Too often, agriculturists see only the effects, while the actual causes of the crisis grow worse and more complicated. Yet we must recognize our agricultural problems—their causes—and CORRECT THEM.
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This article is excerpted from the book Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture by Dale L. Schurter, the world's foremost authority on biblical agriculture and sustainable husbandry. Subsequent installments will appear in The Real Truth over the coming months.
Chemical warfare has long been a reality on planet Earth. Today it has become the last weapon in man’s arsenal against crop-destroying insects and weeds.
These chemicals affect not only insects, but also man himself—us! No matter whom you are or where you live, the food you consume contains pesticides originally meant for insects. And now, you carry these toxic chemicals in your body.
More than a trillion pounds of pesticides have probably already accumulated and remain in Earth’s air, water, soil, living plants, and animals, and the amount grows daily. Remember, we saw earlier that 50 million tons of toxins are applied annually to soil and crops in America alone.
What these poisons are doing to the entire web of life—and to personal health—began to be known some 40 to 50 years ago. We warned at that time that unless mankind drastically changed its ways, we were headed for disaster.
And now, today, as you read these words, we are in the middle of that forecasted disaster—and are witnesses of an ever-expanding crisis!
The most common pesticides 40 years ago were DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons. In 1972, after Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring brought the world’s attention to DDT’s adverse environmental effects, the United States and many other nations worldwide banned the application of this compound. Because of its effectiveness in fighting diseases such as malaria, however, use of DDT persists in some countries, including China.
Today, toxins from DDT and similar compounds that have replaced it are manifold, found virtually everywhere in the soil, on the soil, and in food and feed crops—from mega-farms to community landscapes, even including home lawns and flower and vegetable gardens. And this does not count those “seeded” into the clouds, which eventually find their way into the air we breathe, trees, plants, water and soil. They have become “silent” direct and indirect killers—alive and well today.
In 1996, another major instrument was added to the arsenal of destructive devices. Enter the onslaught of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are also called “genetically engineered” (GE) crops.
Genetics is the study of the way plants, animals and humans pass on unique characteristics to their offspring. A gene is any of the units “programmed” with these inherited features that make up a section of a chromosome. And chromosomes are tiny particles in the nucleus of cells, the basic building blocks of which are deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA stores the genetic code and passes on said characteristics.
Consider what the possible outcomes, and consequences, would be from manipulating gene code sequencing. Here are just a few brief but sobering examples (emphasis added):
Additionally, the researchers found that genetically modified foods have much greater consequences than previously believed: “‘A frequent claim has been that new genes introduced in GM food are harmless since all genes are broken up in the intestines. But our findings show that genes can be transferred through the intestinal wall into the blood; they have been found in blood, muscle tissue and liver in sufficiently large segments to be identified,’ Krogdahl explains.
“‘The biological impact of this gene transfer is unknown.’”
And this could be called the tip of the iceberg! Are we to think that we will fare any better when exposed to the same chemicals?
A number of countries have already banned the use of GMO seeds.
In the very beginning, our Creator gave guidelines—if we have eyes to see and ears to hear—to plant seed that reproduces like-kind, “whose seed is in itself” (Gen. 1:11-12). These are sustainable and renewable. Consider. Where in this statement is license to enter the plant world—which God designed—and genetically modify it in ways that human beings think to be better?
The major pesticides in use today are vicious pollutants. Many are very stable compounds, meaning they are not easily broken down. And because of this persistence, they build up in dangerous biological concentrations in the food chain. They ultimately end up in the human body. Here is what happens:
Ocean water, for example, contains phytoplankton—the producer of over half the world’s oxygen supply and the first link in the sea’s chain of life. Not only does DDT (and similar compounds) decrease oxygen-producing photosynthesis, but it also has a tendency to accumulate in biological organisms and be passed up the food chain—from phytoplankton to zooplankton, shrimp, small fish, larger fish, and then fish-eating birds. In birds, the concentration accumulated to an astounding 10 million times the original amount present in the ocean water (Time).
Even 40 years after banning DDT, “Fish consumption advisories are in effect for DDT in many waterways including the Great Lakes ecosystem” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
Likewise on land, these poisons are extremely harmful to microorganisms and other minute forms of life and life processes in the soil.
Pesticides have virtually wiped out certain bird species by upsetting an intricate hormone-enzyme relationship, leading to thin-shelled eggs that crack and fall apart easily. They have produced fatal effects in wildlife by interrupting the communication network in animals’ nervous systems. (Keep in mind the disappearance of honeybees and so many other pollinating insects—beneficial creatures destroyed by continually expanding the application of these and other toxins.)
