Toxic war on insects is costly and ineffective

2020 Healthy Soil Summit speaker

Taking a stroll through the 840 acres in New York’s Central Park, urban dwellers and tourists gain a soothing respite from the turmoil of the city. Views down the main promenade are arched with American elms vividly recalling scenes from movies like When Harry Met Sally and other blockbusters. The park contains over 20,000 trees, 280 bird species and a hum of insects. In 2003, this hum included the gnawing sounds of two invasive aliens: the Asian longhorned beetle and the emerald ash borer (pictured below).

Emerald ash borer beetle on leaf.
Emerald Ash Borer beetle.

These two pests have had a catastrophic impact, responsible for the deaths of millions of trees in North America, since their respective arrival in the 1930s and 2002. With their discovery in the park, New York City and 135 square miles surrounding the area, were put into immediate quarantine. The original infested trees, including their root materials, were removed and burnt: this was seen as the only effective control following infestation. With the iconic park’s image at risk, the decision was made to aggressively defend the trees using the neonicotinoid called imidacloprid. If you sat under a tree in Central Park between 2005 and 2007, you were guaranteed a close personal encounter with this neonicotinoid (neonic), with over 14,000 applications used, during that two-year spell[i]. Neonics, with their high solubility, were applied either as soil drenches or injected directly into the trees. Assumed to only target specific insect receptors, they were considered far safer than many other insecticides on the market at the time.

Book Cover: For the Love of Soil by Nicole Masters
Nicole Mastters is the author of For the Love of Soil: Future-Proof Strategies to Regenerate Food Production Systems.

In the early 1980s, there were three main broad-spectrum insecticides in use: organophosphates, carbamates and pyrethroids. With a heavy reliance on these insecticides, these chemical controls were becoming increasingly ineffective as pests developed resistance.[ii] Pesticide resistance has been explained by adaptation in a process called hormoligosis, the theory being, that with sub-lethal exposure, insects adapt and evolve to resist the chemical. Many scientists thought these dynamics explained the increase in pest insect pressures observed after spraying. However, the story is far deeper and more complex than this. In vibrant and alive ecosystems, there are checks and balances in place that mitigate whole-scale vegetation losses. In healthy functional ecosystems, many of these so-called insect pests and disease organisms provide beneficial services. Just as weeds are here to tell you something, so too are pests and diseases. 

During the 1980s panic, that growers would be unprotected against chemically-resistant insect hoards, and with growing awareness around environmental and human health risks, new systemic chemicals entered the world. As these pesticides move systemically inside the plant, manufacturers argued they would only target chewing insects. By using substances marketed as being far less dangerous, growers could breathe a sigh of relief. These pesticides could be applied prophylactically through the growing season, instead of exposing people and bees through aerial sprays. These pesticides are now used indiscriminately around the world in seed treatments, mixed with irrigation water, injected directly in trees, or applied foliarly (hopefully after the bees have gone to bed).  

The chemical war on insects is costly, toxic and ineffective.
Nicole Masters.

The systemic pesticides include groups of chemicals such as neonicotinoids and phenylpyrazole (fipronil). Fipronil is commonly used around households to control fleas, termites and cockroaches under tradenames like Frontline, Goliath and Termidor. Neonics were developed in the 80s, by the dream team of German multinational pharmaceutical company Bayer and Shell. Chemically similar to nicotine, they disrupt the nervous system of insects, resulting in “mad bee disease” and death. As neonics travel throughout the plant, they expose the innocent bystanders, known as “non-target insects,” through pollen, dew and nectar. A global analysis of 198 honey samples, found 75% of all samples contained at least one neonic.

Pesticides are the most inefficient of all the agrichemicals. It is estimated that at best 1 percent of these chemicals reaches their target sites, as nearly all is lost to run-off, spray drift or degraded in sunlight. In the case of neonics, only a tenth of the seed treatment is taken up by the plant, leaving the remaining 90 percent to impact on non-target species in soil, dust and waterways. 

Recent studies has shown that migratory birds ingesting, even low doses of neonics, become “anorexic,” losing 6-25 percent of their body weight and have costly delays to their migratory patterns. A study released recently on waterway health in New Zealand, should be ringing alarm bells for all; between 2 to 6 different pesticides were found in 78 percent of streams sampled. The organophosphate chlorpyrifos was found in most of these samples, this insecticide has a court order ban in the US and is banned for residential use in New Zealand and in many countries in the EU, including Germany. Ironically, this most widely used insecticide, is banned in its home country. Bayer continues to offer scientific assurances and shows dismay at the suggestions that neonics harm birds or bees as: “Bayer cares about bees.”

