I Think I'm Allergic to Pollan
According to Michael Pollan:
Is the Left for or against testosterone this week? If the Atrazine were causing verifiable damage to human beings, we would see lower birth rates in rural areas. We don't.
Atrazine is a powerful herbicide applied to 70 percent of America's cornfields. Traces of the chemical routinely turn up in American streams and wells and even in the rain; the F.D.A. also finds residues of Atrazine in our food.
So what? Well, the chemical, which was recently banned by the European Union, is a suspected carcinogen and endocrine disruptor that has been linked to low sperm counts among farmers. A couple of years ago, a U.C. Berkeley herpetologist named Tyrone Hayes, while doing research on behalf of Syngenta, Atrazine's manufacturer, found that even at concentrations as low as 0.1 part per billion, the herbicide will chemically emasculate a male frog, causing its gonads to produce eggs — in effect, turning males into hermaphrodites. Atrazine is often present in American waterways at much higher concentrations than 0.1 part per billion. But American regulators generally won't ban a pesticide until the bodies, or cancer cases, begin to pile up — until, that is, scientists can prove the link between the suspect molecule and illness in humans or ecological catastrophe. So Atrazine is, at least in the American food system, deemed innocent until proved guilty — a standard of proof extremely difficult to achieve, since it awaits the results of chemical testing on humans that we, rightly, don't perform.
Can we assume that “chemicals” are damaging in the absence of evidence? If artificial chemicals were carcinogenic on the average, we would see a cancer epidemic. We don't. Cancer mortality rates are declining for people under 60.
Of course, other people can also use the technique of not waiting for evidence.
But wait, there's more:
As the organic movement has long maintained, cheap industrial food is cheap only because the real costs of producing it are not reflected in the price at the checkout. Rather, those costs are charged to the environment, in the form of soil depletion and pollution (industrial agriculture is now our biggest polluter); to the public purse, in the form of subsidies to conventional commodity farmers; to the public health, in the form of an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is expected to cost the economy more than $100 billion per year; and to the welfare of the farm- and food-factory workers, not to mention the well-being of the animals we eat.“Soil depeletion”? If there were a shortage of soil, wouldn't we see farmers carefully preserving soil? Is the unspecified “pollution” a matter of classifying alleged aesthetic damage in the same category as smog from burning soft coal? Won't organic food make you just as fat as inorganic food if you eat the same amount?
Herein lies one of the deeper paradoxes of practicing organic agriculture on an industrial scale: big, single-species CAFO's are even more precarious than their conventional cousins, since they can't use antibiotics to keep the thousands of animals living in close confinement indoors from becoming sick. So organic CAFO-hands (to call them farmhands seems overly generous) keep the free ranging to a minimum and then keep their fingers crossed.Okay. So don't buy organic.