June 3, 2005
By Paul Goettlich
Conduits of Life
Whether one’s belief is that human life was created by the “big bang,” God, Buddha, or the Raven, our origin is directly connected to the earth below our feet. There can be no denying or mistaking that we are directly reliant upon the earth. Without this earth and the rest of the physical world, our bodies would not exist. Our health is ultimately dependent upon the health of the earth.
The Energy of Life, the same energy that drives the seasons and all of nature, has been transmitted through millions of generations to power the present generation. It flows in the form of language, music, dance, art, genetics, knowledge of the natural and spiritual worlds, food, farming, minerals, and much more.
Originating with the beginning of time, this energy passes through all entities, including humans. Through us and subsequent millions of generations it will continue. Consider that we are but conduits through which life finds its way to the future. We are, in essence, our parents future. And our children are our future. Life only passes through us. We are but a part of life, the present caretakers, if you will. The body that contains each of us is the only one that we will experience. A new one cannot be purchased with all the riches of the world.
As such, it is of the utmost importance that the vital information of Life Energy and a healthy environment be provided for today’s children and those to follow. It is not only our responsibility to do so, but it is our purpose to ensure that this conduit remains strong and healthy to the best of our ability.
All the gold in the world will not take the place of health and happiness. Material objects will not provide health or happiness either — only distractions and complications. It is only right that the world they inherit be in better condition than what was left for us. By better condition, I mean that the waters should run pure, the air should clean, and the food unadulterated by man-made chemicals.
The children learn directly through our words and actions. If we show them that material wealth is what is real, then the human race will wither in direct proportion. They must learn from the elders that nature is real and that movies about nature are not.
Our energy comes directly from what we eat. That food, just like us, is a living entity. Its energy comes from the sun and its nutrients come from the earth. All that we consume must be healthy in order for us to be health. Being healthy is more than being without a cold or an illness. It also includes reproductive health. By eating foods polluted with man-made chemicals, the robustness of our reproductive health is diminished ever so slightly in each generation. To perceive this degradation within one generation is not always possible and therefore it could be said not to be happening. But unfortunately, it is happening at such an alarming rate that even the most adamantly against such ideas find it more than possible.
Each One Unique
Even though are we each unique, it would be a mistake to think of oneself as a separate entity. Our genetic material has been intricately intertwined through the millennia. Even before we were born, if our parents were exposed to a pesticide, then we have been affected. No matter how small the concentration, we have been affected. The genetic code of our very being, the one that must be passed on to succeeding generations is damaged. Some may be repaired while other remains damaged. Predictability is null. One thing is for certain, it is passed to succeeding generations.
By studying the genealogy of families, it can be seen that the tree is three dimensional. With a mere 1,000 people of a family in a database, we can easily find people that are related a hundred ways or more. If all genealogical data could be obtained, it would be seen that we are all related. Each of us contains some similar genetic material. In the 1940s, there was a nasty little guy with a mustache that had some strange ideas about different races being inferior. He wasn’t the only one with these absurd ideas. As recently as November of 2000, Nobel laureate James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, made racist and sexist remarks in his lecture at the University of California at Berkeley. Just because he is highly intelligent doesn’t indicate that he possesses the power of logic.
Just as we are all related to one and other, we are also related to the earth and the sun. Beginning with the process of photosynthesis, plants turn the energy of the sun into a form that animals can utilize. It is channeled up through the chain of life, or food web, to us at the top. Each step of the way, only part of that energy reaches the next step. Because we are at the top of the chain, or the final stage of this process, we get the least amount of energy. That means it takes many trillions of the smallest creatures to provide us with sufficient energy to survive.
Diversity of Life
If there were only one species of the tiniest form of life and that species were made extinct, we would be quite out of luck and at the end of the great story of humans on earth. This is why we need a great diversity of life. Think of the diversity of life on earth as a bank to draw on in times of need. If one species or variety is eliminated, there are many others to fill the void left by that creature. The greater the diversity, the greater our chances of a secure future.
Start With A Short Quiz . . .
Q: What do the following statements have in common?
- The Green Revolution was a step forward for agriculture.
- Pesticides have been rigorously tested by the EPA.
- Pesticides are safe if used as labeled.
- The higher the dose of pesticide, the higher the risk.
- Pesticide residues on produce are safe because they are so low.
- Without pesticides, pest infestation would wipe out many farms.
- The benefits of pesticides outweigh the environmental costs.
- Large-scale farms are much more productive than small-scale farms.
- Organic crops are dangerous because they are fertilized with manure.
- Organic foods are more expensive than the conventional food that comes from discount stores like Costco or Wal-Mart.
- The use of genetically engineered crops will reduce pesticide usage.
- Genetically engineered food will feed the starving masses of the world.
- Vitamin-A rice will solve the problem many countries have with their eyes.
- Genetically engineered crops are fully tested for safety.
- Genetically engineered crops will be a great benefit to all farmers.
- The genetically engineered crop industry is the most regulated industry in history.
- The science of inserting genes into cells is extremely accurate.
