Why you're better off without pesticides | Kialla Pure Foods

Here’s why you’re better off without pesticides

April 18, 2016

This is the 1st article in the series:

“7 reasons to choose organic – an in-depth look at the issue of organic vs conventional produce.”


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Reason no 1 takes a closer look at what’s on your food.

Do you ever think about how many toxic chemicals are in the foods you eat, and whether there is any real cause for concern about this?

Maybe you’ve seen articles that have you terrified about every non-organic strawberry you put in your mouth. And just as many articles telling you that organic is a waste of money because levels of pesticide in Australian produce are low, and therefore nothing to worry about.

After all, that’s why we have government regulators overseeing the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals. And one would expect that if there is conclusive evidence of harm they will be taking action.

Chemicals are everywhere, at least according to the world-view of a chemist, because they are one of the basic building blocks of life.

However that doesn’t stand as an argument for the safety of all chemicals, and in particular those synthesised in labs, even if they apparently mimic naturally occurring chemicals.

The main reason people choose to eat organically is to avoid eating industrially produced chemicals generally considered poisonous, particularly in large doses.

Are you convinced that it’s worth paying the extra to eat organics?

 

In this post I’ll be looking at:

  • What evidence is there that any chemical residues found in foods are bad for us?
  • What chemicals are being used in conventional food production?
  • Are government regulations adequate?
  • How can you know if organics really are free of nasty chemicals?

 

Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and growth promotants.

Basically, they’re any substance or mixture used to destroy, suppress or alter the life cycle of a pest.

They may be naturally sourced (such as pyrethrum) or synthetically produced in a lab. They can also be organisms.
The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (aka Bt) is used to control a number of insect pests, and is also genetically engineered into a crop, so the crop itself becomes the pesticide.

Any pesticides permitted for use by organic farmers (and there are a few) must be:

  • naturally occurring,
  • able to break down quickly so they don’t remain as residue in food, and
  • not suspected of being unsafe for humans.

Because, surprisingly, a vast number of pesticides in use in conventional farming are of questionable safety, if not downright deadly!

Government data from 2002 estimated that almost 300,000 tonnes of pesticides are used on Australian farms annually.

These quantities have been rising since the 1970s and, since this data is almost 15 years old, it’s likely that now we’re using even more.

Over 8000 pesticide and veterinary products are registered by the Australian Pesticide & Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) for use in fruit & veg production, wheat & grains, livestock, forestry, parks & gardens, commercial premises, and households.

That’s a lot of pesticides – so which ones should you be concerned about?

You’ll find organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos, have been used on your conventional fruit and vegetables to control bugs. Chlorpyrifos may also have been used to kill the insects in the stored grain when it’s processed at a conventional flour mill.

In Australia 2,4-D may be sprayed on non-organic wheat for weed control in early growth stages. Diquat and Glyphosate-based herbicides are registered for late crop use ( 7 days before harvest) on conventional legumes and pulses, (chickpeas, lentils, adzuki, mung and soy beans etc), and wheat to control weeds and dry out the crop prior to harvesting.

In USA and parts of northern Europe, where autumn cereal crops are grown, glyphosate based herbicides are increasingly used to dry-down wheat, barley, oats and edible pulses to speed up the harvest. In fact Monsanto, one of the manufacturers of glyphosate based pesticides, provides a pre-harvest guide on when and how to use Roundup for this application. Because it’s considered a safe herbicide it’s permitted for use even up to 3 days prior to harvest. However, glyphosate has become the world’s most popular herbicide, with a 72% increase in its use in the last decade.  The vast amounts now being applied to many food crops have increased the residues in what we’re consuming, and the safety of glyphosate has been increasingly under challenge of late.

Other herbicides (weed-killers) like paraquat, metolachlor and atrazine are mostly used before crop planting or after harvest. Some are lethal for humans, even in small amounts and full safety protection must be worn when using them.  While spraying before planting would mean the chemicals aren’t on the leaves of the actual plants, they are in the soil. Some degrade quickly in sunlight or are metabolised by soil microorganisms.

Others such as neonicotinoid insecticides may have a half-life of up to 19 years, and organochlorine pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, and endosulfan) persist in the environment long after the substance has been banned.

