Yesterday NPR’s Dan Charles posted about efforts to help protect Spanish-speaking farmworkers from the chemicals they regularly come into contact with. As he notes,
Pesticides carry warning labels that spell out health risks and how workers should protect themselves — but those labels are usually in English. More than 80 percent of the workers in the “salad bowls” of Salinas, Calif., or Yuma, Ariz., are Hispanic. Many have difficulty communicating in English.
Farmworkers “are frustrated about their lack of knowledge about these chemicals,” says Virginia Ruiz, director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice. Her group, along with many others, submitted formal to the EPA arguing that “without bilingual labeling, today’s Spanish-speaking agricultural workforce is at great risk for pesticide exposure.”
Find the full post—and some informative links—here.
Tom Philpott recently posted at Mother Jones about what might politely be called one of the “unintended consequences” of genetically modified crops. As he writes, a new scientific study
found that overall, GMO technology drove up herbicide use by 527 million pounds, or about 11 percent, between 1996 (when Roundup Ready crops first hit farm fields) and 2011. But it gets worse. For several years, the Roundup Ready trait actually did meet Monsanto’s promise of decreasing overall herbicide use—herbicide use dropped by about 2 percent between 1996 and 1999, [studey author Chuck] Benbrook told me in an interview. But then weeds started to develop resistance to Roundup, pushing farmers to apply higher per-acre rates. In 2002, farmers using Roundup Ready soybeans jacked up their Roundup application rates by 21 percent, triggering a 19 million pound overall increase in Roundup use.
Since then, an herbicide gusher has been uncorked. By 2011, farms using Roundup Ready seeds were using 24 percent more herbicide than non-GMO farms planting the same crops, Benbrook told me. What happened? By that time, “in all three crops [corn, soy, and cotton], resistant weeds had fully kicked in,” Benbrook said, and farmers were responding both by ramping up use of Roundup and resorting to older, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual list of the conventionally grown (i.e., not organic) vegetables and fruits that have the most and least pesticide residue on them. As The Huffington Post points out, the top of the 2012 Dirty Dozen list includes repeat offenders: “Many of the fruits and vegetables listed this year will look familiar to those who follow the yearly report—apples, celery and bell peppers once again top the list.” For example, as the EWG website notes, “98 percent of conventional apples had pesticides.”
But don’t let that put you off eating your fruits and veggies; as Huff Post puts it, “[E]ven the researchers who conducted the pesticide exposure studies don’t recommend giving up the ‘Dirty Dozen’ outright. ‘The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,’ they wrote, recommending instead that consumers purchase organic options wherever available and then choose items from the concurrent ‘Clean 15’ list that details which fruits and veggies have the lowest pesticide loads and residues.”
As Tom Philpott notes at Mother Jones, though, there are other reasons to avoid conventional produce on the Clean 15 list:
I have to add the same lament as I did last year—while I find EWG’s “dirty dozen” effort to be extremely valuable for consumers on a budget deciding which produce to buy organic, I wish it would also add a third list tracking pesticide exposure for farm workers. While I do not discount the dangers of consuming small amounts of the cocktail of pesticides found on a typical grocery-store apple, it is the people who tend and harvest farm fields who bear the most risk.
Sometimes, crops that are heavily sprayed while growing end up with very little pesticide residues on the supermarket shelf. That’s great for consumers but awful for farm workers.
In an analysis of last year’s EWG lists, Pesticide Action Network’s Karl Tupper found that the two most pesticide-intensive crops in the field are sweet potatoes and mushrooms—which both made the Clean Fifteen list both this year and last. I can’t consider a crop “clean” that exposes farm workers to pesticides at high levels—and I’m sure many consumers would feel the same way if they had access to information.
For the full articles, which feature a lot more detail (including information new to this year’s report about pesticides in baby food), head here for Philpott’s piece and here for the Huff Post entry. Finally, head to EWG’s website for both the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 (which are also available as smartphone apps), details on the research methodology, and more.