A: All are false
1. The Green Revolution: a step forward?
Originally, farmers managed their own hybridization and were the source of all knowledge for farming, as well as saving seeds from year-to-year, exchanging seeds with neighbors both near and far. This knowledge was traditionally passed on to succeeding generations. Exchanging seeds is a form of diversification. It naturally strengthens the crop. The inverse of diversification is caused by inbreeding. Examples of inbreeding are shown in various breeds of animals that carry genetic traits making them physically weak in many ways. For humans inbreeding, or two people very closely related having children, is not only illegal, but heavily frowned upon by many religions. The same kind of physical weakness occurs in crops that are extremely similar in genetic makeup.
When thousands of acres of a crop, not just the same species and variety, but crops extremely closely related genetically, are growing together they are extremely vulnerable to pestilence. This is the key reason that pesticides are needed. It’s a version of farming that is flawed from the start. It doesn’t have a chance to success, even with pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. Year after year of using these toxic synthetic chemicals leaves the ground lifeless, hard and unable to absorb water.
Each time a pesticide is used many pests survive. With each forthcoming generation the strong survive until they have acquired total immunity to the pesticide that has been drenching the area. The same thing happens to the next pesticide that is used. By this process, job security is insured for the manufacturer of the pesticide, but it’s disastrous for the environment, farmers, workers, and consumers eating those crops. Living next to a farm that uses toxic synthetic chemicals can also be a problem if those chemicals find their way into ones well. Drift from crop dusters overspray carries a substantial distance depending on weather conditions. Dust churned up by tractors working the land can also travels miles. More is written on exposures below.
Corporate Patenting of Life
Not that long ago a person would have been considered worthy of a straight jacket if they suggested the patenting of a living entity. The common belief before biotech was that God had pretty much had the patenting of life wrapped up. But he sure got fooled, because that is exactly what has been done by genetic engineering corporations. They used to be called chemical or pesticide manufacturers, but now call themselves “Life Sciences” companies. The most notorious of these corporations is Monsanto, but there are many others with their own twist on patenting life. Search mindfully.org for Monsanto and you’ll likely find a hundred or so files.
A significant reduction of farmers’ powers has happened with the patenting of life and genetic engineering by corporations. On March 29, 2001, Percy Schmeiser, a 70-year-old Saskatchewan Canada farmer lost a suit by Monsanto accusing him of patent rights infringement. His canola plants were pollinated by pollen blowing from another farmer’s genetically engineered canola. Even though Mr. Schmeiser did not purchase the Monsanto product and had not taken seed from that other farm.
“I’ve been using my own seed for years, and now farmers like me are being told we can’t do that anymore if our neighbors are growing (genetically modified) crops that blow in,” said Percy. “Basically, the right to use our own seed has been taken away.” This is indeed an odd ruling by the Canadian courts to side with Monsanto when it is so obvious that Percy was the victim, not the criminal.
The Implications of the Percy Schmeiser Decision by E. Ann Clark, Ph.D. 14may01
E. Ann Clark is a professor of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. You can reach her at email@example.com
Monsanto Technology Agreement
In order to purchase Monsanto products, a farmer must sign the Monsanto Technology Agreement. (see Monsanto Technology Agreement from 1998) It is a legal part of the required contract in order for a farmer to purchase seed and supply from Monsanto. The farmer must agree to purchase the required products only from Monsanto and that he will not save, share or sell seeds from his crop for subsequent plantings for any purpose. This agreement is updated periodically as Monsanto finds new ways to further control the farmers. In April 2001, Monsanto added a clause requiring growers to sign away rights to legal recourse should the crop fail to perform.
Influenced by industry, and subsidized by tax dollars, government agencies promoted the Green Revolution as the cure-all that would increase farm productivity. Behind its disguise of benevolence, the so-called Green Revolution was materialized by corporations as a money-making method. This was done by taking a substantial amount of control away from farmers. The farmers’ world, a way of life that had survived and prospered for centuries, was turned on its head by these corporate powers by making the farmer dependent on chemical inputs — pesticides and fertilizers — and machines. As a result, US corporations became an extremely wealthy and powerful influence on governments, manipulating it to their bidding.
The present genetic engineering revolution is but an extension of the Green Revolution. It utilizes reductionist theory that sees all of nature as a machine to be manipulated for the benefit of humans, this benefit being mostly profit. The farmer sees none of this profit and loses more freedom with each addition connection to this unregulated and untested technology.
2. Pesticides have been rigorously tested and registered by the EPA.
Pesticides have not been tested by the EPA. They are tested by the manufacturer and the results are given to the EPA. That is, when, how and if that manufacturer feels like it. Pesticide testing is done by manufacturers and/or paid for by manufacturers. A testing company outside of the manufacturer, or “third party” is paid to do the tests. This is a great conflict of interests. There should be no connection between the payment for testing and the manufacturer. It is argued that their use third party companies is not a conflict of interest. However, when future contracts depend upon performance, it is in the best interests of that third party to provide favorable results that would allow the manufacturer to profit.
Corporations have gone so far as to establish their own testing company which has the appearance to the inexperienced of being an independent entity, or third party. They also establish lobbying organizations and front groups with “green” or consumer-friendly names such as the American Council on Science and Health, which bills itself as
In reality ACSH is heavily financed by corporations with specific and direct interest in ACSH’s chosen battles. Since it was created in 1978, it has come to the enthusiastic defense of virtually every chemical or additive backed by a major corporate interest. To make matters even more confusing for honest people trying to do the right thing, ACSH has enlisted the help of the “family doctor” and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Together they spew out almost as much industry-biased misinformation as the Ayn Rand Institute.
