Everything causes cancer these days. At least that's what it's starting to feel like. I won't lie to you, part of me was appalled while researching this article, but knowledge is power and no matter our socioeconomic background or stage in life, it's important we know what is safe and unsafe, especially when it comes to something as central as food. We won't be covering the list of 900 chemicals accumulated by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) that circulates in our man made environment, but we will specifically take a look at one pesticidal, chemical villain involved in preserving our food, and the current war waging between one brave groundskeeper and the superpower Monsanto.
Pesticides are nasty stuff for multiple reasons, according to Nature Education. They can throw off entire ecosystems by leaking into ponds, rivers, streams, and kill the animals that live there. They can also leak into our drinking sources, a process called leeching. Water contaminated by pesticides is no joke for us humans as it is unsanitary and harmful to drink¹.
Pesticide infiltration in our drinking water is bad enough, yet these chemical culprits also coat common foods. Our fruits and veggies are sprayed with pesticides to keep bugs away and so farmers don't lose large portions or their entire crop. From a business point of view, this makes a lot of sense, but from the health side of things, it is resulting in substantial repercussions, some as potentially extreme as terminal cancer².
Quick Facts: what you need to know
Studies looking at pesticide use and cancer have shown a positive relationship between exposure to pesticides and the development of some cancers, particularly in children.⁶
So I know what you're thinking, "What am I supposed to eat?" I had the same thought. It's difficult enough to eat healthy, let alone be cognizant of the fact that our produce could be coated in human harming poison. This is a rather annoying discovery if you ask me.
Glyphosate: what is it & why it matters
Monsanto, the multi-billion dollar agricultural supergiant, is accountable for one fourth of the world's seed property. In other words, this single Fortune 500 company indirectly feeds 1.75 billion people! That said, their practices both before, during, and after food is grown is a huge responsibility, one in which recent allegations have indicated they may have taken advantage of.⁸
Currently, they are undergoing a lawsuit with a California groundskeeper for hiding the cancer risk of it's weedkiller, Roundup. The bullet in the gun is a chemical called glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Roundup. Naturally, this cause is bringing attention to an important topic for our time, as it affects the long term health of people who are frequently exposed to or consume pesticides.
Some 4,000 plaintiffs have sued Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup caused them, or their loved ones, to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled for trial in October, in Monsanto’s home town of St Louis, Missouri.⁹
Solutions: Smart Shopping
Thanks to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), our police for identifying pesticides on foods, we can at the very least make informed choices at the grocery store by knowing what is best to buy in it's organic form⁷. The EWG has identified the "Dirty Dozen" as produce that is high in pesticides and the "Clean 15" as good to go in non-organically grown form.
Farmers who grow organic produce use significantly less pesticides than non-organic farmers, thus we are better off buying the organic version of the foods that fall into the Dirty Dozen.
More than 98% of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and apples, tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide, and a single sample of strawberries had been contaminated with over 20 different pesticides.¹⁰
Long story short, if you eat a non-organic apple is it going to kill you? No. But science is clearly proving that the steady consumption of pesticides over time will indeed increase your risk of cancer. It's worth memorizing the Dirty Dozen list and eating the organic form of each.
¹The Dangers of Pesticides. (n.d.) Retrieved June 13, 2017, from https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/green-science/the_dangers_of_pesticides
²US Right to Know. "Man vs. Monsanto: First Trial Over Roundup Cancer Claims Set to Begin." EcoWatch. June 19, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://www.ecowatch.com/johnson-monsanto-trial-2579431928.html.
³ ⁶Bassil, K.L., C. Vakil, M. Sanborn, D.C. Cole, J.S. Kaur, and K.J. Kerr. Advances in Pediatrics. October 2007. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2231435/.
⁴ ⁵PAN. "Reproductive Health." Pesticide Action Network. Accessed June 20, 2018. http://www.panna.org/human-health-harms/reproductive-health.
⁷ ¹⁰ Executive Summary. (n.d.). EWG's 2017 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved June 13, 2017, from https://www.ewg.org/foodnws/summary.php
⁸GMO FAQ. (2016). "Do Monsanto and Big Ag Control Crop Research and World Food Supply?" Accessed June 20, 2018. https://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/do-monsanto-and-big-ag-control-crop-research-and-world-food-supply/.
⁹Gillam, Carey. "Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Cancer Danger of Weedkiller for Decades." The Guardian. May 22, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/22/monsanto-trial-cancer-weedkiller-roundup-dewayne-johnson.