Poisoned Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA by E.G. Vallianatos (Important Excerpts)
“Eliminating the public’s ability to halt the selling or planting of these seeds, the groups said, was removing the one sure way of checking this hugely profitable but potentially dangerous forced march toward the genetic engineering of our food.
We knew this was Bush’s view, of course: State Department cables reveal that the Bush administration threatened the European Union with sanctions unless EU governments allowed the planting of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds in Europe. But the phalanx of Monsanto men and women working for Obama simply confirms that it does not matter who presides over the White House or Congress. Corporations rule the kingdom. While still serving as Obama’s solicitor general, Elena Kagan wrote a brief requesting the Supreme Court to lift a ruling by an appeals court forbidding the planting in California of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa. In August 2010, Kagan was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. She sits beside Justice Clarence Thomas, who once served as a lawyer for Monsanto.
Indeed, when it comes to genetic engineering, “the Obama administration has not been better than the Bush administration, possibly worse,” wrote Jeffrey Smith, an expert on the health effects of bioengineered food. The triumph of Monsanto within the government is bad for our health and bad for the environment. Let me explain further by introducing Don Huber….
Don Huber knows a lot about biological weapons, and he knows a lot about plants. A retired colonel from the Army’s biological warfare corps, Huber taught plant diseases and soil microbiology at Purdue University for thirty-five years. He has also been the coordinator of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service National Plant Disease Recovery System, a program of the USDA. Of all the things he knows about biological weapons and crops, he is most concerned about the destructive effects of pesticides on the biological systems of plants….
On January 17, 2011, Huber wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, “For the past 40 years, I have been a scientist in the professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks,” Huber wrote, “Based on this experience, I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of high risk status. In laymen’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.
Huber explained that the pathogen is “a medium size virus” and “a micro-fungal-like organism” that can reproduce itself. It has been found in livestock feed made by soybeans and corn genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate (“Roundup soybean meal and corn”). In addition, the pathogen has been found in pigs, cattle, and other animals that have been struck by spontaneous abortions and infertility. The pathogen “may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations,” Huber added. “These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%.”
It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases,” Huber continued. Furthermore, glyphosate “dismantles plant defenses” against disease by immobilizing vital nutrients, which means the growing crop is starved of the nutrients it must have to defend itself against disease and to be nutritious. Such impoverished crops, says Huber, are causing “animal disorders.”
Someone leaked the letter Huber sent to Secretary Vilsack. Huber then sent his original letter to the European Union and the European Commission with a cover letter, dated April 20, 2011, explaining why he had felt compelled to write so urgently to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
“I feel it would be totally irresponsible to ignore my own research and the vast amount of published research now available that support the concerns we are seeing in production agriculture,” Huber wrote. He cited evidence showing this new pathogen kills chicken embryos in 24 to 72 hours. The pathogen also intensifies many of the diseases afflicting crops, including an affliction known as Goss’s wilt that in 2010 caused American farmers to lose fully a billion bushels of corn…
Huber’s hopes were quickly dashed. Two weeks after he sent his letter to Vilsack, he received a letter back from the USDA: the government was determined to side with Monsanto on alfalfa. The letter assured Huber that the decision was based “on sound science informed by peer-review research….” – Portions from pages 204 – 207
“Huber responded to the USDA with a long and impassioned letter citing 135 scientific studies supporting his position. He was furious at the intimidation of scientists working on the risks of bioengineered crops, especially on the links between glyphosate and now-unregulated alfalfa.
“The current crop and animal production environment is NOT normal and NOT sustainable!” Huber wrote. “We are experiencing an escalating incidence of crop, animal, and human diseases, the emergence and reemergence of diseases once rare or under practical control, and new diseases previously unknown to science.”
Increasing incidences of disease in animal production programs, especially cattle, dairy, and swine, had become associated with low manganese or other micronutrients, Huber wrote. Manganese deficiencies are associated with infectious diseases, bone and tissue deformities, reproductive failure and death. Discovered just a decade previously, this new “electron-microscope-sized ‘organism’” was causing infertility and miscarriage in animals. “The excessive use of glyphosate is a major contributor to the increased severity and epidemics of plant and animal diseases, reduced nutrient quality, high mycotoxin levels, and toxic chemical residues we are experiencing in production agriculture,” Huber wrote. “I urge your consideration of the decision to deregulate Roundup Ready Alfalfa based on the principle of ‘Scientific Precaution’ until research can be completed relative to its safety, equivalency, and sustainability.”
Huber must have known that asking the USDA to undo the deregulation of alfalfa was hopeless. The Monsanto-controlled agency would not tolerate scientific resistance. So, on November 1, 2011, Huber left for England, where he made a presentation to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology of the British House of Commons, in which he repeated his conclusions he had reported to the USDA, the European Union, and the European Commission.
Now outside the suffocating atmosphere of USDA Huber expressed himself in less diplomatic language. Glyphosate “predisposes plants to disease” and stimulates pathogens” in the soil, he said. Glyphosate compromises the defense of crops against disease and kills the targeted plants by acting as a biological war agent—in a sense, by boosting disease organisms in the soil while killing disease resistance organisms….
Like Morton Biskind sixty years earlier, Don Huber spoke of “a new factor” in our civilization causing havoc in nature, human health, and global food security. The new factor for Biskind in 1953 was the “miracle” of DDT; for Huber in 2011, the danger was posed by a pathogen associated with another “miracle” chemical named glyphosate. In both cases, we have the sick feeling that little, if anything, has changed. The same irresponsible agribusiness policies reign, threatening the very integrity of our food and our health….