Even if the testing is unbiased, the chemicals tested are not the same as the final products sold in stores or to farmers. Pesticides are made of two parts by definition; active ingredients and inert ingredients. Only the active ingredient of a pesticide is tested, not its inert ingredients, which can be as much as 99.99% of the product. Inerts can be significantly more toxic than the actives. The mixture of active and inerts can have a synergistic effect of multiplying the toxicity many times beyond that of each part. Many inerts are on restricted use lists, but as part of a “registered” pesticide they are permitted. To be registered means only that they are registered and guarantees no safety or testing. The definition of “active” ingredient is that which is not inert. The definition of “inert” ingredient is that which is not active. (See the EPA definition of pesticide)
Most inerts are proprietary, meaning that consumers and farmers do not have the right to know. This secrecy is allowed by the EPA to protect industry profits. The Bush administration is working hard to reduce our right to know. All of this would be comedy, if not for the willful destruction of our health and future, and that of our environment which we are so dependent on. Pesticides are a good example of regulations that were written — in complete disregard for public health– with only industry profits in mind.
As an example of industry being responsible for testing, take a look at the behavior Monsanto used to continue selling atrazine, an herbicide with widespread use on corn. Monsanto will lie, cheat, steal, bully, infiltrate regulatory agencies and do everything imaginable to profit.
In 1985, Monsanto was ordered by EPA to conduct a study of atrazine in wells across the US. It cost $4 million, and was highly flawed. What Monsanto did was to measure the groundwater in areas known to sample deep wells in clay soils where herbicides were unlikely to turn up, instead of shallow wells in sandy soils where they were common. They were supposed to be designing the study under the guidance of the EPA. Many months went by before the EPA official made contact with the company and asked what they were doing and why hadn’t he heard from them. The response was that they had completed the study and were going to send him the results. (see Monsanto’s Dirty Tricks – Fagan and Lavelle 1996)
Scientists that tell the truth are fired – Just one of thousands of similar stories
3. Pesticides are safe if used as labeled.
Designed to Kill
One very important point that has been lost in the minds of pesticide users is that purpose pesticides were designed during WWII by Nazis to do is kill. They kill not only what is called the “target,” but also everything else that comes in contact with them. The requirement for a pesticide to be banned is generally quick death… of many people. Nothing short of that will be taken seriously. And it may take a lifetime for one or more pesticides acting on a person’s body, or even generations of lifetimes, but have no doubt in your mind that the effects will come. Again, it must be pointed out that the future generations have no choice in what they receive as their environment. Their environment includes the bodies they are born with, which are extremely vulnerable to the combinations of all the toxics they are exposed to.
The Safest Pesticide
Roundup, Monsanto’s wonder pesticide, advertised as the safest pesticide ever invented is far from safe. Little-known to the general public is the fact that it not only cause cancer, but it is also an endocrine disruptor. Roundup inhibits steroidogenesis, the making of steroid hormones, which is controlled by hormones and hormonal actions. (See Roundup Inhibits Steroidogenesis – Environmental Health Perspectives Aug00) As far as Roundup’s cancer-causing ability, studies show a clear link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (See Study Links Monsanto’s Roundup to Cancer)
Other tales of the harm caused by pesticides are endless. Lately, mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform disease (BSE), has killed people, caused the destruction of many thousands of animals and great problems with beef safety and availability. The popular media focus our attention on an bonemeal fed to cattle as the cause, but this is a cover for the strong possibility that it may have been caused by pesticides, an ex-chemical weapon designed by Nazis during WWII. (see Chemical Poisoning Scandal Behind BSE Cases)
Pesticides and Workers
Pesticide companies are required to provide material handling safety data, or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). While these are supposed to warn users of the hazards and safe handling, they barely scratch the surface regarding the hazards and handing of pesticides. These warnings are rarely even seen by the workers of pest control companies. While they must pass minimum standards before working as an applicator, the information they receive about the hazards are definitely biased. Take a look at the typical lawncare worker spraying pesticides on a lawn. It is extremely rare that they would be seen with protective garments, gloves, goggles or respirators. Finding them spraying in schools while children are present is also common.
Typical Pesticide Applicator Lacks Credibility
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said that, ‘on thousands of occasions since 1995, Terminix operated without having an employee present who had the required supervisory pesticide-safety certification and failed to give adequate written instructions for spraying pesticides. On hundreds of occasions since 1995′, Blumenthal said, ‘Terminix knowingly falsified records on pesticide use and supervision, and refused to allow the state access to records.’ Terminix International flagrantly broke Connecticut’s pesticide-safety laws more than 5,000 times in the past four years and should pay heavy fines and be forced to comply, the state attorney general said Wednesday.” – Hartford Courant 11nov99 (See Terminix aka Terminex Newspaper Excerpts and Lawsuits)
4. The higher the dose of pesticide, the higher the risk.
Not always true for pesticides or chemicals.
