1. It’s raining corn chemicals.
U.S. farmers are using so much glyphosate, the main component of weedkillers like Roundup, that researchers are finding it in rain, the air, and streams. According to USDA data, farmers sprayed a whopping 57 million pounds of glyphosate on food crops in 2009—mainly on genetically engineered corn and soy crops. Because glyphosate is a systemic chemical, it actually works its way inside the plant and winds up inside of food at alarming levels. The chemical is linked to potentially irreversible metabolic damage, infertility, obesity, learning disabilities, and birth defects.
What to do about it: Make as many of your food purchases organic as you can to keep this hormone-disrupting chemical out of the environment—and your body. If you live in an area where glyphosate in drinking water is a problem, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends granular activated carbon filters to remove glyphosate from water.
Read More: A Cleaner Glass of Water
Photo: Brand X Pictures
2. We’re eating shampoo chemicals.
A 2010 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that hormone-disrupting phthalates, common fragrance chemicals used in soaps and shampoos, are winding up inside produce. A potential source? Human sewage sludge applied as a fertilizer to farm fields. The sludge can be tainted with shampoo chemicals that wash down the drain—and wind up at the water-treatment plant, the source of the sludge. Luckily, the use of human sewage sludge is banned in organic farming.
What to do about it: If you buy your produce from local farmers who aren’t certified organic, be sure to ask them how they fertilize the soil. If you use store-bought compost in your backyard garden, avoid compost that lists “biosolids” as an ingredient and bagged blends that are heavy and caked together or that put off an ammonia or sewer smell. High-quality compost should be crumbling, earthy, and dark.
Read More: Start Your Own Compost Pile.
Photo: Photo Alto
3. Pesticides are making us fat.
Both pesticide applicators and farmers who use synthetic chemicals are experiencing a troubling health trend: an increased risk of becoming overweight and obese. Pesticides, even at very low doses, threaten the general public, too. Many chemicals commonly used to grow nonorganic food are hormone disruptors, and scientists are starting to discover that they tamper with our body’s natural weight-loss chemistry. (They actually call them “obesogens.”) Certain bug-killing organophosphate pesticides are linked to obesity, a known risk factor for many other diseases, including cancer and type 2 diabetes.
What to do about it: Eating organic for just five days can rid the body of virtually all pesticide residues. Think you can’t afford it? Look for in-season deals at local farmers’ markets, buy in bulk, and preserve the excess to enjoy during the winter months.
4. Pesticides may raise your diabetes risk.
In addition to acting as obesogens, pesticides are linked in a growing number of studies with diabetes. Though obesity and genetics remain the two biggest risk factors for the disease, certain pesticides may interfere with the way our bodies produce the blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin. In one of the most recent studies looking into pesticides and diabetes, scientists concluded that it may not even be the active pesticide ingredients causing the problems but the “inert” ingredients added to formulations to aid with application, help the pesticide seep into soil, or prevent the formulation from washing away.
What to do about it: You can avoid diabetes-inducing pesticides by switching to an organic diet, but one of the inert ingredients used in pesticide formulations, phthalates, can crop up in common household items. Protect yourself completely by avoiding synthetic fragrances, soft vinyl products, and “slow-release” or gel-coated medications, all of which contain phthalates.
Photo: Stockbyte/Getty Images
5. Pesticides could be interfering with your vitamin D levels.
DDT, an organochlorine pesticide, was banned years ago because of its irreparable environmental damage. But pesticides in that same class of chemicals continue to be used on cotton, apples, citrus, strawberries, mint, beans, peppers, tomatoes, pecans, walnuts, stonefruit, cucurbits, and commercial lawns and fields. And a study in the online journal PLoS Onefound that those pesticides could interfere with vitamin D, the miracle vitamin that wards off cancer, diabetes, infections, heart disease, and broken bones and boosts your immune system. It’s thought that these pesticides interfere with your body’s metabolism of vitamin D, so even if you’re getting enough, the pesticides prevent your body from absorbing it properly.
What to do about it: In addition to eating organic, get your recommended amount of vitamin D by spending at least 10 minutes of every day outside when the sun is at its strongest or by taking a 600 IU supplement of vitamin D3, which is a more beneficial form of the vitamin than vitamin D2, another supplement you might see at the store.
Photo: Ingram Publishing
6. Factory-farmed meat can make you old, fast.
Factory farming, the process of raising thousands of animals in small, cramped spaces, has become so filthy that farmers not only inject low levels of antibiotics into animals, breeding antibiotic resistance in humans, but they’ve also had to resort to other questionable techniques to prevent e. coli and other bacteria from getting into the food supply. One example: After slaughter, factory-farmed chickens are washed in chlorine baths that contain 30 times more chlorine than an average swimming pool. To mask the chlorine odor and, ostensibly, according to chicken producers, to keep the bird moist while cooking, the chickens are then injected with a solution of water and phosphate, a chemical that can increase the risk of chronic kidney disease, weak bones, and even premature aging.
What to do about it: Opt for organic meat or meat produced by a local farmer. Most small-scale chicken producers don’t bother with chlorine baths, and even in large-scale organic operations, chlorine baths can contain no more chlorine than is allowed in drinking water.
Read More: Backyard Chickens.
Photo: (cc) Joost J. Bakker
7. Organic farms could save rural economies.
Thanks to an increased reliance on pesticides and machinery, farms have been able to grow in size while cutting back on labor. And though that sounds like a winning formula for increasing profits for farmers, it doesn’t. The Rodale Institute has found that organic systems are nearly three times as profitable as chemical agriculture systems. Organic systems see an average of $558 in net returns per acre per year, versus just $190 per acre per year for chemical systems. Research from the United Nations and others has also shown that organic farms provide 30 percent more jobs per hectare than nonorganic farms, and that organic farmers net $45,697 in profit, compared with just $25,448 for nonorganic farmers.
What to do about it: Find a local, organic farm to support, and keep your food investments in your own community.