In countries around the world, evidence of the devastating effects of highly hazardous pesticides on people’s health and the environment is on the rise. The introduction of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered seeds in the 90s has led to a resurgence of chemical sales and widespread drift of harmful herbicides like glyphosate and dicamba. Corporate consolidation has enabled three mega-pesticide companies to capture over 70% of the global pesticide market and 60% of commercial seed sales. In the U.S., this corporate power translates directly into political power, and has led to the unraveling of critical health and environmental protections.
Four years ago, on a sunny day in April much like today, I wrote a post entitled "Roundup, cancer and the future of food", warning of the impending failure, health and environmental harms of leaving our food system in control of the world’s biggest pesticide company.
Without doubt, these are challenging times. Stepping back from the political turmoil that we see here and in the world around us, we are simultaneously confronted with evidence that climate change is fast unravelling the systems of the natural world that have evolved over millennia to create a habitable planet.
It’s mid-July and temperatures are soaring. So are the numbers of dicamba drift-related crop injuries sweeping across rural America. Also rising: the outrage of farmers, gardeners and rural residents, as they watch this unnecessary chemical debacle unfold, once again. Watching unperturbed from the sidelines: Monsanto (recently acquired by Bayer) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
On a brilliant day in July, twenty-some years ago, I stood ankle-deep in the cool mud of a fragrant rice field in central Thailand, listening to the farmers around me discuss the bugs on the plants (were these “satru puut” or “satru thammachat”? pests or natural enemies?), and whether or not the Nitrogen-fixing aquatic Azolla they had introduced into one of their experimental plots would do more to increase their yields than the chemical fertilizer in the comparison plots.
Like a wildfire burning out of control, the epidemic of dicamba drift blowing across 20 states this summer has already damaged over three million acres of soybean cropland. Adding to the list of some 2,200 reported herbicide injuries are likely many more damaged acres of fruit and vegetable farms, vineyards, trees, home gardens, hedgerows and plant habitats critical to pollinators and other wildlife.
This Saturday, Pesticide Action Network will be in the streets of San Francisco, marching for science. We march because we believe that the freedom and ability to conduct independent science, by and for the people, is critical to our collective ability to create a healthy, just and sustainable world. We march to reclaim science from corrupt corporations and to defend the practice of science from those in power who would use it to oppress vulnerable peoples or who wish to deny the existence or emergence of inconvenient scientific truths.
Last month, governments gathered in Marrakech for a critical round of global climate talks, tasked with the responsibility of pulling the planet back from the precipice of climate disaster.
Last week, the National Academies of Science (NAS) attracted much media attention with the release of its new report, "Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects." The report assessed a range of health, environmental, social and economic impacts of GE crops.
In his final State of the Union address, President Obama took the long view, focusing on the future and naming several critical arenas for change. Over dinner afterwards, my family shared what we each liked (or didn’t like) about the address. I certainly agreed with the President’s points about the need to “reduce the influence of money in politics” and ensure that “the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.”