The recent President's Cancer Panel report, "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now," has put the official government seal on something many of us have recognized for quite some time: Chemicals are very likely to cause cancer.
For the first time, the government has had the courage to recommend the proper solution: Eat organic food. But even that won't be enough to solve the problem we face as a country on the verge of toxic poisoning. Individually, we all need to buy, grow, and eat organic food. But together we need to stop one of the major contributors to our cancer-causing chemical contamination, the Farm Bill.
A government seal--even a presidential one--won't stop what will probably happen next. It's an age-old story that accompanies most major change. Those with vested interest in the old world order (especially chemical companies and the politicians that depend on them for funding) will do everything within their power to inject doubt, skepticism, denial, and ridicule into the debate. And we will get caught right up in the fray, defending our positions, punditing from our podiums, and joining amorphous groups on Facebook to pledge our allegiance (wherever it may lie). Or worse, the debate will fade and we will all go back to our regular lives, and buy artificially cheap food accompanied by a vague but unclear sense of unease.
Meanwhile, the true costs of that technique of doubt and denial's winning will continue to mount. How do you put a cost on the 30 percent rise in cancer among children since 1975? How much money is enough to offer a parent in exchange for the healthy, happy life of his or her child?
One out of 110 children born today will become autistic. No one seems to know why that statistic has risen dramatically in recent years, but some experts are beginning to believe that environmental chemicals are involved.
Many chemicals in use today are endocrine disruptors, which affect development during the critical time of puberty, increasing the risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes later in life. And let's not forget genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which account for more than 85 percent of all corn and soybeans grown in America today. Not only have these crops been engineered to withstand the onslaught of chemical pesticides; for the first time in human history, pesticides are being inserted directly into the genes of our food. And yet the agribusinesses peddling these altered food crops have convinced the government and scientific community that there's no need to research what impact they might have upon human health.
How much will it cost to assuage our guilt over the fact that this generation of children is the first to have a lower life expectancy than its parents?
The current blame for these illnesses falls on things like "lifestyle" (which is why the American Cancer Society has come out in disagreement with the panel's report). Poor diets, lack of fitness, and smoking are the evil sins of our time. And certainly, these factors play a major role. But the sad truth is that eating even "healthy" food that's chemically produced puts our health at risk. We have chosen to live a life that is more convenient than conscious, where food is cheap rather than clean, and we all spend our evenings watching reality shows on TV rather than really engaging in the political fight necessary to defend our children from harm. Meanwhile, our scientists are searching for the answers to cancer in our DNA instead of examining the 80,000 largely unstudied, unregulated chemicals that surround all of us in our environment--even in the womb.
While we remain confused and distracted in a cloud of doubt and denial, the chemical companies will take their fight and their cash (siphoned straight out of the American farmer's pocket) to Washington. Already the 2012 Farm Bill is seemingly calcified with subsidies that farmers don't want and people don't need, but that keep chemical companies alive and well at our expense. The American Farm Bureau, which claims to represent farmers, is armed and ready to defend its agribusiness contributors. Unless we do something quickly, we will have to resign ourselves to being the ones responsible for the demise of our children's future.
How do I know how this story so well? I've seen it firsthand. My grandfather launched the organic movement in America in 1942. My family lived through the ridicule, denial, and intentional doubt. It was very much like the war against Big Tobacco, which my father also fought with Prevention magazine. Despite the billions of dollars chemical companies have spent trying to prove that the only way to feed the world is with genetically modified, chemical-laden food, and the lobbying dollars spent to protect their profits and mislead farmers, the truth will come out in the end.
The Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial, initiated by my father Robert Rodale in 1981, is the world's longest running study comparing organic agriculture with conventional chemical-farming methods. It's demonstrated that modern organic farming is more productive and profitable for farmers. Year after year, the organic crops have performed as well as chemical crops, and often outperformed them, especially during periods of drought and floods. Our researchers have learned that organic soils store significant amounts of carbon, and if adopted on a wide scale, have the potential to combat global warming, whether you believe in it or not. We've seen firsthand that organic food is healthier for people and the planet.
In contrast, chemical agriculture destroys the soil and pollutes our waterways. Despite PR and advertising campaigns promoting it as the only solution for feeding the world, farmers in developing countries are rejecting the expensive seed and chemicals required to keep genetically modified crops on their artificial support system. Modern organic farming is the model that works best for them, and the only one that can feed the world (including us in America) forever.
There is only one thing that can prevent our story from having a bad outcome, and that is us. All of us: the vegans and the omnivores, the tea partyists and the coffee partyists, the Republicans and the Democrats, the farmers and the foodies. We have to turn our Farm Bill, which doesn't just subsidize agriculture, but also school lunches, food stamps, and wildlife conservation (including the wild food like fish and fowl), and turn it into a Food Bill. Every American deserves food free of chemicals. Rich, poor, young, and old--but especially our young, since they are much more at risk. Our children are the next spotted owls, the next baby polar bears, and the next honeybees (which are still collapsing colony by colony).
It's up to us to protect our children. And the best way to do that is to demand organic. Our future depends on it. Our children's lives depend on it. Our country's freedom depends on it. The true cost of doubt and denial is our lives.
I don't know about you, but I'm fighting for a positive outcome. And this story isn't a fairy tale, it's a reality show. We get to vote on how it ends.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.