Ruthless Power and Deleterious Politics: from DDT to Roundup

Just as the chemical industry and its shills once proclaimed the safety of DDT, they are doing the same today with the herbicide glyphosate which has penetrated throughout the food chain, writes Evaggelos Vallianatos. And once again it is a toxic lie that threatens species, ecosystems and people. It’s time to demand a new kind of agriculture, and a future free of all pesticides.
Pesticides are chemical weapons, brought to market under the cover of often fraudulent science and regulation, maintained in farming under the false pretense of feeding the world. They are danger itself.

Pesticides are chemical weapons, brought to market under the cover of often fraudulent science and regulation, maintained in farming under the false pretense of feeding the world. They are danger itself.

Morton Biskind, a physician from Westport, Connecticut, was a courageous man.

At the peak of the cold war, in 1953, he complained of maladies afflicting both domestic animals and people for the first time. He concluded that the popular insect poison DDT was the agent of their disease.

DDT, he said, “dangerous for all animal life from insects to mammals.” Yet he was astonished at what little was done to restrict or ban DDT. On the contrary, officials and scientists defended it:

“[V]irtually the entire apparatus of communication, lay and scientific alike, has been devoted to denying, concealing, suppressing, distorting … [the bad news about DDT]. Libel, slander and economic boycott have not been overlooked …

“And a new principle of toxicology has … become firmly entrenched … no matter how lethal a poison may be for all other forms of animal life, if it doesn’t kill human beings instantly, it is safe. When … it unmistakably does kill a human, this was the victim’s own fault – either he was ‘allergic’ to it … or he didn’t use it properly.” (Biskind 1953).

The warnings of Biskind went nowhere. The Pentagon was testing nuclear weapons above ground and agribusiness was expanding its conquest of rural America – and the world. The strategic interests of the Pentagon coincided with those of agribusiness.

Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, listened to Biskind. She denounced the hegemony of chemical pesticides, “the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world – the very nature of its life.” She said America’s single-crop farming clashes with how nature works.

Instead, “we allow the chemical death rain to fall … The crusade to create a chemically sterile world seems to have engendered a fanatic zeal on the part of many specialists and most of the so-called control agencies … there is evidence that those engaged in spraying operations exercise a ruthless power.” (Rachel Carson, Silent Spring.)

But regulators looked the other way

Meanwhile, federal agencies and official science pretended nothing was wrong. The US Environmental Protection Agency, born in 1970, had to start from the beginning with toxic chemicals some 17 years after Biskind’s complaint.

The political and economic forces of agribusiness, the chemical industry, and politicians forged an unofficial alliance between the Pentagon and big agriculture, with agriculture borrowing the Pentagon’s chemical warfare strategy for American farmers.

Furthermore, the missionaries of agricultural industrialization adopted and spread the profitable new approach to chemical danger – what Biskind aptly called “a new principle of toxicology” – that still reigns supreme among the practitioners of conventional science and politics in the early 21st century. Like a gigantic octopus, the chemical industry put its tentacle all over Congress, the White House and land grant universities.

July 15, 2015 | By:  Evaggelos Vallianatos

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