5.25.2010

Pesticides and the Big Business Behind Your Produce


For many years, farmers have struggled against insects, rats, and other vermin who eat their crops. The larger the infestation of bugs and animals the smaller the harvest will be for the farmer. This is why pesticides were created and are now manufactured in large quantities. Though feeding people is a huge responsibility and an important need to fill, at what cost to our physical health do these farmers make their revenue? In 2007, bagged lettuce alone (which has its own health risks aside from the pesticides used on it) netted about $1.6 billion in sales. If these farmers and their distributors, like Dole, were to cut back on their use of pesticides and therefore lose a portion of their crops, they'd still make much more money than you and me. The use of pesticides for larger, convenient profits is unacceptable and damaging to the people and animals who endure exposure to them. Hand in hand with this pesticide use is new genetically engineered crops that supposedly cut back on the need for conventional pesticides. Though this is not a new subject of debate, it appears that the public at large is still apathetic in regard to the chemicals they routinely consume with their food. It is this article's objective to help motivate people into no longer accepting big business, pesticide infused, genetically altered produce.

Organochloride and organophosphates are the basis for many pesticides; they are also the basis in making nerve gas. Today, organophosphate is favored over the chloride form because it degrades faster. When it is sprayed on crops, much of it drifts into nearby neighborhoods and settles on anything outside including hanging laundry and lawn furniture. However, the main source of pesticides found in the human body is from direct digestion with food. In a 2005 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a study shows that eating only organically grown foods provides a "dramatic and immediate" protection from two types of organophosphates that are linked to harmful neurological effects. These two types, malathion and chlorpyrifos, are banned from home use. Yet, they are commonly used on crops and routinely detected on grocery food items says the USDA Pesticide Data Program.

Pesticide poisoning is a large problem. Thousands of workers die every year and a million more experience severe health effects from pesticides including nerve damage. Most of these individuals endure large amounts of pesticide exposure. A new study, however, has found evidence that even minimal pesticide ingestion is linked to learning disabilities and ADHD in children. For more specifics about how the tests were conducted and more on their specific conclusions, click HERE. Therefore, how is spraying pesticides on crops legal, you may be thinking to yourself? The Environmental Protection Agency tries to work with states to make sure pesticides do not  pose "unreasonable risks". But what kind of health risk is reasonable? The EPA prefers to license only pesticides that appear to pose no toxic threat to humans. However, especially when you consider the lobbying that pesticide companies do in congress, the "reasonable" risks may be scarier than you think.

Another heavy influence on farming safety regulations are the biotechnology companies. Genetically engineered (GE) seeds are now available that contain "self pesticides". Life science corporations claim that these "frankenfoods" are meant to end world hunger and improve public health. In reality, however, the genetic engineers clearly express through their business practices and lobbying that they intend the GE seeds to dominate the world market and to create a monopoly on food production (1). One agricultural biotech company called Monsanto has spent $8,831,120.00 on lobbying in one year alone (2008). Its lobbying efforts are intended to promote the worldwide use of its GE seeds and herbicides. Yet, this company also has had several lawsuits and  much controversy surrounding it, including fines for misleading the public about its product's environmental impacts. The company has also been sued and has settled multiple times for damaging the health of its employees and residents neighboring their factories. Still, Monsanto's genetically altered products are commonly used. You have probably ingested several of their products yourself; 90% of all United States GE seeds used for farming come from this company.


If  spray on chemicals and genetic alteration is dangerous to the environment and human health, what alternatives do we have for controlling pest contact with our crops? There are very simple ways, in fact, to ward of animals and insects. Many organic types of repellents involve simple things like mint oil, baking soda, and all natural dishwashing soap. View a list of household items you can use on your own gardens to control pests HERE. Even garlic or tomatoe leaves help to keep some animals and insects away from plants. The problem is that natural solutions would take more time and money for corporate farms to use; they'd rather do it cheaply to ensure themselves more revenue.

Like nearly all corporations, the main goal of large, factory farms is to make as much profit as possible. They may claim to want to help "end world hunger" with their pesticide-laced foods, but smaller family farms could do just as well at feeding their communities if they were not being pushed out of the market by lobbyists of big farming and biotech companies. Money is the motive for these corporations, not public health. They under-cut local farmers in an effort to sell more food and your desire to buy quantity over quality ensures that their plan does not fail. Big business food has become so prevelent in all communities than many individuals no longer know where their food comes from at all. Montana? Mexico? France? China? Though, even with locally grown foods it may be hard to tell how it was all raised and harvested, you have a better chance at being able to visit the farm for yourself. Many family farmers encourage this so you can understand what you're putting into your body. 

Local Utah farms, like Copper Moose Farms for example, have very different goals  than corporate farms. The community's awareness of healthy and safe farming practices is important to them and their products should be given more consideration at the grocery store. Your state most likely has a website available to see how many local farms are in your region, check out this one for Utah. There are many options for locally grown, pesticide-free produce. Instead of reaching for that cheap name brand item, or the generic, imported produce at the store, seek out your locally farmed foods; re-determining your choices at the grocery store has a profound effect on you and the environment. Who knows, maybe as people buy more local foods, quality items will be favored over simply saving a few bucks.

