Why are farmers using so many pesticides and herbicides?
In past practices, farmers would alternately rest fields, rotate their crops or plow under cover-crops in order to replenish the soil. These practices also helped to maintain the mineral content of the soil. But during the latter half of the 20th century, the old ways of sustainable farming practices were replaced by industrial farm operations which are dependent on chemical fertilizers (consisting mainly of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus), along with pesticides and herbicides in order to produce food for the world.
Due to erosion and the practice of monoculture our top soils have become thin and depleted of trace minerals like zinc, copper, iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, etc. Without these minerals in the soil, farmers will still achieve high production, but they will be growing deficient foods. If the minerals aren’t in the soil, the plant is not able to manufacture them on their own, when we eat these plants our bodies will be deficient as well as we cannot manufacture them either. One example of this modern day deficiency can be found in an apple. Today it may hold only half of the nutrients of an apple produced 40 years ago. Although we should still eat fruits and vegetables, the truth is that we would need to consume many times more of them in order to get the nutrients we need.
The health harms from chemical pesticides and herbicides
These chemicals aren’t benign in terms of human health and they certainly don’t stay where you put them. Agricultural chemicals routinely wind up in groundwater supplies, the air, and even inside our food. In fact, researchers from the Medical Research Laboratory of the University Hospital San Cecilio in Spain recently detected an average of 11 pesticides in the blood of 280 18- to 23-year-olds tested. Higher levels of the pesticide vinclozolin, a chemical commonly used on imported grapes, were strongly associated with malformed sperm. Other chemicals were linked to low sperm count.
According to the book, ‘Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis‘ by Christopher Cook, American industrial farming uses close to one billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides (annually)to produce a truly toxic harvest. Since the 1970’s, studies have found more than 139 different pesticide residues in groundwater in the United States showing up most frequently in corn and soybean growing regions. One study of a Nebraska aquifer found numerous pesticides at “lifetime health advisory levels”. Atrazine, which is America’s most-used farm pesticide, and is spayed on cornfields, was found in 100% of water samples. Some pesticides were found at levels considered unsafe for aquatic life or drinking water. In Iowa, where agricultural activity goes hand in hand with the extensive use of herbicides to control weeds, toxic chemicals are found in roughly half of the groundwater sampled, according to the U. S. Geological Survey. In California, state regulators detected pesticides in 95% of some 100 locations in the Central Valley with more than half of these sites exceeding safe levels for aquatic life and human consumption.
Pesticides may cause acute and delayed health effects in those who are exposed to them ranging from simple irritation of the skin and eyes to more severe symptoms such as affects on the nervous system, mimicking hormones causing reproductive problems, and also causing cancer. A 2007 systematic review found that “most studies on non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia showed positive associations with pesticide exposure” and thus concluded that the use of pesticides should be decreased. Strong evidence also exists for other negative outcomes from pesticide exposure including neurological, birth defects, fetal death, and neuro-developmental disorders. In a recent study, researchers concluded that children who had been exposed to insecticides indoors were 47% more likely to have leukemia and 43% more likely to have lymphoma. Although leukemia and lymphoma are rare — leukemia affects about five in 100,000 children in the United States — they are among the common types of childhood cancers. “Childhood cancers are increasing year by year in this country, (and) there is disagreement about what is contributing to that, but pesticides have always been on the radar,” said Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who led the new research. The study will be published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics. Link to article
The American Medical Association recommends limiting exposure to pesticides and using safer alternatives: “Particular uncertainty exists regarding the long-term effects of low-dose pesticide exposures. Current surveillance systems are inadequate to characterize potential exposure problems related either to pesticide usage or pesticide-related illnesses. Considering these data gaps, it is prudent to limit pesticide exposures and to use the least toxic chemical pesticide or non-chemical alternative.” The World Health Organization and the UN Environment Program estimate that each year, 3 million workers in agriculture in the developing world experience severe poisoning from pesticides, about 18,000 of whom die. According to one study, as many as 25 million workers in developing countries may suffer mild pesticide poisoning yearly. In 2006 and 2008, the world used approximately 5.2 billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides Frequently asked questions regarding pesticides from the Environmental Working Group
Organic Produce- is grown without pesticides and herbicides. The soils have been organically enriched and don’t require chemical fertilizers. The farmers growing these products use sustainable farming practices like crop rotation and composting which keeps the soils from becoming depleted of nutrients. These soils will have earthworms, as well as other helpful critters and bacteria, which break down the nutrients in the soil making them more accessible to the plant. Organic farmers also use natural and bio-diverse mechanisms to deter harmful insects, which helps to protect the land, the people, and animals which inhabit it. Food produced from these healthier, more nutrient dense soils are naturally higher in mineral and antioxidant content. Furthermore, they will not have the concerns fungicides lingering on your foods and they will not have been radiated which may cause damage to the enzymes within. Although these foods sometimes will cost more, the long-term benefits to your health may be worth it.
- Organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 40% more antioxidants
- Organic produce have higher levels of beneficial minerals like iron and zinc
- Milk from pastured, organic herds contained up to 90% more anti-oxidants
Because most of the produce at your local grocery store (even organic) has traveled an average of 1500 miles, it is important to try to buy your food locally whenever you can. Local foods are fresher and contain more nutrients than those which have been picked before ripeness just to travel far to sit on a store shelf, they aren’t coated with fungicides to prevent spoilage and may even be less expensive.
By encouraging local commerce, small scale farmers are able to benefit by not having to compete with giant corporations which are smothering them in the national marketplace. As well as the fact that if we all made an attempt to eat locally, it would have a big effect on the greenhouse gases which are generated during all of the transportation and refrigeration that is required to get food to the stores near you. Consider joining a consumer agriculture program (CSA) where for a monthly fee, you will get a weekly box of fresh, organic, locally-raised produce delivered to a nearby pickup site. Many of them offer pastured raised meats and eggs as well. Look to farmers markets for fresh in-season produce. Consider growing your own vegetable or herb gardens. If your community allows backyard chickens, think about making this investment in order to have fresh eggs and chickens to feed your family.
Organic Food Resources
CHEMICAL FREE LAWN/GARDEN CARE:
By some estimates, our chemically addicted lawns are as polluting to our health and to waterways as chemical agriculture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that Americans apply 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides every year in order to get lush green yards, and surveys have found that because their use is so heavy, those chemicals can drift into our homes—even if they started out on a neighbor’s lawn and not our own.
However, like many problems for which chemicals seem like a quick, easy fix, lawn problems can usually be corrected without nerve-damaging and ecohazardous chemicals like glyphosate (used in Roundup) and 2,4-D (used in products made by Scotts and Weed B Gone). Green lawn care tips
The researchers concluded that children who had been exposed to insecticides indoors were 47% more likely to have leukemia and 43% more likely to have lymphoma. Although leukemia and lymphoma are rare — leukemia affects about five in 100,000 children in the United States — they are among the common types of childhood cancers. “Childhood cancers are increasing year by year in this country, (and) there is disagreement about what is contributing to that, but pesticides have always been on the radar,” said Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who led the new research. Read more here.