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Have you had your pesticide today?

When I was first introduced to the study of insecticides in agriculture there was a clear delineation between the systemic kind and the contact kind. Most pesticides work by poisoning the target organism when it touches or ingests the poison—that much is pretty much the same in either case. But the big difference is that a contact poison remains on the surface of the plant, and the systemic kind is absorbed by the plant and moves through the vascular system to all its parts, including leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and even the pollen.

The clear delineation went like this: contact insecticides could be used on food crops but systemic ones could not. It was simple and obviously correct because the contact insecticides could be washed off, but the systemic ones could not. You wouldn’t poison something you were going to eat. Right?

Systemic pesticides worked well and they were used for ornamental (non-food) crops. They could be used on garden flowers, bushes, Christmas trees, and lawns. Lots of plants are grown that are not eaten, so there was a market for these chemicals.

What I don’t understand is what happened next. I don’t even know when it happened, although I sort of suspect it was a late 80s kind of phenomenon. The thing that happened is this: gradually (or suddenly?) the EPA decided it was okay to poison the human food supply with toxic systemic chemicals that are absorbed right into the food. Huh? Don’t these people eat? Don’t they have kids who eat? Who’s getting paid off? Why do we let our government get away with this?

The honey bees are just the canaries in the mine shaft. They are dying, the native pollinators are dying, and we can see it happen. But the same corn plant that produced the toxic pollen that sickened the honey bee is on your dinner table. Corn is the perfect example because it is in practically everything we eat, including soda pop (high-fructose corn syrup), corn oil, corn meal, grits, corn flakes, and corn starch. It’s probably in your bourbon and is commonly fed to beef, pork, poultry, and even farmed fish.

And corn isn’t the only crop treated with systemics; there are many. In fact, recent research has shown that virtually every human being on earth is harboring an assortment of pesticides in his or her body. Man-eating carnivores beware: too many humans may be bad for your health.

Remember that dying bees are not just a beekeeper problem. If the bees disappear can humanity be far behind?

Rusty

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