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The pesticides you eat
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The election next week could change the rest of your life. No, not Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, but Proposition 37, the California "food fight." You are what you eat, and Utahns should join the fight and encourage their friends and family in California — Democrats and Republicans — to vote yes on Prop 37.

Prop 37 requires labeling of genetically modified food, or GMOs, as is the practice in 61 other countries.

It's simple, reasonable and most Californians are in favor. But the downstream benefits will reach every dinner table in the country and improve the lifelong health of every person who eats.

Predictably, corporate Goliaths whose profits are threatened are frantically spending millions on propaganda to defeat it.

Most of our food comes from huge monocultures of staple crops — corn, soybeans, wheat — and enormous, confined livestock feed lots. Healthier fruits and vegetables are the forgotten stepchildren of the marriage of government and agribusiness — "Big Ag" — that dominates our dysfunctional food chain.

Big Ag's modus operandi is heavy use of fossil-fuel fertilizers, massive amounts of livestock antibiotics and staple crops that are now genetically modified to withstand repeated pesticide applications and/or have insecticides directly inserted into the plant's DNA, which end up in your digestive tract.

The end result is meat and grains bathed, inside and out, in antibiotics, hormones and toxic chemicals.

This entire system is an indulgence in corporate welfare, a massive waste of fossil fuels, and a major source of greenhouse gases.

The Big Ag method sterilizes and depletes the soil of essential microbes and its carbon sequestration capability, kills beneficial organisms and promotes a rapid evolution of pesticide resistance in harmful insects and weeds.

Big Ag responds by creating an arms race, with each new generation of chemicals becoming a stepping stone in an upward spiral of biologic toxicity.

At the heart of this broken system are GMOs — Frankensteinian seeds and plants that withstand repeated applications of pesticides designed to kill everything else. The most common system is made by Monsanto, which makes both the potent herbicide Roundup, and the crop seeds whose plants are resistant to Roundup.

Inevitably, nature fights back. There are now widespread infestations of Roundup-resistant, monster weeds. To fight this battle, Dow Chemical now promotes a new corn seed resistant to 2,4-D, an herbicide containing the main ingredients of the infamous and deadly Vietnam War defoliant, Agent Orange. Their answer to a failing Roundup system is now "Agent Orange Corn."

The corporate sales pitch is that GMOs increase crop yields and so are needed to feed the world. The Union of Concerned Scientists has exposed that claim to be false. Furthermore, organic soil conservation techniques are better at weathering droughts. Twenty-two academic corn experts warned the Environmental Protection Agency that GMO crops could devastate the future of agricultural production.

Does it make sense that food that kills butterflies, bees, ladybugs and earthworms is somehow healthy for you? Pesticides are poisons to all living organisms, including fetuses and children, and especially to the brain and nervous system.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that mothers exposed to more pesticides bear children with lower intelligence, brain abnormalities, smaller head size and poorly developed motor skills. Neurologic diseases like Parkinson's and an acceleration of cognitive decline are more common in adults with greater pesticide exposure.

Roundup causes liver toxicity, birth defects, allergic and immune disorders, and increases the risk of several cancers. Pesticides can even cause chromosomal damage that can be passed on to subsequent generations.

Monsanto has a long history of stifling and intimidating independent researchers on GMOs. Unbelievably, federal agencies have accepted Monsanto's safety claims without ever conducting their own studies.

Food labels currently list calories and fat grams, but not pesticide residue, or toxically manipulated DNA. Monsanto, Big Ag and GMOs are jeopardizing every link in the food chain, risking the very foundation of good health and life itself.

We at least deserve a label so that consumers who trust science more than corporate propaganda can decide what to put in their mouths.

Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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