By Dr. Mercola
Long-term exposure to pesticides has been linked to infertility, birth defects,1,2 endocrine disruption, neurological disorders and cancer, so it's a common-sense conclusion that fewer pesticides in our food supply would result in improved health among the general population.
In fact, one of the strongest selling points for eating organic food is that it can significantly lower your exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals used in conventional agriculture, and this measure in and of itself may help protect your long-term health and/or improve any health conditions you may have.
Since organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, organic foods are, as a rule, less contaminated, and studies have confirmed that those who eat a primarily organic diet have fewer toxins in their system.
Sadly, the chemical technology industry wields great power — so great that our government has largely turned a blind eye to the obvious, which is that too many toxic chemicals, in too great amounts, are being allowed in the growing of food. As noted in the featured film, "From DDT to Glyphosate:"
"Just as was the case in the 1950s with DDT and tobacco, we are on the brink of disastrous damage to health worldwide. This short film begins to explain why, and what we can do."
Help Educate Those You Love
"From DDT to Glyphosate" is just half an hour long, yet it's an excellent introduction to the dangers of pesticides.
Sadly, many are still unaware of just how many pesticides they're exposed to on a daily basis via their food, so I urge you to help educate those you love by sharing this short film with your social networks.
The 'Silent Spring' Continues
In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson wrote the groundbreaking book "Silent Spring," in which she warned of the devastating environmental impacts of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), suggesting the chemical may also have harmful effects on human health.
She rightfully questioned the logic and sanity of using such vast amounts of a chemical without knowing much about its ecological and human health impact.
Her book triggered a revolution in thinking that gave birth to the modern environmental movement, and the public outcry that resulted from her book eventually led to DDT being banned for agricultural use in the U.S. in 1972.
Unfortunately, DDT was simply replaced with other equally unsafe and untested chemicals. Today, we're also exposed to even vaster amounts of pesticides, and a wider variety of them, which is why it's so important to share this film with as many people as possible.
Consider this: the very same companies that developed chemical warfare weapons during World War II simply transitioned into agriculture after the war, and many of the same warfare chemicals are now sprayed on our food.
The notion that these chemicals are good for humans, the environment and the business of agriculture is a fabricated one.
Genetic Engineering Fuels the Chemical Agriculture Engine
As noted in the film, 80 percent of genetically engineered (GE) crops are designed to withstand herbicide application; most often glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Monsanto's Roundup. As a result, we're ingesting far greater quantities of pesticides than ever before.
The question is, where's the breaking point? There's reason to believe we may have crossed the threshold already. Health statistics suggest the average toxic burden has become too great for children and adults alike, and toxins in our food appear to play a primary role.
According to Dr. Joseph E. Pizzorno,3 founding president of Bastyr University, the first fully accredited multidisciplinary university of natural medicine and the first National Institutes of Health-funded center for alternative medicine research, toxins in the modern food supply are now "a major contributor to, and in some cases the cause of, virtually all chronic diseases."
A recent report4,5 by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics6 (FIGO), which represents OB-GYNs in 125 countries, warns that chemical exposures, including pesticides, now represent a major threat to human health and reproduction.
Pesticides are also included in a new scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals by the Endocrine Society Task Force.7,8
This task force warns that the health effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals is such that everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them — especially those seeking to get pregnant, pregnant women and young children.
Even extremely low-level pesticide exposure has been found to considerably increase the risk of certain diseases, such as Parkinson's disease. According to Michael Antoniou, Ph.D., a British geneticist interviewed in the film, "as a cocktail, I believe [pesticides] has converted our food supply into a slow poison."
Rise in Chronic Disease Parallels Increased Glyphosate Use
The film shows how increases in global glyphosate use closely parallel increases in infertility, thyroid disorders, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, stroke and many other chronic diseases. Alas, the U.S. government does not acknowledge such a connection.
As noted by Claire Robinson, managing editor of GMWatch and author of the excellent book "GMO Myths and Truths," while we do have a regulatory system, that system is grossly inadequate, as it doesn't evaluate all the possible health and environmental effects of any given chemical.
The chemical industry also has a very strong lobby, and revolving doors between industry and the regulatory agencies in the U.S. have allowed for industry to largely dictate its own rules. Robinson also correctly notes that it is in fact chemical companies that are producing GE seeds.
This is an important point to remember. They're not true agricultural firms. They're chemical companies that have simply found another way to boost sales, and to believe they're doing it out of altruism would be naïve.
Studies Show Even Ultra-Low Doses of Roundup Cause Harm
Antoniou has conducted tests revealing that ultra-low doses of Roundup administered to rats in drinking water produce liver and kidney damage over the long term. And these doses are thousands of times lower than what regulators say is completely safe for consumption.