The timing of an explosion in neonic use in the mid-2000s, went hand-in-hand with the sudden collapse of bee, butterfly and bird populations. The Central Park treatments were celebrated as a success until, curiously, the treated trees began to turn yellow and lose their leaves. Closer inspections revealed a tiny spider mite, Tetranychus schoenei. Overnight, this mite, once considered a harmless herbivore, had turned into a raging beast, causing massive damage to the valuable trees. Initial assumptions were that the neonic wiped out the mite’s predators, the lacewings, ladybirds and parasitic wasps, turning a shackled monster free.

This phenomenon is not limited to elms. Other researchers discovered that following neonic applications, mite populations boomed between 100-200% percent in crops as diverse as corn, cotton and tomatoes. Mites are unaffected by the systemic pesticides as they lack the receptors that the neonics target. Measuring predator populations and other influences, did not explain why the mites began to produce nearly twice as many offspring. Researchers became curious. If it’s not a lack of predation influencing the population growth, they wondered, what could be the cause? In a breakthrough study, they uncovered a cascade of changes to the genes inside the trees themselves. The activity of over 600 genes were altered with the application of a single neonicotinoid. 600 genes! Many of these genes are responsible for cell wall structure, detoxification and the switching on of enzymes and phytohormones involved in defence. The neonics also increased the digestibility of nutrients, lifting available nutrition for the mites, resulting in an increase in the number of young. The insecticide created optimal conditions to weaken the plant and invite other pests to the table.

Many of the crude, broad-brush chemical controls have set agricultural systems up for the proliferation of pests and diseases. In a chemical arms race, it’s the insect pests who are winning the war. For every 1 pest species, there may be as many as 1,700 non-pest insects who have become the unintended causalities of this war. Insects provide a multitude of ecosystem benefits from pollination, nutrient cycling, decomposition and fueling the foodweb. The impacts from a looming “insectaggedon,” the collapse of insect species, is broad ranging, far-reaching and potentially catastrophic. Although non-target species, like bee and butterfly populations are collapsing, the crop pest species are flourishing. There are now over 550 insect species resistant to pesticides, including insects that have evolved to consume the Bacillus thurgensis (BT) toxin contained in engineered corn, cotton, soy and potatoes. Despite an increasing complexity of chemical controls, pests still consume 18-20 percent of the global crop and are becoming increasingly resistant to the controls.[iii]

With BT technology and targeted systemic chemicals, one could be forgiven for believing in the promised hype for a reduction in pesticides. Despite the benefits promoted by the seed producers, insecticide use has increased, not decreased, since BT technology was released.

In 2014, a public EPA memo stated, “published data indicate that most usage of neonicotinoid seed treatments does not protect soybean yield any better than doing no pest control.” Despite this information, these pesticides continue to be pushed upon producers around the world, as the gold standard in crop protection. Today half of soy and 79-100 percent of corn crops in the US are sown with a neonicotinoid pesticide. A 2016 review, applying whole systems accounting to pesticide use, found the benefit ratio falls below 1. Which means that for every benefit pesticides offer, there are 99 costs. These calculations include environmental and human health costs. In the U.S. alone, the direct and hidden costs of pesticides are estimated to be costing the U.S. economy over $37 billion every year. A total rethink on pesticides is urgently required.

A 2018 study in the U.S. corn belt comparing regenerative farms to conventional farms using insecticides, found ten times more insect pests in the conventional. Yup, you read that right, where farmers were applying their full arsenal of insecticides, genetically engineered, plants and seed treatments, there were 10 times more insect pests.

That there is a relationship between chemicals and pest pressures is not new science. Sixty years ago, agronomist Francis Chaboussou, from the French National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA), was discovering that pesticides and fungicides were responsible for insect outbreaks. His work has largely been ignored. He hypothesised, that an insect would starve on a healthy plant, a phenomenon he termed as “Trophobiosis.” His book was published in 1985 and finally translated into English 20 years later under the title, Healthy Crops: A New AgriculturalRevolution. Chaboussou’s theory was that insects don’t attack all plants; it is the weakened plants with high amino acids and incomplete sugars that draw in pests like moths to a flame.

In Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, the orchardist Nick Pattison can attest that after removing the pesticide Tokuthion from his programme, mealy bug numbers reduced in the first year, and the next year … they were totally gone. The pesticide was creating the conditions for the pests. In response to human health and environmental concerns around chemical use in the late 1990s, the New Zealand horticulture sector introduced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, which included hormone disruptors, pollinator strips, improved water management and accurate monitoring. One of the most effective strategies: stop using chemical pesticides! Growers became increasingly aware, that the insect pests were being attracted to disruptions in the trees. Why this information backed by measurable experience, did not flow outwards to other production sectors is baffling.

To address the concerns of growers around increasing pest resistance, many of these chemicals are now being used together to increase their efficacy, which also increases their harm to non-target insects due to synergistic effects in the environment. Research in the past decade, has been unveiling the insidious nature of even low concentrations of pesticides and fungicides on the environment, wildlife, bees, butterflies and on people.