A pesticide or chemical may cause cancer at extremely high or low doses. It may also cause disruption of the endocrine system at high or extremely low doses. Some may have effects at both high and low doses but none in the midrange. Each has its own characteristics that are not known until specific testing is done. Almost none of the 80,000 chemicals now in existence have been tested for low-dose toxicity. In the last ten years there has been extensive research done on low-dose toxicity and effects on the endocrine system.
Timing as Important as the Dose
While the data that has accumulated on this subject is mostly from animals, human data has come from accidents or factory exposures. It is known that the timing of exposure significantly alters its effect on the body.
Many pesticides are known endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are man-made synthetic chemicals and natural phytoestrogens (naturally occurring plant-derived estrogen, a hormone) that interfere with the endocrine systems of humans and animals by mimicking, blocking and/or interfering in some manner with the natural instructions of hormones to cells. Hormones operate at minute concentrations in the body. hormone, operates at a concentration in the part per trillion range. (see what one part per trillion looks like). In days gone by toxicologists would say that the larger the dose of a toxicant, the greater the potency of the poison. We think the worst effect of these poisons is cancer. Today, with the knowledge that we have about EDs, the story is much more complicated. (read more about endocrine disruptors)
Pesticides are generally measured in part per million. That means our regulatory agencies are off the mark by six orders of magnitude, or six additional zeros too low. And industry argues that environmentalists don’t use good science! That is just not science at all.
Million 1,000,000 Billion 1,000,000,000 Trillion 1,000,000,000,000
Regulations are light years behind available science with respect to endocrine disruptors. Regulatory agencies are not only far behind the available science, but are pawns in a political game where industry holds the trump card — money.
Exposure of Field Workers
Field workers are generally given the most brief information on pesticides that they are in contact with on a daily basis. Their exposure on a continuing basis is also not accounted for in regulations. Cancers and many other health problems are common in this group of workers. The children of field workers also experience a much higher incidence of health effects from living in close proximity to the fields and from the pesticides their relatives bring home on their bodies and clothing. One study by Elizabeth Guillette showed that exposed children of workers exhibited decreases in stamina, gross and fine eye-hand coordination, 30-minute memory, and the ability to draw a person. A comparison was made between two different groups of children, one living in low-lands near the fields, the other living on higher ground, more distant from the fields. (see Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides – Elizabeth Guillette EHP Jun98)
Exposure of Children
A child’s exposure to pesticides is far greater than adults. Their daily activities include eating food with detectable levels of pesticides, drinking water with detectable levels, crawling on floors and on the ground where pesticides and other toxins accumulate, playing with animals that are treated for fleas and other pests, and having their hair treated for lice. They eat more food and drink more water as measured per unit of body weight. Their bodies are growing, undergoing rapid cellular development. This all makes them significantly more vulnerable than adults. The standards for pesticides are for the average full-grown man, not a developing child. They are not protected by pesticide regulations. The combination of exposures to pesticides and other synthetic chemicals can have a synergistic creating a resulting toxic effect many times greater than the two separately.
The following bar graph and table (from Pesticides and Inner-City Children – Philip J. Landrigan et al) clearly illustrate both the vulnerability and exposure of children to pesticides that are typically found on commercial grade produce.
Mean daily intake of total water per unit of body weight by age group and sex.
Pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables heavily consumed by young children. Supermarket warehouse data, 1990-1992.
Number with one Percent with one Number of or more or more different Number of pesticides pesticides pesticides Food samples detected detected detected Apples 542 425 78 25 Bananas 368 134 36 9 Broccoli 63 16 25 9 Cantaloupes 225 78 35 19 Carrots 252 125 50 12 Cauliflower 65 26 40 13 Celery 114 85 75 13 Cherries 90 72 80 13 Grapes 313 192 61 22 Green beans 249 95 38 20 Leaf lettuce 201 136 68 22 Oranges 237 190 80 25 Peas 191 87 46 19 Peaches 246 194 79 20 Pears 328 240 73 11 Potatoes 258 120 47 17 Spinach 163 88 54 19 Strawberries 168 138 82 17 Tomatoes 395 203 51 22 Total 4,468 2,644 59 81
The term commercial grade is used if produce is not organic. Any claim of food being natural or additive- free are meaningless with regards to it being free of pesticides. Most likely they would test positive for pesticides. Shopping at a store that sell natural and organic foods is no assurance of produce or a product being organic or pesticide free. Our only assurance of something being organic is that it be labeled as such, anything less is wishful thinking.
Children whose mothers used pesticides in the home once or twice a week were nearly 2.5 times as likely to have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Those whose mothers used pesticides on a more daily basis were 7 times more likely to have the cancer. Pregnant women exposed to pesticides by professional exterminators in their homes were three times more likely to have a child with the cancer. And children directly exposed to pesticides by professional exterminators were more than twice as likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (see Children Exposed to Pesticides Have a Seven-Fold Increased Risk of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma – Cancer 6dec00, also see Child’s Exposure To Pesticides Hikes Lymphoma Risk – UniSci 30nov00)
5. Pesticide residues on produce are safe because they are so low.
Because of low-dose toxicity, discussed above, current regulations do not offer consumers any assurance of safety in pesticides or any synthetic chemical. Imported foods are worse than domestic with respect to pesticide residues. Even though the government inspects a one of every thousand or so cases of crops, inspectors are overworked and understaffed. The new world order of so-called free trade, globalization, the WTO and the expansion of NAFTA into FTAA will have extremely negative effects on environmental and human health, workers rights, federal and state laws, labeling and a host of other issues.
