Farm Workers: Canaries in the Coal Mine of Our Food System - Why Pharmaceutical Companies Should Provide Healthcare For Agricultural Workers

Listening to a Science Friday podcast the other evening inspired me to get back to some of these quotes, referenced in prior entries. If we know that there is a direct, causal relationship between certain pesticides and increased incidence of cancer in humans, it seems reprehensible that we continue to use them. If the argument in favor of their use is economic, I urge the decision-makers to include consideration of treatment for the cancers caused in their analysis. To externalize these costs is beyond risky or dangerous; it's wrong and tantamount to mortgaging our future.

This from page 23 of Silent Spring: "The poison may also be passed on from mother to offspring. Insecticide residues have been recovered from human milk in samples tested by Food and Drug Administration scientists. This means that the breast-fed human infant is receiving small but regular additions to the load of toxic chemicals building up in his body."

I asked for organic milk at the coffee shop this morning. I was told, "We just have regular, horzontal milk." I think she was playing around a bit, but when she asked why, I told her that I didn't want chemicals ranging from pesticides to hormones in my latte. I then asked for skim, my reasoning being that, the lower the concentration of fat in the milk, te lower the dose of poison I would receive. I realized afterwads that a better option might have been soymilk.

This from page 24, also Silent Spring: "Heptachlor, one of the constituents of chlordane, is marketed as a separate formulation. It has a particularly high capacity for storage in fat. If the diet contains as little as 1/10 of 1 part per million there will be measurable amounts of heptachlor in the body. It also has the curious ability to undergo change into a chemically distinct substance known as heptachlor epoxide. It does this in soil and in the tissues of both plants and animals. Tests on birds indicate that the epoxide that results from this change is more toxic than the original chemical, which in turn is four times as toxic as chlordane."

Yikes.

I'll throw this out there, for what it's worth; I think it would be interesting for pharmaceutical companies to work closely with agriculture, perhaps providing free or subsidized healthcare (maybe use some of the $180M annual lobbying budget for the industry?) for farm workers. This is actually a twisted idea with pharma's best interests in mind; farm workers are the canaries in our food supply coal mine. The ill-effects of all the chemicals we use will be first and most strongly felt in this subgroup. Careful study would not only likely provide better healthcare for the oft-neglected group, but also provide useful data about the impacts we can expect to be dealing with in a few years time.