There are over 1.1 billion pounds of agricultural chemicals used every year in the U.S. Nearly 1,400 pesticides with over 900 active ingredients are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and exposure to pesticides lead to thousands of illnesses annually.
Millions of farmworkers work on farms and ranches across the U.S. Without them livestock is not tended to and crops are not harvested. Farmers produce crops and raise livestock that feeds the nation. Farmers and farmworkers are at a greater risk for exposure to pesticides which can impact their health, a recent report by The Organic Center found. The report looked at more than 120 research studies to understand the health impacts of exposure to pesticides and how organic farming methods benefit farming communities.
Exposure to pesticides and the health impacts exposure brings extends beyond farmers and farmworkers to their families and farming communities at large, as studies show. The Farm Family Exposure Study by Purdue University looked at 95 farm families in South Carolina and Minnesota. The farmers applied glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, and 2,4-D to at least ten acres within one mile of the farm home. The results showed that the body absorbs pesticides and that pesticide use impacts farmers and their families.
One study found pesticide use might be linked with birth defects. Researchers investigated if babies conceived in months when surface water agrichemicals are highest are at a greater risk for birth defects. What they found is that the total amount of birth defects were more likely to occur between April and July when the concentrations of agrichemicals was highest.
Another study looked at children’s exposure to organophosphorus (OP) pesticides in a farming community in central Washington. Ten of the 61 children studied had detectable OP pesticide levels on their hands. The study found that children whose parents worked with pesticides or who live near pesticide-treated farmland had higher exposures than other children living in the same community.
Consumers can help farming communities by buying organics
While organic agriculture bans the use of most pesticides and reduces exposure to them, conventional agriculture relies on pesticides. Organic farmers are only allowed to use naturally occurring products for pest control, and can only use 25 synthetic substances approved by the National Organic Standards Board. Every five years, the approved substances are reviewed and assessed. “Prohibiting most toxic, synthetic pesticides from the field greatly reduces the risk of exposure,” the report points out.
When consumers purchase organics, they help drive up the demand. Increasing the demand can eventually help farming communities. As Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center, said in a statement, “The health and safety of those who produce our food should be a concern for all of us, and consumers can take action to support healthy farming communities by choosing food grown organically.”
“By shifting to more sustainable farming systems that rely on balanced ecosystems as a first line of defense against pests, we can ensure sustainable food security and healthy farm communities into the future,” Shade added.