Thursday, May 16, 2013

Our National Chemical Addiction

Did you know that over 80,000 chemicals are registered in the United States, with over 2,000 more added each year for everyday items such as food, personal care products, prescription drugs, household cleaners and lawn care items? It’s appalling, but it’s true.

Likewise, at least 20,000 chemicals registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can find their way into our food and water systems, all with the government’s approval. The EPA, incidentally, tests, approves and establishes “tolerances” or maximum residue levels of pesticides. Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables, while the Department of Agriculture (USDA) checks pesticide residues in meat, eggs and dairy products.  (Pretty “convenient” system to keep it all in-house, huh?)

Agricultural chemicals are nothing new, however. In fact, in 1939 Dichloro-Diphenyl-Tricholoethane (DDT) became the most-used insecticide worldwide, kicking off the current pesticide era. By the early 1970s, however, DDT was banned for potentially hazardous human health effects.
Pesticide production and use didn’t end with DDT, though. It proliferated and the use of synthetic pesticides has increased more than 33-fold in the past 50+ years. Today, over one billion tons of pesticides are used in the U.S. every year, with about 2.5 billion tons used worldwide.

Pesticides don’t stay just where they’re applied, though. Cornell entomologist David Pimentel says, "It has been estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests, leaving the bulk of the pesticides (99.9 percent) to impact the environment." Unfortunately, these chemicals have not only made their way into our farming practices, but have also infiltrated our health. That includes animals, people, land, waterways and plants.

Here’s an example: 37 percent of the world’s grain and 66 percent of U.S. grain is used for livestock feed—grain grown by conventional farming methods using enormous quantities of pesticides.  Of course, when animals eat this grain, residue builds up in the animals’ fatty tissue. Then if we eat the meat and dairy products from these animals, then we ingest those toxins.

The chemicals are showing up, too. Many Americans—even kids—carry high levels of pesticides in their bodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the average American child between the ages of six and 11 carries four times the acceptable levels of pesticides called organophosphates which are known to cause neurological damage.

And it would be one thing if pesticide use was working, but, ironically, estimates say that more of the U.S. food supply is lost to pests today (37 percent) than in the 1940s. Total crop losses from insect damage alone have nearly doubled from 7 percent to 13 percent, and four primary crops—soybeans, wheat, cotton and corn—receive 73 percent of the pesticides in the U.S.

The truth is that chemical pesticides are not effective, but are known to cause poisoning, infertility and birth defects, nervous system damage and cancer, so do everything you can to avoid them in your food and personal care products.

Our nation’s agricultural chemical dependency needs rehab—now.

It’s time to get this right.