Keeping politicians on message can sometimes be difficult. That also holds true of corporate chiefs and movie stars. Even the most seasoned, media-savvy folks veer off their talking points on occasion. But that’s not the case with the pesticide industry and its clientele.
In the decades since agriculture’s embrace of chemical pesticides revolutionized farming, the companies that make bug- and weed-killers have never acknowledged that their products can harm human health. Despite the proliferation of careful studies revealing troubling connections between pesticides and serious health problems, spokesmen for the pesticide industry and conventional agriculture have stuck to their talking points with unshakeable discipline, attacking anyone who raises concerns about the effects of these chemicals on health and the environment.
Case in point: Immediately following a report recently by noted physician and television talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz on the potential health risks of pesticides on food, a pro-pesticide front group, the Alliance for Food and Farming, issued a statement assailing him.
This week he (Dr. Oz) aired yet another segment that did nothing but generate misguided fear among its viewers, especially moms, about the safety of fruits and veggies. The segment was sprinkled with scary quotes about “chemical cocktails” and “pesticide load.” Dr. Oz professes to care about the health of Americans, but fear sells, so he puts ratings and profits over promoting healthy diets every time.
During his lengthy report, Dr. Oz raised salient issues about pesticides in food that the Alliance and its fumigant-friendly members have conspicuously ignored. Specifically, he focused on how consuming combinations of pesticides often present on fruits or vegetables might affect the developing brains of babies and the human reproductive system.
No one knows for sure what happens when multiple pesticides build up in people’s blood and tissue. In the last few years, however, leading scientists from top research institutes have published multiple findings linking exposure to just a single class of pesticides called organophosphates to serious, and in some cases irreversible, conditions. They include, neurological problems, including ADHD, low birth weight in babies and diminished IQs in children. As Dr. Oz pointed out, if a single class of pesticides can cause all these harms, how can ingesting a smorgasbord of crop chemicals not be a risk?
Even as the Alliance for Food and Farming was taking potshots at Dr. Oz for “scaring moms,” another health problem, endometriosis, was added to the pesticide rap sheet. A team of scientists at the renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle reported that women exposed to higher levels of two organochlorine pesticides (beta-hexachlorocyclohexane and mirex) had a 30-to-70 percent higher risk of developing the painful disorder, which afflicts about 10 percent of American women of reproductive age. In fact, endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility among women.
Like other legacy pesticides still present in the environment and bodies of Americans decades after they were banned or discontinued, these two chemicals were taken off the market 30 years ago. The study’s lead author, Kristen Upson, Ph.D., made exactly that point in a press release on the report:
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