The Seven Deadly Myths of Industrial Agriculture: Myth Two: Industrial food is safe, healthy, and nutritious

Reference: AlterNet

“The Seven Deadly Myths of Industrial Agriculture” is excerpted from Fatal Harvest, a new book that chronicles the disasters of industrial farming.

The truth:
Industrial agriculture contaminates our vegetables and fruits with pesticides, slips dangerous bacteria into our lettuce, and puts genetically engineered growth hormones into our milk. It is not surprising that cancer, food-borne illnesses, and obesity are at an all-time high.

A modern supermarket produce aisle presents a perfect illusion of food safety. Consistency is a hallmark. Dozens of apples are on display, waxed and polished to a uniform luster, few if any bearing a bruise or dent or other distinguishing characteristics. Nearby sit stacked pyramids of oranges dyed an exact hue to connote ripeness. Perhaps we find a shopper comparing two perfectly similar cellophane-wrapped heads of lettuce, as if trying to distinguish between a set of identical twins. Elsewhere, throughout the store, processed foods sit front and center on perfectly spaced shelves, their bright, attractive cans, jars, and boxes bearing colorful photographs of exquisitely prepared and presented foods. They all look unthreatening, perfectly safe, even good for you. And for decades, agribusiness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have proclaimed boldly that the United States has the safest food supply in the world.

As with all the myths of industrial agriculture, things are not exactly as they appear. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that between 1970 and 1999, food-borne illnesses increased more than tenfold. And according to the FDA, at least 53 pesticides classified as carcinogenic are presently applied in massive amounts to our major food crops. While the industrialization of the food supply progresses, we are witnessing an explosion in human health risks and a significant decrease in the nutritional value of our meals.

Increased cancer risk

A central component of the industrialized food system is the large-scale introduction of toxic chemicals. This toxic contamination of our food shows no signs of decreasing. Since 1989, overall pesticide use has risen by about 8 percent, or 60 million pounds. The use of pesticides that leave residues on food has increased even more. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that more than 1 million Americans drink water laced with pesticide runoff from industrial farms. Our increasing use of these chemicals has been paralleled by an exponential growth in health risks, to both farmers and consumers.

The primary concern associated with this toxic dependency is cancer. The EPA has already identified more than 165 pesticides as potentially carcinogenic, with numerous chemical mixtures remaining untested. Residues from potentially carcinogenic pesticides are left behind on some of our favorite fruits and vegetables — in 1998, the FDA found pesticide residues in over 35 percent of the food tested.

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“The Seven Deadly Myths of Industrial Agriculture” were compiled by the editors of Fatal Harvest, which is published by the Foundation for Deep Ecology and distributed by Island Press.