Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: pesticides

The Pesticide Dilemma and Why We Should Look Into It

(Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, May 2, 2014)

The garden is coming along nicely. From green onions to radishes, carrots, peas and the lettuce mix disrupting the pattern of bright green with unexpected burgundy, our back yard is laced with goodness.

More to come. Back yard goodness, and weeds also. That means weeding. Again and again, until that first frost in the fall when it’ll all come to a well-deserved rest.

There will be plenty of clean food to eat yet we supplement, as we always do in summer, from the farmer’s market, sourcing for chemical-free crops as much as we can.

Clean food is something to be immensely grateful for. More so when, growing it ourselves, we become aware of the hard work behind it.

A recent Australian study showed that in just seven days of eating mostly organic, pesticide levels in people’s bodies dropped by 90 per cent.

This kind of science is not earth-shattering in the novelty category.

We know eating clean is good. While a couple of studies showed that organic produce is not necessarily superior nutritionally when compared to conventional crops (that is still a matter of debate,) the chemical load that the latter comes with cannot be denied.

It is well known that some crops are more sprayed than others, and some pesticides can wreak havoc with human health, especially when it comes to children.

Little sunsThere have been studies showing correlations between neurodevelopmental impairments in children and pesticide use; this pertains cosmetic use as well as agricultural.

The move towards cleaner produce, which translates into a cleaner environment and a lesser impact on human health, is an actively growing one.

Organic crops can be finicky in how they develop and their vulnerability to the elements, plus their increased demand for the tedious repetitive work, such as the above mentioned weeding.

For these reasons and more, organic produce costs more, yet perhaps not much more when one keeps to seasonal local produce.

Many say that you cannot feed the world unless you bring in conventionally-grown crops that rely on chemicals for growth and pest control, or genetically modified crops with that address the needs of the billions of us inhabiting the planet.

Most of conventionally-grown produce is undebatedly, cheaper than organic produce.
Yet, in many ways, it is, and continues to become more expensive. If we add the impact on human health and the environment, and the fact that cheap food encourages waste, the price spikes to new highs.

A comprehensive pesticide use survey done in California revealed that many children go to schools located near farm fields with intensive pesticide use, and are, as a result, exposed to high amounts of chemicals, some which have been already shown to be toxic and some already banned in other parts of the world.

The Canadian Association of the Physicians for the Environment ( adds a strong voice to the issue.

The neurobehavioral effects of pesticide use on children are subtle in many cases but also pervasive. Behavioral problems, attention/hyperactivity issues, learning disabilities observed in more children every year, the result of chemical exposure before birth or during the first years of life. Pesticides are one of the said chemicals.

Children are, by default, vulnerable, due to their developing bodies. It is not a matter of whether they’ll be affected but how much.

A landmark study of Mexican children growing in a valley where pesticides are heavily used supports the concern. These children showed decreased stamina, impaired gross and fine motor skills, memory and drawing ability, when compared to their same age, less exposed peers.

While may say ‘Well that does not happen in all farm areas’ and they may be right, there are a few thought-provoking aspects of such studies.

As we know, much of the colorful, out-of-season produce found in grocery stores in North America comes from places such as the Yaqui Valley of northwestern Mexico where the pesticide study was done.

If there is demand, the offer will be created. A demand for blemish-free, out-of-season food creates an unwanted series of events that end up affecting people’s health. Theirs and ours.

Conflicts of interests are never fun to solve, but we ought to when children’s health, and human health is general, are at risk.

It comes down to the silly yet relevant ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ and the cheeky answer: ‘One bite at a time.’ Perhaps that’s the way the pesticide issue should be addressed as well, starting with our community.

Decreasing the amount of pesticides children are exposed to has to be addressed. From purely cosmetic use, such as lawn maintenance, which is another source of exposure for children and pets alike, to agricultural use.

Encouraging community gardening, supporting local farmers – we are blessed with many – through the farmer’s market and, ultimately, creating the link between needs and abundant, seasonal produce that can become a source of good nutrition for those with limited resources are but a few ways to reduce exposure even further.

There is no shortage of creativity and good intentions when it comes to food and keeping a community healthy. As they say, when there is a will, there is a way…

Pink Corn To Go

The package read Kandy Corn – The sweetest variety, a favorite summer treat. It was given to us with a bunch of other seeds to plant. But in one corner there was a stamped warning: “Contents poisonous. Do not eat. Do not let kids handle it. Contents sprayed with chlorpyrifos.” Right.

