Study Finds Disturbing Spike in Birth Defects in US Women Living Near Industrial Agriculture

By Justin Gardner

An exhaustive new study is sounding the alarm over industrial pesticide use and its effect on human health. Pregnant women in California’s San Joaquin Valley have a significantly greater chance of premature birth or birth abnormalities if they live near agricultural fields with high pesticide use.

[F]or individuals in the top 5 per cent of exposure, pesticide exposure led to 5 to 9 per cent increases in adverse outcomes.

The magnitude of effects was further enlarged for the top 1 per cent, where these extreme exposures (more than 11,000kg over gestation) led to an 11 per cent increased probability of preterm birth, 20 per cent increased probability of low birth weight, and about a 30g decrease in birth weight.

The good news is that most do not experience birth problems, but the study tells us that pesticides do have an association with serious health problems. Focusing mitigation efforts on areas with high pesticide use could have a dramatic beneficial impact.

Hailed as a major advancement in scientific understanding, the study compared 500,000 birth records in the San Joaquin Valley between 1997 and 2011 with levels of pesticides used in the area. Researchers note that their study design “has far stronger statistical power to identify effects than previous studies,” and it allows us “to evaluate many details of the nature of pesticide exposure.”

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The one “devil” is that they were unable to isolate the roles of specific pesticides, although their analysis can be applied for the type of crops sprayed—such as grapes, which receive about 50 kg per hectare per year of insecticides. Researchers “focused on aggregate chemicals grouped into high and low toxicity pesticides by their EPA Signal Word.”

This study is critically important because there is a dearth of knowledge on the relationship between pesticides and human health. While we know much more about the effects of air pollution—mainly due to a robust network of monitors–we know less about the chemicals unleashed by the industrial agricultural industry and their companions such as Monsanto and Dow.

Even though chemicals are stamped “safe” by agencies such as the EPA—after relying on the company’s own, often questionable safety data—the lesser-known truth is that pesticide companies hide their toxic legacy behind “trade secrets.”

In a corporatocracy, we would expect nothing less than a regulatory agency to have a backdoor for corporations to rape human and environmental health for profit.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976 and administered by the EPA, is the primary gateway for chemicals to be introduced on the market. The TSCA is supposed to protect Americans from “unreasonable risk to health or to the environment,” but thanks to the trade secrets provision we are denied information on 65 percent of chemicals that have been introduced over the past 27 years.

We cannot access “17,000 of the more than 83,000 chemicals on the master inventory compiled by the EPA” for independent researchers to perform testing. A “confidential business information” label has been applied to 13,596 chemicals produced since 1976, and the rate is increasing. The identity of these chemicals is kept secret from most EPA employees.

Considering that President Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt—with a long track record of using government power to serve the interests of corporate titans—to head the EPA, we can expect the trade secrets provision to be thoroughly abused.

Make no mistake though, EPA has a long history of serving the corporatocracy. As we reported in August, bombshell documents reveal decades of collusion with chemical companies, including a secret meeting where EPA assured companies such as Dow that their products would continue being sold despite fraudulent safety data.
A large portion of the toxicology studies exposed in the 1970s as invalid or fraudulent were never redone, and they still underlie the U.S. chemical regulatory system.

The chemical and industrial agriculture industry spends millions to get politicians in their pockets and convince the public that pesticides are necessary to feed the world. But that is is a myth driven by a centralized agricultural system that promotes constant chemical inputs, monoculture crops and government patents to exclude competition.

It is possible to move beyond pesticides. To protect the health of those living near agricultural areas, and everyone in general, we must break the crushing grip of centralized industrial, chemically-dependent agriculture.

Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo. This article first appeared at The Free Thought Project.

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