July 18, 1995
Pesticide Industry Propaganda Refuted
Frequently asserted arguments by the pesticide industry are
examined and refuted in "Pesticide Industry Propaganda: The
Real Story," a recent report by the Environmental Working
Group, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the National
Campaign for Pesticide Policy Reform. The authors state that
"the chemical and food industries care about the bottom line,
even if that means fostering myths and distorting science to
convince the public and policy makers not to regulate
pesticides." The report maintains that pesticides in our diet
pose an unnecessary risk, and that farmers can grow
affordable food using far fewer pesticides.
Following are summaries of some of the myths and the
arguments against them as presented in the report:
Myth: Animal tests of pesticides don't predict human cancer
risks because the high doses fed to animals are so high that
"everything causes cancer," and animal results are irrelevant
to humans, because "mice are not little men."
In fact, animal studies are the public's first line of
defense against toxic substances. Major public health
disasters have been avoided or minimized, because regulators
acted on the basis of animal studies. For example, DDT was
banned due to problems first identified in animal tests.
Research has shown that extrapolating from mice to humans is
logical because rodents and humans are remarkably similar
genetically. High dose animal testing is used by every public
health agency around the world, from the U.S. EPA to the
World Health Organization. In addition, most chemicals do not
cause cancer, even when tested at very high doses, and most
chemicals that cause cancer at high doses also cause cancer
at low doses.
Myth: "A child would have to eat 340 oranges every day to
consume the amount of pesticide residues found to cause
health problems in laboratory mice."
Unfortunately, children are simultaneously exposed to many
pesticides from many sources on a daily basis in water, food
and around the home. Current U.S. regulations do not take
into account multiple exposures or the specific health needs
of infants and children. According to the report, the
National Academy of Sciences found that for some children,
exposures to just five pesticides on eight foods "could be
sufficiently high to produce symptoms of acute
organophosphate pesticide poisoning."
Myth: We're winning the war against cancer.
In fact, many more people in the U.S. are getting cancer now
than ever before. Those who say cancer rates are decreasing
focus on cancer death rates because the cancer death rate
overall is stable, despite increasing incidence. For example,
the report points out that incidence of childhood brain
cancer and childhood leukemia has increased 33% since 1973,
and in the past 40 years, breast cancer rates have
skyrocketed 52%, prostate cancer rates 134% and testis cancer
Myth: Restricting the use of pesticides will cause food
shortages and raise the price of food.
Fortunately, there are many non-chemical alternatives to
pesticides. The report explains that the existence of
alternative pesticides and pest control techniques have
helped farmers make the transition away from banned
pesticides without losses. A study has shown that the EPA's
cancellation of various uses of 12 pesticides since 1985 has
had "absolutely no effect on the price or availability of any
food anywhere in the United States."
Myth: Pesticides cost money, so farmers currently use as few
pesticides as possible.
While this sounds sensible, two studies by the National
Academy of Sciences have concluded that farmers have no
economic incentive to reduce pesticide use. Farmers maintain
unnecessarily high levels of pesticide use because pesticides
are weakly regulated, because farmers pay none of the costs
to remedy the pollution caused by pesticides, and because
pesticides account for a relatively small percentage of
overall production costs and per-acre crop value.
Source: Pesticide Industry Propaganda: The Real Story,
Environmental Working Group, 1718 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.,
Suite 600, Washington, DC 20009; phone (202) 667-6982; fax
(202) 232-2592; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies of the report
may be ordered for US$5.00.
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