Huber, now an emeritus professor at Purdue, wrote to me in August 2012 to say that all his efforts with the USDA had “fallen on deaf ears.” The USDA was busy deregulating genetically modified crops, and scientists working at universities with industry contracts were in hot water: “Several scientists have been limited in what they can say or share, while others have been denied promotion or tenure,” Huber wrote. Thankfully, he said, his own research was still privately funded,” since we couldn’t take a chance on it being shut down earlier.”
Huber’s dire warning is like a sword hanging by a thread. The USDA “regulators” of genetically engineered crops continue with business as usual. In early 2012, they were ready to approve the dangerous herbicide 2.4-D (which, you will remember, was half of Agent Orange) for a new genetically modified corn. This action is certain to double the adverse effects of genetically modified crops. 2,4-D may even trump glyphosate as the greatest chemical threat to American agriculture. Its history of more than seventy years as a chemical weapon, and as a weed killer contaminated by the lethal 2378-dioxin, doesn’t bode well for America…. Dow has convinced the “regulators” of America, Canada, and the European Union that 2,4-D is safe…” – Portions from pages 208 – 212
“According to the EPA, 25% of samples of 2,4-D were contaminated with dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD), which is mutagenic, carcinogenic, and causes reproductive problems at very small doses.” (CDC NIOSH, 2005).
“Charles Benbrook, a former Capitol Hill staff scientist, has shown that, in the period between 1996 and 2011, the GM crops in the United States increased the use of pesticides by about 7 percent, or 404 million pounds a year.” – page 213
“In Wyoming, a small farmer named John Fenton has twenty-four gas wells on his farm, and his drinking water is full of poisons, including drilling fluids, driving muds, and high levels of the cancer causing benzene. Since the contamination, Fenton’s property has lost half of its value; he has to buy drinking water, though he still bathes in the contaminated water. Around his community, he has seen people with “a lot of neurological problems, neuropathy, seizures, people losing their sense of smell, sense of taste. People with their arms and legs going numb.”
Local officials, meanwhile, continue to tell Fenton his water is potable. When Fenton persuaded the EPA to test his water and investigate the fracking of gas wells under his land, the agency agreed with him: fracking had poisoned his water.
The political response to this evidence was predictable. House Republicans held a public meeting on the Fenton water testing case, but when the “public” actually showed up—in the form of Josh Fox, the producer of Garland, a documentary on the devastation caused by natural gas drilling—the elected officials had Fox arrested.
In May 2012, the Obama administration proposed regulations requiring drillers to reveal the composition of their fracking chemicals thirty days before they blasted underground deposits of oil and gas with those chemicals. Once again, industry pressure diluted the effort, and the lobbyists for ExxonMobil and other drillers convinced the White House to reverse the regulation. The drillers would name their fracking chemicals only after they completed their work.
Once again, we find ourselves asking fundamental questions: What does such a policy say about our country’s priorities? Who are such laws meant to protect? As with pesticides, so with fracking: America needs to reinvent itself, to reverse the pervasive and insidious influence of the petrochemical-agribusiness complex” – Portion from pages 227 – 228
“But with the testing of the various toxic compounds released into the human economy and environment, we now also know that pesticides “injure man’s genetic material in precisely the same way radiation does,” my EPA colleague John Hou-Shi Chen, a distinguished geneticist, told me more than thirty years ago. “And what is so awful about such genetic injury is that it is permanent—it can’t be recalled, corrected or somehow restricted to the victim, unless you also castrate the individual. So now with a greater number of pesticide poisons loose in the environment, we as a society are creating a generation of people who will be weak in facing the future. We are then changing, irreversibly, the future itself. The price for that change is—or should be—unacceptable to any people with dignity and respect for themselves and love for their children.”
I agree with this wisdom wholeheartedly. For decades, the EPA was my personal university, where I learned the hard way why America and the rest of the industrialized world have become so hooked on dangerous farm sprays. No science or policy has been allowed to interrupt this corruption. In fact, science and policy themselves have been made a prop to the pesticides industry and agribusiness.
This is a tragic turn of events, especially given the evidence. Tomes of scientific studies have shown farm sprays for what they are: biocides, which cause and promote insect infestations of crops; give cancer to animals and humans; and leave a trail of death among fish and wildlife.
Just as petroleum companies pay for fake “science” that muddles the debate about climate change, most studies funded by the chemical industry muddy the debate about pesticides. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA continue to take up the cause of agribusiness, with catastrophic consequences for family farmers, who have been almost completely swallowed up (or driven into bankruptcy) by industrial-scale farms. In the twentieth century, 98 percent of black farmers and more than 60 percent of white family farmers were forced off the land. The few large farmers and agribusinesses left in charge of rural America are hooked on pesticides precisely because these enable them to control their vast estates.” – Page 230
“EPA officials know global chemical and agribusiness industries are manufacturing science. They know their products are dangerous. Yet industry power either corrupts or silences EPA scientists, who are forced then to bury or ignore the truth. Scientists find themselves working in a roomful of funhouse mirrors, plagiarizing industry studies and cutting and pasting the findings of industry studies as their own.
These are the behaviors of a traumatized organization. And these are the reasons why, fifty-two years after Silent Spring, farm sprays remain ubiquitous, their makers remain more powerful than ever, and we remain overwhelmed with diseases and imbalances in nature.
President Barack Obama—indeed, any president—needs to take human health and family farming much more seriously. He needs to discard the toxic policies of agribusiness in favor of small-scale agriculture that raises healthful food without injuring humans and wildlife or contributing to climate change. Traditional (and often organic) farmers—until seventy-five years ago, the only farmers there were—are slowly beginning to make a comeback. They have always known how to raise crops and livestock without industrial poisons. They are the seed for a future of good food, a healthy natural world, and democracy in rural America—and the world.” – Portions from pages 235 – 236