“ In effect, then, to establish tolerances is to authorize contamination of public food supplies with poisonous chemicals in order that the farmer and the processor may enjoy the benefit of cheaper production—then to penalize the consumer by taxing him to maintain a policing agency to make certain that he shall not get a lethal dose. But to do the policing job properly would cost money beyond any legislator’s courage to appropriate, given the present volume and toxicity of agricultural chemicals. So in the end the luckless consumer pays his taxes but gets his poisons regardless.” ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962
Modern pesticides and herbicides emerged post World War II, many designed for warfare, their toxicity tested on insects. Those chemicals that killed insects were marketed as a means to increase agricultural production. “Feed the Hungry” was the mantra. Early chemicals introduced in the 1940s, including DDT, diedrin and related aldrin, eldrin, heptoclor/chlordane, 2-4-D (dioxin), were declared the answer to an ever-increasing number of destructive insects and weeds taking a toll on agriculture. When insects developed resistance, chemicals far more toxic than their predecessors were synthesized, marketed and spread throughout the world, but nowhere more than the US. The toxicity of these chemicals was only understood over decades. Dead birds and fish, eggs that failed to hatch, illness in workers employed in chemical production and town residents exposed to chemicals dumped in their water and soil.
In the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring revealed the devastating effects of these environmental chemicals on wildlife, water, soil, plants, in short all living things. Carson enumerated the large body of evidence revealing the toxicity of these chemicals. She pointed out that nearly half of the 180 or so major insect families of concern in the US were accidentally imported from abroad on foreign plants. Given the inevitable development of insect resistance, she cited studies showing that most effective means of controlling burgeoning insect populations was to stop foreign plant importation and limit the food supply of destructive insects naturally: biological control. Insects and plants now considered destructive or simply a nuisance on our lawns are part of an intricate biological system that evolved over millions of years. Kill off one species of insect or weed, another predator takes over with voracity. All in the name of a dire need to increase agricultural production at a time when over-production was a problem. In the 1960s, farmers were being paid to leave their fields fallow. Carson died of breast cancer not long after the publication of her seminal book. In her time, 500 new chemicals a year reached the market. Between 1930 and the 1960s, highly toxic chlorinated hydrocarbons were manufactured and used prolifically. Toxic emissions from industry increased, products made for modern living contained a plethora of toxic chemicals.
Post World War II, we changed the way we live. Lawns were groomed and adorned with shrubs and plants that required fertilizers, weed-killers, and pesticides. Housewives reached for convenient packaged foods, reveled in plastic for storage, and reached for Lysol to clean and disinfect their homes. Secretaries were pleased with carbonless paper for easy replication. Electric transformers filled with PCB mixtures increased the efficiency of power transmission. The harmful chemicals contained in these products that persist in our blood and that of our children were invisible. Better Living Through Chemistry.
Silent Spring sparked the modern environmental movement. The EPA was formed in 1970 to regulate the chemicals allowed on the market. In 1972, the Clean Water Act, first established more than two decades earlier, was reorganized and expanded, regulating discharges of pollutants into waters and establishing quality standards for surface water. The Clean Air Act set limits on toxic air emissions, established standards to assure air quality to protect public health and welfare, and regulated emissions of hazardous air pollutants.
Today we must be protected? Not so. By the 1990s, the chemicals of greatest concern remained those used in earlier decades, potent persistent organic pollutants (POPs), named due to the fact that they persist in the environment, wildlife and in our bodies. These chemicals bioaccumulate over a lifetime and levels are increased from tiny amounts in ocean plankton, consumed by small fish, consumed by large fish, by birds, wildlife and humans. For example, the levels of POPs in gulls are magnified 250,000 times over the levels present in plankton and tiny lifeforms. Banned decades ago, the blood of every child born today contains these toxic chemicals due to their persistence in the environment and in our bodies.
Today we do not use fewer chemicals than in Carson’s time. Over 80,000 are approved for use with no information on long-term effects on wildlife or humans, on our children and future generations. We are the experiment, the test subjects.
Agriculture is now industrial mono-culture, acres of one crop, that breeds insects unlike small diverse farms. All in the name of increased GDP, foods are grown for export, the gleaming global economy, the spawn of corporate greed. Now we are told that the world needs genetically-modified (GMO) foods, no harm in them. Feed the world. Alleviate poverty. No matter how one feels about the untested effects of genetically-engineered foods, or the lack of thought about it at all when grocery shopping, consider the chemicals used to grow that crop, what one consumes. Consider the patented seeds that must be purchased into perpetuity by the farmer rather than seeds grown and harvested over generations adjusting naturally to the environment, strong and adaptable without chemicals that maintain the rich soil biota, evolved over millennia to nurture the soil and plants. GMO crops are regularly sprayed with chemicals (RoundUp or glyphosate) to kill off weeds and insects while the genetically-modified plant is resistant and grows for harvest. Weeds and insects have become resistant.