How did soluble, persistent, broad-spectrum pesticides, pass reviews to be released with such gusto into the global environment? It could be argued that these pesticides did not follow a rigorous risk assessment process before being released. “Your risk assessment is only as strong as the question you ask,” says Jonathan Lundgren, the agroecologist and entomologist who led the 2018 Regenerative Ag study. He began his exploration into the adverse ecological impacts from pesticides in the late ’90s. His doctoral research became more complex and he began to realise that his inquiry into robust risk assessment processes opened a doorway he couldn’t close again. “I don’t think we can assess risk; the question is just too complicated. The effects are too broad. We don’t know which organisms are affected and in what way. How do you do science on 20,000 formulations? As soon as you add an adjuvant, the risk profile changes.” The risk assessment process has very little relevance to what happens outside of the lab. In the assessment process around the BT crops, no one asked the question “what would happen if all farmers changed to grow just one or two crops?” Wholescale biodiversity collapse is the answer; above and below ground.

This article is excerpted from Nicole Masters’s book, “For the Love of Soil: Strategies to Regenerate Our Food Production Systems.” Masters is an agroecologist and educator based in New Zealand.

[i] Szczepaniec, A., Creary, S. F., Laskowski, K. L., Nyrop, J. P., & Raupp, M. J. (2011). Neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid causes outbreaks of spider mites on elm trees in urban landscapes. PLoS One6(5), e20018.

[ii] Simon-Delso, N., Amaral-Rogers, V., Belzunces, L.P., Bonmatin, J.M., Chagnon, M., Downs, C., Furlan, L., Gibbons, D.W., Giorio, C., Girolami, V. and Goulson, D., 2015. Systemic insecticides (neonicotinoids and fipronil): trends, uses, mode of action and metabolites. Environmental Science and Pollution Research22(1),

[iii] Bass, C., & Jones, C. (2018). Editorial overview: Pests and resistance: Resistance to pesticides in arthropod crop pests and disease vectors: mechanisms, models and tools. Current opinion in insect science27,

Learn Soil Health from Nicole Masters

Nicole Masters will be presenting at the 2020 Healthy Soil Summit virtual event on Tuesday, Aug. 25. View the agenda here and register for the event!

Opinion: Pesticide Safety Unproven (André Leu)

By André Leu

It might surprise you to learn that there is no scientific proof of safety for the majority of the pesticides, additives or chemicals that companies put in our food and our body care and household products. Most are not tested, and when there is testing, it misses the vast majority of diseases at the normal rates at which they occur due to faulty protocols.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a global epidemic of non-communicable chronic diseases: “Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, are the leading cause of mortality in the world. This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries. The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

You cannot catch these diseases from other people. Their multiple causes are a result of environment and lifestyle. This means that we can prevent them by changing our habits and our food consumption so as to avoid the environmental exposures and lifestyle factors that cause them.

Pesticides and chemicals are strongly implicated in this global epidemic, but the full extent of their role is being ignored by researchers and health professionals. This is because the current best practice testing guidelines for pesticides, food additives and chemicals are designed to miss the majority of diseases. Let’s look at these guidelines to understand why.

Best Practice Testing Guidelines

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals are regarded as best practice for testing animals for diseases caused by chemicals such as pesticides and are similar to most good practice testing guidelines.

Guideline 451 is used for testing chemicals, such as pesticides, for cancers. It requires that “Each dose group and concurrent control group should therefore contain at least 50 animals of each sex.” This is a group of 100 animals, with an equal number of males and females. The guidelines also state that “At least three dose levels and a concurrent control should be used.”

This means that there must be one group of 100 animals, usually rats, as the control and are not dosed with the chemical. There will be three other groups of 100 rats in each group, each given a dosage of the chemical — one a high dose, one a medium dose and one a low. The numbers of cancers in each of the dosed groups are compared with the number of cancers in the control group. If the number of cancers is the same between the treated group and the control, then the researchers will conclude that the cancers were not caused by the chemical but by some other means, since the control group has not been exposed to the chemical. This result is then used to say that a chemical or pesticide does not cause cancer.

However, there are serious flaws in this method. If just one animal from one of the dosed groups gets cancer, while none from the control group do, then the test results will say that the chemical caused one animal in 100 to contract cancer. This is the lowest theoretical rate of detection, and it means that cancer would only be detected if the pesticide caused more than 1,000 people per 100,000 to get cancer. The test could thus fail to detect lower rates of cancer. The problem is that actual rates of cancer from environmental exposure are often below 1 percent.

Rates of diseases are reported as the number of people with the disease per 100,000 people. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of common cancers such as lung cancer are 57.5 people per 100,000; colon and rectum cancer 38 per 100,000; non- Hodgkin lymphoma 18.4 per 100,000; leukemias 13.2 per 100,000; pancreatic cancer 12.8 per 100,000; and liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancers 8.3 per 100,000.

