff Wilson broke the story that many chemical fertilizer companies buy toxic industrial waste and mix it in with their chemical fertilizer. The story "Fear in the fields: How hazardous wastes become fertilizer" ran on Thursday, July 3, 1997. The story led to investigations and proposed changes in state law. Later, some laws went into effect, allowing the practice to continue, provided the toxic chemicals were listed on the Internet so anyone could review them. Mr. Wilson won a literary award for his story. Sources: The Seattle Times: http://www.seattletimes.com/extra/browse/html97/fert_070397.html; and Washington Toxins Coalition, http://www.accessone.com/~watoxics/tfm.htm
6 "Eating With Conscience, The Bioethics of Food" Dr. Michael W. Fox, pg. 60
7 "Against the GrainBiotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food," by Marc Lappe, Ph.D., pg. 10
8 DDT has been found in virtually every living animal on this planet, from East to West and from North to South. It takes dozens or hundreds of years to break down. It has been attributed to human cancer & death of wildlife.
9 "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, pg. 227
10 Animal products accumulate these toxins in their fat, and so the concentrated amounts are passed on to those who eat meat.
11 "Diet For A New America," - John Robbins, pg. 321
12 Neurotoxicity: Adverse effects on the structure or function of the central and/or peripheral nervous system caused by exposure to a toxic chemical. Symptoms of neurotoxicity include muscle weakness, loss of sensation and motor control, tremors, cognitive alterations and autonomic nervous system dysfunction. http://www.trufax.org/menu/chem.html
13 Environmental Working Group, http://foodnews.org/nytimes.html; This group does an excellent job of citing their sources of information.
14 "Chemical Deception: The Toxic Threat to Health and The Environment" by Marc Lappe, 86-87
15 "Eating With Conscience, The Bioethics of Food" Dr. Michael W. Fox, pg. 61
16 Diet For A New America, by John Robbins, pg. 318.
17 Diet For A New America, - John Robbins, pgs 308-349.
18 World Wildlife Fund, http://www.wwfcanada.org/hormone-disruptors/issues/frameset.html
19 Medical doctors, university scholars, environmentalists, etc.
20 Endocrine Toxicity: Any adverse structural and/or functional changes to the endocrine system (the system that controls hormones in the body) which may result from exposure to chemicals. Endocrine toxicity can harm human and animal reproduction and development. http://www.trufax.org/menu/chem.html
22 Think about this concept for a momentwearing rubber gloves because of the pesticides. Does this food sound safe to you?!
23 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd., http://www.indian-express.com/ie/daily/19971219/35250023.html
24 Entire paragraph: "Why Eat Organic," http://www.saveorganic.org/whyeatorganic/healthandfoodsafety.html; Pest Management at the Crossroads, Benbrook, Consumers Union 1996; Cancer among farmers: A review, Scand J. Work Environ Health 1985; Our Stolen Future, Theo Colburn.
25 "Chemical Deception: The Toxic Threat to Health and The Environment" by Marc Lappe, pg. 41
26 However, there are links to many other chemicals as well. And of course, pesticides and herbicide exposure is not the only reason we get disease.
27 "The Great Boycott," http://home.earthlink.net/~alto/boycott.html
28 Entire paragraph from "Pesticide Watch," http://www.pesticidewatch.org/Html/PestProblem/MythSafety.htm