Last week, the UK Guardian posted an investigative article and accompanying short film, “Pineapples: Luxury fruit, at what price?”. Focusing on the human health and environmental impacts of pesticide-dependent pineapple plantations in Costa Rica, the film links what happens to workers and communities with what consumers have come to expect — artificially inexpensive produce flown in from across the globe year-round. To meet market demand for cheap pineapples, field workers are exposed to cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting herbicides like endosulfan and bromocil while receiving only four percent of what consumers pay for the fruit of their labors.
On September 30th, a congressional oversight committee conducted the second of two hearings on the issue of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” created by unregulated cultivation of genetically engineered, Roundup Ready crops. The focus of the hearing is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s failure to take action against the rapid evolution of weeds resistant to Roundup (glyphosate), which now infest over 10 million acres of U.S. cropland.
The glacial pace of government decision-making on pesticides is costly. Not just the cost of years of paperwork, collecting and reviewing the endless stream of industry studies. And not just the cost of medical care for those who are damaged by toxins before they are taken off the market.
Sometimes, slow decisions result in pesticide exposures that cause such harm they fundamentally change the course of a child’s life. A cost that’s so high, it really can’t even be measured.
I'm just back from a week in Rio de Janeiro strategizing on the future of food with an amazing group of activists from Brazil, South Africa, India, the Philippines and Germany. The event was organized by PAN partner AS-PTA, Brazil’s lead NGO campaigning against agricultural GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and promoting agroecology as the better way forward. As an agroecologist myself, I was thrilled to be invited.
While in Rio, I was inspired by stories of courage, persistence and deep commitment. I talked with mothers and fathers, farmers, ecologists, agronomists, community organizers, health experts and human rights lawyers. Like many of us in the U.S., they are seeking to build healthy, safe, fair and sustainable food systems at home, and want more than anything to leave a healthy legacy for their children and for future generations.
PAN summarizes the key findings from Agriculture at a Crossroads, the landmark UN report from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). More than 400 scientists examined the successes and shortcomings of the world’s food and agricultural systems, and evaluated the impact that public agencies, agricultural research institutions and the private sector have on the well-being of farmers, farmworkers and rural communities.
Many U.S. residents carry toxic pesticides in their bodies at levels above what the government says are “acceptable.” Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability is an analysis of pesticide-related data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a study of chemicals measured in the bodies of thousands of people nationwide. PAN explores tools for determining the accountability of pesticide corporations for residues of specific chemicals found above levels considered by EPA to be "safe".
Much as the chemical industry complains about regulation, the regulatory process in the U.S. is largely captured by corporate interests. Corporations wield unmatched money and influence, and regulatory agencies rely on industry-funded studies, antiquated legal frameworks and inadequate enforcement tools.