10 comments:

Arthur Gelsinger said...

Another reason why food corporations genetically engineer produce is to attain a certain size, shape, and overall appearance for their product. Even when I'm at the grocery store, I sometimes find myself hunting for the most aesthetically pleasing bell pepper on the rack, completely ignoring the fact that they're all gonna look the same chopped up anyway! On a related note, smaller vegetables often have more flavor, so we shouldn't assume that bigger always equals better...

HH said...

You say, "If these farmers and their distributors, like Dole, were to cut back on their use of pesticides and therefore lose a portion of their crops, they'd still make much more money than you and me."
I don't know about Dole, but I do take exception to your conclusion that farmers are making money hand over fist. Take a look: http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/demographics.html
Less than 1 in 4 farmers have income over $50,000. This is lower middle class according to Wikipedia, and suggests that if their crops did indeed die, they would quickly find themselves bankrupt. Farming is a precarious job.
As for corporate farms, per the EPA link, that term can be deceptive. But it does note the trend towards concentration of farms, but I'm afraid that is a result of there being less farmers. Farms moving from generation to generation are dying off as fewer children take on the hard work and uncertainty of farming. Local small farms sounds like a good idea but it doesn't do anything for world hunger, and the question is still out there if they would meet population demands.
From my own personal perspective of growing up in potato country, more and more farm land is being sold off for housing and development. The less land we have, the more mass produced, chemically fed, and genetically altered food will become.
Anyway, I intended not to comment and be contrary again, but you touched a nerve when you demonized farmers.

Jayna said...

Thank you for commenting HH. But I have to wonder, did you read the entire article? Because though you say you disagree, your reasons why only help to solidify my argument.

The only "demonization" in the post involves big factory farming lobbyists and global monopolizers. You're arguing the symantics of "corporate farming" but you must go beyond that to understand the point of the article.

Only 1 out of 4 farmers make over $50,000? This fact is NOT incongruent with my argument, in fact, had I known this, I would have added it to my post to prove even more that the 1/4 who are making a lot of money are the ones responsible for pushing the other 3/4 of farmers out of business! The entire point of the article is made right within your comment, therefore I fail to see how you are disagreeing?

If anything, it is the potato farmers in Idaho who should be thanking me! They are the ones being supported by this article. You're justification for mass produced, chemical-ridden food goes against your argument for supporting Idaho potato farmers. So again, I wonder if you read the entire article or somehow don't understand what the argument is.

HH said...

I guess I'm confused then. When you say "mass produced, chemically ridden food" it applies to the potato farmers. They use chemical fertilizer and herbicides. They have large fields (I'm talking thousands of acres in alot of those farms) that are mass produced (thye majority of which make it into the national market) and they would more than exceed the needs of their local community. I guess I need to have a definition of what you're calling "mass produced." And I believe that the symantics of "corporate farming" is important as it includes a larger group than you're alluding to in the article.
The point is, you identify who you believe to be the source of the problem and I disagree. Farm land is in rural areas. Without those rural areas large urban populations, and areas where farming would be difficult if not impossible due to climate restrictions, would not have food to eat (and a good chunk of those can't grow their own food because there is no land to do so). With our population, mass production is required. So the question really is whether or not this mass production is the cause or the effect. What's pushing mass production? Are chemicals a response to heavy demand due to population increase and dwindling available farm land and people willing to become farmers? It's too easy to say it's the farmers' fault or the chemical or genetics corporations' fault. They are a response to need and not the cause.
Ultimately, I agree with your assessment that alternate approaches should be explored, but the answer is more complex than what you're proposing and is caused by more than just greed. (I know, I know, it's not the intent of your article to present an exhaustive analysis of the problems and solutions....which is why I'm shutting up now.)

okjimm said...

Cakes..... good post. I linked your blog on mine. Keep it up....

Jayna said...

Thanks Jim! I appreciate it greatly.

Arthur Gelsinger said...

It may be hard to imagine growing enough food to feed urban populations without large areas of rural farmland (more and more of which is controlled by the large corporations Jayna targets), but small-scale urban rooftop farming is actually quite common around the world and is gaining popularity in the US as well. Granted it would take a bit of an investment, but if home and business owners can pay to have their roofs shingled or tarred, they can pay to have them soiled as well! I'll bet you could grow enough food to feed five or six city blocks year-round on the roof of your average bowling alley, but either way there's a lot of wasted potential up there! Think about it...

Mauigirl said...

Great blog, came here via okjimm. Am adding you to my blogroll. I haven't had time to read all of your articles yet but look forward to delving into them in depth!

Jayna said...

Hey Mauigirl, thank you for commenting and following!

I hope you enjoy my posts, I try to write a new one every two weeks or so.

Thanks again! and I sure should thank okjimm, he's too nice :)

Mindbender said...

There is corn which is GM that comes from Monsanto that is sterilizing people in Mexico. Monsanto is believed to be apart of the depopulation program, which is why they are making seeds that can not reproduce.

Every one should grow their own gardens and there needs to be more community gardens.

I do not believe we need corporate farming, we have simply grown just to accept it. Some people can't think of a life without potato chips in a bag.

"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he'll eat forever"