Joining Together to Give Thanks as We Confront the Challenges Ahead – Beyond Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, November 24, 2021) On Thanksgiving, thank you for being a part of Beyond Pesticides and sharing and contributing to the vision necessary to protect the web and the fragility of life. We believe that there is no time like Thanksgiving to think about how we can more effectively join together as families and communities across divisions and different points of view to find a common purpose in protecting the health of the environment and all that inhabit it. Unfortunately, a host of pesticides, genetically engineered materials, and others in conventional Thanksgiving foods impact human health and threaten the environment. With far too many adverse health and ecological effects associated with toxic chemicals, organic practices are viable solutions to mitigate pesticide contamination and subsequent exposure. Read on as we consider the range of challenges we must confront and the solutions that can bring us all together.

Additionally, you can help Beyond Pesticides in educating and building a movement that will bring long-needed protection to humans, animals, and the entire environment by attending the third seminar on November 29 on Climate during the 2022 National Forum Series, Health, Biodiversity, and Climate: A Path for a Livable Future. The National Forum focuses on both the existential problems associated with current public health and environmental crises and charts a path for a future that solves these urgent problems. We classify existential crises into three challenging categories: public health threats, biodiversity collapse, and climate emergency. We bring together expert scientists, farmers, policymakers, and activists to discuss strategies to eliminate harm from toxic chemical use in favor of nontoxic organic solutions. Registration is open for the November 29th climate session. All previous sessions are available through the webpage on this link. 

It starts with us!

Now more than ever, it is important to go organic:   

For Our Health

To Protect Ecosystem and Biodiversity

To Protect Climate

In Solidarity with Farmworkers

For Organic Benefits

For Our Health

Going organic drastically reduces the amount of pesticide in a person’s body. Although Thanksgiving is generally no time to think about dieting, we’ll aim to make it instructive: recent research finds that one of the biggest health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet comes when you go organic. Compared to individuals on a Mediterranean diet filled with chemically farmed foods, those that ate organic had 91% lower pesticide residue. This finding is backed up by a considerable body of prior research.

A 2015 study based on self-reported food intake found that those who eat organic generally have much lower levels of organophosphate insecticide metabolites in their urine. Additional research published in 2015 conducted an intervention study with children, finding that switching children to an organic diet decreased organophosphate metabolites in urine by 50% and 2,4-D by 25%. Research published in 2019 found that switching to organic reduced urine levels of certain organophosphates by up to 95%, and dropped neonicotinoid insecticide levels by 83%. A 2020 study found that switching to organic reduced glyphosate levels in the body by 70% over just a one-week period.

Pesticide levels in our bodies have important implications for children’s health. A 2013 study found that children with higher levels of pyrethroid insecticides in their urine were more likely to score high on reports of behavioral problems like inattention and hyperactivity. Many pesticides are also considered obesogens, which may modify an individual’s response to diet and fasting, and promote weight gain across generations. On the other hand, recent data indicate that children who eat higher amounts of organic food score higher on cognitive tests measuring fluid intelligence and working memory.

To Protect the Ecosystem and Biodiversity

Since the 1940s, ecological theory maintains that greater diversity promotes the stability of an ecosystem. An increase in toxic chemical use threatens human, animal, and environmental health, as well as food security. However, U.S. commercial agriculture has become more chemical-intensive in its management and less diverse. Commercial, chemical-intensive agriculture has implications on a much grander scale, as farmers more frequently apply pesticide treatments to larger, monoculture crop areas. A growing body of scientific research supports the finding that larger, monoculture croplands contain higher pest concentrations. These regions can foster specific pests that persist as they have ample quantities of the same food source, thus resulting in greater insecticide use. Perversely, monoculture crops induce biodiversity and pollinator loss as exposure causes harm to pollinators and other animals. Pesticides can drift from treated areas and contaminate non-commercial landscapes, limiting pollinator foraging habitat. Pollinator habitat destruction results in the loss of species biodiversity and stable ecosystem processes that are integral to sustainability. Pollinator population declines show no sign of stopping, and in many ways, the crisis is entering a new phase. After over a decade of consistent losses in managed pollinators (2021 being the second-to-worst year ever), driven by acute and chronic exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides, many beekeepers are being forced out of their profession. And with wild pollinators, researchers are now seeing the devastation caused by leaving pollinator-toxic pesticides on the market despite overwhelming evidence of their hazards. The Rusty-patched bumblebee was officially listed as endangered, as were monarch butterflies, and the American bumblebee is now under listing consideration.