I opened the package nonetheless. Curiosity does that to people. At least I didn’t do it like Alice in Wonderland did. It said “don’t eat” so I didn’t. Plus I know I’m in no Wonderland when it comes to seeds that are not heritage seeds, since the altering of good old plants has started (not just GM plants but also chemically treated.)

The kernels almost looked ashamed of themselves. They were coated in bright pink and some of that substance rubbed off on the paper. It was a crime scene alright. I cringed and showed it to the boys. More cringing ensued.

The purpose of having a garden aside from the obvious (growing food) is to teach my boys about how food happens. Yet the sprayed chemical defeats the purpose. Keep away from kids means they’re not only not a part of growing the food, but they’re getting a mighty twisted idea about the starting point of a garden or plant too.

The questions bubbled up: will the chemical stay on the seeds after if put them in the soil (not that I would ever do that but entertaining an idea for the sake of finding more about it is a necessary and valuable enterprise). Will the chemical transfer to soil and affect bugs, many of which are helping the plants grow, will it affect butterflies, birds, will it affect my boys whether now or later?

I’ve never been friends with the pesticide idea, or any kind of chemical found on food. Avoiding something like poison is a figure in speech in most cases, but awfully accurate in this case and definitely not funny. If people find an excuse to use a bit of pesticide here and there, they are on their way of creating a demand and that will create an offer they cannot refuse. Treat with chemical, bugs and weeds die, hassle disappears, plants grow. Ta-da! Crop ready to go to the eager but unaware customer = you and me.

We’re paying in having soil, air and water being …well, soiled. We’re paying in sickness; increased severity and higher number of people with food allergies, earlier onset age for allergies and other health problems. Like I said, it’s no Wonderland and unless you look really close it’s hard to see it that way. After all, shelves in gigantic stores all over Canada and all over the Western world are stocked with perfectly looking produce. Everything available at all times, no matter the season. No warning of toxic substances on the produce either. Because let’s entertain the idea for a bit: If it would say “Caution: Sprayed with toxic chemicals that could affect your nervous system” would you buy it? Would you eat it? Thought so. Me neither.

I know people who balk at eating an organic apple that happens to sport a bruise due to temporary manhandling yet they would grab a sprayed shiny apple without any concerns for what they’re about to eat.

Like I often say, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s the most insidious kind of pollution – literally so, no pun intended.

Back to my pink corn. Am I crying wolf over a few dyed kernels?

According to the National Pesticide Information Center based in Oregon, chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide that is targeting the nervous system of insects. Ultimately the insect paralyses and dies.

According to the same source, people and pets can suffer the same effects without the lethal outcome when exposed briefly to the chemical. So no death is good news, but exposure to small amounts – how small is small – may cause runny nose, increased saliva or drooling, dizziness, nausea, headache. Serious exposure – how much is too much? – can cause vomiting, abdominal muscle cramps, muscle twitching, tremors and weakness, and loss of coordination. Ouch.

The list of possible affections continues. With some good news: No connection with cancer has been established whatsoever. That’s good. But bad news for children. Exposure has been linked to changes in social behavior and brain development. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and all things related?

I scratch my head, I send away the raucous loud monsters inside that cannot keep still when I come across yet another chemical that is out there for children to breathe and touch and eat, whether or not they handle the pink corn. Because unless something has changed since 2012 when the chlorpyrifos was reviewed by Health Canada, the very pesticide is still in use – whether limited or not does not brightens my perspective at the moment – and finding its way into the air, soil and water that we rely on to exist.

The same report states that it takes weeks to years for all the chlorpyrifos to break down.It binds to soil particles and it travels through the air too, after  being sprayed on plants. Some birds such as robins have been killed by this chemical and it is also toxic to fish and invertebrates,including earthworms. The teeny compost soldiers in the soil.

Final punch: very toxic to bees. That too. Bees have been on the decline (elegantly put) for a few years now. They pollinate the food we grow. We have fruit and other foods because of the hard pollination work bees do. Chemicals affect bees, bees die, well, you do the math. I’m nauseous.It can’t be the pink corn because I haven’t touched it. The proximity of it? Perhaps.

When are we going to stop this? And how? We have to. The pink corn was throw way (yeah, still around somewhere – the irony!)

This is but one chemical. There are many. It can be done. Agree? Suddenly I can’t stomach pink anymore…

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