In the 50s and 60s, “More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other cigarettes” (Google it) was a national advertising campaign by Camel because everybody knew that cigarettes were regarded as generally safe.
In 2016, we have studies that support the conclusion that pesticides are generally safe; these studies, however, have always been based on adults and not children, whose bodies are much less equipped to defend themselves. So what about those who are more vulnerable? What about children?
As the chairman of the board of Vitamin Angels, a global organization that provides micronutrients to children around the world (48 million in 2015), I am very much aware that malnutrition is the number one cause of preventable child deaths globally, and the role that nutrients play in a child’s development. So if nutrients are so important in a child’s development, what is the role of pesticides in a child’s development?
Children are considered to be highly vulnerable due to the differences in their bodily functions and behaviours. Infants, toddlers, and children have faster metabolisms than adults, which require them to consume more water, food, and air based on body ratio. Due to weaker bodily functions, they are much less capable of detoxifying harmful chemicals from their bodies. On top of this, they interact very differently with their surroundings from adults, as children instinctively learn by touch and taste.
I’m not making this up. Multiple countries have conducted thorough studies proving the severe effects that pesticides have on children.
The Swedish Environmental Research Institute[ii] took this debate into question in 2015 by conducting a study on how switching to organic foods and products affects the human body, and the results were simply astounding, especially on children. The study was based on a family who did not follow an organic diet regularly; the family ate conventionally for one week, then for two weeks organically. The study also provided organic personal hygiene products and detergents for the family to further minimize the exposure to pesticides. Based on the daily urine testing, the children’s pesticide load decreased far more than the adults’ due to their food intake and body weight ratio, and the agrochemical residues found in the bodies were also much higher in concentration in the children’s body than the adults’.
A more extensive study was conducted by the Environmental Health Perspectives[iii] in the same year in California on forty children of three to six years of age, with twenty from Oakland and twenty from Salinas. Similar to the study in Sweden, the children followed a conventional diet for four days, then an organic diet for seven days before returning to a conventional diet for an additional five days. Unlike the study in Sweden, however, this study illustrated how potent pesticides really can be just by being around it. Children who live in Salinas, an agricultural community, were found to have higher levels of pesticides than their northern peers by simply living close to farmlands.
Studies have repeatedly proven that children are at extreme risk by living in agricultural areas. A non-profit organisation in France, Générations Futures[iv], conducted analyses of hair samples from children living or studying near vineyards and farms, and discovered traces of 624 different pesticides, some of which are banned agrochemicals. And of these 624 pesticides, 53 are believed to cause cancerous tumours and birth defects in human beings.
The list doesn’t stop there. According to the Pesticide Action Network[v], children exposed to pesticides, whether in the womb or during developmental phases, are also threatened by various disorders and are at risk of having lowered IQ, developmental delays, and ADHD. Just by being at home, daycare, school, or playgrounds, children are exposed to pesticides, and can suffer from these devastating and irreversible consequences. I believe that the use of pesticides is out of control, and we are jeopardizing our future.
The horrifying effects of pesticides show us that it is imperative we shift to an organic agriculture based system. By choosing sustainable and organic produce, you are not only protecting yourself, the planet, the health of farmworkers, nearby communities, but above all this, you are protecting your children and the future generations.
The people do not want to knowingly cause harm to children, so why aren’t we doing anything about it? Why aren’t we supporting organic more? The evidence is all there. Or is it the lame political strategy of point-counterpoint or throwing different science that says pesticides are generally safe so that we can all sit on our hands and go about our day.
The effects of pesticides on humans have generally been deemed safe, but so was tobacco not that long ago.