Rural life in the U.S. has long meant hard work and healthy living, and farm families and Indigenous communities have been steady stewards of the land. Yet since the advent of industrial agriculture after World War II, the on-the-ground reality of country life has changed.
Between 1950–2000, we lost more than half of American farms, and now less than 1% of the population claim farming as an occupation. Traditional knowledge about how to best grow and gather food is slipping away with the passage of generations. Those families that remain in farming are on the front lines of pesticide exposure – and are seeing increased rates of cancers, miscarriage, birth defects and Parkinson’s disease.
PAN works with farm groups and rural communities to press for policies that prevent the poisoning of rural America and protect small, family farms from corporate, chemically-dependent agriculture.
Health Risks High in Rural Areas
In the U.S. and around the world, rural families live at the interface of livelihood and poison. Farm families and workers face a host of health issues not seen before the advent of chemical-intensive farming. Scientists continue to find strong links between pesticide exposure and a wide range of health problems, including:
Birth defects: A 2009 study found that birth defect rates in rural areas are highest among infants conceived in the spring and summer, when pesticide levels spike in surface water.
Developmental delays & autism: Mexican children exposed to agricultural pesticides had weaker brain and nervous system function, and were developmentally delayed compared with children in a neighboring community where pesticides were not used. In California, children of rural women exposed to certain pesticides during pregnancy were six times more likely to have autism spectrum disorders.
Cancer: The President’s Cancer Panel reported in 2010 that exposure to pesticides is linked to a wide range of cancers, including brain, breast, lung, ovary, testicle and stomach - as well as Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Farmers, applicators, crop duster pilots and manufacturers also higher rates of prostate cancer, melanoma and other skin cancers.
Parkinson’s: Many studies have linked pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease, including one in 2007 that found that individuals who applied pesticides more than 400 days in their lifetime had nearly double the risk of Parkinson’s disease compared to those who had applied pesticides for fewer days.
Rural Women Press for Change
Of the 3.3 million U.S. farmers counted in 2007 Census, more than one million were women. Women are the fastest growing group of farmowners in the country. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women make up 60% of the world’s agricultural labor, and produce 60-80% of the world’s food.
Women in the U.S. are three times more likely to run an organic or sustainable farm than an industrial one. Rural women are a powerful force for change. Women in the U.S. are three times more likely to run an organic or sustainable farm than an industrial one. In Iowa, almost half of the land is now held by women, and according to the Women, Food & Agriculture Network, those women have a conservation ethic that guides their choices to practices that "nourish, rather than poison, the earth."
We face tremendous risks when our world’s most important resources – our land, water, air and food – are controlled by multinational companies, rather than under the care of rural families.