For sex-specific cancers such as breast, ovarian, cervical, endometrial, prostate and testicular cancers, the lowest theoretical level of detection is one animal in 50 because there are just 50 animals of each sex in a group. This means that these cancers would only be detected by Guideline 451 tests if there are more than 2,000 cases of cancer per 100,000 people.

Consequently, despite no evidence of cancer being found in the dosed groups, the study would miss a chemical that could be causing common cancers. According to the CDC, in 2015 the rate of breast cancer was 124.8 women per 100,000; prostate cancer was 99.1 men per 100,000; ovarian cancer was 11 per 100,000; cancer of the cervix 7.6 per 100,000; and testicular cancer 5.6 per 100,000.

There is no statistically valid way to determine that a dosed group of 100 animals that shows no sign of cancer can determine that the chemical in question cannot cause cancer at rates below 1,000 people per 100,000. All of the current cancers found in our communities will be missed.

As an example, breast cancer affects 124.8 women per 100,000 in the United States. To positively determine if a pesticide does not cause this cancer, an experiment would need a control of 10,000 rats along with three dose groups of 10,000 rats each — 40,000 rats total. However, as far as I know, no such experiment has ever been done, so there is no evidence that pesticides are not contributing to breast cancer and that the levels in our food are safe. On the other hand, there is evidence showing that some pesticides are contributing to this cancer epidemic.

Other Diseases

OECD Guideline 408 is used for testing whether toxic chemicals cause diseases. It requires that “At least 20 animals (10 female and 10 male) should be used at each dose level.” Like cancer Guideline 451, Guideline 408 states that “At least three dose levels and a concurrent control should be used.” Guideline 408 states that a descending sequence of dose levels should be selected with a view to demonstrating any dosage related response and a NOAEL (No Observable Adverse Effect Level) at the lowest dose level. This is based on the dosage of the pesticide that does not cause any adverse effects to organs, tissues and other body functions of the test animals, compared to the control animals that have not been dosed with the pesticide.

Under Guideline 408, one animal in 20 with a disease means that the disease could only be detected to a minimum of 5,000 cases per 100,000. For sex-specific diseases such as endometriosis and declines in fertility, the level of disease detection is just 10,000 cases per 100,000 people. This means that if there is no evidence of disease in the highest dose group then the test will miss a chemical that could be causing a chronic disease epidemic at the normal rates at which they occur.

Not everybody who is exposed to a toxic substance that causes cancer or other diseases will get these diseases. Some people seem to be immune to them, such as people who have smoked tobacco and/or consumed alcohol all their lives and live to be 80 or 100. This is despite alcohol and tobacco being classed as Type 1 carcinogens — the highest level. However, there are other people who are sensitive to the smallest amounts of substances and can get seriously ill from this exposure.

The NOAELs established by the current testing protocols cannot test for subgroups of people who are particularly sensitive to the smallest exposures to these chemicals. Most importantly, the OECD guidelines cannot test for most of the diseases that afflict our communities. As an example, the CDC gives the following numbers for some of the major diseases in the United States: 1,600 people per 100,000 have liver disease; kidney disease is 2,000 per 100,000; and stroke affects 3,000 people per 100,000. These diseases will be missed by the current best practice guidelines, which can only detect diseases to a minimum of 5,000 cases per 100,000 people. The only way this could be done statistically would be to have greater numbers of test subjects.

Autism Spectrum of Diseases

There is an autism epidemic in the developed world. According to the CDC, in 2014 the rates of autism were 1,680 children per 100,000, or one child in 59. In 2000 it was 670 children per 100,000, or one child in 150. This is a startling 250 percent increase in 14 years.

A dramatic increase in a disease like this should be attributed to environmental and lifestyle factors rather than genetics. The current best practice testing guidelines will fail to detect if chemical/chemicals are causing this massive epidemic in our children. The OECD guidelines cannot detect a disease below 5,000 cases per 100,000. There is no way they could statistically detect a disease epidemic that affects 1,680 children per 100,000.

The other major factor for not finding the chemical/chemicals responsible for an epidemic like autism is the fact that there has never been any testing of diseases in children. The OECD guidelines state, “young healthy adult animals of commonly used laboratory strains should be employed.” Fetuses, babies and pubertal animals (i.e., children) are not tested. This means that there will be no data on the safety of pesticides and other chemicals for children.

The developing fetus, young childhood and going through puberty are three very critical periods in the development of humans and are completely ignored under the guidelines for diseases and cancer. There is no published scientific evidence-based testing to show that any of the current chemicals and pesticides are safe for our children, because there is no requirement to specifically test for them.

There are many published studies that show that chemicals, including pesticides such as glyphosate and organophosphates, are significant contributors to the ADHD, autism, schizophrenia and bipolar spectrums of diseases because of the way they damage developing nerve cells. The brain is the largest collection of nerve cells.