Of 51 pesticides evaluated by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the U.S. National Toxicology Program as of 1990, 24 demonstrated carcinogenicity. Out of the thousands of pesticides that exist, only 37 are banned or severely restricted. The numbers of unsafe pesticide are overwhelming. It takes many years and many millions of dollars to get a pesticide to this list. The pesticide industry considers the cost of keeping a pesticide off this list as part of the cost of doing business. The deaths, cancers, deformities, birth defects, behavioral problems, ADHD, and general suffering caused by pesticides are also considered to be a part of doing business. Risk assessment is the regulatory method used to decide if a pesticide is safe. What it does is determine how many deaths are acceptable as a part of doing business. (See Risk Assessment Rachel’s Environment and Health Biweekly #706 17aug00)
6. Without pesticides, pest infestation would wipe out many farms.
But without pesticides farmer survived for thousands of years. In fact today organic farmers are doing quite well, profiting without risky pesticides, fertilizers by using methods that are actually good for the earth, those that plant and harvest the crops, and those that eat them. Here are a couple examples of the type of farming methods that have been shown to be effective in scientific studies.
In Madagascar rice yields have gone up by four times what was possible with the usual industrial agriculture. They used no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or expensive seed varieties. (see Madagascar rice trials lead to agricultural revolution – Financial Times 23jan01)
In Yunnan Province, China—genetically diversified rice crops were planted in all the rice fields in five townships in 1998 and ten townships in 1999. Disease-susceptible rice varieties planted in mixtures with resistant varieties had 89% greater yield and blast was 94% less severe than when they were grown in monoculture. Fungicidal sprays were no longer required as well. (see Genetic Diversity and Disease Control in Rice – Nature 17aug00)
There are many reasons to eat organic food.
- Protect Future Generations’ Health
- Protect Water Quality
- Preserve Topsoil
- Eliminate Health Risks
- Preserve Biodiversity
- Keep Rural Communities Health
- Provide a Safer, healthier Habitat
- Support a ‘True’ Economy
- Make Food Taste Great
One popular reason is that it should be eaten for our health, that our bodies are temples to be protected. While this is quite true, we must be reminded of the interconnectedness of our bodies with all that surrounds us. What happens to the health of the animals, plants, microorganisms, soil, oceans, and atmosphere, happens to all humans as well. There is no person on Earth who is immune to the effects of an unhealthy environment, no matter how much technology or wealth they may possess. When the food we eat is polluted, we carry that pollution in our bodies, some of it remains there and accumulates. It is passed along from generation to generation, from mother and father to children in various forms. This has been confirmed by most scientists. Then there are those who will deny it, saying that humans are immune to the numerous ailments presently troubling animals, such as physical deformities, and behavioral and developmental problems because we are biologically different. Many times these doubters have associations with toxic industries that stand to gain financially if consumers misunderstand the benefits of eating organic foods.
The most vulnerable are those children yet to be born, the embryo, as well as the young among us now.
In 1997, as a result of intense industry pressure on the FDA, many unhealthy practices were proposed as part of the national organic food standards. If not for the nearly 300,000 angry public comments sent to the FDA, industry would have prevailed, and the organic standards would have allowed the use of pesticides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones, sewage sludge, animal parts fed to animals, irradiation, and many other items that common sense prohibits. Please understand that all of these technologies are currently used in the production of commercial grade (nonorganic) food. Considering this, it is difficult to understand why past USDA secretary Dan Glickman would say that the organic label is merely a “marketing tool.” But, considering his new job at the Washington-based attorneys for Archer Daniels Midland, the self appointed ‘supermarket to the world,’ Glickman probably had his future in mind while promoting status quo of industrial farming at the expense of sustainable small family farms and organic farming. Even during the issuing of the first national organic standards in December 2000, Glickman proclaimed that the organic foods “label is not an assurance that these products are safer or more healthy than conventional products,” insinuating that organic foods are no better than commercial grade foods.
Another industry-financed highly visible campaign misinformed the public that organic food is both less nutritious than industrially-farmed food and spreads e. coli because of unclean practices by organic farming. John Stossel, co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20, recently apologized for falsifying evidence in a report that claimed organic produce is potentially more dangerous than food raised using toxic agrochemicals, antibiotics, added hormones, genetically engineered seeds and massive animal-feeding factories. The list of facts that were falsified or went unmentioned by Stossel is massive. Contrary to what Stossel told his unknowing audience, organic farming is the obvious best choice for producers, consumers, and the health and well-being of the environment.
Without having much knowledge of the food industry and its regulations, one could think that the FDA, USDA, and EPA protect consumers from the unlawful use of pesticides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones, sewage sludge, animal parts fed to animals, and irradiation. But it is the lawful use of these things that everyone should be worried about.
