Food and Health

chemical-exposureBy The Organic Consumers Association

Excerpts from the book Bringing the Food Economy Home.
International Society for Ecology and Culture


If one considers some typical modern foods- hamburgers laden with growth
hormones, vegetables laced with pesticides, soft drinks full of refined
sugar, and foods too numerous to mention whose colour and taste have been
artificially enhanced by manufactured chemicals- one could easily imagine
that the goal of the global food system is simply to provide the global
health care system with more customers. Local food systems, on the other
hand, are not only healthier for the environment, they provide people with
healthier food as well.

Chemical Stews

Local foods often contain no chemical additives, since they are
less likely to need processing. And because of the prevalence of small,
diversified, organic farms in local food systems, these foods are less apt
to contain residues of pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic

Although these chemicals now routinely turn up in our food and
water, they are very recent in human evolutionary history, and our defences
are therefore unprepared to protect us from them. They can cause cancer,
birth defects, immune system breakdown, and neurological damage, and can
interfere with normal childhood development. Some of these chemicals are
endocrine disrupters and have been implicated in the early onset of puberty
so prevalent in the industrial world. Studies have even indicated a
correlation between aggression and exposure to pesticides. The chemical
fertilizers used in industrial agriculture also pose a health problem:
nitrates in water, for example have been linked to blue-baby syndrome in
infants, birth defects, and cancer of the gastrointestinal tract.

The health of farmworkers is seriously compromised by their
exposure to agricultural chemicals on the job. According to a United Nations
study, from 20,000 to 40,000 farmworkers die each year from pesticide
exposure. Another study indicates that as many as 300,000 farmworkers in the
United States alone suffer from pesticide related illnesses. But one
doesn¹t need to be a farmworker or even live near a farm to be exposed to
these toxic compounds.

Tens of millions of Americans in hundreds of cities
and towns have been drinking tap water that is contaminated with low levels
of insecticides, weed killers and artificial fertilisers. They not only
drink it, they bathe and shower in it, thus inhaling small quantities of
farm chemicals and absorbing them through the skin.

A recent survey by the US Environmental Protection Agency found
that 80% of adults and 90% of children in the United States have measurable
concentrations of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in their urine.

Factory Farms and Human Health

Other agribusiness livestock practices are equally alarming.
Monsanto has been aggressively marketing rBGH, a recombinant form of a
naturally occurring hormone, for use in dairy cows. The use of the
genetically engineered hormone increases milk production by 15 percent or
more, but has numerous side effects: treated cows do not live as long; they
are prone to develop mastitis (an infection of the udder, usually treated
with antibiotics); and they often give birth to deformed or stillborn
calves. As far as human health is concerned, perhaps most worrisome of all
is that researchers have found elevated levels of another hormone, IGF-1, in
milk from cows treated with rBGH. IGF-1 has been linked to increased
likelihood of cancer in humans.

The only actual testing of the drug is currently being carried out as an
uncontrolled experiment on the American people, who are unknowingly
consuming the milk from the drugged cows. They are unknowing because the
drug¹s manufacturer has lobbied, litigated and intimidated, with near-total
success, to make labelling that would indicate whether or not milk comes
from rBGH-treated cows virtually illegal.

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