However, the full extent of their roles in causing multiple diseases will not be known until the guidelines for testing chemicals are changed to reflect the real rate of diseases in our communities, especially for children. The schizophrenia and bipolar spectrum of diseases typically start around puberty and early adulthood, but without testing for pesticides and other chemicals during the development of the fetus, childhood and puberty, there is no way to determine if they are contributing to this disease.

Many diseases such as autism and ADHD are evident at birth. There needs to be testing on the mother and fetus to see if small amounts of pesticides are contributing to these disease epidemics.

Ideally, these tests should be intergenerational, testing the parents first, then the pregnant mothers and their offspring throughout their development and life. OECD Guideline 416, “Two-Generation Reproduction Toxicity,” is the only methodology to cover this. It is focused primarily on reproductive effects, and if it were modified to test more than 10,000 pregnant females per group, it could be a very useful methodology to find diseases and/or to ensure a high probability that a chemical is safe.

Until this is done, though, there is no valid science to assure us that any of the chemicals in our food, body care or household products are safe. Neither the pesticide and medical industries nor the government regulators have any evidence to state that known nerve toxins such as glyphosate, mercury, aluminum, organophosphates, pyrethroids and neonicotinoids are not contributing to this epidemic.

The peer-reviewed scientific papers by Samsel and Seneff have extensively reviewed the published medical and scientific literature on glyphosate. Their research papers show how glyphosate is responsible for disrupting multiple metabolic and other biochemical pathways in animals. They show how these disruptions are linked to numerous diseases such as autism, cancers and celiac disease.

Samsel and Seneff’s research has been rebutted by the pesticide industry, government regulators and some research scientists, who state that glyphosate is not toxic enough, or that the amounts are too low, to cause these multiple diseases. However, it is statistically impossible for the current best practice testing guidelines to find diseases that occur in less than 5,000 people per 100,000.

Samsel and Seneff have presented a huge amount of peer-reviewed scientific evidence about the harm that glyphosate causes, whereas the detractors of their studies do not have any evidence of safety.

The fact is that studies using OECD or similar guidelines that do not find cancer, autism or any other diseases cannot say that a chemical does not cause these diseases. The absence of a disease in these tests does not mean that it does not cause the disease and is safe. The opposite is true. It means there is no evidence that the chemical is safe.

The Glyphosate Debate

The decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the verdict in the Dewayne Johnson court case agreed that glyphosate is linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The IARC paper showed how glyphosate caused cancer in test animals. The manufacturer states that it does not cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma or any other cancer.

The published studies on glyphosate (and other pesticides), even if they used OECD or similar guidelines, use numbers of animals that are too small to detect any of the current cancers, and therefore there is no basis to say that it does not cause cancer. It is statistically impossible to use a testing methodology that can only detect cancers to a minimum level of 1,000 cancers per 100,000 people for common cancers like lung cancer that occur at rates of 57.5 people per 100,000, not to mention liver cancer, which affects 8.3 per 100,000.

As an example, non-Hodgkin lymphoma affects 18.4 people per 100,000 in America. To positively determine that glyphosate does not cause this cancer, an experiment would need a control of 100,000 rats, along with three dose groups of 100,000 rats each — 400,000 rats total. If this experiment showed no sign of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, then it would be statistically probable that it did not contribute to the 18.4 people per 100,000 with the disease. There is no published evidence that a study of this size has ever been done on a pesticide.

The fact is that the current testing protocols can only tell us if a pesticide causes a disease. It cannot tell us if a pesticide is safe. Finding no evidence that a pesticide does not cause cancer, autism or other diseases in a study is not the same as saying that the chemical in question does not cause these diseases.

In my opinion, it is a gross misrepresentation to say that any of the current published toxicology studies can be used to say that any of the thousands of pesticide products used in the world do not cause cancer or other diseases.

The fact is that there is no evidence that pesticides are safe. It is very concerning that when these tests show diseases, that the number of people who could be affected by the chemicals is extraordinarily high.

It is important to remember that the majority of people get their exposure to pesticides from food. Most people, including children, carry a body burden of a cocktail of these toxic chemicals with no scientific evidence that they are safe. However, there is ample evidence that these chemicals are harming our children.

Parents should ensure that they and their children only eat organic and regenerative foods from reliable sources, such as certified organic systems that can demonstrate that toxic pesticides such as glyphosate have not been used.

For much more on this important topic, pick up a copy of Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides, available from the Acres U.S.A. bookstore or call 800-355-5313.

André Leu is the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children. He previously served as president of IFOAM — Organics International and is currently the international director of Regeneration International. This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Poisoning Our Children: Pesticide Residues

By André Leu

In December 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent out a news release to all the media outlets in the country about the results of its 2013 Pesticide Data Program (PDP). The headline: “Report confirms that U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based on pesticide residues.”

