A damning new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveals that our Government has been ignoring the very real risks to public health from routine antibiotic abuse in intensive livestock farming. According to the NRDC’s new report, Playing Chicken With Antibiotics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—whose key remit it to protect public health—permitted the nontherapeutic use of 30 medicinally important antibiotics, including 18 rated as “high risk” to human health, on industrial farming operations despite knowing this could pose a direct threat to human health through the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It makes truly somber reading for anyone concerned about future public health—and the independence of our Government agencies from vested corporate interests.
A recent paper published by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reveals that exposure to Organophosphates (OPs) could result in a higher risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children. My major concern is that we are not talking about children who came into direct contact with excessive amounts of OP; the results suggest that that exposure to OP is potentially harmful to U.S. children at levels that are commonly found in their immediate environment.
Organophosphates are one of the most widely used pesticides across the world. Among other things, they are used as insecticides on grains, fruit and vegetables, to control parasites on farm livestock and pets, and for fly control in industrial and commercial premises. You might think that a product that has been around for more than 60 years–and which is used so widely–is safe and has no side effects. But sadly this is not the case.
We shouldn’t be too surprised that OPs are potentially harmful. These pesticides were originally developed in World War II for chemical warfare as nerve gases. Indeed, if we look further afield, it is clear that the side effects of these chemicals are already well known. Up until the late 1980s, it was compulsory in many parts of Europe to immerse sheep in an OP bath or dip to control parasites. But many of the shepherds who used these chemicals suffered horrific neurological and psychological damage, leaving them unable to farm. There is also a known link between OP toxicity and depression and suicide.
A recent report in a UK farming journal tells the story of a farmer who has been suffering from “OP poisoning” for more than 30 years. Residues of the OP chemicals from sheep dip that he used when helping his parents dip their flocks was found in the fatty tissue of his body, proving how persistent these chemicals are. So while some OP manufacturers such as Dow Agrosciences are not mentioned in the recent pediatrics research, we already know that there is clear evidence of the potential harm that all OPs can cause.
Animal Welfare Approved prohibits the use of organophosphates because of our concerns for both the health of farmers using them, and for the animals to whom these chemicals are directly applied. The fact that the metabolites of OPs are now being found in children from day-to-day low-level exposure shows just how important it is to have stronger restrictions on the use of these chemicals.
If you are unsure about whether or not your fruit and vegetables have been sprayed with OP insecticide, you should wash them thoroughly before eating them. And if you can, always try to seek out meat, dairy and other products from programs like AWA that prohibit the use of OPs in farming.