Healthy Farms, Healthy Families

INVESTING IN SMART, HEALTHY FARMING — Most modern farms are far too reliant on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that can stay on our food or drain into and pollute our drinking water. It's time to implement low-chemical farming practices, and protect our health and environment.

If you are like most Americans, when you go grocery shopping, you’re probably focused on choosing healthy, tasty food for you and your family, at a good price. You might also be among the growing number of people who are buying organic, or just paying more attention to how your food is raised and grown. 

Unless you’re a farmer, you probably aren’t paying too much attention to the complex and, in many ways, miraculous agricultural system behind all that abundance and variety — a system that provides enough food to feed hundreds of millions of Americans, and many more around the world. 

But it’s also a system that has profound implications for our health and a huge impact on our environment. And if we don’t act soon to improve it, the decisions we make in the coming years could affect the food we eat and the water we drink for decades to come. 

OUR FARMS ARE TOO RELIANT ON CHEMICALS 

There is a growing body of evidence, including some research done by farmers and scientists at Iowa State University, that suggests we can dramatically reduce the use of some synthetic chemicals while still growing as much food as we do now — and maybe more.

Why is that such a big deal? Most modern farms have become far too reliant on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. These chemicals can stay on our food or drain into and pollute our drinking water, and have been linked to all kinds of problems:

  • American farms used nearly 900 million pounds of pesticides in the most recent year for which we have data, and chief among them is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. The chemicals in Roundup have been linked to cancer and other health problems, and are showing up in our food and water.
  • Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used on many fruits and vegetables, which often remains on the produce when it’s bought at the grocery store. One EPA analysis estimates that almost 90 percent of women of childbearing age have traces of chlorpyrifos in them, and the insecticide has been shown to cause brain and developmental damage in children
  • Runoff from farming fields can find its way into our drinking water. Nitrate runoff can be especially harmful to infants, according to the EPA, and is linked to “blue baby syndrome” because the babies have difficulty transporting oxygen.

WE'RE SUBSIDIZING THIS CHEMICAL OVERUSE

Every year, the U.S. government spends billions of dollars on subsidies for insurance on crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans. These heavy subsidies incentivize farmers to plant the same crop year after year.

However, planting the same crops over and over again drains the soil of nutrients, and farmers must rely more and more on fertilizers to replenish the soil, and on pesticides to keep weeds, insects and more from flourishing, in order to ensure a successful harvest. This increased chemical use puts our food, our drinking water and the health of our families at risk.

But many farmers and researchers agree we can grow as much food as we do now, without relying so heavily on chemicals. In one study done over the course of 13 years at Iowa State University, farmers and researchers were able to reduce the use of herbicides by 88 percent by using diverse crop rotations. And those researchers believe there is a realistic possibility these systems could be expanded to a larger scale in order to “greatly reduce the need for fossil fuels, chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, without sacrificing yields or profitability.”  

These techniques aren’t borne out of some new, untested technology either. As an author of the study put it, “these were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.

WE HAVE THE TOOLS FOR HEALTHIER FARMS

Shouldn’t our tax dollars be invested in the best farming practices? Practices that not only grow all the food we need, but protect our health and the environment at the same time?  

Implementing these changes will be crucial to protecting our health and the safety of our food and drinking water. That’s why we’re building a wide coalition of concerned citizens, farmers, health professionals, and anyone who’s concerned about the health and safety of the food they feed their family or the water they drink. We’ll be in the cities that rely on the food we grow, and the farming communities that are most directly affected by the use of these chemicals. 

Together, we can spread the word so our decision makers know that people are paying attention, and that they want our policies to support healthy farms, and healthy families. 


Image credits, from top: Oticki/Shutterstock, MN Studios/ShutterstockChafer Machinery CC by 2.0

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG/U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Food

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2016 Shows First Decline In Antibiotics Sales For Livestock, Following Numerous Commitments From Restaurants And Food Companies

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Food

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinners from Store Shelves

Today, Target announced that it will be removing two fidget spinner models that contain well over the legal limit of lead for children’s toys from its store shelves. Target had initially balked at our request to do so, citing a Consumer Product Safety Commission rule stating that general use products directed at adults don’t need to follow the same lead guidelines as children’s products directed at children 12 and under. These two models of fidget spinners, the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass and the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal, were labeled for ages 14 and up.