Dow recently introduced a chemical cocktail “Enlist Duo” to be used on GMO crops, a mixture of glyphosate and 2,4-D (a dioxin, one of the ingredients in Agent Orange), now approved for use in 15 states. Dow claims this form of dioxin is safe, yet who would believe there is a safe dose of the most potent toxin known to man? The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies 2,4-D as possibly carcinogenic because there is “strong evidence that 2,4-D induces oxidative stress that can operate in humans and moderate evidence that 2,4-D causes immunosuppression, based on in-vivo and in-vitro studies.” This agency classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic.” Exposure to both chemicals has separately been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. As of October 2015, at least 700 personal injury non-Hodgkin lymphoma lawsuits were pending against Monsanto. The true effects will not be known for decades, perhaps generations. George Orwell could not envision the inconceivable future of food, of the planet, in 2016.
What is GDP and how does it benefit us? This corporate-generated number that assigns success or lack thereof to the economies of countries, has nothing to do with true productivity or quality of life. It makes no note of the poverty induced by industrial farms, or of the cost of chemicals eliminating the entire bee population. Without these insects, no food can be grown. Vandana Shiva, environmental activist and anti-globalization author from India, notes that bees contribute 200 billion Euros to the world economy which is unnoticed by corporations and economists, or calculation of the GDP. It makes no note of the primary effect of POPs, a host of chemicals now termed endocrine disruptors, is on the developing embryo of humans and wildlife. The corporations claim that GMO crops produce significantly higher yields, greater productivity, better lives. Yet, this is not true.
“Food is not just a matter of volume; it is also about nutritional value and quality. Biodiversity in agriculture produces more nutritional value per hectare than intensive farming with chemicals. We could feed India twice if we used the Navdanya model [organic, diversified farming]. We could feed the global population twice. Now we are seven billion people and Monsanto projects nine billion. We could even feed fourteen in a sustainable way without harming the ecosystems.” ~Vandana Shiva
What is quality of life worth? Our Health? Uncontaminated water, air, and food? Everything.
US consumers of food might watch the trends abroad, the international response to GMOs and the profits of Monsanto and Dow. After a traumatic earthquake in 2010, farmers in Haiti were graciously sent Monsanto GMO seeds. Local farmers in the most dire situation were quick to understand the implications and burned the seed rather than accept the “gift.” We in the US eat herbicide-ridden food that 30 countries have banned. Over 80% of foods lining the shelves in grocery stores contain GMOs. Yet, we remain silent. What can I do? I try to read labels in the grocery store, avoid these foods if I can afford it. What does “natural” mean? GMO content is unlabeled. Just do the best you can.
In truth, we can’t afford to eat this food anymore than residents of Flint, Michigan can drink water from their river. That river and others in the state are well known to contain the toxic outflow of past chemical production of Dow Chemical Company. The idea that water for the community could be drawn from the river without testing for heavy metals in water spilling from the faucet is unthinkable. Yet some tidy executive approved the decision to draw city water from the river laden with corrosive chemicals that leached lead lining the pipes into the blood and bones of children, while the executive’s family likely acquired water from elsewhere. Amid furious reports on the astounding crisis, the heavy metal lead is the one concern while no one mentions the corrosive, toxic chemicals in the water as though innocuous. Spilling into the Flint River are the waters of Tittabawasee River that runs through Midland Michigan. In 1916, Dow Chemical began to produce phenol beside the Tittabawassee, then a host of other toxic, caustic chemicals, including dioxins and PCBs. There were numerous accidental spills and rampant intentional dumping, thus these chemicals that now pollute the Tittabawassee, its the floodplain – now a Superfund site – and waters downstream, the Flint River.
Who do you trust? I’ll trust the ancestors who protected their clean spring water, located the back-house and rubbish far away and never would have been taken in by the folly of buying food from an unseen producer thousands of miles away what you and your local community can provide for yourselves. The ancestors would not pay taxes to fund a environmental policing bureaucracy that determines how much poison each person is allowed. Rastafarians believe that organic food is more nutritious, not only because it is grown without chemicals, but due to the love and care of the farmer from the time the seed is planted, over the life of the plant, eaten with gratitude for the harvest.
Modern agriculture delivers poisons, destroys natural habitats, diversity, and pollutes our land, water, air, food, and our blood.
There can be no greater disaster.
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” ~Edward O Wilson
“The worst thing that will probably happen—in fact is already well underway—is not energy depletion, economic collapse, conventional war, or the expansion of totalitarian governments. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired in a few generations. The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.” ~Edward O Wilson