On a recent late afternoon walk with my dog, I noticed signs scattered around our local park alerting passersby that the grounds had recently been sprayed with pesticides. Out of caution, I picked up the tennis ball we’d been playing fetch with and rinsed my pup off in the shower when we got home.
Before you brand me a worrywart, hear me out.
On some level, we all know that pesticides and herbicides are bad for human and environmental health. The question is, how bad? How harmful could they be? If they were really harmful to human health, surely the EPA would ban them from entering the market, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. You see, it’s pretty widely accepted that our nation’s laws regulating chemicals and pesticides—most of which were passed in the 1970s—are sorely outdated and in need of a modern makeover. Studies show that pesticides and herbicides in use today present varying degrees of carcinogenicity and harm to the immune system and microbiome. If you read our blog post on gut health from a few weeks back, it makes you wonder: Are pesticides and herbicides giving us food allergies and intolerances? Studies show a correlation.
In our latest blog post, we discuss some of the leading theories surrounding the rise in food allergies and intolerances. In the past two decades, food allergies have skyrocketed. Today, 1 in 13 kids has a food allergy, leaving many dumbfounded and searching for answers. One of the prevailing theories is the rise of chemicals in our food system.
Since the 1990s, herbicide use in the US has doubled from 62 to 128 million pounds annually. Pesticide application currently stands at over 1 billion pounds in the US each year, a marked increase from decades prior. One of the culprits may be Monsanto's Roundup—the second most commonly used weed killer in the US. In addition to being the recent subject of a class action lawsuit based on evidence linking this common weed killer to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, it has also been tied to celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is not only considered largely responsible for decimating the nation’s monarch butterfly population, but has also been shown to cause gut dysbiosis and harm the small intestine, which scientists are saying may explain the rise in celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Yikes.
Unlike other places in the world, the US takes an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to chemical regulation. We’re a pretty reactionary (as opposed to precautionary) society. For example, while the World Health Organization considers glyphosate "probably carcinogenic to humans," the US EPA alternatively has found glyphosate "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans."
Each year, we pour billions of dollars into cancer research, new drug development, and the search for cures. And we should continue this effort! But is it possible that we are focusing too heavily on human bandages without also identifying and eliminating the sharp objects inflicting the wounds?
That same evening, after returning from my walk, severe thunderstorms swept through my neighborhood. The pesticides applied earlier that day likely drained into the abutting lake. The same lake that children swim in and dogs lap water from. It makes you wonder: What if the cure to food allergies, celiac disease, cancer, and so many of our nation’s health ailments isn’t something new we need to discover, but rather something we need to ban? Something we need to forget we ever discovered.
Our CEO, Abigail Barnes, holds a Master’s of Environmental Management from Yale University and a JD from Vermont Law School. She previously worked in the toxic torts division of a plaintiff’s law firm that collaborated with Erin Brockovich to identify potential environmental lawsuits. As a result, she often thinks about the intersection of health and the environment.