Scientists are observing with increasing alarm that some very common hormone-mimicking chemicals can have grotesque effects.
These days there is also growing evidence linking this class of chemicals to problems in humans. These include breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early menstruation and even diabetes and obesity.
Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says that a congenital defect called hypospadias — a misplacement of the urethra — is now twice as common among newborn boys as it used to be. He suspects endocrine disruptors, so called because they can wreak havoc with the endocrine system that governs hormones.
“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting rather than growing straight,” Mr. Herr said of the 2009 incident on his vegetable farm in Lowell, Ind. He is convinced the chemical, as well as another herbicide called dicamba, had wafted through the air from farms nearly two miles away.
Mr. Herr recalled the incident because he is concerned that the Dow Chemical company is on the verge of winning regulatory approval for corn that is genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without harming the corn stalks.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled a Scrooge move just before Christmas. The agency published an entry in the Federal Register declaring that it will end its attempt at mandatory restrictions on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture...
Inaction has consequences: According to the vast majority of microbiologists and public health experts, restrictions on agricultural uses are key to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics as well as to preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA and salmonella Heidelberg (cause of last summer's record-breaking ground turkey recall). And it's no small dosage: Every year 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to animals -- often via their feed. That figure represents 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S.
Rootworms in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska are suspected of developing tolerance to the plants’ insecticide, based on documented cases of severe crop damage and reports from entomologists, the EPA said in a memo dated Nov. 22 and posted Nov. 30 on a government website. Monsanto’s program for monitoring suspected cases of resistance is “inadequate,” the EPA said.
Mother Jones noted, an independent panel convened by the agency to examine the herbicide's cancer risk provided "a list of cancers for which there is ‘suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential': ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, hairy-cell leukemia, and thyroid cancer" -- with the evidence for a connection to thyroid cancer singled out as "strong."
Too bad solid, scientific research hasn't been enough to drive that nail home. A 2010 United Nations study (PDF) concluded that organic and other sustainable farming methods that come under the umbrella of what the study's authors called "agroecology" would be necessary to feed the future world. Two years earlier, a U.N. examination (PDF) of farming in 24 African countries found that organic or near-organic farming resulted in yield increases of more than 100 percent. Another U.N.-supported report entitled "Agriculture at a Crossroads" (PDF), compiled by 400 international experts, said that the way the world grows food will have to change radically to meet future demand. It called for governments to pay more attention to small-scale farmers and sustainable practices -- shooting down the bigger-is-inevitably-better notion that huge factory farms and their efficiencies of scale are necessary to feed the world.
Suspicious of the political motives of the U.N.? Well, there's a study that came out in 2010 from the all-American National Research Council. Written by professors from seven universities, including the University of California, Iowa State University, and the University of Maryland, the report finds that organic farming, grass-fed livestock husbandry, and the production of meat and crops on the same farm will be needed to sustain food production in this country.
At the LTAR fields in Adair County, the (LTAR) runs four fields: one managed with the Midwest-standard two-year corn-soy rotation featuring the full range of agrochemicals; and the other ones organically managed with three different crop-rotation systems. The chart below records the yield averages of all the systems, comparing them to the average yields achieved by actual conventional growers in Adair County:
So, in yield terms, both of the organic rotations featuring corn beat the Adair County average and came close to the conventional patch. Two of the three organic rotations featuring soybeans beat both the county average and the conventional patch; and both of the organic rotations featuring oats trounced the county average. In short, Borlaug's claim of huge yield advantages for the chemical-intensive agriculture he championed just don't pan out in the field.
The odds that most of us laypeople will have any opportunity to influence this year's Farm Bill process are looking awfully slim. Sure, there's still a chance the current, nearly opaque supercommittee process, and the piece of it now known as "the Secret Farm Bill," could break down. If that happens, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) said last week:
It could proceed under a more normal legislative process through both the House and Senate committees early next year, or the current farm bill could be extended for a year, with the committees coming back to work on a new farm bill in 2013.
But it's also still very possible that the Farm Bill will be passed -- if not in secret, now that the word is out, then at least through a process that will put a pane of thick, soundproof glass between us and our lawmakers.
A growing body of medical research at leading universities and government laboratories suggests that processed foods and sugary drinks made by the likes of PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) aren’t simply unhealthy. They can hijack the brain in ways that resemble addictions to cocaine, nicotine and other drugs.
“The data is so overwhelming the field has to accept it,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”
Similar stories prompted the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, a new group that has grown out of the Hudson Valley in New York, to survey more than 1,000 young farmers nationwide in an effort to identify the pitfalls that are keeping a new generation of Americans from going into agriculture.
“Everyone wants young farmers to succeed — we all know that,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, who oversaw the survey. “But no one was addressing this big elephant in the room, which was capital and land access.”