Pesticides:A Personal Letter
I sent my blog, "Stop Pesticide Testing on Humans", out as an e-mail to my "list". I received a letter from a list member, objecting to the content of the e-mail. Here is the letter and my response:
Date: 12/1/2005 4:09:11 AM ( 11 y ) ... viewed 1833 times
As a scientist and someone whose profession has tangible ties to public health concerns, I strongly object to this campaign.
All medications and pesticides need to be tested, *on humans,* before release to the general public. This ensures that potentially millions of people are not exposed to harmful substances. Test subjects are volunteers, and often have something to gain from allowing themselves to be subjected to the testing.
Releasing untested pesticides and then studying the effects on thousands of people *who have no choice* is the truly unethical path. 70% of the agricultural workers who are affected by this practice are of Mexican descent, and most do not speak enough English to understand the risks of the chemicals they work with, cannot read the MSDS sheets, and cannot object without losing their livelihood. They don’t even imagine that their health problems and their children’s birth defects, cancers, and chronic illnesses stem from their very efforts to support themselves and their families. You were all over the supposed racial injustices in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina. *That* is ridiculous. *This* is very real.
We cannot grow enough food for everyone without the use of fertilizer and pesticide using current farming technology. It’s all very well and good to encourage organic farming, but the fact is that the food is more expensive, and we couldn’t possibly grow enough. So what happens to all the minority poor if they can’t even afford food? How’s that for a racial injustice?
On a more everyday, practical point, consider veterinary flea control products like Advantage and Revolution, as well as non-veterinary (pet store) applications like Hartz. Because they are topical pesticides, they fall under the auspices of the EPA. I realize that you don’t have pets, but millions upon millions of families and children do. Is it your contention that these pesticides should *not* be thoroughly tested before coming on the market and *in our own homes?* Many of the over the counter products are soon to be recalled by the EPA after a good 20-30 YEARS on the market, because of organophosphate and carbamate toxicity concerns. Shouldn’t someone have figured that out before an entire generation (myself included) was exposed? How exactly does a retrospective study on the matter apply?
To say that releasing pesticides and then testing them is more ethical than thorough testing on volunteer subjects is just incomprehensible. No one is strapping people down and forcing pesticide down their throat. Study on volunteers is not an unethical research strategy. How do you think the FDA tests and approves (or not) new drugs? Like it or not, pesticides in their many forms help us live the way we do in this country, the same way that FDA approved medications do. We can go outside with minimal fear of malaria and west nile virus, and a host of other vector-borne diseases. We have abundant, cheap produce and grain… enough to feed people in other countries as well. We also have enough to feed our livestock, and help protect them from vector-borne disease. We can experience the joys of pet ownership without allowing our homes to be breeding grounds for fleas, or encouraging the spread of parasites.
This is, of course, my educated opinion. You can take it or leave it, but at least consider the other side of the issue. And please stop sending me this stuff, because it drives me up the wall!
Well, List Member, thanks for your opinion. I'll take you off my list. I realize we will never see eye-to-eye on this and a lot of other issues.
For the record, I never said or even implied that "releasing pesticides and then testing them is more ethical than thorough testing on volunteer subjects". Nor is it my "contention that these pesticides should *not* be thoroughly tested before coming on the market and *in our own homes?*" List Member, I hope you were being facetious when you wrote this.
It IS my contention that ALL pesticides are toxic to human, animal, and all life on the planet. I'd like to see them ALL banned. If we don't have pesticides, we don't have to subject humans or animals, for that matter, to testing. But I'm a zealot and that's my opinion. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a "safe" pesticide, no matter its form or potency. Check out the Pesticide Action Network Pesticides Database for information about pesticides: http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Index.html
There are alternatives to pesticide usage. You mentioned fleas and West Nile Virus, for example. There are effective nontoxic methods of controlling both without the use of pesticides, easily found on the Internet:
Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
Home Page: http://www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html#alternatives
lists less-toxic pest control from ants to ticks; lists weed control and lawn maintenance/ http://www.pesticide.org/fleas.html Managing fleas without pesticides; West Nile Virus/mosquito control: http://www.pesticide.org/westnilevirus.html
As for your statement that our ability to feed the world comes from our use of pesticides: We CAN grow enough food without the use of pesticides; there are organic farms all over the world producing quality food right now. There are alternative farming methods to usage of pesticides in agriculture, and it is far more advanced than simply growing organic crops--such as bio-dynamic composting vs synthetic fertilizers, biodiversity of field crops vs monoculture, crop rotation, etc. Studies have shown that growing organic foods can be cost effective and yields can be as high as "regular" farming; I'm not an expert in this area, and again, there are loads of resources on the Internet about it, for example: Strawberry & Tomato Farming without Fumigants & Other Toxic Pesticides: http://www.panna.org/resources/gpc/gpc_200508.15.2.06.dv.html
This is an EXCELLENT series of articles "Corporate Lies: Busting the Myths of Industrial Agriculture/Seven Deadly Myths of Industrial Agriculture" http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/CorporateLies.pdf