Poisoning our children book

The news release contained the following statement from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “The newest data from the PDP confirm that pesticide residues in food do not pose a safety concern for Americans. EPA remains committed to a rigorous, science-based, and transparent regulatory program for pesticides that continues to protect people’s health and the environment.” So according to the EPA and the USDA, parents should have no concerns because the pesticides in food are safe.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers by scientists and researchers challenge this assertion. So, let’s look at the science to understand why experts have serious concerns about the safety of pesticides.

What Gets Tested?

One of the greatest pesticide myths is that all agricultural poisons are scientifically tested to ensure that they are used safely. According to the United States President’s Cancer Panel (USPCP), this is simply not the case: “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.”

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of chemicals used worldwide have not been subjected to testing. Given that, according to the USPCP, the majority of cancers are caused by environmental exposures, especially exposure to chemicals, this oversight shows a serious level of neglect by regulatory authorities.

The USPCP 2010 report was written by eminent scientists and medical specialists in this field, and it clearly states that environmental toxins, including pesticides, are the main causes of cancers. Published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute, the report discusses many critical issues of chemical regulation.

Nearly 1,400 pesticides have been registered (i.e., approved) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for agricultural and non-agricultural use. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian (female spouses), pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma. Pesticide-exposed farmers, pesticide applicators, crop duster pilots, and manufacturers also have been found to have elevated rates of prostate cancer, melanoma, other skin cancers, and cancer of the lip.

Approximately forty chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market.

Pesticides have been subjected to more testing than most chemicals. Many leading scientists regard these tests to be inadequate for determining whether pesticide residues are safe or harmful to humans, though. The USPCP report states, “Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.”

There are several key areas in which many experts and scientists believe testing has not sufficiently established that the current use of pesticides and other chemicals is safe.

Pesticide Residues: Chemical Cocktails in Food & Water

Regulatory authorities approve multiple pesticides for a crop on the basis that all of them can be used in normal production. Consequently, a mixture of several different toxic chemical products is applied during the normal course of agricultural production for most foods, including combinations of herbicide products, insecticide products, fungicide products, and synthetic fertilizer compounds. A substantial percentage of foods thus have a cocktail of small amounts of these toxic chemicals that we absorb through food, drink, dust, and the air.

According to the USPCP, “Only 23.1 percent of [food] samples had zero pesticide residues detected, 29.5 percent had one residue, and the remainder had two or more.” This means that about half the foods in the United States contain a mixture of chemical residues. Pesticide residue surveys in most other countries show similar results. Because people consume a variety of foods, with around 77 percent containing residues of different types of agricultural chemicals, most people’s normal dietary habits include consuming a chemical concoction of which they are unaware.

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the blood and urine of most Americans that were tested. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found up to 232 chemicals in the placental cord blood of newborns in the United States. Many of these pollutants have been linked to serious health risks such as cancer and can persist for decades in the environment.

Regulatory authorities assume that because each of the active ingredients in individual commercial products is below the acceptable daily intake (ADI), the cocktail is thus also safe. They do not test these combinations of chemicals — the chemical cocktails that are ingested daily by billions of people — to ensure that they are safe. The emerging body of evidence demonstrates that many chemical cocktails can act synergistically, meaning that instead of one plus one equaling two, the joint action can exert a toxic, damaging effect that’s three, four, five, or even several hundred times higher than the sum of the two effects when the chemicals act separately.

This is an excerpt from André Leu’s 2018 book, Poisoning Our Children.

André Leu is a founding member and director of Regeneration International. He served as president of IFOAM Organics International from 2011 to 2017. He is the author of the award-winning book, The Myths of Safe Pesticides.

Editor’s Note: References to specific reports and bibliographic information has been withheld in this article. They are sourced in the book.

Bt: Toxic Soil & Nature’s Balance

By Dr. Wil Spencer

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a GMO more commonly known as Bt toxin, is spliced into the seeds of crops as a biological pesticide. Our environment is now sustaining genetically modified organisms in the soil, affecting everything we grow. As the seed sprouts, the Bt comes alive and grows with the plant as well as in the surrounding soils. This is a biological, living GMO pesticide that remains in the soil long after the plant is harvested. It also remains in every cell of the plant — all the way from the field to the end product, be it food, clothing, paper or tobacco.

GMOs are interrupting genetic expression of any and all plants grown in soil that has nurtured compromised seeds. This includes organic farming products coming from any farm that has been transitioned from conventional farming. To-date, there are 33 common crops being grown and harvested on over 444 million acres of land worldwide.

Beyond the soil, the effects of Bt toxin are found in the genetic makeup of pollinators, as the toxin has been found in nectar and pollen of the plants. These are taken back to the hive where it accumulates and contaminates the hive, ultimately contributing to colony collapse disorder.

We find these toxins in animals and in people (it has been found in breast milk and body tissue). It is now being reproduced in the gut. Bts are airborne, traveling in pollen and dust, spreading worldwide. DNA transfers naturally through mechanisms that allow gene flow across species. In this way Bts in the soil as well as in the air serve to compromise all efforts to produce organic and non-GMO plants, challenging their genetic integrity above and below the soil.