7. The benefits of pesticides outweigh the environmental costs.
The environmental price tag for pesticides in the USA accounted for more than $8 billion in 1992. This study was done by David Pimentel, a Cornell University entomologist. It accounted for many indirect, or hidden costs of pesticide use costs that aren’t in the cost/benefit analyses conducted by industry or government regulators. He tallied $8,123,000,000.*
In 1997, Pimentel found that the total annual benefits that biodiversity bring to us equals $319,000,000,000 in the US and $2,928,000,000,000 in the world. The categories include; Waste Recycling, Nitrogen fixation, Bioremediation, , Crop & livestock breeding, Biocontrol, Host-plant resistance, Perennial crops, Pollination, Seafood & other wild foods, Ecotourism, and Carbon dioxide sequestration.*
* Inflation must be calculated for present total.
8 Large-scale farms are much more productive than small-scale farms.
In January 1998, the 30-member USDA National Commission on Small Farms released a study that had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Entitled A Time to Act, it stated that they “are now even more convinced of the necessity to recognize the small farm as the cornerstone of our agricultural and rural economy. We feel that a sustainable rural renaissance can be anchored in a vibrant, dynamic, small farm sector and we believe that the Commission’s recommendations, if implemented, will contribute to this renaissance.”
The Commission’s previous report in 1979 by Secretary Bergland, A Time to Choose, had warned that “…unless present policies and programs are changed so that they counter, instead of reinforce or accelerate the trends towards ever-larger farming operations, the result will be a few large farms controlling food production in only a few years.” So, why did they wait 20 years to tell us something we already knew. And quite frankly, it was known a long time before 1979!
Indeed, as Dr. Peter Rosset* states in his paper “Small Is Bountiful” in The Ecologist, December 1999, “For more than a century, economists have predicted the demise of the small farm, which they label “backward, unproductive and inefficient”. But in fact, far from being stuck in the past, small-farm agriculture provides a productive, efficient and ecological vision for the future.”
* Dr. Peter Rosset is Co-Director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, a leading progressive think tank and education-for-action center focusing on food as a human right and re-shaping our global food system to make it more socially just and environmentally sustainable. He is a food rights activist, agroecologist and rural development specialist with a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
Dr. Rosset’s title was a play on the title of E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered (1973 Harper Collins Publishers). In it he wrote that “men organized in small units will take better care of their bit of land or other natural resources than anonymous companies or megalomanic governments which pretend to themselves that the whole universe is their legitimate quarry.” The mega-farm is a place where responsibility is lost. Through the passage of money from one entity to the next, each step reduces the awareness of that connection between man and land. Schumacher says, ” the market is the institutionalization of individualism and non-responsibility. Neither buyer nor seller is responsible for anything but himself.”
Dr. Walter Goldschmidt, now professor emeritus of UC Berkeley and UCLA, schools of anthropology, studied this issue more than a half century ago. He discovered that where the predominant farms were large-scale, there was a highly negative effect on the towns surrounding that community. The contrary was true in communities with smaller-scale family farms, where the local economies were healthy and vibrant. In general, the signs of a healthy community were present in the communities with small farms, and absent from those with large farms. Where larger farms were found there was greater decay in the surrounding towns with regards to all aspects of life. They have seen a breakdown of the rural way of life; it’s families’ makeup, social attitudes and solidarity, and the towns’ infrastructure. Dependence on technologies to solve problems aided large corporate interests in carving out increasingly larger pieces of the farming income pie. In 1937, farming income was 18% below that of 1929, but International Harvester made record-breaking profits.
“It carries with it the promise of more food for the consumer, cheaper production, more income for agriculture and therefore a better life. Wherever the industrial revolution has touched, it has carried this promise of greater wealth and leisure for humanity. Wherever it has touched it has, ironically, carried with it the threat of estrangement, depersonalization, and impoverishment. It carries now to agriculture and rural society both this promise and this threat. Yet the enrichment can be assured only if the impoverishment is prevented. It is for that reason that the principal of equity takes on particular significance in the formulation of rural policy.” — Goldschmidt, W. 1978. As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness. Glencoe, IL, The Free Press, 1947.
9 Organic crops are dangerous because they are fertilized with manure.
In fact, exactly the opposite is true.
Nonorganic crops have a wide variety of toxins legally applied to them, while they are strictly prohibited on organics crops. In 1997, the USDA authored new standards for organic farming. The proposed standards were heavily influenced by a wide range of corporate industrial farming industry groups wanting to be able to use things such as sewage sludge, pesticides, irradiation, antibiotics, and genetic engineering. The outcry from the public overwhelmed the USDA with the greatest response it has ever received to any proposal. It got angry responses from 275,000 consumers demanding tougher rules. They criticized the standards proposed by the USDA as being far too weak and compromising the integrity of organic food.
Sewage sludge is the material left after raw human sewage cycles through wastewater treatment plants. That includes anything that goes down a drain in all residences, businesses, and industries included in the system. Homeowners regularly dump leftover paint thinners and strippers, to save money, some businesses such as drycleaners illegally dump used dry-cleaning fluid containing Carbon disulfide, N-hexane, toluene (methyl benzene), and trichloroethylene, and industries that make all the toxic chemicals regularly do the same.
Sewage sludge is categorized into Class A (treated to remove all detectable contaminants), and Class B (partially treated), which makes up the bulk of sludge that is spread directly onto farmland. According to the EPA, about 3 million dry tons of sludge were spread across the US in 2000. The amount is expected to rise to 4 million tons, which is 48 percent of the total amount of sludge produced by 2010.