A lot of the disparity between the cost of say, organic tomatoes and pesticide-laden ones, has to do with the inequities of farm subsidies. The matter of food distribution is largely a political one; we can feed the world, and we don't have to poison the planet with pesticides in order to do it. Food (and non-food crops such as cotton--did you know that cotton comprises 10% of all crops grown in the world, and uses 25% of the world's pesticides?) grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers that is affordable for everyone--including the poor--is do-able but the political system that subsidizes and encourages "regular" agribusiness to wipe out small, local, community and family farms around the world is going to have to change; it's going to take a social and political revolution of sorts, or a world-wide catastrophe, or a world-wide awakening, in order for this to happen. Highly Recommended reading: 9/14/05 "Policies for Sustainable Food Systems, National and Global" by Michael Meacher, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/PFSFSNG.php
In the meantime, there are a lot of examples, some right here in inner cities like Los Angeles, of community and school farms that are feeding low-income people healthy organic foods, because the people eating it are growing it themselves in their own backyards, literally, and in community plots of land. It's do-able and affordable on the local level, given that people are educated first about healthy alternatives and initially assisted in starting these projects: Durham Inner City Gardeners http://www.seedsnc.org/dig.htm LA Eco-Village http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC35/Arkin.htm
"Many of the over the counter products are soon to be recalled by the EPA after a good 20-30 YEARS on the market, because of organophosphate and carbamate toxicity concerns. Shouldn’t someone have figured that out before an entire generation (myself included) was exposed?" Well, on this we do agree. We should have never used this stuff in the first place. And, yours is not the first generation to be poisoned by this stuff; my generation is. There is a new study, just out, that finds strong evidence that Parkinson's Disease is caused by long-term, low-level exposure to pesticides. So you can put my father into the mix as well (although his disease is most likely caused from all the chemical exposure in the workplace with the paints, glues, and other products he worked with over the years): November 27, 2005 Los Angeles Times online: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-parkinsons27nov27,0,6405452.story?col...
And, as far as the effects of even low-dose pesticides on human health, you need look no further than your own dear Liora Leah. I have been living with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) for over 20 years. Even a small whiff of pesticides can induce symptoms in people with MCS, including severe headache, disorientation, nausea, weakness and muscle fatigue, irritability, mood swings, respiratory distress, skin rashes, and various and sundry other neurological/physiological symptoms. The numbers of people around the world with MCS is growing exponentially, not JUST because of pesticides, but because of the toxic soup of chemicals with which we are polluting our world; pesticides, of course, make up a major "ingredient" of this soup. Information about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: http://www.ourlittleplace.com/mcs.html MCS Resources: http://www.mcsrr.org/ The Interagency Workgroup on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity:
http://web.health.gov/environment/mcs/toc.htm Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Syndrome: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS): http://www.niehs.nih.gov/external/faq/mcss.htm
Even our own government agencies recognize the toxic effects of pesticides. I'm sure I sent you the article about the most recent CDC study that found that more than 90% of U.S. residents carry pesticides in their bodies, many linked to health effects. Check it out yourself: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/. And what about the toxins found in newborns: http://newstandardnews.net/content/?action=show_item&itemid=2128 or http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/
And, finally, back to that pesky question of testing pesticides on humans:
US EPA Accepts Unethical Human Pesticide Tests June 27, 2005:
"A recent U.S. Congressional report reviewing pesticide studies submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised serious concerns about the intentional dosing of human subjects. The report finds that in each of the 22 studies reviewed, there were violations of ethical standards as set out by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Nuremberg Code and other professional medical and scientific guidelines." http://www.panna.org/resources/panups/panup_20050627.dv.html
I don't know about you, but when I read that ethical standards as set by the Nuremberg Code are being violated, I think about Nazi Germany and the atrocities committed against humans in the name of "medical research" or "science". Sorry, I can't help it. Gut-level reaction after 11 million people were slaughtered in concentration camps, I suppose.
You're off my list.
Love, Liora Leah
Mother Earth Heals
Dear List Member,
In reading your letter over, I realized I didn't address your concerns about farmworkers:
"70% of the agricultural workers who are affected by this practice (pesticide usage) are of Mexican descent, and most do not speak enough English to understand the risks of the chemicals they work with, cannot read the MSDS sheets, and cannot object without losing their livelihood. They don’t even imagine that their health problems and their children’s birth defects, cancers, and chronic illnesses stem from their very efforts to support themselves and their families."
I agree with you here. However, our solution to the problem is markedly different. I can not condone pesticide testing on humans or animals; it is one of the reasons I support a total ban on ALL pesticides, not just in the U.S., but world-wide. I am a long-time supporter of farmworker rights, and am a contributor to United Farm Workers. This organization actively works for the rights of farmworkers, including protecting them from the dangers of pesticide toxicity: http://www.ufw.org/
What you don't mention in your letter is that, in the United States, pesticides that are APPROVED BY THE EPA are the ones that are poisoning the farmworkers in our country. The situation is far worse in so-called "third world" countries, where pesticide usage is poorly regulated, if at all, and where U.S. pesticide manufacturers are known to sell pesticides banned in the U.S. to agribusiness for use in those countries; there have been several high-profile cases of agricultural workers being killed or severely disabled by these toxins, and children born to the workers having gross deformities.
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