Chemical Cocktails on Our Food

Agricultural pesticides are nearly ubiquitous in food production, but these chemical cocktails are not as thoroughly tested as they should be.

  • Crop dusting
    Crop dusting affects not only the crops intended to be sprayed, but everything windborne particles of pesticide touch, including neighboring fields, wild areas, animals and people nearby.
    Photo by Fotolia/ASP Inc.
  • The Myths of Safe Pesticides
    In "The Myths of Safe Pesticides," André Leu compares the pesticide industry's most prevalent claims to peer-reviewed scientific evidence on the effects of agricultural pesticides in isolation and as chemical cocktails on our food.
    Cover courtesy Acres U.S.A.

  • Crop dusting
  • The Myths of Safe Pesticides

The conventional agriculture industry claims that the pesticides, herbicides and insecticides it uses are safe when used as directed, but peer-reviewed evidence suggests otherwise. André Leu investigates these claims in The Myths of Safe Pesticides (Acres U.S.A., 2014), translating technical jargon into layman’s terms to break down the five most-repeated myths about pesticide safety. The following excerpt is from chapter 1, “Myth #1: Rigorously Tested.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Myths of Safe Pesticides.

One of the greatest pesticide myths is that all agricultural poisons are scientifically tested to ensure that they are used safely. According to the United States President’s Cancer Panel (USPCP), this is simply not the case: “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.” The fact is that the overwhelming majority of chemicals used worldwide have not been subjected to testing. Given that according to the USPCP the majority of cancers are caused by environmental exposures, especially to chemicals, this oversight shows a serious level of neglect by regulatory authorities.

Pesticides have been subjected to more testing than most chemicals. However, where chemicals, including pesticides, have been subjected to testing, many leading scientists regard it as inadequate to determine whether they are safe for or harmful to humans. The USPCP report states: “Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.”

There are several key areas in particular in which many experts and scientists believe testing has not sufficiently established that the current use of pesticides and other chemicals is safe.

Chemical Cocktails in Food and Water

Regulatory authorities approve multiple pesticides for a crop on the basis that all of them can be used in normal production. Consequently a mixture of several different toxic chemical products is applied during the normal course of agricultural production for most foods, including a combination of herbicide products, insecticide products, fungicide products, and synthetic fertilizer compounds. A substantial percentage of foods thus have a cocktail of small amounts of these toxic chemicals that we absorb through food, drink, dust, and the air. According to the USPCP, “Only 23.1 percent of [food] samples had zero pesticide residues detected, 29.5 percent had one residue, and the remainder had two or more.” This means that about half the foods in the United States contain a mixture of chemical residues. Because people consume a variety of foods, with around 77 percent containing residues of different types of agricultural chemicals, most people’s normal dietary habits include consuming a chemical concoction of which they are unaware.

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