I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Rachel Carson was. In high school biology class, I made a papier-mâché doll of Carson, complete with binoculars around her neck, and gave a presentation to my classmates about her stance against the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT. (I was already well on my way to being a treehugger.)
Carson showed unprecedented courage back in the 1960s, particularly as a woman. A beloved bestselling author, she was steadfast and used prose, science, and measured reason to raise a warning flag while being vilified by the chemical industry. She remains my hero. Without her, who knows how long it would have taken us to ban DDT’s widespread use, or whether we even would have?
Last September was the 50th anniversary of the publishing of Silent Spring. It’s a surprise that such a technical book was No. 1 on America’s bestseller list for many weeks. But the allegory of the fictional town, absent of bird song, was powerful, and struck a chord with a public increasingly suspicious of chemical use.
I believe that if Carson were alive today she would be aghast at the chemical wash that is so prevalent in modern agriculture. She would not shun the occasional use of a targeted chemical here or there, but would be a vocal opponent against the indiscriminate use that has become all too common.
While pesticides are used for everything from seed coating to field spraying to storage, the greatest harm may come from the systemic use of a variety of chemicals, not a single toxin. It is the same mentality that leads us to use prescription drugs for treating preventable illnesses, instead of committing to the hard work of prevention. Why work on keeping Humpty Dumpy on the wall when there is so much money to be made from putting him back together?
When one chemical becomes ineffective against weeds and pests, research is directed to come up with a new one. That is where the money is. Cover cropping, crop rotation,
composting, and companion planting doesn’t feed Wall Street’s bottom line.
As a country, we don’t like to talk about pesticides or confront their potential impacts on the environment and our own health. We put too much faith in a government that’s
stretched too thin to guarantee our safety. We adopt a “see no evil” attitude. That suits the agricultural industry just fine. It is difficult to pinpoint links between environmental exposure and our medical diagnoses in the eyes of the courts, regulators, and other institutions, so the commercial industry can continue to bypass the precautionary principle.
The good food community is suffering from its own “silent spring.” We aren’t vocal opponents against chemicals in our food, land, and waterways. We freak out about GMOs and laud “local,” but meanwhile crop dusters fly undeterred across the American landscape. But we can’t root for change if we are uneducated. Our cover story is an attempt to expose the specifics of chemicals we use on the very food we eat, particularly here in Georgia.
We need to understand what organophosphates are and how neonicotinoids are a probable cause of the colony collapses of bees, which are so crucial to pollinating our nation’s crops. We literally cannot live with the status quo.