In Canada, marked levels of DDE—a derivative of DDT—were found in the droppings of chimney swifts (birds that often nest in chimneys) dating from 1944 to 1992, which provides clues as to why “the number of chimney swifts dropped 95% between 1968 and 2005,” Science reported.
Research indicates DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons cause a marked alteration in the sexual mechanisms of rats and a proneness to cancer in animals from mice to cattle. Do we dare assume humans are not affected in the same way?
Chlorinated hydrocarbons expert Dr. Charles Wurster plainly stated the dangers of these chemicals: “All are nerve poisons. They cause instability or spontaneous ‘firing’ of nerve cells, and increased doses result in tremors or convulsions—typical symptoms of acute poisoning that can occur in organisms ranging from houseflies to man. In general, if an organism has nerves, the chlorinated hydrocarbons can kill it” (Weeds, Trees, and Turf).
Dr. Joseph J. Hickey, professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin, was even more direct in his book Farm Chemicals: “DDT is a chemical of extinction.” This has been public knowledge for decades—but who is listening? Are you?
In 1971, Gainsborough News published an article about a river of death in Britain: “Children and adults, attracted by tens of thousands of fish slaughtered in the River Till at Sturton-by-Stow, dice with danger if they touch them…It is one of the strongest forms of organic chemical pollution we have come across and rats and birds which have been feeding on the dead fish are being found dead along the banks…Dogs which have been drinking the water will soon follow suit and farmers have been warned to clear their livestock from the riverside. The pollution, apparently from the Ingham area, is a killer and River Authority workmen have been strongly advised not to allow either the contaminated water or the fish to come into contact with their skin.
“The sluggish black waters of the River Till have become a glistening graveyard as shoals of bream, prime roach and eels float grimly to the surface. Not a single item of river life has escaped the horror, as flies, beetles and even hedgehogs are carried motionless along the killer stretch.”
As the realization of these harmful truths expands, many around the world have already taken action against the use of DDT and chlorinated hydrocarbons in their countries. Regardless of DDT’s ban in the U.S. years ago, residual toxicity remains. This is in part because several countries from which we import food continue to use it and the chemicals wind up in our diets.
Thankfully, more nations are pursuing the elimination of DDT, including China. But what about the other substances that have taken its place?
In many areas, organic phosphorus compounds—or organophosphates—have replaced DDT and chlorinated hydrocarbons. These were originally developed in World War II as German nerve gases. Chemically, they are cousins to the nerve agents GD and VX, which are involved in the current chemical and biological warfare controversy.
Over 30 million pounds of organophosphates are being spread unchecked as pesticides on America’s farms and gardens annually (EPA).
Because these pesticides break down much more quickly than chlorinated hydrocarbons, many assume they are safer. In reality, these odorless and colorless chemicals are potentially more dangerous.
Dr. Alice Ottoboni, former California State Public Health Department toxicologist, wrote of organophosphates in the book The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain-Language Guide to Toxicology, “A great deal of data indicate that some degradation products of nonpersistent pesticides have at least as much potential for nontarget damage as DDT.”
Small amounts can cause harm almost instantly, either by contact or ingestion.
“When DDT was banned, the use of organophosphate insecticides increased greatly. A large increase in poisoning of farm workers accompanied this increase; some poisonings were so severe as to be lethal” (ibid.).
Realize: a nonpersistent pesticide does not just “disappear” when it is broken down. “On the contrary,” Dr. Ottoboni continued, “All nonpersistent pesticides merely degrade to other chemicals! The only difference is that most of these new chemicals do not have the same pesticidal action as their parent chemicals. These new chemicals may not kill pests, but what is their toxicity to other organisms? What is their fate in the environment? Do they persist? Do they accumulate?” (emphasis added).
There is growing knowledge, however, surrounding the most common pesticide in use throughout the U.S. today—atrazine. Since its introduction in 1958, atrazine has grown to have an “estimated production of 76 [million] to 85 million pounds annually. Approximately 76.5 million pounds of active ingredient are applied domestically per year” (EPA).
This is over twice the amount of total organophosphates used!
Even more shocking is just how much is known about this pesticide and its effects. Consider this 2010 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): “Banned in the European Union and clearly linked to harm to wildlife and potentially to humans, the pesticide atrazine provides little benefit to offset its risks. In 2009, NRDC analyzed results of surface water and drinking water monitoring data for atrazine and found pervasive contamination of watersheds and drinking water systems across the Midwest and Southern United States.”
“Approximately 75 percent of stream water and about 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas tested in an extensive U.S. Geological Survey study contained atrazine. NRDC found that the U.S. EPA’s inadequate monitoring systems and weak regulations have compounded the problem, allowing levels of atrazine in watersheds and drinking water to peak at extremely high concentrations.