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Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG/U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Food

Bee-Killing Pesticides Found in Great Lakes Water

A recent scientific study found the presence of commonly-used pesticides known to harm bees ("neonicotinoids" or "neonics") in several Great Lakes waterways. This study shows we know very little about the effects of pesticides once released into the environment.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

2016 Shows First Decline In Antibiotics Sales For Livestock, Following Numerous Commitments From Restaurants And Food Companies

Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its annual report of antibiotics sales for livestock and poultry, showing the first decline in year-to-year sales since recording began. Overall, sales of medically important antibiotics to food animals decreased by 14 percent from 2015 through 2016.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Food

U.S. PIRG Joins Rep. Blumenauer In Calling For Farm Bill Reform

Rep. Blumenauer (OR) unveiled a new blueprint for the federal Farm Bill today. His bill, the Food & Farm Act, cuts wasteful agriculture subsidies that steer farmers toward harmful and unhealthy farming practices. Additionally, it deepens U.S. investments in proven conservation programs that help farmers switch to sustainable farming practices.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinners from Store Shelves

Today, Target announced that it will be removing two fidget spinner models that contain well over the legal limit of lead for children’s toys from its store shelves. Target had initially balked at our request to do so, citing a Consumer Product Safety Commission rule stating that general use products directed at adults don’t need to follow the same lead guidelines as children’s products directed at children 12 and under. These two models of fidget spinners, the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass and the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal, were labeled for ages 14 and up.

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Pages

Result | Public Health

Convincing McDonald’s and Subway to protect public health

In 2015, bolstered by the support of more than 100,000 members and supporters, we convinced both McDonald’s and Subway to take action to protect public health. In March, just two days after we delivered more than 30,000 petitions to McDonald’s headquarters, the company announced that they would stop serving chicken raised on medically-important antibiotics. And in October, after more than 100,000 called on the chain to take action, Subway announced a similar policy for all the meat they serve.

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Result | Public Health

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Chain Reaction III

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Report | Iowa PIRG and Consumers Union | Public Health

Prescription For Change

Our September 2014 survey of physicians paints a grim picture of the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections. The overwhelming majority of surveyed doctors reported that one or more of their patients had been diagnosed with a presumed or confirmed case of a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection in the past twelve months. They also expressed concern about the use of antibiotics in livestock production facilities on healthy animals in order to promote growth and prevent disease.

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Report | Iowa PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Weak Medicine

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Report | Iowa PIRG Education Fund | Food

Total Food Recall

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Report | Iowa PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Consumer Protection, Food, Tax

Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food

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Blog Post | Public Health, Food

Crop Diversity: Good For Public Health, Good For The Bottom Line | Steve Blackledge

For more than a decade, Iowa State University has been testing the merits of a 4-crop rotation, such as planting corn, soy, oats, and alfalfa over the course of four years. The results? The ISU researchers have reduced their use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers by about 90% while maintaining profits. That’s a staggering number, and even if farmers don’t push the limits as aggressively as ISU agronomists, we’re still talking about major reductions in chemicals. Moreover, we would expect correlating reductions in cancers, respiratory problems, reproductive system disorders, and more.  

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During This Intense Hurricane Season: Some Reports and Information On Storms, Chemicals and Public Safety | Kara Cook-Schultz

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Blog Post | Public Health, Food

EPA’s Pruitt Met with Dow Prior to Favorable RulingDev GowdaKara Cook-Schultz

On March 31st, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that his agency would deny a petition to ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos from being sprayed on food. He announced this decision despite EPA scientists’ earlier findings that concluded that chlorpyrifos, which is manufactured by Dow Chemical, can harm brain development of fetuses and infants after ingesting even small amounts. The news that the EPA would continue to allow the spraying of chlorpyrifos alarmed doctors and other public health officials, but what’s even more interesting is that according to several recent Freedom of Information Act requests, Pruitt met with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris at a Houston hotel just twenty days prior to making his controversial decision.

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#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

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Calling for Big Action on Antibiotics in the Big Apple | Steve Blackledge

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