Another recent study found Roundup adversely affects the development of female rats' uteruses, increasing the risk for both infertility and uterine cancer. As reported by The Ecologist:9
"Doctors and scientists have noted high rates of miscarriage — sometimes called 'spontaneous abortion' — in women living in regions of Argentina where GM Roundup Ready soy is grown and sprayed with glyphosate herbicides. The new study may shed light on this phenomenon.
The dose of herbicide found to disrupt uterine development in the rats was 2 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight per day, based on the U.S. 'reference dose' of pure glyphosate that regulators deem safe to consume every day of our lives for a lifetime."
So why is no action taken to protect human health? It really boils down to the fact that without Roundup and other pesticides, the GE seed business would collapse and chemical technology companies, with their vast resources and revolving doors into government regulatory agencies, have managed to deceive everyone into thinking there's no problem.
Pesticide Use Is Increasing Worldwide
Worldwide, an estimated 7.7 billion pounds (about 3.5 billion kilograms) of pesticides are applied to crops each year, and that number is steadily increasing as developed nations are steadily transitioning over to chemical-based agriculture in a misguided and misinformed effort to increase yield and lower cost.10
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), Bangladesh and Thailand have quadrupled their pesticide use since the early 1990s. Ghana, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso have increased use by 1,000 percent, and Argentina's use has risen 815 percent.11,12
The U.S. is still leading the charge when it comes to pesticide use, followed by Brazil, which is a top exporter of soybeans, corn and cotton. More than one-third of the 260 million gallons of pesticides used in Brazil each year is applied to soybeans. Cotton and citrus receive the greatest amounts, however.
But boosting yields with chemicals come at a cost. According to a 2012 analysis of FAO data, each 1 percent increase in crop yield is associated with a 1.8 percent increase in pesticide use.
Logic tells us this is an unsustainable trajectory when you consider the health ramifications associated with pesticide exposure and the environmental effects, which include destruction of soil and non-target plant life, pollution of waterways and the decimation of crucial pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Common Side Effects of Agricultural Chemicals
Depending on the specific chemical being used, agricultural chemicals are typically associated with their own specific side effects:
- Insecticides primarily produce neurological symptoms, such as headaches
- Fungicides tend to produce skin-related symptoms
- Herbicides are associated with digestive and skin problems
Glyphosate, which is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, was reclassified as a Class 2A "probable carcinogen" just last year by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO).
While the IARC stopped short of a stronger cancer classification for glyphosate, there's ample evidence showing it is quite "definitely" carcinogenic.13 A research scientist and consultant who investigates agricultural chemicals in the food supply, Anthony Samsel, Ph.D., even claims to have uncovered evidence showing Monsanto has known glyphosate promotes cancer since 1981.
Glyphosate is most heavily applied on GE corn, soybeans and sugar beets, but it's also commonly used to desiccate conventional (non-GMO but non-organic) wheat and protect other conventional crops from weeds. Disturbingly, glyphosate and Roundup may actually be even worse than DDT, having been linked to an ever-growing array of health effects, including the following:14,15
✓ Nutritional deficiencies, especially minerals, as glyphosate immobilizes certain nutrients and alters the nutritional composition of the treated crop
✓ Disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (these are essential amino acids not produced in your body that must be supplied via your diet)
✓ Increased toxin exposure (this includes high levels of glyphosate and formaldehyde in the food itself)
✓ Impairment of sulfate transport and sulfur metabolism; sulfate deficiency
✓ Systemic toxicity — a side effect of extreme disruption of microbial function throughout your body; beneficial microbes in particular, allowing for overgrowth of pathogens
✓ Gut dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, leaky gut and food allergies such as gluten intolerance)
✓ Enhancement of damaging effects of other foodborne chemical residues and environmental toxins as a result of glyphosate shutting down the function of detoxifying enzymes
✓ Creation of ammonia (a byproduct created when certain microbes break down glyphosate), which can lead to brain inflammation associated with autism and Alzheimer's disease
✓ Increased antibiotic resistance
✓ Increased cancer risk.16,17,18,19 Since the IARC's determination, agricultural personnel have begun suing Monsanto over past glyphosate exposure, claiming it played a role in their bone cancer and leukemia20,21
Buyer Beware: Glyphosate Limits in Food Are Likely Excessive
Some of the studies implicating glyphosate as a serious hazard to animals and humans go back many years, yet in July 2013, right in the midst of mounting questions about glyphosate's safety, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went ahead and raised the allowable limits of glyphosate in both food and feed crops.22,23
Allowable levels in oilseed crops such as flax, soybean and canola were doubled, from 20 parts per million (ppm) to 40 ppm — just 10 ppm below the level at which Roundup may cause cell death, according to research24 published in 2011.