“The most recent data confirms that atrazine continues to contaminate watersheds and drinking water. Atrazine was found in 80 percent of drinking water samples taken in 153 public water systems. All twenty watersheds sampled in 2007 and 2008 had detectable levels of atrazine, and sixteen had average concentrations above the level that has been shown to harm plants and wildlife” (ibid.).
But with so great an amount of this pesticide applied today, could the effects be as harmful as some believe?
A study released in 2010 by the University of California, Berkeley, yielded disturbing results: “Atrazine, one of the world’s most widely used pesticides, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females…”
“The 75 percent that are chemically castrated are essentially ‘dead’ because of their inability to reproduce in the wild, reports UC Berkeley’s Tyrone B. Hayes, professor of integrative biology.
“‘These male frogs are missing testosterone and all the things that testosterone controls, including sperm. So their fertility is as low as 10 percent in some cases, and that is only if we isolate those animals and pair them with females,’ he said. ‘In an environment where they are competing with unexposed animals, they have zero chance of reproducing.’”
Environmental chemicals that enter into our bodies, whether by air, food or water, will affect us. An article published by rodale.com recorded some of these effects: “Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine compared rates of a rare birth defect called choanal atresia—which happens when the cavity between a baby’s nose and mouth becomes fully or partially closed and causes breathing problems that can be fatal—to application rates of the herbicide atrazine in Texas farm fields.
“The results: Birth defect rates and atrazine application levels went hand-in-hand, says lead study author Philip Lupo, PhD, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics. Women living in counties with the lowest rates of pesticide application had relatively no risk of having babies with this specific birth defect, he says. ‘But as you go up to the next group—areas with medium levels of atrazine application—there was almost a 40% increase in risk. Moms in counties with the highest levels saw an 80% risk,’ he says.
“That should raise red flags, even if you’re not planning to have children any time soon. Lupo says that the only known risk factor for choanal atresia is thyroid-medication use during pregnancy. But, according to the birth records he used in his analysis, very few of the mothers had been diagnosed with thyroid problems or were taking thyroid medications, which means your body could be reacting to the herbicide the same way it would to a thyroid medication or thyroid abnormality.
“If atrazine is messing with thyroid hormones, the herbicide could play a bigger role in other health problems, according to research done by the Endocrine Society. Chemicals that interfere with thyroid hormones have been linked to metabolic disorders, and thus could be playing a role in diabetes and obesity, as well as in autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular disease.”
To curb the effects of pesticides on crops, farmers in the U.S. came to broadly endorse the genetic engineering of agriculture. So much so that “herbicide-tolerant crops accounted for 93 percent of U.S. soybean acreage, 78 percent of cotton acreage, and 70 percent of corn acreage in 2010” (U.S. Department of Agriculture, emphasis added).
In addition to herbicide-tolerance, plant genetics are also manipulated to be resistant to insects. One popular crop contains “the gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)…[producing] a protein that is toxic to specific insects. Plantings of Bt crops accounted for 73 percent of U.S. cotton acreage and 63 percent of corn acreage in 2010” (ibid., emphasis added).
Although the use of Bt crops has reduced the application of insecticides, Dr. Ottoboni wrote in her book The Dose Makes the Poison that “BT’s usefulness is limited to certain classes of insects, and it is harmful to all butterﬂies and moths. Additionally, some chemically sensitive people believe that they respond just as severely to BT as to other pesticides” (emphasis added).
Adding to the concern, a study released in 2011 found that the toxin produced by the Bt bacterium was present in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant mothers and 80 percent of their babies as well as 69 percent of women who were not pregnant (Reproductive Toxicology).
The distressing fact, outside of the ecological effects, is that pesticides have not eliminated insect infestation and crop loss—and are actually creating new problems.
Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, told Reuters, “…the introduction of ‘Bt’ corn and cotton crops engineered to be toxic to certain insects is triggering the rise of insects resistant to the crop toxin.”
“Insecticide use did drop substantially—28 percent from 1996 to 2011—but is now on the rise, he said.
“‘The relatively recent emergence and spread of insect populations resistant to the Bt toxins expressed in Bt corn and cotton has started to increase insecticide use, and will continue to do so,’ he said.
“Herbicide-tolerant and Bt-transgenic crops now dominate U.S. agriculture, accounting for about one in every two acres of harvested cropland, and around 95 percent of soybean and cotton acres, and over 85 percent of corn acres.
“‘Things are getting worse, fast,’ said Benbrook in an interview. ‘In order to deal with rapidly spreading resistant weeds, farmers are being forced to expand use of older, higher-risk herbicides. To stop corn and cotton insects from developing resistance to Bt, farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace.’”
Devastation and loss of agriculture is not exclusive to the United States—or to this century.
