|Photo borrowed from Pesticide Action Network Website|
In May of this year, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN) released their report, “Kids on the Frontline: How pesticides are undermining the health of rural children.” The purpose of this report was to look at how pesticide exposure is impacting the health of children, specifically children in rural areas where agricultural pesticides are used. All children, regardless of where they reside, are vulnerable to pesticide exposure. Residues may be on their food and they may be exposed to applications of pesticides in schools, parks and even their own homes. Children in rural areas are also exposed in these ways, however they have additional exposure to pesticides in their environment through drift, water contamination and pesticides that may be brought into their homes on clothing of a family member who applies the chemicals to name a few.
“…Since 1945, overall use of pesticides has grown from less than 200 million to more than 1.1 billion pounds of ‘active ingredient’ per year…” Additionally, there has been a 289 percent rise in global pesticide sales between 2000 and 2010 with worldwide sales expected to climb from $44.2 billion in 2010 to $68.5 billion in 2017. The authors state: “…we control pesticides through a system of registration and labeling, with a primary goal of getting products to market. The result? Each year, more than 680 million pounds of pesticides are applied to agricultural fields across the country. This 2007 figure climbs to more than a billion when common non-agricultural pesticide uses are included.” To this they respond with, “We believe this is too much. Ever-stronger science shows that even at low levels of exposure, many of these chemicals are harmful to human health—and children’s developing minds and bodies are particularly vulnerable. It is also increasingly clear that alternative, less chemical–intensive approaches to farming are not only viable, but would strengthen the resilience of agricultural production… Put simply, there is no need for our food and farming system to put our children’s health at risk from chemical exposure.”
This report outlines some key findings about the connection between pesticide exposure and children’s health. We continue to see a rise in childhood health problems including autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as other developmental disabilities. “The number of ADHD diagnoses has increased an average of three percent every year from 1997 to 2006, and an average 5.5 percent per year from 2003 to 2009 for an overall rise of nearly 50 percent over 15 years.” The CDC estimates one in every 68 children in the U.S is on the autism spectrum which represents a 123% increase in just ten years! Leukemia and brain tumors are now the most common types of childhood cancer with rates increasing between 40 and 50 percent since 1975. In many rural communities, the rates of these childhood morbidities are greater than the national averages. It’s important to recognize that children’s bodies are different. “Quickly growing bodies take in more of everything: they eat, breathe and drink more, pound for pound, than adults…At critical moments of development, even very low levels of pesticide exposure can derail biological processes in ways that have harmful, potentially lifelong effects.” That final statement, “lifelong effects” is a strong one.
You should know, Richard and I take this topic and those related to it very seriously. Partly because we believe fully in farming organically because it is a safer option, but also because we were both “kids on the frontline.” Richard grew up on a cattle farm in South Dakota. His job as a teenager was to spray 2,4-D on the thistles in the fields. His spray protective gear consisted of a pair of leather gloves. I grew up on a dairy farm in Indiana where my family and our neighbors used atrazine and later glyphosate on our fields and those throughout our community. When I look at maps of the U.S. that depict pesticide use and amounts across the country, Indiana is always a solid color indicating high levels of use. It makes me shudder and my heart skips a beat…not out of joy and excitement, but more of panic, anger and a feeling of urgency. We often talk about the potential of a seed. When we receive a seed into our care it is our responsibility as farmers to do everything we can to help that seed reach its full potential. At any point along the way our choices can either make a positive or a negative impact on the final outcome. I think it’s very much the same with children. It’s our responsibility to pave the way for the future generations. The bottom line…how long are we going to let history continue to repeat itself before we collectively say “ENOUGH!”
Unfortunately our current system of agriculture is controlled largely by multinational entities who have their hands on all aspects of the production system from selling the seeds to the chemical inputs as well as setting the research agendas at public institutions. “Not surprisingly, these same corporations also hold significant sway in the policy arena, investing millions of dollars every year to influence voters and policy makers at the local, state and federal levels…The result is a system of food and farming that serves the interests of these corporations well. It does not, however, adequately protect public health or serve the common good.” The introduction of GMO seeds and the pesticides that go along with them was supposed to lead to less chemical use, but it is clear this is not the case. My own father made this observation on his farm. “The more chemical we used, the more weeds we had and the more chemical we had to use.”
So where do we go from here? PAN’s recommendation is this: “The best way to protect children from pesticide harms is to dramatically reduce the volume of use nationwide. We believe this shift is both achievable and long overdue. The burden of protecting children from dangerous chemicals cannot rest with individual families; policy change is required.” First, reduce overall pesticide use by making this a national goal. Once this goal is in place, policy makers can work towards implementing strong policies to help us achieve this goal. Secondly, we need to prioritize action on pesticides most harmful to children by phasing out the “worst” chemicals, creating protective buffer zones and ensuring healthy school lunches made with organic food. Lastly, as a nation we need to “provide significant and meaningful support, incentives and recognition for farmers stepping off the pesticide treadmill. These commonsense measures are both ambitious and achievable. The current, continuous increase in pesticide use ignores accumulating scientific evidence of human health harms. This is unacceptable.” They conclude their report with this statement: “It will take strong public pressure to make the significant changes needed, but the time is ripe to muster the political will to build a truly healthy, thriving food and farming system.”
www.panna.org and is complete with all cited resources.