Chemical Farming Unnecessary and Dangerous
Editor’s note: Industrial agriculture is pushing back against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after the agency issued a preliminary report reversing its earlier ruling on the safety of atrazine, an herbicide produced by Syngenta. Atrazine has been in use since 1953, mostly on corn, and Central Illinois is among areas of highest use. We are in the bull’s eye for this endocrine disrupting chemical. Some research has linked atrazine to cancer.
The EPA is conducting a periodic review of atrazine for continued registration. The herbicide was banned for use in the European Union in 2003.
A preliminary ecological risk assessment issued by the EPA two months ago found damage to plants and animals from chemical runoff and spray drift exposure.
The EPA report found levels of concern were exceeded for birds by 22 times, for fish by 62 times and for mammals by 198 times. These same levels of exposure had been considered safe by the EPA during its last review 15 years ago.
In addition, a study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health by Frank Ackerman of Tufts University found banning atrazine would result in a net economic benefit for farmers.
Beyond Pesticides, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., has written that the best way to press for pesticide reform is for consumers to buy organic. You are not just buying food, you are buying political advocacy.
BY DAVE BISHOP
I’m not a chemist and so really not qualified to pass judgment on the toxic effects of pesticides on humans and the environment. As a farmer, the question becomes, how do we produce an abundant supply of food without them?
No matter how we farm, we have to provide “ecosystem services” to our crops, including both plants and animals. Favorable “ecosystem services” include such things as fertility, protection from excessive competition from other plants (we call them weeds) and insects and diseases so the desired plants can thrive. In a monocultural system, we provide a favorable ecosystem with non-renewable resources including petroleum based fertilizer for nitrogen and pesticides and mined fertilizers for phosphorus and potassium. If we wish to not use those things, then how exactly do we provide ecosystem services?
In short, we have to change the entire food system to do that. Diversity, cover crops, a mix of plants and animals and other techniques used by organic farmers also can provide ecosystem services as nature does. To do that in a way that is both profitable for the farmer/producer and affordable for the consumer, there must be a relationship between the two, as you have at a farmers market for example. This is the value of local food systems as opposed to industrial, centralized food production and distribution systems where most of the profits are made in the middle, and anonymity limits liability.
So, yes, we can live without atrazine and friends, but only by changing the entire food system. If you ban one chemical, another rises up in its place, and you can’t have monocultures without them. Changing the food system can only be accomplished by consumers. Government will respond to those who fund campaigns. The current attempt to overturn Vermont’s labeling law demonstrates this. At least I can’t think of any other reason than campaign contributions for states-rights Republicans to quash a state’s right.
In the 1907 book “Farmers of 40 Centuries,” we see how densely populated Asian countries fed themselves from the same fields for thousands of years without damaging the environment or depleting the soil, long before modern chemical fertilizers or pesticides existed. It can be done.
Dave Bishop has farmed organically for more than 25 years southwest of Bloomington-Normal in Logan County.