On summer days, the scent of basil wafts into the bedroom window. My wife and I grow it in rows in our organic garden. Come fall, we make pesto.
Most folks who plant home gardens practice organic agriculture, too. Who, after all, would knowingly spray poisons on the food they and their kids eat?
And yet we often overlook the thousands of fertilizers and pesticides used by agribusinesses on our foods and distributed by supermarket chains. A recent article carried by The Spokesman-Review on July 6, “Toxins relabeled fertilizers,” hints at the scope of the problem. Chemical manufactures are “recycling” toxic industrial wastes in the fertilizers they sell to farmers.
Chemical corporations profit twice from this ingenious ruse: first, when paid by industry to dispose of toxic wastes; second, when they cleverly conceal those wastes in fertilizers sold to gullible farmers. Those farmers eventually gull us, the public, by selling us food imbued with industrial refuse.
My experience with industrial waste “recycling” is firsthand. As a teenager, I worked for a company, Western Processing, whose grounds later became a Superfund cleanup site. One of its products was zinc sulfate, a crude brew of water, zinc dross and sulfuric acid. Marketed as a farm fertilizer, zinc sulfate was sold by the truckload and spread across Eastern Washington farms.
Western Processing profited first when it relieved Pacific Northwest smelters of zinc dross, then again when it relabeled that dross farm fertilizer. I paid the price a third time when a fitting on a pump burst and acid sprayed my legs, burning off my pants and scarring my thighs for life.
Americans should beware the hazards of non-organic foods. The prices we pay for food remain artificially low through a variety of subsidies. We pay a mere 11 percent of our average national income for food, compared with twice that amount in less-developed countries.
Here’s a summertime sample of additives in our food. Strawberries from California grow large and spotless thanks to methyl bromide (MBr), a fumigant being phased out at last because of its ozone-destroying properties. A machine with injector nozzles applies the chemical subterraneously as a gas and covers the field with plastic sheeting. The confined toxin kills everything from microbes to rodents, eliminating the strawberries’ competition.
MBr has been known also to kill migrant farm workers who got a whiff.
The United Farm Workers have shown likewise that pesticides sprayed on California grape arbors are responsible for illness, birth defects and unusually high rates of death among Hispanic laborers ad their offspring.
A new book describes the failure of our attempts to regulate chemical corporations. That book is “Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health” by award-winning investigative reporters Don Fagin and Marianne Lavelle. Fagin writes for a Long Island newspaper and Lavelle for the National Law Journal.
The book demonstrates how chemical manufacturers have managed to keep their products on the market despite expensive government regulatory efforts, civil litigation by citizens who have gotten sick, investigative news reporters, congressional oversight of the regulators, right-to-know laws and hundreds of scientific studies that show harm to humans and the environment.
The book documents how corporations buy political compliance, award jobs, threaten regulators and construct deceptive courtroom cases. Most astounding to me are the ways they shape, manipulate and falsify science and spend millions on advertising and public relations to deflect public concerns.
The regulatory system, the authors conclude, mostly protects property rights of the corporations. Corporations thwart human rights and manipulate the federal regulatory system which, the authors demonstrate, “is driven by the economic imperatives of the chemical mnaufacturers - to expand markets and profits - and not by its mandate to protect public health.”
We all play into this system when we prioritize economics over public policy. But there is a solution. We can vote with our food dollars.
Organic food is available virtually everywhere, and there is good reason to buy it. Sure, it costs a little more. But think of the good our dollars can do to reform those American industries that are not apt to undergo reforms of other sorts.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Paul Lindholdt Special to Roundtable
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