According to Wikipedia, there are several dozen recognized subspecies of Bacillus thuringiensis. Subspecies commonly used as insecticides include Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki (Btk), subspecies israelensis (Bti) and subspecies aizawa (Bta). New strains of Bt are developed and introduced over time as insects develop resistance to Bt, or the desire occurs to force mutations to modify organism characteristics or to use homologous recombinant genetic engineering to improve crystal size and increase pesticidal activity or broaden the host range of Bt and obtain more effective formulations. Each new strain is given a unique number and registered with the U.S. EPA, and allowances may be given for genetic modification depending on its parental strains, the proposed pesticide use pattern and the manner and extent to which the organism has been genetically modified.

Bt toxin is the protein synthesized by the bacteria in the plant which, when ingested, binds to the gut wall of the host. Here it reproduces and breaks down the gut wall allowing gut bacteria into the body cavity and the bloodstream. This is what happens to the pests it is intended to defeat, as well as any subsequent consumer of the toxin.

intersecting roads and fields
Aerial of intersecting roads in rural Indiana

Pesticides all have a half-life. If the half-life of one active ingredient in a pesticide, which is a small portion of the total mixture, is 48 years without effective bioremediation, it will be actively contaminating plants for decades to come. For this reason we find things like glyphosate in organic farm products.

Hazards of Inert Ingredients

The inert ingredients in pesticides are not listed on product labels. These are fillers considered to have no real impact on the plant or the environment. Yet there is growing concern about the wisdom and safety of these unidentified chemicals. The EPA produces a list of ingredients acceptable for use as inert ingredients in pesticide formulas. Ten years ago this list contained 3,200 items and the list grows over time. It contains items of a caustic and/or carcinogenic nature as well as biological substances.

According to a study titled, “Unidentified Inert Ingredients in Pesticides: Implications for Human and Environmental Health: “In ordinary usage, the word ‘inert’ refers to something that is physically, chemically, or biologically inactive. The U.S. EPA recognizes that the statutory nomenclature for pesticides under FIFRA engenders public misunderstanding, stating that many consumers have a misleading impression of the term ‘inert ingredient,’ believing it to mean water or other harmless ingredients. (U.S. EPA 1997). In fact, an inert ingredient may have biological activity of its own, it may be toxic to humans, and it may be chemically active (U.S. EPA 2002). The arbitrary distinction between active and inert ingredients is well illustrated by the more than 500 inert ingredients that, according to the U.S. EPA (2006a), have been or are currently used as active ingredients.”

Discovery of the hazards of inert ingredients is stymied by the lack of public access to specific product ingredient information. Some of these ingredients significantly impact the environment and human health. Studies show that inert ingredients can increase the toxicity of the active ingredient, thus invalidating safety information regarding the active ingredient. These chemicals affect human nervous and cardiovascular systems, hormones, reproduction, mitochondria and genetics. Inert ingredients can increase the persistence of the pesticide in the environment, as well as increase the effects of the active ingredient to the point of neutralizing safety efforts provided by using protective gloves and clothing.

POEA (polyethoxylated tallow amine), a major adjuvant surfactant in Roundup, has been shown to be cytotoxic (toxic to cells) at doses far lower than glyphosate itself. Unfortunately, most regulatory bodies regard POEA as inert, requiring no risk assessment, even as research suggests otherwise. A International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study found POEA was between 1,200 and 2,000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone, which highlights the problems with letting so-called inert ingredients escape regulatory scrutiny. In 2014, the Institute of Science in Society reported: “The major adjuvant POEA in glyphosate Roundup formulations is by far the most cytotoxic for human cells, ahead of glyphosate and its metaolite. It also amplifies the toxic effects of glyphosate.”

Pesticide use bears consequences to naturally occurring soil microbes, causing them to either die or to mutate. This environmental forcing of mutation has produced a MRSA effect in the soil. MRSA is a human infection caused by overuse of antibiotics in hospitals, which produced a forced mutation of overall antibiotic resistance in the infection. We now have superbugs in the soil that are resistant to pesticides in the same way MRSA is resistant to antibiotics.

So, pesticides are very much the same as antibiotics for the soil. In fact, glyphosate can now be found on the antibiotic roster for human application. Overuse of Roundup has produced this dynamic within the fungal population, of which fusarium is the most notable.

The Organic Consumers Association has published a number of articles reporting the outbreak of fusarium blight on crops after Roundup application. In an interview with Purdue University scientist, Don Huber, The Organic & Non-GMO Report, published in May 2010, Huber reports over 40 crop diseases associated with glyphosate use. He states, “Toxins produced can infect the roots and head of the plant and be transferred to the rest of the plant. The toxin levels in straw can be high enough to make cattle and pigs infertile.” Huber goes on to say, “Unfortunately, most researchers are forbidden to do work in the area. They don’t have access to isogenic lines (conventional and Roundup Ready plant lines that are otherwise genetically identical); the materials are denied to researchers.”