One in three bites of food relies on the tireless pollinating efforts of these small and mighty insects. Combine that with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessments that pollination contributes between $20 and $30 billion in economic value to agriculture each year. You have not only a necessary link to the food production chain but an incredibly economically valuable one as well.

Imagine if you will have your Thanksgiving dinner without the help of this small but invaluable worker. That tangy and sweet cranberry sauce? Gone. Those crispy morsels of onion on top of the green bean casserole? History. Those honey-sweetened carrots? Extinct. And last but not least, the pumpkin pie and cup of coffee you somehow make room for in your stomach? A figment of your imagination. As strange as a Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie or any of these staples might seem, it is an all-too-real scenario we might face if pollinators are not protected. To stop this crisis, we must stop the use of toxic pesticides that harm these important species. Supporting organic agriculture, which never allows the use of neonicotinoids or other toxic synthetic insecticides, helps grow the market for pollinator-protective practices.

If one component of an agricultural system is unsustainable, then the entire system is unsustainable. Therefore, agricultural systems must commit to regenerative organic agriculture and land management to meet future sustainability goals and alleviate the effect these chemicals have on humans and wildlife.

To Protect Climate

As climate impacts grow, an increase in the use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture is likely — because of the waning efficacy (pesticide resistance) of these compounds, and mounting pest pressure (i.e., increasing insect population and metabolism). The production of pesticides contributes to greenhouse gas emissions gas (e.g., nitrous oxide). In addition to synthetic fertilizers often used alongside pesticides in conventional agriculture, these products contribute to the heating of the atmosphere.

The world faces an existential climate emergency. It also is contending with crises related to biodiversity and pollinator decline; chemical pesticides that cause disease; pollution of water bodies, waterways, and drinking water sources by tens of thousands of chemicals deployed into the environment; increasing resistance to medically critical antibiotics caused to great extent by their use in livestock industries; food systems rife with pesticide residues and compromised nutritional value because of soil maltreatment with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; and harm to critical ecosystems that provide environmental services that support all life. As global warming associated with the climate crisis continues to melt glaciers, banned and current-use pesticides pose a risk to human and animal health upon release into the atmosphere and waterways. The lack of adequate persistent pesticide regulations highlights the need for better policies surrounding pesticide use. By contrast, organic agricultural strategies have been shown to increase significantly the carbon drawdown and holding capacity of soils in field trials. Read more from Beyond Pesticides about the relationship between agriculture and the climate crisis.

In Solidarity with Farmworkers

Farmworkers are the backbone of the American agricultural economy. As we sit with friends and family this Thanksgiving, let us appreciate how our delicious meal got to our tables. The turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and cider all originated in fields far from our homes, and those working in those fields deserve our appreciation and engagement in their struggle. Many of these workers work long hours, under deplorable conditions, and are exposed to pesticides that put them and their families’ health at risk. Moreover, compared to the general population, farmworkers experience greater health risks from climate-related impacts like extreme heat and poor air. Farmworkers, and their families who live near production fields, already experience greater health problems from pesticide use than the average state resident. So, as we enjoy our pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and apple crumble, remember all the hardworking farmworkers who worked to bring our meal to the Thanksgiving table. But don’t just give thanks, work to improve their conditions.

