© Cartoon of artist Bill Mauldin.
Silent Spring in popular culture
“. . . new chemicals come from our laboratories in an endless stream; almost 500 annually find their way into actual use in the United States alone…500 new chemicals to which the bodies of men and animals are required somehow to adapt each year, chemicals totally outside the limits of biologic experience.” – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Two years after Rachel Carson sounded the above warning, she died of breast cancer. Now 50 years later, the pesticide and chemical assault on our health that Carson exposed in her book, Silent Spring, has intensified. Newer toxic chemicals like Monsanto’s Roundup and Syngenta’s atrazine have taken over where DDT and arsenic left off. Despite massive scientific evidence that these chemicals are poisoning us, U.S. regulatory agencies have avoided or delayed taking action on thousands of deadly chemicals, including Monsanto’s Roundup (active ingredient glyphosate) and Syngenta’s atrazine, the two most heavily sprayed poisons on GMO corn and soybeans, America’s top crops.
The European Union, utilizing the “precautionary principle,” has banned several dozen agricultural pesticides and practices that still pollute U.S. food, food packaging, water, body care, cosmetic, and cleaning products. Still, and despite the fact that the President’s Cancer Panel, in 2010, warned that up to 80 percent of U.S. cancer cases—currently striking 48 percent of men, 38 percent of women, and increasing numbers of children—are directly caused by poisons in our environment and food, by Big Food, pharmaceutical, chemical and genetic engineering corporations, aided and abetted by federal government bureaucrats, are still telling us “don’t worry.”
Don’t worry about the more than 85,000 untested and unlabeled industrial chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, plasticizers, flame retardants, artificial hormones, growth promotors, antibiotics, animal drugs, artificial colors, preservatives, flavors, and genetically modified organisms, in our food and environment.
The “experts” tell us that the thousands of toxic chemicals and animal drugs used in GMO and chemical-intensive agriculture and consumer products are “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS), based on biased industry “safety” studies, scientific fraud, and outdated protocols. Legitimizing industry propaganda, U.S. bureaucrats love to brag that the U.S. not only has the “cheapest,” food you can buy, but also the “safest.”
Don’t worry about the skyrocketing epidemic of obesity, cancer, heart disease, asthma, autism, birth defects, mental illness, immune disorders, antibiotic resistant pathogens, food poisoning, vaccine injuries, reproductive disorders, and behavioral and learning disabilities in the body politic and our children. Shut up and eat your Frankenfoods. Chemical and factory-farmed food is cheaper than organic food. Take your meds. “Trust us, we’re experts.”
“Daily allowable” limits of chemical poisons in our air, water, food, medical drugs, and other consumer products, under the “profit versus risk” assessments of our revolving door bureaucrats (industry to government, government to industry) in Washington D.C. sound a bit worrisome. But when you get sick, Obamacare’s Big Pharma tycoons have a powerful drug or chemo regime just for you, never mind the side effects.
Atrazine: Banned in the EU, but ‘safe’ in the U.S.?
Case in point, Syngenta’s commonly used, gender-bender corn weed killer atrazine, now under, multi-year—likely never ending—review by the EPA. Atrazine has been linked to breast cancer, severe hormone disruption, and birth defects in doses as low as parts per trillion (one of the class of poisons where there is literally no safe dose). Atrazine was banned in the EU in 2004. But under our “profits trump risks” regulatory system atrazine is still routinely sprayed on corn, sugar cane, and other crops as well as golf courses and lawns (along with Monsanto’s poison herbicide Roundup). And it ends up with other poisons such as chemical fertilizer nitrites in the tap water of much of the U.S.
Besides tap water, residues of atrazine (along with Roundup or glyphosate) end up in non-organic sweet corn, and high fructose corn syrup in processed foods and soda, as well as nearly all of our factory farmed meat, dairy and poultry.
But women needn’t worry, according to the Feds. If you get breast cancer from Syngenta’s estrogen supercharger atrazine, you can always go to your cancer specialist and get a prescription for a breast cancer drug, first developed by Novartis (former parent company of Syngenta) that inhibits the estrogen production caused by atrazine. And of course the increased risks of your child being born with a birth defect need to be balanced off against the “risks” of reducing the profits of Big Ag, Syngenta and Monsanto. Don’t you agree?
The USA’s safety and regulatory system for GMOs, pesticides, factory farms and industrial chemicals—a regime that dominates food safety, chemical use, and environmental policy in much of the world—is broken and corrupted. Given the deteriorating state of public health and the environment, the only precautionary strategy for consumers is to avoid or boycott GMO, pesticide- and chemical-tainted products and to purchase and consume organic and truly natural products instead.
Of the 80,000+ industrial chemicals approved for use in food and consumer products, no more than several hundred have been independently safety-tested by the government. And almost none have been tested in the actual formulations or combinations of chemicals in which humans consume them in our food and water. One case in point, Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, whose active ingredient glyphosate has been “tested” in over a thousand industry-funded studies, but never tested using the herbicide’s full formulation, a chemical cocktail far more toxic than glyphosate alone.
Frankenfoods and factory farmaggedon
Since 1962, only a handful of pesticides and industrial chemicals in use have been pulled from the U.S. market.
Over this same period, besides routinely feeding farm animals pesticide- and GMO-tainted feed (residues of which end up in the food we eat), enormous quantities of antibiotics and growth hormones have been injected, implanted or fed to factory-farm animals, giving rise to a growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance, food poisoning, cancer, heart disease, obesity, hormone, behavioral, and reproductive disorders.
In 1992, the U.S. government, at the behest of Monsanto and corporate agribusiness, using the excuse of “sound science” and streamlining government restrictions on industry, declared that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and their accompanying pesticides, such as Roundup, would be allowed into the U.S. food supply, with no labeling nor special pre-market safety-testing required. The so-called scientific justification for this proclamation was the doctrine of “substantial equivalence,” the industry-promoted but scientifically indefensible theory that patented genetically engineered foods and crops are the same as non-genetically engineered crops, and therefore are inherently safe.
In 1994, the FDA approved the first GMO in our food supply, Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), despite consumer opposition, warnings by the Government Accountability Office, and independent scientific studies. Research indicated clearly that injecting rBGH into dairy cows (to force them to give more milk) severely damaged animal health and produced pus- and hormone-laden milk and dairy products that increased human risks for breast, prostate, and colon cancer, specifically by elevating the levels of a potent cancer tumor promoter called IGF-! (Insulin-like Growth Factor number 1) in the blood. Because of these hazards, rBGH has been banned in most of the industrialized countries of the world, including Canada and the EU. Unfortunately, due to the influence of Monsanto, and now the animal drug giant Elanco (a division of Eli Lilly), Bovine Growth Hormone is still being injected into approximately 10 percent of U.S. dairy cows.
No wonder millions of American have turned away from pesticide- and chemically-tainted foods and beverages, to organic foods—which ban the use of toxic pesticides, rBGH, animal drugs, and GMOs—making the combined organic ($43.3 billion) and natural foods industry a $70-billion powerhouse, the fastest growing component (along with grass-fed beef) in the U.S. food system.
No basis for trust
Since the government (and the mass media) keep telling us that GMOs and pesticides and animal drugs are perfectly safe (“proven safe by thousands of studies”), and since regulatory agencies are about to renew the registrations for a number of deadly herbicides, including Monsanto’s Roundup (active ingredient glyphosate), and Syngenta’s atrazine, even as they continue approving new poisons like 2,4D and dicamba-resistant crops, and a full array of new Frankenfoods and animals, perhaps we need to review a few of the fundamental reasons why you shouldn’t believe a word of what they say.]
- Government corruption and the “revolving door” between industry and government. In any regulatory system worthy of its name, scientific and toxicological testing of agricultural and industrial chemicals and foods needs to be publicly funded (as opposed to industry funded), independent, transparent and objective. In the U.S. today, none of these criteria are being met. The overwhelming majority of “risk assessments” or so-called “safety studies” of chemicals and pesticides are paid for by industry, carried out behind closed doors by industry-designated scientists and labs. The data and results are invariably biased, and in many cases kept secret using the excuse of business “proprietary information.” This is why deadly chemicals such as PCBs, Agent Orange, DDT, benzene, asbestos, tobacco, formaldehyde, Roundup, atrazine, and dioxin (as well as dangerous pharmaceutical drugs and antibiotics in animal feed) have stayed on the market for decades after literally killing thousands of people. The majority of government officials who “review” these paid-for-by-industry studies either previously worked for the companies or the industry they are supposed to be regulating, or else are looking forward to lucrative jobs once they leave government and go to insidious work in industry. A perfect example of this revolving door is the long-standing relationship between Monsanto and the U.S. government.