Permissible glyphosate levels in many other foods were raised to 15 to 25 times from previous levels. Root and tuber vegetables, with the exception of sugar, got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm. The level for sweet potatoes was raised to 3 ppm.
It's important to remember that the allowable levels of glyphosate have been significantly raised, because IF the U.S. government does implement glyphosate testing for food, as indicated by the EPA in April 2015,25 then assurances that levels are "within safe limits" may have little to no real value.
Also, while the dangers of glyphosate are becoming more widely recognized, many fail to realize that the Roundup formulation used on crops is even more toxic than glyphosate in isolation. Research reveals the surfactants in the formula synergistically increase glyphosate's toxicity, even though these ingredients are considered "inert" and therefore of no major consequence.
Recent follow-up research26,27 by Gilles-Éric Séralini, Ph.D. — whose initial lifetime feeding study revealed massive tumor growth and early death — shows that long-term exposure to even ultra-low amounts of Roundup may cause tumors, along with liver and kidney damage in rats.
Can Food System Survive Without Pesticides?
Many have gotten so used to the idea that pesticides are a necessity they give little credence to the idea that chemicals are not actually needed. As reported by Ensia, a magazine showcasing solutions to the Earth’s biggest environmental challenges:28
"'How much is too much?' is a question with which Jules Pretty, a professor at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, is constantly grappling. What's encouraging is the growing evidence that farmers can lower their dependence on pesticides while maintaining agricultural production, sometimes by employing techniques that date back thousands of years.29
Over the past 25 years, Pretty has been studying sustainable agriculture practices30 around the world. He has shown that there's growing proof that integrated pest management (IPM) — a strategy that uses alternative, diversified and historic agronomic practices to control pests — can help reduce pesticide use in a variety of farming systems.
In 2015, Pretty and colleagues published a meta-analysis31 of 85 field sites in 24 countries in Asia and Africa that employed IPM techniques and reduced pesticide use while boosting crop yields. Some eliminated pesticides entirely by using techniques such as crop rotation and pheromone traps to capture pests, says Pretty.
'Thirty percent of the crop systems were able to transition to zero pesticides,' Pretty says. Not only that, but surprisingly, he says, 'the innovations around sustainability are happening in the poorer countries: Bangladesh, India and countries in Africa. We really could be holding these up as beacons.'"
According to Pretty, a key strategy to lower dependence on pesticides is "farmer field schools," which allow farmers to experiment with various techniques and see the results for themselves. This has already proven far more effective than trying to persuade or force farmers to alter their techniques.
Once they've seen the results with their own eyes, most are more than willing to implement pesticide-free methods, and to share their experience with others. He's convinced that "if enough farmers in enough developing countries can become convinced of the benefits of sustainable farming practices like IPM, the world's reliance on pesticides can be lowered," Ensia writes.
Which Foods Are the Most Important to Buy Organic?
I encourage you to share "From DDT to Glyphosate" with everyone you know. Post it on Facebook, Twitter or share it via e-mail. It's really crucial for everyone to understand that a large portion of our poor health is due to toxic exposures via food.
Everyone can be harmed by pesticides, but if you're a woman of childbearing age or have young children, taking steps to reduce your exposure is especially important. Ideally, all of the food you and your family eat would be organic. That said, not everyone has access to a wide variety of organic produce, and it can sometimes be costlier than buying conventional.
One way to save some money while still lowering your pesticide exposure is to purchase certain organic items, and "settling" for others that are conventionally grown, based on how heavily each given crop is typically treated with pesticides.
Animal products, like meat, butter, milk and eggs are the most important to buy organic, since animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins from their pesticide-laced feed, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables.
Please bear this in mind, because if the new Roberts-Stabenow bill (S. 2609) for a national GMO labeling standard gets passed, meat, poultry and egg products will be exempt from any GMO disclosure requirements, even if the animals were fed GE feed and/or the product contains other GE ingredients, such as GE high-fructose corn syrup.
So you simply have to remember that in order to avoid GE ingredients and pesticides, you need to purchase organic, 100 percent grass-fed animal products.
Beyond animal foods, the pesticide load of different fruits and vegetables can vary greatly. Last year, Consumer Reports analyzed 12 years of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Pesticide Data Program to determine the risk categories (from very low to very high) for different types of produce.32
Because children are especially vulnerable to the effects of environmental chemicals, including pesticides, they based the risk assessment on a 3.5-year-old child. They recommend buying organic for any produce that came back in the medium or higher risk categories, which left the following foods as examples of those you should always try to buy organic, due to their elevated pesticide load.