by André Leu
The greatest myth is that government regulatory authorities ensure agricultural poisons are used safely and cause no adverse health or environmental problems.
History shows a consistent failure of regulatory authorities to prevent the contamination of the environment and human health by products previously said to be safe such as Asbestos, Lead, Mercury, Dioxins, PCBs, DDT, Dieldrin and other Persistent Organic Pollutants. These products were not (and are still not in many cases) withdrawn until decades after good scientific evidence was presented to demonstrate their damage.
Regulatory authorities around the world seem to be ignoring a large body of published science showing that the current methods of determining the safety of the agricultural poisons are grossly inadequate.
A. Environmental Fate
Pesticides do not just pollute our food; they poison our drinking water and air.
In 1999, Swiss research demonstrated that some of the rain falling on Europe contains such high levels of pesticides that it would be illegal to supply it as drinking water.11 Rain over Europe is laced with atrazine, alochlor, 2,4-D and other common agricultural chemicals sprayed onto crops. A 1999 study of rainfall in Greece found one or more pesticides in 90% of 205 samples taken. Atrazine was measurable in 30% of the samples.12
Atrazine interferes with the endocrine system.8 It causes tumors of the mammary glands, uterus, and ovaries in animals.13 Studies suggest that it is one of a number of agricultural chemicals that cause cancer in humans.14, 15
European regulatory authorities have decided to ban Atrazine in 2006 because of the recent evidence showing widespread contamination at levels that cause serious health problems. Authorities around the world, including the USA and Australia have decided to ignore the overwhelming body of science about the adverse effects of this chemical.
B. Epidemiology and Scientific Testing
Most of the biocides used in farming are synthetic chemicals that have never existed before. Scientists are continuing to find serious unintended consequences on the environment and human health. An abundance of published scientific research links commonly used pesticides such as Malathion, Diazinon, Chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates as well as the carbamates, synthetic pyrethroids and herbicides to disruptions the hormone, nervous and immune systems. They are also linked to cancers such as pancreatic, colon, lymphoma, leukemia, breast, uterine and prostate. Autoimmune diseases linked include asthma, arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. 3,4,16,17,18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.24
This article cannot detail them all, however, a few examples of the most common 'safe' herbicides follow:
A case-controlled study published in March 1999 by Swedish scientists Lennart Hardell and Mikael Eriksson showed that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is linked to exposure to a range of pesticides and herbicides.17 Hardell and Eriksson published an earlier study linking phenoxy herbicides to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) in 1981. These herbicides are widely used 2,4-D—part of the infamous Agent Orange.
Before the 1940's, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was one of the world's rarest cancers. Now it is one of the most common. Between 1973 and 1991, the incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the U.S. increased at a rate of 3.3% per year, to become the third fastest-growing cancer.18 In Sweden, the incidence of NHL has increased at the rate of 3.6% per year in men and 2.9% per year in women since 1958.
One of the biocides linked to NHL by the Hardell study is Glyphosate. A previous study in 1998 had implicated Glyphosate to hairy cell leukemia.19 Several animal studies have shown that Glyphosate can cause gene mutations and chromosomal aberrations.20 Denmark banned Glyphosate in September 2003 because it was so persistent that it polluted most of the water table.
The response of many regulatory authorities is to ensure that use of Glyphosate is increased substantially around the world with the approval of "Roundup Ready" genetically modified crops.
C. Children and the Unborn
The greatest concern about these pesticides in our food and water is for the unborn and children. The 20th Australian Total Diet Survey found pesticide residues in infant food. The regulatory authorities ignored the data by stating "These results confirm that although infant foods contain pesticide residues, these are at very low levels."
Children have the greatest biocide exposure in proportion to their size. According to the 20th Australian Total Diet Survey. "In general, the dietary exposure to pesticide residues was highest for the toddler age group. This is due to the high food consumption relative to body weight."2
However because this dietary exposure is below the ADI, many regulatory authorities continue to state that this exposure does not cause problems.
The research by Porter et al at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that children and developing fetus' are at risk from common agricultural chemical mixtures found at levels below those that authorities regard as safe. The influence of these low dose mixtures on developing neurological, endocrine and immune systems can cause diminished learning ability and increased aggression. 6,7
Research conducted independently by Hayes et al and Storrs et al showed that exposure to amounts more than 1000 times lower than previously regarded as safe caused serious health and developmental problems to the fetus and juveniles. 8,9,10
Dan Qiao et al of the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center found that the developing fetus and the newborn are particularly vulnerable to amounts of pesticide far lower than currently permitted by most regulatory authorities around the world. Their studies showed that the fetus and the newborn possess lower concentrations of the protective serum proteins than adults. 25 A major consequence is developmental neurotoxicity, where the poison damages the developing nerves. 16,21, 25
The Scientists stated: "These results indicate that chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates such as diazinon have immediate, direct effects on neural cell replication... In light of the protective effect of serum proteins, the fact that the fetus and newborn possess lower concentrations of these proteins suggests that greater neurotoxic effects may occur at blood levels of chlorpyrifos that are nontoxic to adults." 25
Apart from Europe's ban of Atrazine and Denmark's ban of Glyphosate, regulatory authorities have made no effort to remove toxic chemicals from food. They continue to perpetuate the myths of safety.
Avoiding Pesticides and other Biocides
It is time to dispense with the myths that food from conventional farming is safe to eat. The lack of rigorous testing and blatant disregard of current scientific evidence confirm there is a lack of credible science to back claims that the poison residues in food are safe to consume.
The only way to avoid these poisons is to eat certified organically grown food—produced without these toxic compounds.
A detailed scientific analysis of organic fruits and vegetables in the USA, published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants, showed that organic foods have significantly less pesticide residues than conventionally grown foods. 26
A similar study in Australia by Ruth McGowan for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries conducted 14000 tests on 300 hundred samples of certified organic produce. The study concluded that: "The results demonstrate that Victorian organic produce is virtuall 'chemical free'." 27
Both of these studies showed that the vast majority of organic foods have no residues. Where residues were found, these were due to widespread contamination by several pesticides used in conventional farming. Even then, these residues were substantially lower in organic foods than in conventionally produced food.
Most importantly scientific studies are beginning to show that eating organic food results in lower levels of these pervasive chemicals in humans, particularly children.
A study published in the peer reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, found that children who eat organic foods have lower levels of one class of agricultural pesticides in their bodies. The University of Washington researchers who conducted the study concluded "The dose estimates suggest that consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, and juice can reduce children's exposure levels from above to below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's current guidelines, thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of negligible risk. Consumption of organic produce appears to provide a relatively simple way for parents to reduce their children's exposure to OP [organophosphate] pesticides."28