- Industry- and profit-driven science. In the U.S, as opposed to the EU, “risk assessment” (basing regulations on the relative cost to industry to decide whether to restrict or ban toxic chemicals) trumps the “precautionary principle” (the principle that a chemical or a product ingredient or formulation must first be proven safe before being allowed to be put into a product or released into the environment). Risk assessment underlies the notion that a “little bit” of poison in our food or water or environment won’t hurt us, even though modern science tells us that there are endocrine or hormone disruptors in food and the environment that can give us cancer, make us obese, or cause birth defects at tiny levels (parts per billion or trillion). In fact, common hormone disruptors like Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, or Syngenta’s Atrazine are apparently more toxic and deadly at lower doses than at higher doses.
- Over-simplified and outdated scientific procedures. The supposed gold standard for testing pesticides is to isolate the “active” ingredient, (glyphosate, in the case of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide Roundup), even though numerous independent studies show that the secret, so-called “inert ingredients” or additives in these pesticides often make the pesticides much more poisonous. In addition, most non-organic foods (as well as tap water) contain residues from several different pesticides, GMO, and or chemicals (nitrites from chemical fertilizers in combination with pesticides for example), which again often create a “toxic synergy” that is much more hazardous than the single pesticide or chemical by itself. Testing the toxicity of tap water in the corn belt for example, which invariably contains both Atrazine and nitrites, by testing only one of these poisons in isolation, gives results that are several hundred times lower than testing what humans are actually consuming. If we properly tested tap water we’d have to ban both Atrazine and nitrogen fertilizers.
- Fake Science. Typical industry-funded safety studies of pesticides and other chemicals are short-term “acute toxicity” studies that involve injecting rats with increasingly larger doses of an “active ingredient” until they keel over and die, and then using a mathematical formula to deduce an allowable dose on food for humans (whereby much more sensitive infants and children are regarded as no more susceptible than fully-grown adults.) These scientifically fraudulent experiments, in order to save money and obtain the desired results for industry, are typically carried out on a small number of rats, designed to prove that small amounts of the active ingredient in the pesticide (the “allowed daily intake”) are safe for humans to consume. These industry-sponsored studies invariably conclude that these pesticides are “safe.” But in order to meet the criteria of the precautionary principle, or sound science, these studies (using, not an acute dose, but rather the average dosage that humans actually consume each day) would have to be carried out on a sufficient number of rats, over a sufficient period of time to find the impact of the full formulation as well as of the active ingredient on rat fetuses in the womb, baby rats, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Rats live approximately 3 years, roughly corresponding to 75 years for a human. A 30-, 60- or 90-day study of an isolated “active ingredient” will tell you very little about the cumulative impact of ingesting a pesticide like Monsanto’s Roundup over a human lifetime. For example, most malignant cancers in humans proliferate at age 65 or older. Dissecting the vital organs of a rat under the age of three years is not going to tell you whether this pesticide is like to give you cancer or not.
- Ignoring the precautionary principle. Independent scientists (unfortunately a dwindling breed) are quite capable of determining whether or not a pesticide or a synthetic chemical is dangerous, given sufficient resources and the freedom to pursue sound scientific studies. However, industry does not want to spend the money required to prove whether their products and formulations are truly safe or not—in part because they know, either consciously or unconsciously, that many or most of their most profitable products (unless they are organic or truly natural) and formulations are hazardous. So we and our children, and the living environment, end up being the real lab rats. No wonder public health and the environment are deteriorating and degenerating. No wonder health care costs are spiraling out of control. No wonder we have a cancer epidemic, an obesity epidemic, an epidemic of heart disease, asthma, as well as reproductive, hormonal, immune system and behavioral disorders. It’s time to take back control of our food system, our health, our government and regulatory agencies. If the government won’t allow proper labeling and safety-testing of foods, then we, the global grassroots, need to investigate, expose and boycott toxic products and chemicals. If industry and the government won’t fund “sound science,” then we will need to crowdsource and fund independent, sound science ourselves. In the meantime, we need to defend ourselves and our families, especially the children and most vulnerable, by buying organic and truly natural foods and products, today and every day. Grow your own. Build up local food hubs and community capacity. Support economic justice campaigns so that poor and minority communities can afford and gain access to organic foods. Reach out to others and get organized. Don’t just mourn or complain, Resist and Regenerate.