However, pests still remain an issue for farmers, with pesticides offering considerable cost benefits.

They not only prevent crop loss, they also ensure we can purchase the kinds of perfect fruit and vegetables we’ve come to expect.

 

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Pesticides – what’s the evidence against them?

Many industrial chemicals have become an ordinary, and some think indispensable, part of food production.

The vast majority of pesticides continue to be used in Australia despite documented evidence of harm.
And it’s only after decades, when the weight of studies (all of which require funding and resourcing) have proved their dangers, are efforts made to reduce their use or ban them altogether.

By then they’re already in the environment and can be detected in umbilical cord blood  and mother’s milk.

It’s hardly surprising that organic farmers cite the chemicals used in farming, and concerns for their family’s health, as the main reason for going organic.

 

Studies show that farmers face higher risks for several diseases

There is mounting evidence that those using specific pesticides face both short and long term health issues.

Parkinson’s Disease and pesticides


Chronic kidney diseases is an increasing danger for agricultural workers.


Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and other cancers are linked to pesticide use.

 

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If it’s bad for farmworkers can it be any good for you?

Many pesticides are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).


Industrial chemicals and pesticides induce reproductive issues and birth defects.

  • Banned organochlorines are already recognised teratogens (causing birth defects), but the systematic review by Mostafalou and Abdollahi indicates that other endocrine-disrupting pesticides still in use, like the herbicide atrazine, are toxic to human and animal reproduction. Reproductive dysfunctions reported from pesticide use include altered sperm, de-masculinisation in amphibians, and elevated rates of miscarriage. It’s highly likely this is related to the endocrine-disrupting capability of these chemicals.
  • Even the ‘safe’ herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) has been linked with birth deformations in piglets, as well as frogs and chickens. Researchers in the frog and chicken study demonstrated that Roundup caused abnormal activity in the Vitamin A (retinoic acid) signalling pathway, which affects genes needed for the embyro’s development.
  • When several animal studies show glyphosate impacting sperm health in rats, even if the mechanism is unclear it’s not simply imaginative to suspect it of affecting other male mammals.
  • Is glyphosate involved in the higher incidences of congenital abnormalities such as spina bifida, cleft palate and Down’s syndrome in regions of Argentina and Paraguay where intensive GM soy production means heavy use of Roundup? Researchers noted that birth defects had increased threefold and cancer rates fourfold in the last decade up to when the study was published in 2010.
  • Doctors observed birth defects up to 10x the national average on the Hawaiian island Kauai, where agro-chemical corporations Dow, Syngenta, et al, test the pesticide resistance of GMO corn with high doses of undisclosed chemicals. Their concerns have been ignored or dismissed by local government.
  • Also in 2015, a report by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) stated that, around the world, women’s exposure to toxic environmental chemicals, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, threatens the health of their children.
  • According to FIGO, there’s enough evidence to link chemicals like pesticides and plastics to miscarriage, still births, increased cancer rates, and neurodevelopmental problems in children.


Children face more developmental issues when they’re exposed to pesticides

Neurodevelopmental problems affect children’s learning and quality of life. When they persist into adulthood they impact the welfare not only of the individual but of the society as a whole.

“Children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies.” Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity, Philippe Grandjean, MD, Philip J Landrigan, MD, The Lancet, Volume 13, No. 3, p330–338, March 2014


What role do pesticides play in the growing problem of anti-biotic resistance?

  • The authors of a 2014 study found the ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ rule applies when E.coli and Salmonella are exposed to Kamba, 2,4-D and Roundup. Because these chemicals didn’t kill the bacteria, they actually empowered their resistance to antibiotics.

 

Industrial chemicals: more dangerous together than alone

It is not uncommon for pesticides to be combined and applied at once, as this efficiently treats different problems.

Considering that regulatory approval processes are based only on studies of an active ingredient (eg: glyphosate), and no testing is conducted on the full herbicide formula (eg: Roundup), or its interaction with other pesticide products, this should set off some alarm bells.

Synergistic interactions between the main ingredient of a pesticide and it’s adjuvants can create greater toxicity. So too can synergies between different pesticides.