If you call your local health department, they will tell you that sludge spreading, if done according to regulations, is perfectly legal and perfectly safe. But in 1991, Congress deemed sludge too dangerous to dump in oceans. Many municipalities rely totally on field application to dispose of hundreds of thousands of tons of sludge each year. During the year 2000, Kern County, California alone took about 30 percent of the sludge generated statewide, or roughly 250,000 tons.*
In the US, over half of the sewage sludge produced annually in the United States is applied to land. Sludges are treated to reduce odors and pathogens and their metal contents are regulated, but the standards were written by or heavily influenced by the industry. They can contain POPs (persistent organic pollutants) such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) at rates 10-100 times higher than levels common in Europe.
The US has the most relaxed standards for metals among developed nations. Standards for heavy metals are up to 100 times higher than any other country has ever proposed. See the following table.
Table: Heavy metal contaminant standards
Country Year Cd Cu Cr Ni Pb Zn Hg . European Community a(3) 1986 1–3 50–140 100–150a 30–75 50–300 150–300 1–1.5 France (1) 1988 2 100 150 50 100 300 1 Germany b(1) 1992 1.5 60 100 50 100 200 1 Italy (1) 3 100 150 50 100 300 - Spain (1) 1990 1 50 100 30 50 150 1 The Netherlands c(4): Clean soil reference values 0.8 36 100 35 85 140 0.3 Intervention values 12 190 380 210 530 720 10 United Kingdom d(5) 1989 3 135 400a 75 300 200 e 1 Denmark (1) 1990 0.5 40 30 15 40 100 0.5 Finland (1) 1995 0.5 100 200 60 60 150 0.2 Norway (6) 1 50 100 30 50 150 1 Sweden (1) 0.5 40 30 15 40 100 0.5 United States f(7) 1993 20 750 1500 210 150 1400 8 a Values are currently being revised. b Values are for soil pHs > 6. At pH 5-6, the Cd and Zn limits are 1.0 and 150 mg/kg, respectively. c Soil cleanup levels which also apply to agricultural land amended with sewage sludge. Concentrations less than the clean soil reference are considered clean soil. d Values shown are for soil pHs 6-7. Other values apply at pH 5-6 and >7 (U.K. DoE, 1989). e Changed following Independent Scientific Committee recommendations (see text). f Calculated from maximum cumulative pollutant loading limits mixed into soil plow layer. Soil background concentrations are not taken into account. source of table *
The rate at which sewage sludge is applied to farmlands is quite amazing. It can be seen covering many acres in depths measuring many inches and more. The stench from this has driven people to abandon there homes within miles of the sludge applications, killed nearby trees, even killed people*. I have listened to the personal testimony of such people. There voices would break up, and tears would come to their eyes while speaking to the state regulatory people. They would tell of near-total despair at the lack of concern by these regulatory agencies, and about not being able to even have their windows open, especially during the 90-100° F days of summer. The value of their properties sinks to almost nothing because the stench travels for miles, and depends on which way the wind blows, if at all. And if one thinks about the property value situation, the lower the value goes, the better for these inconsiderate neighbors that use sludge to fertilize their land in spite of the environmental damage and human suffering it causes.
The bottom line here is that sewage sludge is illegal on organic crops. Yes, manure is used on organic farms, but it’s composted and applied at rates that are far below what is the norm for nonorganic farms. And the toxins that come with sludge can and do become a part of the crops grown with it.
Toxic Waste in Fertilizers
The EPA has only partial authority to regulate the fertilizer industry because states determine rules for all fertilizers except those made with recycled hazardous materials. And only two or three states have limits on toxic wastes in fertilizers. It can contain a wide variety of toxins such as arsenic, dioxin, polybromated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), zinc sulfate, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and other toxic metals.
Again, the bottom line is that this type of fertilizer is strictly prohibited in organic farming.
10. The use of genetically engineered crops will reduce pesticide usage.
According to Dr. Charles Benbrook, of the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, Sandpoint Idaho, Monsanto’s genetically engineered soybeans use significantly more pesticide than conventional soybeans.
RR soybeans clearly require more herbicides than conventional soybeans, despite claims to the contrary. This conclusion is firmly supported by unbiased field-level comparisons of the total pounds of herbicide active ingredient applied on an average acre of RR soybeans in contrast to conventional soybeans. Part I presents such field-level data for 1998, drawing on official U.S. Department of Agriculture pesticide use data. It also explains how Monsanto has manipulated comparative data on RR and conventional soybean herbicide use in ways that fall between misleading and dishonest.
Rates of application per acre are the key variable that explains why RR soybeans require more herbicides than other varieties. More than a dozen soybean herbicides are applied at an average rate of less than 0.1 pound active ingredient per acre. Roundup, on the other hand, is usually applied on soybeans at about 0.75 pounds per acre in a single spray and most acres are now treated more than once. According to Monsanto, about one-quarter of RR soybean acres will be treated three times with glyphosate, in systems requiring well over 1.5 pounds of herbicides.
Total herbicide use on RR soybeans in 1998 was 30 percent or more greater on average than on conventional varieties in six states, including Iowa where about one-sixth of the nation’s soybeans are grown. RR soybean herbicide use was 10 percent or more great in three more states. Use on RR soybeans was modestly lower in five states. Use was significantly lower only in Michigan, where less than 3 percent of the nation’s soybeans are grown.