With research samples denied to conscientious researchers and growing evidence that current agricultural practices are traveling down a dead end road that will ultimately collapse the food chain while causing permanent alterations in conditions of health on all levels of life from microbial life to human existence, where is the way out of this dilemma?

There is enough genetic modification contamination already in nature that the planet will never return to the natural state it once knew. The unnatural modifications are imbedded into natural genomes sufficiently to ensure their permanence. Mother Nature has been thrown for a loop, and we humans may well need to hold onto our hats as she takes us through a monumental course in her efforts to establish new parameters of natural balance. The forces of nature cannot be stopped while nature’s design continues to strive for balance.

Genetic modification, pesticide residue and the lack of natural microbial life are causing resultant soil deficiencies. Nature is being forced to alter via chemical fertilizers, genetic modification and pesticides. Nature, being designed for balance is then forced into an equal and opposite reaction whereby chemical input forces resistance here and weakens resistance there. GMOs alter proteins that may protect the plant from something while the altered proteins attract other pestilence, like fusarium and lose their nutritional qualities, even becoming a nutritional detriment.

The core issue is the lack of a broad spectrum of natural soil microbes. Without microbes minerals in the soil remain locked and unavailable, forcing plants to uptake heavy metals and industrial waste in an effort to survive. The lack of microbes allows the chemical residue to remain while healthy populations of microbes would consume and neutralize the chemical effects. Additionally, genetic integrity in plants and soil depend upon microbial balance as it is the microbes that provide the correct environment for life within the biome.

Advanced, effective bioremediation is absolutely necessary in order to regenerate the soil. Plant life has been severely stressed so that, at this point, we need to stress in reverse. Diversity needs to be restored and the process of nature allowed to recover.

In Secrets of the Soil, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird say, “… in soil properly nourished with adequate supplies of humus, crops do not suffer from disease, and do not require poisonous sprays to keep off parasites; that animals fed on these plants develop a high degree of disease resistance, and that man, nurtured with such plants and animals, can reach an extraordinary (and in fact quite natural) standard of health, able to resist disease and infection from whatever cause it may derive.” This is a reference to the work of Sir Albert in the early 1900s.

Senate document 264, titled “Miracle Men” submitted and read on the Senate floor in 1936 makes a point of recognizing mineral deficiency in the food chain by stating a man cannot consume sufficient amount of foods to meet his mineral needs. Mineral-deficient food means mineral-deficient soil. Health depends on broad spectrums of minerals and microbes. It is the broad spectrum of microbes that make minerals available.

It is no coincidence that fields are sterilized before a GMO crop is planted. Broad spectrums of natural microbial populations interfere with artificial genetics. When nature is faced with unnatural conditions it goes to work to restore natural balance. This does not sustain unnatural genetic information or expression.

Current attempts at soil remediation and regeneration via composting and fermenting or using biodynamic principles is somewhat effective, but inefficient and slow. While it does serve to increase fertility and nutritional density, it does little for the half-life residues of chemical formulations like glyphosate. Missing microbes cannot be restored without input. Fermentation is only accomplished with available microbes. Today many of the available microbes involved in fermentation are genetically modified.

Soil regeneration is simple and happens fast with the right ingredients and applications. Inputting broad spectrums of natural soilborne microbes and minerals will regenerate the soil. It is a matter of how much, how often, for how long and where to find from.

Certain strains of microbes eat chemicals, petroleum products and virtually all other impurities. Once eaten these poisons are converted to things like fatty acids, or plant food. Microbes provide the foundation for immunity. This is true for soil and plants, as well as for humans and the animal kingdom. Without broad diversity of microbes there is compromised immunity.

Soil regeneration can be likened to an art form and can be taken to levels of vitality beyond what is commonly considered healthy soil. Inputting sufficient soilborne microbes for remediation of chemical residues, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, unnatural genetics and restoring a natural balance of living organisms is the first step. Sustaining nature’s balance requires attention to building a healthy rhizosphere in which life in the soil is protected and can thrive. This is achieved with soil amendments in form of green manure, compost, peat, etc. Microbes in the soil will convert minerals and amendments to a form that can be taken up by plants. However, many soils are depleted of mineral diversity so it is necessary to saturate with a broad spectrum of hydrophilic plant-based minerals. In other words, plant-derived, prehistoric, composted, or phytogenic minerals.

With this method, and with sufficient saturation of beneficial microbes, remediation happens quickly. Broad diversity provides microbes that manage soil and plant detox, viability and immunity, minerals to build nutritional density and dependably high yields.

Spencer spoke at the Acres U.S.A. 2017 Eco-Ag Conference and Trade Show.