In fact, these kinds of synergistic processes, alongside the cumulative effect of multitudes of chemicals over the years, are shaping up to be the real concern.

Even if you don’t live anywhere near a farming area, and your exposure to pesticides is a lot less, we are now learning that it’s combinations and long term accumulation that are the real issue.

“Our analysis suggests that the cumulative effects of individual (non-carcinogenic) chemicals acting on different pathways, and a variety of related systems, organs, tissues and cells could plausibly conspire to produce carcinogenic synergies.”
Assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment: the challenge aheadCarcinogenesis. 2015 Jun;36 Suppl 1:S254-96. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgv039.

For this reason, ‘chemical body burden’ is becoming a bit of a buzz phrase amongst health reasearchers.

A variety of toxic chemicals accumulate in your body over time, and it’s not just what you eat either. They’re in many self-care products, household products, and sprayed on gardens in your neighbourhood.

Some argue that if pesticide residues show up in urine, it means the body is doing a good job of eliminating them. However the Spanish study mentioned previously, showed that higher levels of pesticide metabolites in urine were associated with a poorer IQ and verbal comprehension.

And according to Mostafalou & Abdollahi we should be looking at what they’re doing in our bodies before we’re able to eliminate them. These include genetic damages, epigenetic modifications, endocrine disruption, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and more.

Many of the mechanisms of action are still unknown, and these need to be understood in order to conclusively show the dangers.

In vitro, animal, and human studies have already identified several classes of pesticides that modify epigenetic markers.

Epigenetics is the study of inheritable changes in gene expression that don’t change the actual DNA. It shows why some people are more vulnerable than others and how this vulnerability can be passed on to later generations.

In other words, your grandfather’s exposure to pesticides can impact your health too.

 

Does living stress-filled lives affect how our bodies handle pesticides?

It’s now well known amongst health professionals that chronic stress (specifically the way we deal with the daily stressors of modern life) affects our body in multiple ways, with a flow on effect for our general health.

Epigenetics complicate genetic theory by showing it’s not just one gene or even one substance that is responsible for a health issue.

The affects of pesticides on epigenetic expression can be exacerbated by stress, both of the emotional and the environmental kind (such as air pollution, water quality, radiation exposure etc).

 

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Isn’t there enough proof to condemn toxic pesticides?

Even though studies, over many years, link specific chemicals and pesticides with various chronic diseases and other health disorders, there is an ongoing ‘tennis’ match in academia over whether these effects are actually proven, or have been debunked by other studies.

Grandjean & Landrigan point out that the momentum of academic research tends towards an inertia induced by scepticism.

It’s also hampered by resources because results must be extensively replicated before something is accepted as truth.

The pesticide industry continues to argue that the benefits of pesticides outweigh the ‘unproven’ health effects.

Despite the fact numerous studies flag dangers and point to the need for more research, agri-industry and regulators consider that these links are not conclusively proven, particularly in the case of relatively ‘safe’ pesticides, like glyphosate, where the mechanisms affecting humans are still speculative.

“the existence of more than a few dozen reports on the association of one case like brain cancer with exposure to pesticide is enough to create concern even without finding a direct link.”
Pesticides and human chronic diseases: evidences, mechanisms, and perspectives. Mostafalou S, Abdollahi M.; Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. 2013, Apr 15; 268(2):157-77.

The potential for pesticides to impact eco-systems and the health of entire communities is an exponentially greater threat than the health consequences of smoking.

It took decades for the links between cigarettes and cancer to be accepted by mainstream researchers. And as we wait for proof, industrial and agricultural chemicals continue to saturate our environment and our bodies with toxins.

Researchers acknowledge that, for example, there are major challenges in designing studies that observe the low-dose effects of EDCs in the human population because the impacts of chemical exposures are dependent on timing of exposure (such as in utero or in adulthood), and individual sensitivities related to genetics, epigenetics, geographic locations, other dietary factors, physiological and psychological stressors, etc. In addition, they point out that a single chemical, or synergistic mix, can effect several body systems simultaneously.

A lack of scientific understanding about these complex interactions means we just don’t yet know enough about the synergistic and cumulative effects of the industrial chemicals we’re immersed in on a daily basis.

