Avoid Synthetic Food
Part 2: Pesticides and Herbicides
“Pesticides are not ‘safe.’ They are produced specifically because they are toxic to something.” ~ U.S. EPA, Citizen's Guide to Pesticides, 1987
Chemical pesticides and herbicides are widely accepted in conventional farming as an indispensable tool to kill bugs and weeds that would otherwise infest growing crops. Yet there are other ways to control pests that don’t dump toxins into the food supply, soil and groundwater. You wouldn’t spray Raid on your carrots, so why eat foods sprayed with insecticide?
Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides accumulate in body cells, fatty tissue and in the nervous system. Healthy soil, containing live worms, vigorous bacteria and other bio-activity,[ii] makes plants resilient to infestations. Soil from farms that use synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers don’t show these characteristics. The information available on the harmful effects of synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides is staggering. Unfortunately, this information is not widely disseminated and never reaches most people, so it’s up to each of us to educate ourselves.
Take a look at these facts:
• More than 1,000 new chemicals are introduced every year, the vast majority of which have not been adequately tested for human safety.[iii]
• More than 4.7 billion pounds of poisonous pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on our food crops every year.[iv]
• Each year, American farmers use more than forty million tons of synthetic chemical fertilizers on croplands.[v] Agrichemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, accumulate in our fat and weaken our immune systems by suppressing the function of white blood cellsthe T helper and B cells that produce antibodies.[vi]
• In 1996, global sales of pesticides topped 30 billion dollars.[vii]
In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring exposed the devastating effects of chemicals in our food and environment. The public outcry that followed forced the banning of the lethal pesticide DDT[viii] and changed 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. Carson quoted Dr. Malcolm Hargraves in writing, “The vast majority of patients suffering from the blood dyscrasais and lymphoid diseases have a significant history of exposure to various hydrocarbons, which 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 containing DDT, chlordane, benzene, lindane and petroleum distillates.[ix]
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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 in 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 livestock.[x] 2,4,5-T contains dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals in the world (far more toxic than DDT.)
Dioxin causes cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and death in lab animals at even one part per trillion and kills the animal almost immediately. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Dr. Dianne Courtney called dioxin “by far the most toxic chemical known to mankind.”[xi] Yet dioxin is legally used on the food we eat.
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 its 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 the USDA 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. Pesticides…can 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 five and under exceed federal safety standards every day for just one neurotoxic[xii] insecticide, methyl parathion. Methyl parathion is the most toxic organophosphate insecticide approved for use on food. It’s so toxic that the 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.”[xiii]
Organophosphate pesticides inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, 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, creating adverse conditions that are largely irreversible. Animal studies show that 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 are quickly lethal.[xiv] Symptoms of poisoning include stomach and intestinal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and ‘pinpoint’ pupils. These pesticides change chemically as they age, becoming even more toxic.
Environmentalist and researcher Lewis Regenstein tells us in his book How to Survive in America the Poisoned, “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.”[xvi] Most chemicals that have been banned in the United States are shipped abroad to countries like Mexico, which ships its produce back to the U.S. laden with those same chemicals![xvii]
Two dozen pesticides and herbicides used today disrupt the human endocrine system.[xviii] In late 1995, a multidisciplinary group of international experts[xix] gathered in Erice, Sicily for a work session on “Environmental Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Neural, Endocrine and Behavioral Effects.”[xx] 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 attention processes; in severe cases, mental retardation may result. Because certain PCBs and dioxins are known to impair normal thyroid function, we suspect that they contribute to learning disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other neurological abnormalities.”[xxi] [italics mine]
While we all need to be concerned about foods doused with pesticides, herbicides and similar chemicals, farm workers are exposed to significantly higher risks. What happens to their health is a telltale 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 123,000 children [between] the ages of 14 and 17 working in America's fields. There are thousands more under 14 who go uncounted. Children as young as four were found to be working in the fields and mothers who can’t afford day care carry infants into the fields. In Ohio this summer, six-year-old Ramiro Silva and his sister picked pesticide-dusted cucumbers and ate them unwashed for lunch. Alejandra Renteria, also six, sometimes refused to wear rubber gloves[xxii] because they were too big and clumsy for her. ‘My arms get itchy sometimes, but I like to work,’ Renteria said. Itchy irritations are common in pesticide exposure.”[xxiii]
Farmers exposed to pesticides and herbicides often 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 all illnesses reported in the state of California are associated with agricultural work, with approximately 1,000 cases of pesticide poisonings annually. Analysts believe this figure is low, estimating that up to 80 percent of all incidents may go unreported. Studies also show that pesticide chemicals 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 and immune system disorders in wildlife and humans, and increased birth defects and impaired sexual development in animals.
In 1977, 35 workers in a pesticide plant in Occidental, California 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 rendered sterile.[xxiv] 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.[xxv]
Research clearly shows the link between pesticides, herbicides and most diseases and cancers.[xxvi] Why isn’t this information broadcast by the media or the government or even discussed at universities? The answer, of course, has to do with money.
There are currently eight major players in the pesticide industry: Dow Chemical, Du Pont, Monsanto, Imperial Chemical Industries, Novartis, Rhone Poulenc, Bayer and Hoechst. These companies produce pharmaceuticals along with toxic pesticides, genetically modified seeds and industrial chemicals.[xxvii] These same companies fund political campaigns and universities and spend millions on advertising. From 1979 to 1995, twelve of the leading chemical companies contributed more than seven million dollars to congressional campaigns. From 1979 to 1994, Monsanto and Dow gave $42.5 million to foundations and universities for pesticide research. Results are quite interesting: 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. In California, only 2.6 percent of the state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) budget is allocated to research alternatives to pesticides.[xxviii]
These large corporations also have a major influence on the media by funding newspaper and magazine articles, radio shows and television programs. The media may report on alternative solutions, but always consult experts funded by the chemical giants who ultimately dismiss alternative solutions.
The best way to avoid pesticides and herbicides in our food supply is to buy organically grown food. This topic is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.
>>> Go To Part 2: Genetically Modified Organisms
[ii] Lecture in Washington State on Bainbridge Island, 1998, 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. He devotes his time to exposing this information to the public as well as other health concerns that pertain to diet.
[v] 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 synthetic chemical manufacturers have been buying toxic industrial waste from various companies to use in their fertilizers. This waste usually requires a permit for disposal because of its 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 “Fear in the fields: How hazardous wastes become fertilizer,” which ran in the Seattle Times 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. He later wrote a book on the subject: Fateful Harvest.
[viii] 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 linked with human cancer and the death of wildlife.
[x] Animal products accumulate these toxins in their fat, and so the accumulated amounts are passed on to those who eat meat.
[xii] 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/general/chemical.html.
[xvi] Diet For A New America, John Robbins, pp. 318.
[xix] Medical doctors, university scholars, environmentalists, etc.
[xx] 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/general/chemical.html.
[xxii] Think about this concept for a momentwearing rubber gloves because of the pesticides. Does this food sound safe to you?!
[xxv] Chemical Deception: The Toxic Threat to Health and The Environment, Marc Lappe, p. 41.
[xxvi] However, there are links to many other chemicals as well. And of course, pesticides and herbicide exposure are not the only causes of disease.