Well, as we move into an era where climate change is taking center stage, and wreaking havoc on species and food supplies, I believe it’s important to stay focused on the effects of pesticides and herbicides.
Unfortunately, we also just don’t have enough information on how important organic agriculture is for human health and the wellbeing of our planet. So let’s be aware of the latest research studies and reports and promote them as reasons to produce more organic foods.
You need only follow the news to see reasons for increased scrutiny of synthetic pesticides. Case in point: a recent report finding Roundup residues in European city dwellers.
The study detailed the extent to which humans are exposed to the herbicide glyphosate. Friends of the Earth International tested the urine samples of 182 Europeans from 18 countries. They found glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup, in 44 percent of the samples. Because the samples were taken from individuals living in cities rather than rural areas, where Roundup spraying is common, diet was the main source of exposure to glyphosate.
Unfortunately, this rate is likely to increase in the future. A study by Greenpeace has shown that increased use of GMOs could increase the use of Roundup by eight-fold.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has raised the permitted tolerance levels of glyphosate residue in many fruits and vegetables. The new regulation raises limits on levels of glyphosate in oilseed crops (which include sesame, flax, and soybean), sweet potatoes, carrots, and several other agricultural products, including animal feed, root crops and fruit trees.
Many are worried that a rise in tolerance levels will allow farmers to spray food with more chemicals, increasing health and environmental risks. This is especially worrisome, because even the EPA’s own technical fact sheet on glyphosate states that chronic long-term exposure can cause kidney damage and reproductive effects.
A new report entitled “Pre-Polluted: A Report on Toxic Substances in the Umbilical Cord Blood of Canadian Newborns” recently published by the organization Environmental Defense confirmed babies are being exposed to chemicals while in the womb. Testing the umbilical cord blood of newborns, the study looked for 310 pollutants, including organochlorine pesticides, flame retardants, mercury and lead. The findings showed that 137 of the chemicals researchers tested for were detected in umbilical cord blood. Of those 137 chemicals, 132 have been reported to cause cancer, 110 are considered toxic to the nervous system and 133 have been documented to cause developmental or reproductive problems in mammals.
These exposure rates are especially concerning, because humans are more sensitive to the negative effects of chemical exposure during early developmental stages.
In related news, a new study has begun on agriculture runoff in water in Midwestern streams. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are partnering to examine the effects of agricultural runoff in 100 streams from Ohio to Nebraska. They will test the stream water for pesticides and synthetic fertilizer nutrients. They’ll also search for fish eggs, aquatic invertebrates, algae and amphibians. Using this information, they will develop models to predict how contaminants from conventional agriculture could change the health and biodiversity of the aquatic ecosystem.
Agricultural runoff has been a large problem for stream health, as many pesticides have negative effects on aquatic animal and plant development and growth. Researchers hope this study will shed some light on how conventional agriculture alters aquatic ecosystems and water quality.
A June 30 article in The Washington Post reported that butterfly populations are declining across the country. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced two new butterfly subspecies have probably become extinct in South Florida. Seventeen species and subspecies of butterflies are currently listed as endangered nationwide, and two are listed as threatened.
Habitat loss and pesticide use are the top two problems contributing to these population declines and are also affecting frogs, salamanders, toads and insects such as bees. A U.S. Geological Survey study estimated that seven species of amphibians will drop by at least 50 percent at this current rate of decline, if pesticide use and habitat loss do not decrease.
Special thanks to The Organic Center for compiling these critical pesticide reports. The Center’s mission is to produce credible, evidence-based science on the health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming and to communicate the findings to the public. As an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) research and education organization, operating under the administrative auspices of the Organic Trade Association, The Center envisions improved health for the earth and its inhabitants through the conversion of agriculture to organic methods.
If you want to receive their newsletter, The Scoop, it’s easy. TOC has big plans to launch a new website with even more great information in early September so stay tuned.
Don’t take your eye off of the latest science. Tell me how you will use it to cultivate awareness of the effects of pesticides and herbicides on our people and planet.