By Alex Formuzis
Chemical agriculture’s defense of pesticides conjures up the image of the chain-smoking industry attorney Nathan Thurm slithering through a minefield of facts and figures about the causes of global warming in this classic skit from Saturday Night Live.
Stacks of scientific studies have documented serious health risks to humans from pesticide exposure, but pesticide makers and sprayers, like the fictional Mr. Thurm, ignore the research and stick with talking points or their own questionable “science” in their efforts to muddy the waters, create confusion and delay government action to protect the public. Meanwhile, we eaters are left to consume pesticides along with conventionally grown produce.
Pesticides are engineered to kill living organisms in a number of ways, including destroying the nervous system of the insects they target. They can’t be good for human health, either.
The most worrisome pesticides in wide use today are organophosphates, OPs for short. Earlier this year, three separate studies published at the same time reached very similar, and very disturbing, conclusions: Children exposed to organophosphates while in the mother’s womb had lower IQs when they reached school age than unexposed children.
Other health problems that have been linked to low-dose exposure to OPs include disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system, lower levels of testosterone and other hormones, leukemia, lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.
Here’s a rogue’s gallery of the most worrisome pesticides:
One of the OP pesticides most widely used by chemical agriculture is chlorpyrifos, also known by the brand names Dursban and Lorsban. It’s applied in large quantities to a number of crops, including corn, oranges and apples. It was once heavily used as an in-home insecticide, but the Environmental Protection Agency banned it for home use in 2001 because of the risk to children’s health.
Most recently, chlorpyrifos was back in the headlines when it was linked to the deaths of several tourists in Thailand, who were apparently killed by a chlorpyrifos-based fumigant used to eradicate bedbugs from hotel rooms.
None of this seems to matter to sprayers and manufacturers, though. In the face of this and plenty of other evidence that chlorpyrifos exposure can cause serious and permanent health problems in humans, the statements of leading agribusiness representatives reveal their true colors:
“CAFA (California Alfalfa and Forage Association) has been working hard to oppose some people in the environmental movement who are trying to basically take all the organophosphates away from us, but in particular, chlorpyrifos.”– Philip Bowles, CAFA board member and president of Bowles Farming in Los Banos, Calif. Western Farm Press, January 17, 2009
“Chlorpyrifos has become a major target of environmental groups who are trying to take it off the market. Fortunately, Dow AgroSciences has stated its determination to defend the insecticide.” – Aaron Keiss, Feb.18, 2010 column in Western Farm Press
When environmental and community groups pressed EPA in 2010 to restrict Lorsban, one of Dow AgroSciences’ popular products, the company ran this (scare-tactic) ad depicting a world without fruits and vegetables.
Read more at Enviroblog