Actual per acre herbicide use data in 1998, as measured field-by-field by USDA, was used to assess the distribution of herbicide use along a continuum from the most herbicide dependent systems to the least dependent. On the 30 percent of soybean fields managed with the most herbicide-intensive systems under conventional/conservation tillage, including essentially all RR soybeans planted under conventional/conservation tillage, at least 1.7 times more herbicide was applied per acre compared to the 30 percent of soybean acres that required the least amount of herbicides – fields where farmers relied mostly on the low-dose sulfonylurea and imidazolinone herbicides and which were clearly not planted to RR soybeans.
When total herbicide use per acre is compared at the tail ends of the distribution (i.e., the top 10 percent of acres versus the bottom 10 percent), the difference is much more striking, especially on fields under conventional/conservation tillage. The most heavily treated fields, most of which were planted to RR soybeans, required at least 34 times more herbicide than fields planted to non-RR varieties at the low-end of the distribution.
Under no-till the most heavily treated 30 percent of fields required twice the herbicide as the 30 percent of acres at the low-end of the distribution. Most RR fields fall in this top 30 percent and essentially none are in the lower 30 percent.
Looking ahead to crop year 2001, it is likely that the average acre of RR soybeans will be treated with about 0.5 pounds more herbicide active ingredient than conventional soybeans. As a result over 20 million more pounds of herbicides will be applied this crop year. In addition, the difference between herbicide use on RR and conventional soybean varieties is clearly growing and for several reasons.
Intense herbicide price competition, triggered by the commercial success of RR soybeans, has reduced the average cost per acre treated with most of today’s popular herbicides by close to 50 percent since the introduction of RR soybeans. In response farmers are applying more active ingredients at generally higher rates. But heightened reliance on herbicides, especially Roundup, has accelerated the shift in weed species in ways that is undermining the efficacy of Roundup and requiring farmers to add new products to their control programs. These trends increase the risk of resistance and will ultimately lead to less reliable and more costly systems.
Benbrook, CM. Troubled Times Amid Commercial Success for Roundup Ready Soybeans: Glyphosate Efficacy is Slipping and Unstable Transgene Expression Erodes Plant Defenses and Yields. AgBioTech InfoNet Technical Paper n.4 3may01
In increasing numbers, Roundup Ready-resistant crops are passing their resistance over to weeds surrounding them, by a process called horizontal transfer. Monsanto originally claimed that this would not happen. More applications and higher concentrations of Roundup are needed to control the weeds as seasons pass. In short time Roundup will be totally ineffective and will have polluted many streams and groundwater aquifers, plus the annihilation of countless species of beneficial insects and microbes. (Hall, LM, Huffman, J and Topinka, K. Pollen flow between herbicide tolerant canola (Brassica napus) is the cause of multiple resistant canola volunteers. 2000 Meeting of the Weed Society of America, Volume 40, 2000)
The law does not protect us
Sewage Sludge, Pros & Cons – Environmental Science & Technology 1oct00
Theo Colborn study of gulls in Great lakes – behavioral problems
Women eating fish from Great Lakes
Dioxin Sludge Rules
In December 1999 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed revised standards for concentrations of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds in treated sewage sludge that is recycled for use as fertilizer. The proposed rule would set an upper limit of 300 parts per trillion toxic equivalents for sludge that is used as fertilizer. The new rule would require all facilities to test sludge for dioxins before it is applied to the land, except waste treatment plants treating less than one million gallons per day and small businesses that prepare less than 290 dry metric tons of sewage sludge annually. Facilities that find amounts above the proposed limit would be required to monitor annually for dioxins; facilities finding less would have to monitor once every five years. http://ehpnet1.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2000/108-3/forum.html#beat
How ’bout them apples? – Pesticides in Children’s Food – EWG Feb99
Roundup is as Safe as Water
Poisoning Young Minds – EHP Jun99
Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico – EHP Jun98
Child’s Exposure To Pesticides Hikes Lymphoma Risk – UniSci 30nov00
Chemicals in our bodies
They Are What They Eat: Kids’ Food Consumption and Pesticides – EWG 25feb99
Antibiotic Resistance From Down On The Chicken Farm – FDA Consumer Magazine Jan/Feb01
“How Safe is the Food Children Eat?”: Dr. Lynn R. Goldman – Chicago Tribune 12nov00
Pesticide Residues on Fruits and Vegetables Heavily Consumed by Young Children – Landrigan, et al EHP 3 Jun99
The Unique Vulnerability of Infants and Children to Pesticides – Landrigan, et al EHP Jun99
EPA ignores the BIG PICTURE: Cumulative Toxic Risks Overlooked From Our Children’s Toxic Legacy John Wargo 1996 Yale Univ. Press
Agent Orange Triggers Infertility Rising in Vietnam – XINHUA 12jan01
Dioxin levels in breast milk higher with fat consumption – AP 3jan01
PESTICIDES Use, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools – GAO 29nov99
Agriculture and Food Security: Environmental Constraints – FAO / Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 13nov96
Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture – Peter M. Rosset, Ph.D., Director, Food First Sep99