It is much harder to study real world complexities than it is to study a specific chemical in a laboratory.

While correlation doesn’t prove causation, it does point to the need for a more a cautionary approach – as well as for more research. Particularly when it comes to children’s development, and the potential for this to have long-term impacts on society.

 

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If we consider the real cost of pesticides are they worth it?

The argument that, without conclusive proof, benefits still outweigh a pesticide’s questionable health effects is often presented by the corporations who continue to make substantial profits from the use of agri-chemicals.

After the initial (mostly short-term studies) which indicate safety, their product is widely accepted and used. The burden of proof then rests with medical researchers to prove suspicions about a pesticide’s negative effects.

As you can imagine, the world’s most widely used herbicide glyphosate is now under pressure with the 2015 IARC (international Agency for Research on Cancer) declaration of it as a ‘probable human carcinogen’.  Major corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta (producer of lethal paraquat) and Bayer (producer of bee-killing neonicotinoids) face increasing pressure on their profits as studies continue to confirm the dangers posed by these chemicals.

Rather than funding their own long-term studies, which would be a responsible approach, the ag-chemical companies’ main line of defence is to employ their own scientists to challenge the design, data and interpretations of any independently funded studies that show their product in a bad light.

And as long as profits are at stake, concerned scientists will continue to labour under the burden of having to prove the toxicity of chemicals that are commercially lucrative.

“Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.”
Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity, Dr Philippe Grandjean, MD, Philip J Landrigan, MD; The Lancet, Volume 13, No. 3, p330–338, March 2014

Clearly pesticides bring enormous benefit to a farmer’s bottom line in terms of preventing crop loss and improving yields. Their benefits also have a flow-on effect for processors and retailers by improving the appearance and shelf-life of food.

However there are other ways to approach these issues, and the will-power to do so may have to come from pressure exerted by consumers concerned about their health and their children’s health.

At an academic level it may have to come from the growing body of research that shows the social cost of these toxic chemicals for society as a whole.

A recent study by France’s Institute for Agricultural Research disputes the economic benefits of pesticides by considering not only regulatory costs, but health care costs, as well as environmental and ‘defensive’ costs (such as spending the extra money on organic food).

“The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems. This can and should be changed. …Vigilance on the scale that is required for medicines does not exist to assess the effects of pesticides in the environment… Yet (we have) no systematic monitoring of pesticide residues in the environment. There is no consideration of safe pesticide limits at landscape scales.”
Dr Alice Milner and Prof Ian Boyd (chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

Doesn’t Australian produce have low level of pesticides?

All pesticides in use in Australia have undergone initial tests for acute toxicity that enable them to pass regulations – as did big offenders like DDT – which is how they come to be commonly accepted. This regulation process means farmers have been using various pesticides for decades, fairly confident that they are doing no harm to self or environment.

Even when the limitations of initial testing have become apparent, it can still take decades of use before regulatory authorities consider there is enough research proving links between diseases and the use of specific pesticides.

However, the real risks can be in the interactions between different chemicals, and the accumulation of them in our bodies.

While a one off encounter with a level of pesticide below the maximum regulated limit won’t kill you, what’s the impact of these encounters over our lifetime?

It’s already recognised that endocrine-disrupting effects can occur at much lower levels than what’s considered poisonous.

A paper from 2012 challenges the traditional assumption behind toxicology testing that “the dose makes the poison”. In reviewing the studies of endocrine disruptors, researchers found that the regulatory risk assessments based on the ‘threshold dose’ (maximum levels of exposure before harmful effects are observed) do not work when it comes to EDCs. Their conclusions state that “fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health”.

Pesticide regulation is based on maximum residue limits – but are our regulations adequate?

The consumer advocacy group Choice believes that Australia lags behind the precautionary principle other countries use to safeguard public health. It offered the example of the toxic pesticide endosulfan, which Australia only banned in 2010, long after it was no longer used in more than 60 countries, including New Zealand and the EU.

While Australian authorities banned the lethal dioxin containing pesticide 2,4,5-T they still allowed unrestricted use of 2,4-D until 2013. ABC’s Four Corners found evidence that 2,4-D herbicides with unacceptable levels of dioxin were being used on Australian farms. And that this may have been due to a lack of policing of cheap imports.


