06/12/2012 08:46 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Total Recall

by guest blogger Coach Mark Smallwood, Executive Director of the Rodale Institute.

Just this week, Evenflo recalled 35,000 convertible highchairs. Eight children had apparently fallen out of the chairs when the trays detached. Injuries reported: a few bumps and bruises. Meanwhile, Mom is out front spraying the sidewalk cracks with Roundup and Dad is out back sprinkling Weed-n-Feed on the lawn.

Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides are known to disrupt testosterone, meaning risk of infertility, low sperm count, and prostrate or testicular cancers rises as a result of exposure. And they have the demonstrated ability to cause genetic damage to DNA at very low concentrations. This is the most popular kind of agricultural chemical in use, with at least 180 to 185 million pounds sprayed just on U.S. farms.

Weed-n-Feed's active ingredient, the infamous "Agent Orange" chemical 2,4-D, has been shown to cause birth defects, cancer, Parkinson's disease, hormone disruption, and more. And the debate is raging right now as to whether to approve a genetically modified corn resistant to 2,4-D. If the GMO corn is approved, use of the herbicide would skyrocket. And use is already high. In 2007, anywhere between 52 and 62 million pounds were sprayed on farm fields, backyards, and landscapes across the country, according to EPA statistics.

A crib rail pinches a finger and in short order the product is pulled. Why isn't it the same true for 2,4-D or glyphosate? Why don't we hold toxic, man-made chemicals to the same sort of standard we hold other products?

We know that:
  • Environmental/water-source exposure to pesticides during conception is linked to birth defects usually associated with alcohol consumption, smoking, and diabetes.
  • Low-dose responses to agricultural chemicals and chronic dietary contact mean pesticide residues on food do "count" as exposures.
  • Environmental exposures to pesticides have been linked over and over to dramatically increased risk of Parkinson's disease.
We also know that:
  • Children are much more susceptible to chemical exposures than adults.
  • Pesticides used in and around the home can increase the risk of childhood leukemia sevenfold.
  • Pesticide residues show up in our children's urine, bloodstream, and umbilical cords.
  • More than 80,000 synthetic chemicals are used in this country and only a few hundred have been tested for safety.
The scientific community has known for years that the toxins we use to "protect ourselves" from bugs and weeds are insidiously damaging to our health, yet we allow chemical companies decades to phase out their products. Why isn't the Environmental Protection Agency flooded with irate parents?

Although it doesn't seem like the savviest PR move, chemical companies balk at the slightest suggestion of a product ban that it will threaten "livelihoods," aka their bottom lines. Yet, toy companies regularly recall unsafe products with little if any complaining about the strain such a recall would have on corporate profits. Mattel voluntarily recalled 1.5 million toys for lead paint and another 9 million toys as other safety hazards in 2007, telling news sources the company was "working extremely hard to address your concerns and continue creating safe, entertaining toys for you and your children."

I'm not holding my breath for any voluntary recalls, but how about this: We create a systematic method for the eventual ban of all toxic synthetic chemicals in food production. That includes pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. We establish guidelines for a phase-out, a timeline and, most importantly, provide all of the proven alternatives.

Just because you can't see the poison doesn't mean it isn't doing damage. The science is in, and it is time to protect our families. Let the recalls begin!


Coach Mark Smallwood has been dedicated to environmental sustainability, efficiency and conservation for decades. Since joining Rodale Institute in December 2010, he has brought heritage livestock back to Rodale Institute's 333-acre farm, expanded and enhanced Rodale Institute's research efforts, as well as launched "Your 2 Cents," a national campaign to support and promote new organic farmers. In recognition for his sustainability efforts, Coach was chosen as a messenger for Al Gore's Climate Project presenting to over 15,000 people on the effects of Global Warming. Last, but certainly not least, as a long-time organic farmer and biodynamic gardener, Coach has raised chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, and driven a team of oxen.

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