Eating Well,

by Pam Sherman

"DDT is good for me-e-e!" cried an advertisement from the 1950's. We know better now. Yet today we still feed ourselves and our children food laden with chemical pesticides.

As dangerous as they are for adults, pesticides pose an even greater risk for children. Dr. Berry T. Brazelton, along with Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, states that "more than half of the lifetime cancer risk that an individual faces from pesticide residues in fruits may be from exposure in just the first six years of life."

Brazelton and colleagues explain that children consume more fruits and vegetables relative to their body weight than adults. But the EPA limits for "safe" pesticide ingestion were set only with adult consumption patterns in mind. For instance, the EPA assumes that each American adult eats no more than 7 1/2 ounces of cantaloupe per year, 1 1/2 cups cooked summer squash, 2 1/2 tangerines, and so on. In other words, if you eat this amount or less per year, the pesticides in these foods will conceivably not harm you. Eating more very well could. This means, then, that if your child eats more than half of a cantaloupe per year, for example, he or she is over-exposed, sometimes hundreds of times more than the EPA considers safe.

Adults aren't in the clear either. For example, according to Chiropractor Lee Hitchcox writing in "Acres USA," worldwide sperm counts dropped 50% during the last half of the century. US testicular cancers increased 50% in the last 20 years. An estimated 20% of American males were considered functionally sterile in 1980. Infertile males were found to have more pesticides in their semen. If sperm counts continue to drop at the same rate, most men will be sterile in 2 generations.

Add to this the pesticide price tag for poisoning the earth for our children. Dr. David Pimentel, a professor of entomology at Cornell University, has calculated the hidden costs of pesticide use--costs that don't make it into the usual cost/benefit analyses conducted by industry or government regulators. In 1992, he estimated the environmental and social costs from pesticides are more than $8 billion a year. The breakdown includes public health impacts, domestic animal deaths and contamination, loss of natural insect pest enemies, cost of pesticide resistance, topsoil losses, honeybee and pollination losses, crop losses, fishery losses, bird losses, groundwater contamination, and the cost of governmental regulations to prevent damage.

Pesticides also can harm crops, either through normal use, excessively high doses or spraying of adjacent fields. Pesticides kill beneficial insects and organisms which, if allowed to live, would help keep the pests under control. And everyone knows that pest populations develop resistance to the pesticides and come back thicker than ever. More than 900 insect, plant pathogen, and weed species have developed resistance to one or more pesticides, which leads to the need for ever more toxic chemicals.

In killing a crop's primary pest, pesticides can aggravate problems with secondary pests. These are pests that initially aren't present in large enough numbers to do much crop damage, but when their natural enemies, the primary pests are destroyed, these guys can get out of hand.

Pesticides have decimated huge numbers of honeybee and wild bee populations, yet farmers of all persuasions count on bees to pollinate at least one third of all our food corps. Pesticide contamination of streams and lakes, fields and forests kill birds, fish, and wildlife and produce decreased fertility, deformations, birth and behavioral abnormalities and damage to hormonal, nervous , and immune systems, the brain, genitals, sperm and sex hormones.

Pesticides have polluted our water supplies. The EPA has found 98 different pesticides in the groundwater in 40 states, contaminating the drinking water of more than 10 million people. Once they get into the ground water, they are virtually impossible to remove and they can persist their for decades.

The next P&P will look at some of the alternatives and what to support.

Bio: Pam Sherman is a Sierra Club member who enjoys a working membership in Monroe Organic Farms a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.