Our food choices have a direct effect on those who, around the world, grow and harvest what we eat. This is why food labeled organic is the right choice. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food-buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices and the protection of farmworkers and farm families. See Beyond Pesticides’ guide to Eating with a Conscience to see how your food choices can protect farmworkers. To complement the contribution you are making by purchasing organic food, consider contacting the following organizations to learn what more you can do; Campesinos sin FronterasCentro CampesinoCoalition of Immokalee WorkersDomestic Fair Trade AssociationFarmworker Association of FloridaFarmworker Health and Safety InstituteFarmworker JusticeFarm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIOFarmworker Support Committee (CATA)Lideres CampesinasNorthwest Treeplanters and Farm Workers UnitedUnited Farm Workers.

How can you combat the shortcomings of chemical agriculture? Go organic.

Our food choices have a direct effect on the health of our environment and those who grow and harvest what we eat. That’s why food labeled organic is the right choice. USDA organic certification is the only system of food labeling that is subject to independent public review and oversight, ensuring that the toxic, synthetic pesticides used in chemical-intensive agriculture are replaced by management practices focused on soil biology, biodiversity, and plant health. This eliminates commonly used toxic chemicals in the production and processing of food that is not labeled organic–pesticides that contaminate our water and air, hurt biodiversity, harm farmworkers, and kill bees, birds, fish, and other wildlife.

Fortunately, the majority of common Thanksgiving products can easily be substituted with organic counterparts. Canned yams, for instance, often contain GE ingredients, but can be replaced by fresh organic yams. Another staple, like Pepperidge Farm Crackers, can be substituted with organic crackers like Mary’s Gone Crackers or Nature’s Pathway Crackers. Consider substituting GE cranberry sauce with home-made jellies made with organic cranberries and fair trade sugar. Organic jellied cranberries, such as Tree of Life or Grown Right, are fast alternatives. Finally, pre-made stuffing, like Kraft’s Stove Top stuffing, can be replaced with homemade stuffing or organic stuffing mix from Arrowhead. Simply Organic has a range of organic recipes posted on their website if you need more ideas.

The turkey is the symbol of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. However, turkeys are often fed grains treated with pesticides, medicated with antibiotics, and engorged with steroids and hormones. Additionally, turkeys are often fed an inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, which is used to promote growth and for pigmentation. In order to avoid all these, your best bet is to invest in an organic free-range turkey.

While the organic label dramatically increases protection for consumers and agricultural workers from exposure to toxic pesticides, it also creates essential benefits for environmental restoration. Research from the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial ® (FST) has revealed that organic, regenerative agriculture actually has the potential to lessen the impacts of climate change. This occurs through the drastic reduction in fossil fuel usage to produce crops (approximately 75% less than conventional agriculture) and the significant increase in carbon sequestration in the soil.

Eating organic is the first step as committed consumers, but we still must protect the true core values and principles of the organic label, as they are meant to be. Recent research shows that, at every level, organic outshines conventional practices. Organic farms spray fewer pesticides, and those that they use are significantly less toxic on an acute and chronic basis. Organic packaged foods offer greater health benefits than their conventionally processed counterparts. Environmental and socioeconomic systems are better served by organic practices, as research shows that organic provides quadruple aim performance, synergizing financial, human health, ecological, and socio-economic well-being.

This Thanksgiving, you can avoid exposure to harmful chemicals like glyphosate, steer away from genetically engineered food, and protect your family, pollinators, and farmworkers from the shortcomings of federal agencies by striving for a 100% organic, healthy meal.

And don’t stop there!

It is important every day of the year to look towards organic to keep your family and friends safe from toxic chemicals. You can continue to fight for the well-being of organic by helping to defend organic standards against USDA changes that will weaken public trust in the organic food label. Organic practices follow tough standards that do not compromise the health of people and the planet. Let’s grow the organic food label as a symbol that honors this tradition. To learn more, visit the Beyond Pesticides’ Save Our Organic webpage.

Best wishes for a Healthy and Happy Thanksgiving!

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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