Organic is one way to reduce your body’s chemical load

 

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How can you be sure organic is free of synthetic & toxic chemicals?


What you can do now to protect yourself and your family

It’s virtually impossible to avoid chemicals – a child born in the last decade has been immersed in a soup of chemicals since conception.

There are many chemicals, including pesticides, where their negative effects aren’t conclusively proven. In some cases this is because they’re relatively new. Do you want to wait 20 years to find out?

Regardless of whether there is absolute proof, it is increasingly accepted that certain chemicals have a negative impact on our organs, brains, fertility, etc.

You can take action to reduce this chemical burden on your bodies wherever possible. One way to do this on a daily basis is to choose to eat organic food and to use organic personal care, household pesticides and cleaning products.

And it’s advisable not to get too stressed about it either!

By reducing the burden of toxicity – and stress – on our bodies we support it in doing what it does best: restoring balance and thus health.

Read reason no 2 for choosing organics: because they are non-GMO. Why is this important?
Visit again to find out, or sign-up for updates.

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July 2017 update: rediscovered & newly digitised chemical industry and regulatory agency documents reveal systematic deception on part of regulators and manufacturers when it comes to the known toxicity of a host of pesticides and other chemicals. Over 20,000 documents obtained from US government agencies and chemical manufacturers can be viewed at https://www.poisonpapers.org/

Resources:

To find out more about pesticides permitted for use under certified organic guidelines see the chemicals section on our site:
http://kiallafoods.com.au/products/organic-pesticides/
An excellent resource for recent scientific studies into pesticides and organic foods:
https://www.organic-center.org/category/hot-science/
This pdf fact sheet of dangerous pesticides in use in Australia and what they’re used on is now 5 years old, but nonetheless useful:
http://awsassets.wwf.org.au/downloads/fs025_a_list_of_australias_most_dangerous_pesticides_1jul10.pdf
Government information about pesticide use in Australia (although this data is now 14 years old):
http://www.environment.gov.au/node/22191
The Environmental Working Group in US compiles research about safe environmental practices:
http://www.ewg.org/research
The APVMA regulates pesticides in Australia:
http://apvma.gov.au/

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Categories: Farm 2 Plate, organic industry, pesticides

Written by Sheridan Kennedy on April 18, 2016

About Sheridan Kennedy

One of my defining attributes is my sweet tooth so I love to bake the occasional cake. Though I can't claim to be a great cook! And while I now live in the city, growing up on a sheep and cattle station in western Queensland gave me a lifelong love of the country, and respect for those working on the land. Having a PhD also means I'm a bit obsessed with research...

3 responses to “Here’s why you’re better off without pesticides”

  1. […] over whether glyphosate is or is not a ‘probable’ cause of cancer misses the point that cancer is only one of a multitude of health issues we need to be concerned about when it comes to pesticide […]

  2. Jeff Jakeman says:

    I believe glysophate has a very negative effect on soil micro flora & fauna. I’ve not conducted any fancy research to come to this conclusion. Merely observation of my properties performance before and after use of glysophate. I had a problem with vascular wilt particularly in tomatoes & could only grow them in in a section of the garden where I had deposited over 600 mm of tree mulch. The soil was very high in humus & the wilts didn’t affect the plants as much in that area. No glysophate has been used for approximately 6 years now & although I have problems with nut grass & wandering Jew no wilt has been evident for the last 2 seasons anywhere on the property. I believe the pest predator balance is restoring it’s self in the soil biology. I had tried various preparations such as trichaderma fungi & others but wilt persisted. My observations tell me that I’m better off with weeds amongst the crops than having bare soil even mulched soil & using glysophate. I use only chicken manure & saw dust from my 50 chickens as fertilizer & mulch everything. I’ve also noticed that the sickest trees in my area appear on road verges & easements when the various government bodies responsible have been using roundup for years.
    Cheers, Jeff.

    • Sheridan Kennedy says:

      that’s very interesting Jeff. It’s always good to know about the experiences of those ‘on the ground’ so to speak – people like yourself who are observing what’s happening on the farm.

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