It's troubling to see Kauai Dr. Lee Evslin use his column in the local newspaper to promote organic food as inherently more pure than its conventional counterpart, and some sort of silver bullet for attaining good health.
In this case, he's advancing the idea that various chemicals known as endocrine disrupters are responsible for everything from America's obesity epidemic and slow sperm to ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease in children. And, as he intones, “the same suspects are on the list: pesticides, flame-retardants, plasticizers and cosmetics.”
Though Evslin admits that he's talking about “a new scientific theory,” which means it's not yet proven, he has no problem offering a dangerously simplistic “bottom line” solution to what ails us: “Store your food in glass containers, stop buying water in plastic bottles and eat organic whenever possible.”
Evslin totally glosses over all the non-food sources of pesticides, including treatments for home and garden pests, pet flea and tick products and even water, which is treated with chlorine, a restricted use pesticide.
What's more, he fails to understand that organic food also is packaged in plastic, grown using pesticides and carries pesticide residues. But in any case, according to the US Department ofAgriculture, these residues are considered holistically and present no cause for concern:
The PDP data show, overall, that pesticide residues on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pose no safety concern.
EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] makes a safety evaluation for pesticides considering all possible routes of exposure through food, water, and home environments when setting the maximum residue (tolerance) level of pesticide that can remain in or on foods.
EPA is required to periodically re-evaluate pesticide registrations and tolerances to ensure that the scientific data remain up to date.
Evslin also seems to be unaware that pest-resistant GMO crops, which cannot be labeled organic under USDA standards, are actually working to minimize pesticide use. One compelling example is Bt eggplant, which has enabled farmers in Bangladesh to reduce their pesticide applications by 80 percent.
I want to believe that Evslin is well-intentioned. Sadly, he is not well-informed. Every time a well-fed, well-heeled Westerner starts beating the organic drum, he is helping to close the door to GM technology that is working to address environmental issues and help hungry people in developing nations to achieve food security. Though Evslin no doubt can afford the high price of organics, he seems to have forgotten that many of his own neighbors are struggling to feed their families. The last thing they need is some short-sighted doctor guilt tripping them for not buying organic.
Meanwhile, a number of organic certificates used on both domestic and imported products — primarily from China and Africa — are fraudulent, according to the USDA.
Evslin also likes to throw stuff out there without any citations, so the curious and/or critical are unable to check his apparently dubious sources. A case is point is his claim that “Glyphosate is patented as an antibiotic and as an herbicide and has been shown to affect our intestinal bacteria.”
GMO Answers has an interesting segment on why Monsanto pursued that patent, while noting “to date, nobody has demonstrated that glyphosate is an effective antimicrobial agent for treating human or animal infections.” It's really quite specious for Evslin to make that particular assertion.
If Evslin plans to keep inserting himself into the conversation about food and pesticides, he really needs to be more thorough in his research and careful with his facts. That is, if he wants to be taken seriously, which I'm sure he does.
On a related topic, I noticed anti-GMO acivist Jeri DiPietro, who presides over the group Hawaii SEED, advocating in a newspaper article for “the precautionary principle,” which The Garden Island defines as “an approach to risk management that requires proponents of an activity to prove its safety in the absence of a scientific consensus.”
Jeri's complete rejection of the scientific consensus in support of GMO food safety aside, there are several problems with the precautionary principle, as I learned with attending the American Academy for the Advancement of Science meeting earlier this year. As Gary Marchant, an Arizona State University professor and expert on the legal issues around genetic engineering, noted:
There has always been a degree of precaution in regulations. To make the precautionary principle the regulatory standard, it has to be quantified legally, which requires a very detailed definition. But it's never been properly defined and all efforts to do that have failed, even in Europe. So we have these very vague definitions of precaution being used in absurd and inconsistent ways.
Speaking of absurd, it's never been more cool to make like you're a farmer or blue collar worker — just wear the $425 jeans and forego the actual dirty work!
And finally, I'll leave you with this video montage showing some of the March for Science events around the world, starting with little Kauai. Gosh, who knew supporting science could be such fun?!