There have been two reports in recent weeks to the convincing body of evidence adding up over more than half a century, that our farming industry uses pesticides along with other chemical additives to poison us.
“Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?” —Dr. Jane Goodall
Both of those reports have major indictments on the U.S. and global regulatory systems that mingle with chemical companies to cover up the truth from the public eye, while they fill up their wallets with money.
The World Health Organization reports primarily focused on environmental risks, and the cost of a polluted environment adds up to the deaths of 1.7 million children every year. A report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council, focused on agricultural chemicals. The UN report states unequivocally that the storyline perpetuated by companies like Monsanto, that says we ultimately need pesticides to feed the world—is a major myth.
The fact that both these reports made headlines, in mainstream outlets like the Washington Post and the Guardian, is on one hand, good news. On the other, it’s a sad and discouraging commentary on our inability to control corporate greed. Ever since Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring, outlined the poisoning of our environment. Rational thinkers have warned that we ought to follow a precautionary principle when it comes to permitting widespread use of poisons being used in the environment and in our food.
In his book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, (2014) E. G., Vallianatos who worked within the EPA for 25 years, wrote:
“It is simply not possible to understand why the EPA behaves the way it does without appreciating the enormous power of American’s industrial farmers and their allies in the chemical pesticide industries, which currently do about $40 billion per in year business. For decades, industry lobbyists have preached the gospel of unregulated capitalism and Americans have bought it. Today, it seems the entire government is at the service of the private interests of America’s corporate class.”
As public opinion shifts toward disapproval of the use of toxic chemicals in our food, here in the U.S., government officials entrusted with public health and safety appear more determined than ever to uphold the “rights” of corporations to poison everything in sight—including our children.
UN Experts Denounce “Myth” Pesticides Are Necessary to Feed the World
The Guardian’s story on the report delivered this week to the UN Human Rights Council said everything. From the Guardian:
“A new report, being presented to the UN human rights council on Wednesday, is severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms,” “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralyzed global pesticide restrictions.”
The report says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole,” including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. Its authors said: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.”
The UN report was authored by Hilal Elver, special rapporteur on the right to food and Baskut Tuncak, special rapporteur on toxics. The report states that chronic exposure to pesticides is linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. The populations most at risk are farmers and agricultural workers, communities living near plantations, indigenous communities and pregnant women and children, who are vulnerable to pesticide exposure and require special protections.
The Crop Protection Association, a lobbying group representing the $50-billion agri-chemical industry, rebutted the reports findings with its typical false claim that pesticides “play a key role in ensuring we have access to a healthy, safe, affordable and reliable food supply.” But Elver told the Guardian:
“It is a myth. Using more pesticides has absolutely nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. They will never have the capacity to. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
Sustainable Pulse reported on the story as well, noting that the report warns that some pesticides can survive in the environment for decades:
The excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity, destroying the natural enemies of pests and reducing the nutritional value of food. The impact of such overuse also imposes staggering costs on national economies around the world.
The UN report, which mentionerd the efforts of the Monsanto Tribunal to raise global awareness about the dangers of pesticides, included a long list of recommendations for moving away from chemical-based agriculture.
At the top of the list, was to ask for the international community to work on a binding treaty that tightly regulates hazardous pesticides throughout the life cycle of them, while taking human rights into much consideration. A treaty should:
• Aim to remove existing double standards among countries that are particularly detrimental to countries with weaker regulatory systems.
• Generate policies to reduce pesticide use worldwide and develop a framework for the banning and phasing-out of highly hazardous pesticides.
• Promote agroecology.
• Place strict liability on pesticide producers.
Exposure to Pollution Kills Millions of Children, WHO Reports Find
On March 5, the Washington Post reported on two World Health Organization (WHO) reports on how exposure to polluted environments is directly linked to more than one in four deaths amongst young children under the age of five. Internationally, 1.7 million children’s deaths are from environmental hazards, such as exposure to contaminated water, indoor and outdoor pollution and other unsanitary conditions, the reports had found.Weaker immune systems are more susceptible to harmful effects from heavily polluted environments, the report finds.
According to WHO reports, a wide range of chemicals, including those found in food, electronics, contaminated water supplies, second-hand tobacco smoke and others, one-fourth of all children’s deaths and diseases in 2012 could have been prevented by reducing environmental risks. From WHO press release:
Children are mostly exposed to harmful chemicals through their food, water, air and products in the environment. Chemicals, such as fluoride, lead and mercury pesticides, persistent organic pollutants and others in manufactured goods, find their way into our food. While leaded petrol has been phased out almost entirely in all countries, lead is still widespread in paints, affecting brain development.
Authors of the WHO report recommended:
• Housing: Ensure clean fuel for heating and cooking, no mould or pests and remove unsafe building materials and lead paint.
• Schools: Provide safe sanitation and hygiene, free of noise, pollution and promote good nutrition.
• Health facilities: Ensure safe water, sanitation and hygiene and reliable electricity.
• Urban planning: Create more green spaces, safe walking and cycling paths.
• Transport: Reduce emissions and increase public transport.
• Agriculture: Reduce the use of hazardous pesticides and no child labor.
• Industry: Manage hazardous waste and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
• Health sector: Monitor health outcomes and educate about environmental health effects and prevention.
What Will it Take?
Many organizations have called for many reforms. Published this week in The Hill, Devra Lee Davis, president of the Environmental Health Trust and author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer, explains the contrast between our failure to regulate the tobacco industry with our failure to regulate the chemicals that are responsible for two shocking statistics:
1. One in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes; and
2. The rate of childhood cancer has increased by 50 percent since President Nixon declared a war on cancer, 40 years ago.
Davis, who says we’re fixated on “the wrong enemies, with the wrong weapons,” said we should ask ourselves this:
Why did it take forty years after tobacco was understood to cause cancer and other diseases before it made our government undertake efforts to hinder the production and use of it? What made them take so long to reduce the amount of benzene in our gasoline or toxic flame retardants within our waters, food, furniture, bedding, fabrics and breast milk? Corporate control of our system of regulation.
The much bigger question is rather, Can we elect new people, at every level of our government, who will work for the people? More so, can this be done before it’s too late?