In 1973, “Annual loss…in Latin America alone [reached] the staggering level of 40 per cent of the total crop, while in the middle of Africa half of the sorghum [was] eaten away by insects during a single year’s storage. Similarly, an enormous amount of rice [was] lost every season in Asia because farmers [did not] find it worth their while to dry the rice—losses [were] estimated by the FAO [UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization] at three million tons each year. Mishandling of food in storage and transit also [caused] grievous waste. For instance, birds pecking holes into grain bags…ruined up to three-fourths of the contents; other local predators, such as rats and locusts, have taken their toll” (The Saturday Review).
Another source from that era stated, “In India insects annually consume more food than the entire nine million population of Michigan eats. Such losses can doubtless be reduced, but there is good reason to tone down generous promises about what can be achieved along these lines when similar conditions can be recorded also in countries where man has created powerful chemical barriers around his lush fields and even resorted to war gases in his fight for victory and survival. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that merely the insects cause losses to our nation in the range of four to five billion dollars annually. Our total agricultural production is valued at only six times that amount” (Too Many: A Study of Earth’s Biological Limitations).
Though we have increased pesticides and genetically modified crops enormously since then, the rate of agricultural loss due to insects remains about the same.
A sobering example of just one crop was reported in Cotton Farming: “No matter how much progress is made in the ongoing fight against cotton insect pests, the damage incurred each year remains significant, according to the 2010 Cotton Insect Loss report compiled by Michael Williams, Mississippi State University entomologist emeritus.
“Of all the detailed statistics contained in this report, the most revealing may be the fact that 8.1 million cotton acres across the Belt were infested by the bollworm/budworm insect complex, resulting in 263,902 bales lost.”
“When translated into economic losses for cotton production…the total yield loss due to insects across the Belt adds up to $376,673,521, or an average of $35.33 per acre.”
Another major problem with using pesticides is that predators of the pest are often killed along with the target. Since these natural enemies have been partially successful in controlling the pest population, wiping them out temporarily leaves the primary offender free of important natural restraints.
Under these circumstances, the pest will develop a resistance through mutation and multiply before natural enemies can multiply to control them.
Thus insects’ resistance to pesticides is a mounting worldwide problem. Between 1908 and 1945, only 13 species of insects had developed resistance. Now, according to the FAO, the figure stands at over 700!
The current practice employed to control these hardy new pests is to develop more potent pesticides. But instead of controlling or killing an insect, a vicious cycle is created—stronger insects, more toxic pesticides, and an increasing threat to all life forms on this planet. And the vast majority still refuse to address the fundamental cause! They seem bound and determined to continue and expand more of the same husbandry practices that caused the problem in the first place.
And their use is once again on the rise: “Genetically engineered crops have led to an increase in overall pesticide use, by 404 million pounds from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011, according to the report by Charles Benbrook…” (Reuters).
This is due in part to the rise of herbicide-resistant weed species, referred to as “superweeds.” Mr. Benbrook also stated in the article, “Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE [genetically engineered] crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent.”
The proposed answer? “Scientists say the solution to the widespread resistance problem is a new type of GM that uses a powerful weedkiller that was once part of Agent Orange, the defoliant widely used during the Vietnam war” (BBC). Again, shocking! Should we not be addressing the cause of insects?—trying a little prevention?
Here then is where scientists and farmers see a problem: we are told that “crop and livestock production in the United States would drop by 25 to 30 percent”—that commercial production of apples, peaches, cherries, grapes, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, citrus and a host of other products would come to a halt—“and prices of agricultural products would increase by 50 to 75 percent, if pesticides were completely withdrawn from use” (The World Bank Development Research Group). According to these numbers, millions would have their diets drastically altered or reduced.
Yet this data flies in the face of numerous documented cases of farmers who have stopped using insecticides and have fared better than their neighbors who continued to use these poisons.
As I wrote some 40 years ago, “If we continue to use non-biodegradable pesticides we will be in deep trouble.” And now, we are in deep trouble!
Not only is pollution reaching critical proportions, but as insects continue to develop resistance faster than new pesticides are produced, it is just a matter of time until these creatures begin to destroy food crops wholesale. And mankind will be utterly unable to stop them!
Some look to biological control—natural pesticides taken from animals, plants, bacteria and certain minerals—to provide an out. But so little money and effort is being spent on research in this area—and progress comes so slowly, if this ever even materializes—that it appears to be a false hope. In addition, there are whole categories of pest problems with no remote prospect of biological control.
Have we painted ourselves into a corner? Is there no way out? Is there no way that insect plagues can be stopped without using pesticides?
Part 4 of the series will appear in next month’s Real Truth. To read the complete book online, visit Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture.