There are many important issues in the world regarding the environment and it’s affects on the average person. Though, the one that hits closest to home, worldwide, is the trust that individuals have in the food that they consume. Yet pesticides are still found daily in foods all around the world. Pesticides are toxins that are used by produce growers universally to control pests that can destroy crops. These toxins are being ingested by humans in the forms of fruits and vegetables that have remaining toxins on them.
How safe are these toxins to humans and what is being done to safeguard the environment as well as the health of individuals? Does the average person consume harmful amounts of poison at every meal? If the levels are unsafe, why is this problem continuing to get a blind eye from the people who are supposed to protect society? These questions when asked only lead to more questions. Until things are done to change the systems of pesticide usage universally, society can never be sure as to the long term effects on our environment and what they are eating or giving to the future of our world, the children.
In some foreign countries pesticides are used more frequently with legislative control than in the United States. In Mexico and South America, for example, many of the pesticides that the United States and Europe have banned, wind up being used on a majority of their produce crops. The largest problem with this is that Europe and the United States import from South America for produce all of the time. What good does it do to ban harmful agricultural chemicals to be used on domestically grown crops if crops in other countries are grown with these same harmful chemicals, and are then allowed to be imported? Mexico and South America are the leading suppliers of produce for the earth’s population because their climate is very conducive to year around crops.
Unfortunately those countries are also known for their large amount of insects of all varieties. These insects are steadily becoming more and more immune to toxins that are sprayed on crops. More than five hundred insects, one hundred and fifty plant diseases and two hundred and seventy weeds are now resistant to pesticides. Results are that U.S. growers as well, are steadily forced to apply more and stronger toxins. As the amount and the strength of the toxin increases, the immunity of the targeted insects to these toxins also increases. Total U.S. crop losses from insect damage has nearly doubled since 1945. Insecticide use during this same time has increased tenfold. This war will go on being waged until the game plan is changed.
The produce export trade in some cities and countries constitutes the majority of their economy and they will protect the resulting income at all costs. These places have very little legislation to control chemical usage, and follow up on almost none of its effects. Officials do not care how it affects consumers, being adults or children. Even their own agricultural worker’s health is of no concern. These officials only care about producing crops and exporting them with as little overhead as possible. The bottom line is, always has been, and always will be money.
In Villa Juarez, Mexico, many children who work in the produce fields are coming down with mysterious illnesses and some people in this region put the blame directly on those children’s contact with the chemical acephate and other pesticides that are used in that area. The use of acephate is illegal in the United States, but is perfectly legal in Mexico. Doctors in Juarez are treating unusually high amounts of cancer and also fifty to eighty cases of chemical poisoning per week in their agricultural workers. This continues to happen because the government and the growers do not take these illnesses seriously; the workers are expendable.
Growers in Culcan Valley, Mexico use chemicals to increase production of produce sold in the U.S. every winter. Unfortunately, studies that were preformed by the Government Accounting office in Mexico showed that at least six pesticides that are illegal in the U.S. were still on the produce when it was exported.
Moving on to South America, in Chile there are no clear guidelines governing the use of agricultural chemicals on produce crops. In the city of Rancaga, a large fruit growing region, a study was done to check the risks that rural workers face, and what they found was astounding. Dr. Maria Mella found that there is an alarming amount of sterility and birth defects due to exposure to chemical pesticides in agricultural workers. Congenial deformities were five times higher, and multiple deformities were a shocking four times higher than normal in this part of South America. These studies were conducted by the Women’s Institute and were based on ten thousand infants born in this region.
Dr. Mella insists that these chemicals cause deformities in infants, sterility in workers, and induced miscarriages. Horribly, she approximates that up to sixty percent of pesticides used on wheat in South America are still present on the bread when it is consumed. Seeing how harmful pesticides can be to the workers who create the produce, one must wonder how much it can affect the consumer, maybe it depends on the strength and the harmfulness of the chemicals. In Chile, many pesticides are derived from Thalidomide, a sleeping pill used in the 1950’s, but it was removed from the United States when it was found to be responsible for severe deformities in infants, infants born without limbs. Other pesticides that are used in Chile are parathon, paraquat, and lindane. They have already been banned in most other countries.
Chile is among the countries with the weakest and least restrictive legislation on the control of pesticides. They also use products like pentachlophenal, which is a highly toxic fungicide used on their crops. It usually ends up seeping into ground water, which in turn is consumed by individuals and attacks the central nervous system. We import strawberries and grapes from Chile every day in America that probably contains one or more of these harmful chemicals.
We also import a great percentage of our bananas from Costa Rica. The banana industry runs the government there because banana exportation is the major economic income for Costa Rica and they donate much of their efforts to keeping up the banana crops. In Costa Rica, banana production accounts for five percent of the land, twenty percent of their export revenues, and a whopping thirty-five percent of their pesticide business. Workers start applying toxins early in the production of bananas because they are susceptible to insects. They apply about thirty kilograms of active pesticides per acre, per year and they spray fungicide up to forty times per year. This is ten times higher than the normal amount used on produce.
The Worldwide Health Organization says that the pesticides used in South America are the most dangerous in the world. Growers use chemicals like fenamifos, etoprop, and paraquat, all of which are banned or are being reviewed. Exposure of workers to these chemicals has caused blindness, sterility and even death. The growers use such high amounts of chemicals because worm infestation is high in fledging bananas. Therefore, workers tie bags of pesticides directly on young banana bunches, but when the wind blows, the bags are swept into streams and rivers. It is the people of Costa Rica who pay a high price for bananas. Many well-known names in the banana business grow their bananas in Costa Rica. Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte are just a few, for example, that have fields there.
They claim that they are concerned for the health of the consumers and workers, but they have actually done very little to change the way pesticides are being handled and tested. The Costa Rican regulatory service is responsible for checking up on banana growers, but the head of the department has admitted that he has never visited a banana plantation because he has no funding for vehicles. What kind of dummy organization is this? The only checks that are being conducted are randomly done when they are exporting the bananas. There has never been a case when the bananas entering the United States, were checked, did not exceed the limits of pesticide residue. Growers are more concerned with how their bananas look that if they are harmful to the consumer.
This leads to the question, why does the United States allow the produce into its supermarkets? Who is getting paid? Over half of the U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to sign a new bill that will weaken the federal laws regarding high-risk pesticides in foods and water. Maybe this is because these same representatives have been traced to thirteen million dollars donated to them in the name of campaign contributions. Who contributed this money? The pesticide industry contributed most of the thirteen million, and they have steadily filled the pockets of our trusted representatives for sometime. But what about Americans, they spend ten percent of their incomes and food for their families, but for what? To be poisoned?
The Food and Drug Administration and the USDA share responsibility for checking the levels of toxins in the U.S. foods, but the toxins are still being allowed to exceed the U.S. definitions of safety for adults, but not for children. The toxins that are included in these guidelines derive from an unlikely source. Not only are the pesticides that we are using harming produce, the fertilizers as well are just as harmful. Farmers think they are helping there are plants, but instead they are really creating toxic foods. Pollution industries send millions of pounds of toxic waste, which include lead, dioxin and arsenic. These are wastes, which would otherwise be subject to rigorous, and hazardous waste disposal laws are sold to fertilizer and pesticide companies under the disguise of recycling. These wastes are incorporated into commercial pesticides and fertilizers and then applied to the nation’s farmland.
The Environmental Working Group discovered that two hundred and seventy-one million pounds of toxic waste were delivered to farms, fertilizer, and pesticide manufacturers between 1990 and 1995. There were sixty-nine toxins in all. The EWG has identified more than six hundred companies in forty-four states that sent toxic waste to farms in thirty-eight states. What is this saying about farmers who purchase these products? Do they really know what they are buying? What is this saying about the fertilizer and pesticide companies? What is this saying about our government for allowing this to continue? Is it fair that ignorance is forced upon parents who allow their babies to consume the fruit and vegetables, which are tainted with deadly poisons? Everyday children are pushed by their parents to eat more produce than anyone else is in the name of healthy eating.
When thinking of children, if the levels of toxins in possible sources of food do not account for small children then what about infants? If a large portion of our produce is imported from South America and Mexico, then some of this produce is ending up in baby food products. There is not enough protective legislation for the use of pesticides on produce that go into baby food, and what there is, is becoming more laxed every year. The Environmental Working Group commissioned a laboratory test of eight baby food products produced by three main manufacturers. These manufacturers are Heinz, Gerber and Beechnut.
They found sixteen different pesticides within them. There are three suspected carcinogens, five known carcinogens, eight neurotoxins, and the last five are the most toxic chemicals. It is estimated by some doctors that everyday about one million children under the age of five ingest unsafe levels of pesticide toxins. The American Association of Poison Control centers estimates that there are one million human pesticide poisonings, and about twenty thousand of them result in death every year. That is a statistic that the House of Representatives would not like their constituents to know.
Our heavy use of chemicals and pesticides in the environment is not just harmful towards humans, our wildlife pays a heavy as well. Animal and insect reproductive patterns are being affected, populations are declining and many species are experiencing an extordinary increase in deformities. Frogs for example, are being extremely affected. In the summer of 1995, a group of teenage students took a hike near a pond in Minnesota. Suprisingly, these frogs were found to have an unusual number of appendages. These frogs had anywhere from two to six legs total. In fact, on of the frogs spotted had three feet on one leg. Minnesota scientists have cited the likely cause as being chemical toxins.
Since this incident, deformed frogs have been found at one hundred and seventy-four sites in several northern U.S. states. Aside from having deformities, the number of frogs in these areas are dwindiling in numbers. The frog population is also decreasing in countries like Australia, India, Europe, Central and South America, and in the majority of the western United States. The Declinig Amphibians Population Task Force was set up by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and has backing from many governments, including the United States. Their scientists are continuilly looking for reasons for the mysterious population decreases. It has been thought that pesticides used by nearby farms is the leading cause.
Scientists have discovered that not only are the appendeges of frogs being affected by pesticides and chemicals, but the hormonal makeup of other wildlife is being affected as well. Many pesticides and other chemicles released into our enviornment funtion as endocrine disrupters, alter the hormonal makeup of wildlife and humans. Problems in the reproductive system have been discovered in harbor seals, snapping turtles, and double crested cormorants. Behavorial abnormalities have been cited in different species of gulls and terns, and immune suppression in beluga whales, common terns and gulls has been documented, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
An NWF study reprts that endocrine Disruptors have resulted in animal offspring whose gender distinctions are unclear. Alligators, western gulls and rainbow trout have emerged with rudimentary sexual organs, and western and herring gulls have been observed exhibiting mating behaviors of both genders..
Most people, no matter what their view is on pesticide usage, will agree that to maintain a healthy lifestyle, eating properly outweighs the risk of ingesting possible residues. After all, society knows that fruits and vegetables are very important to maintain a balanced diet. So produce must be protected and maybe there are safer ways of doing it. In some countries like China, they encourage the service and population of spiders and other insect-eating creatures within their rice crops.
When we spray poisons to kill pests, we are also killing that pest’s natural predators. The only way individuals can protect themselves and their children is to rinse fruit and vegetables thoroughly under running water. Also peeling fruits helps to remove surface residue. Another way to prevent the intake of pesticides is to throw away the outer leaves of vegetables. Cooking and baking foods also helps to kill residues and bacteria. If society is going to stop the escalation of pesticides, then alternative solutions must be explored and put into effect.