Organic produce is unlike its conventionally-grown counterpart. Careful steps are taken to ensure every carrot, strawberry, beet, potato or head of lettuce is cultivated using organic, time-tested practices, like spreading house-made fertilizer on crops or irrigating from open creeks. Such methods differ from those of so-called factory farms, where pesticides and other chemicals are rampantly used and impact the quality of the finished product.
Despite their known toxicity, pesticides persist on farms all around the country, potentially affecting not only the consumer but anyone who works on the farm or lives nearby. In fact, a recent article in The Nation highlights a groundbreaking, ongoing 15-year study on the health and brain development of the children of farmworkers in California's Salinas Valley. The study looks at not only how heavy, chronic pesticide exposure may affect children (cancer, birth defects), but also how low-dose, continuing exposure may impact developing brains (lower IQs, poorer working memory).
The EPA acknowledges that pesticide exposure causes problems, “that may occur over a long period of time,” which basically means that any health problem experienced now or in the future by you or your kids could be caused by pesticides, or not. You’ll never know for sure, and neither will I.
How we grow our food affects how our children grow, for better or, unfortunately, for worse. As I recently observed, studies are beginning to show that exposure to certain chemicals can have a “transgenerational” impact, meaning health side effects turn up in the great-grandchildren of the initially exposed generation.
And yet, pesticide use continues in this country, particularly on farms where genetically modified crops are pre-programmed to tolerate certain chemicals, among them the herbicide glyphosate.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in a broad-spectrum herbicide called Roundup, developed and sold by the multinational chemical and agricultural corporation Monsanto. As a result of Monsanto’s hold over the farming industry, glyphosate pervades the American food supply. A review published last year in the journal Entropy concluded that glyphosate exposure could trigger health problems like gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
Aside from their herbicide tolerance, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may pose a threat to human health precisely because, as their name implies, they have been genetically modified. We don’t know for sure how corn, potatoes, or soybeans that were altered as seedlings will affect our bodies. Some experts blame them for increased incidences of allergies, antibiotic resistance and cancer. We do know that GMOs pervade our food, and are incredibly resistant to chemicals. You do the math.
Pesticides are used to protect crops from potentially destructive infestations. It would be great if there were something equally as powerful to protect humans from the potentially destructive effects of pesticides.
For now, that responsibility falls to organic farmers, whose integrative practices, like using compost on crops, help avoid injections of carcinogenic chemicals into our food supply.