Farm Advocates and Scientists Voice Concern Over Use of Crop Chemicals

By: Justin Chan

As the United States Department of Agriculture faces criticism from concerned parents over the use of pink slime in school food, another agency is facing heat for not doing enough to limit the use of crop chemicals.

According to Reuters, scientists, environmentalists and farm advocates have been increasingly irked by the use of agricultural chemicals in boosting crop production. As the world's population continues to grow, critics are worried that the consequent demand for food has led to health and environmental risks. Some have already issued warnings and calls for government action, while the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has taken a more serious route by filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Evidence reveals that agricultural residues have been found in water supplies and air samples of some of the farming communities across the country, causing more anxiety among critics. Two particular trends, some say, may explain the root cause for concern. The first trend relates to the mounting food demand and the pressure on farmers to keep up with production. Many farmers have applied more herbicides, fertilizers and insecticides to crops under the impression that such chemicals will increase food productivity. The second trend, perhaps, may be even more disturbing. As farmers use biotech seeds to avoid dealing with weeds and pests, they have found themselves using more chemicals to fight off these very nuisances.

"Production is growing," said Pat Sinicropi, legislative director at the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. "The pressure on agriculture is mounting to squeeze as much yield out of their land as possible, which is driving more and more chemical use."

Experts argue that mutual cooperation between the government and farm advocates is needed in order to address such issues. Critics have attempted to push the government to conduct a more thorough analysis of the effects of crop chemicals and change the incentives that have encouraged farmers to grow chemical-heavy food. They have also cited the heavy environmental damage chemicals, such as nitrogen fertilizers, have caused. A study showed that at least half of all rivers, streams and lakes in the country have been affected by nitrogen fertilizer run-off.

"Nitrogen pollution is considered by scientists among the handful of most serious impacts on the environment that humans cause. It has been increasing," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a plant pathologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Those with the NRDC say that the government has also not done enough to limit the use of 2,4-D, a herbicide that has been linked to cancer. Government regulators have asserted repeatedly that such link does not exist, but scientists at the NRDC are skeptical. "EPA is dragging their feet on this issue," said Gina Solomon, senior scientist with the organization. "They need to grapple with the science and the current situation where U.S. agriculture is on the cusp of the vast increase of the use of this chemical."

Photo: Macomb Paynes

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