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8 Myths About Pesticides That Monsanto Wants You to Believe
Myths about pesticides are a testimony to the power of advertising, marketing and lobbying. Pesticide corporations, like Big Tobacco and the oil industry, have systematically manufactured doubt about the science behind pesticides and fostered the myth that their products are essential to life as we know it—and harmless if "used as directed."
Myths about pesticides are a testimony to the power of advertising, marketing and lobbying. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
The book Merchants of Doubt calls it the "Tobacco Strategy"—orchestrated PR and legal campaigns to deny the evidence, often using rogue scientists to invent controversy around so-called "junk science," for everything from second-hand smoke causing cancer to global warming to the hazards of DDT.
Here are eight of the seemingly plausible myths we hear from the "Big 6" pesticide corporations, including Monsanto, every day:
Myth #1: "Pesticides Are Necessary to Feed the World"
Reality: The most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date tells us that what can feed the world—and what feeds most of the world now, in fact—is small-scale agriculture that does not rely on pesticides.
If we were serious about feeding people, we wouldn't grow enough extra grain to feed one-third of the world's hungry and then pour it into gas tanks. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
Dow, Monsanto, Syngenta and other pesticide producers have marketed their products as necessary to feed the world. Yet as insecticide use increased in the U.S. by a factor of 10 in the 50 years following World War II, crop losses almost doubled. Corn is illustrative: in place of crop rotations, most acreage was planted year after year only with corn. Despite more than a 1,000-fold increase in use of organophosphate insecticides, crop losses to insects has risen from three-and-a-half percent to 12 percent (D. Pimental and M. Pimental, 2008).
More to the point, hunger in an age of plenty isn't a problem of production (or yields, as the pesticide industry claims), efficiency or even distribution. It is a matter of priorities. If we were serious about feeding people, we wouldn't grow enough extra grain to feed one-third of the world's hungry—and then pour it into gas tanks.
Myth #2: "Pesticides Aren't That Dangerous"
Reality: Pesticides are dangerous by design. They are engineered to cause death. And harms to human health are very well documented, with children especially at risk. Here are a few recent examples from the news:
The environmental damage caused by pesticides is also clear—from male frogs becoming females after exposure, to collapsing populations of bats and honeybees. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
- An entire class of pesticides (organophosphates) has been linked to higher rates of ADHD in children
- The herbicide atrazine, found in 94 percent of our water supply, has been linked to birth defects, infertility and cancer
- Women exposed to the pesticide endosulfan during pregnancy are more likely to have autistic children
- Girls exposed to DDT before puberty are five times more likely to develop breast cancer
- The World Health Organization recently designated the key ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup a “probable human carcinogen”
A large and growing body of peer-reviewed, scientific studies document that pesticides are harmful to human health. The environmental damage caused by pesticides is also clear—from male frogs becoming females after exposure, to collapsing populations of bats and honeybees.
Myth #3: "The Dose Makes the Poison"
Reality: If someone is exposed to an extremely small amount of one ingredient from a single pesticide at a time, and it was a chemical of relatively low toxicity and exposure occurred outside any window of biological vulnerability, it might pose little danger. Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely scenario.
Even extremely low levels of pesticides can cause irreversible, life-changing harm if they occur at a moment when organs or other systems are developing. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
First, pesticide products typically contain several potentially dangerous ingredients (including so-called “inerts” not listed on the label). Second, we’re all exposed to a cocktail of pesticides in our air, water, food and on the surfaces we touch. The combination of these chemicals can be more toxic than any one of them acting alone. Third, many pesticides are endocrine disruptors—and even extremely low doses can interfere with the delicate human hormone system and cause life-changing damage.
Finally, the timing of exposure can be just as—if not more—important than the dose. Even extremely low levels of pesticides can cause irreversible, life-changing harm if they occur at a moment when organs or other systems are developing. One stark example from a recent study using MRI technology illustrates the point: children exposed in utero to the neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos experienced lasting changes in their brain architecture.
It’s also important to understand that research used to determine the safety of a pesticide is funded and conducted by the corporations marketing the product, often leading to distortion of findings.
Myth #4: "The Government is Protecting Us"
Reality: Our regulatory system is not doing its job. More than one billion pounds of pesticides are applied every year on U.S. farms, forests, golf courses and lawns. Farmworkers and rural communities suffer illness throughout the spray season and beyond, and infants around the world are born with a mixture of pesticides and other chemicals in their bodies.
Our regulatory system is not doing its job. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
As as the President’s cancer panel concluded in 2010:
The prevailing regulatory approach in the U.S. is reactionary rather than precautionary. Instead of requiring industry to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful.
The cornerstone of pesticide regulation is a fundamentally flawed process of "risk assessment" that cannot begin to capture the realities of pesticide exposure and the health hazards they pose. Environmental Protection Agency officials remain reliant on research data submitted by pesticide manufacturers, who do everything they can to drag out reviews of their products, often for decades. Lawsuits are pending to force theEnvironmental Protection Agency to abide by the law and speed up their reviews.
A better, common sense precautionary approach to protecting us would assess alternatives to highly hazardous pesticides rather than accepting public exposure to pesticides as a necessary evil. Such a shift will require fundamental federal policy reform. Meanwhile, state and local authorities are pressing for rules that better protect their communities.
Myth #5: "GMOs Reduce Reliance on Pesticides"
Reality: Genetically modified organisms are driving up pesticide use, and no surprise: the biggest GMO seed sellers are the pesticide corporations themselves. The goal of introducing GMO seed is simple: increase corporate control of global agriculture. More than 80 percent of the GMO crops grown worldwide are designed to tolerate increased herbicide use, not reduce pesticide use.
The goal of introducing GMO seed is simple: increase corporate control of global agriculture. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
Monsanto, the world leader in patented engineered seed, would have us believe that its GMOs will increase yields, reduce environmental impact and mitigate climate change—and that farmers use fewer pesticides when they plant the corporation’s seeds. None of this is true.
On average, Monsanto’s biotech seeds reduce yield. In 2009, Monsanto admitted that its Bollguard GMO cotton attracted pink bollworm—the very pest it was designed to control — in areas of Gujarat, India’s primary cotton-growing state. Introduced in 1996, Monsanto’s Bollguard seeds, which include toxic traits from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), now account for half the cotton grown worldwide. In India, the productivity of Bt cotton has fallen while pesticide costs have risen by almost 25 percent, contributing to the tragic suicide epidemic among India’s debt-ridden farmers.
In 2009, 93 percent of U.S. GMO soybeans and 80 percent of GMO corn was grown from Monsanto’s patented seeds. “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans, designed for use with Monsanto’s weed killer, mostly feed animals and cars rather than people. Now that weeds have developed resistant to Roundup, Dow and Monsanto are introducing GMO corn that includes tolerance of dicamba and 2,4-D, antiquated and dangerous herbicides prone to drift from where they’re applied on neighboring non-GMO fields and into neighboring communities.
Myth #6: "We're Weaning Ourselves Off of Pesticides"
Reality: After 20 years of market stagnation, the pesticide industry entered a period of vigorous growth in 2004. The global pesticide market was worth approximately $46 billion in 2012 and continues to grow. It is expected to reach $65 billion by 2017, with the U.S. accounting for 53 percent of global use.
The global pesticide market was worth approximately $46 billion in 2012 and continues to grow. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
About 80 percent of the market is for agricultural use, but non-agricultural sales and profit margins are growing faster, driven by the rise of a global middle class adopting chemically reliant lawns and landscapes. In addition, the industry strategy of promoting GMO seeds, most of which are engineered to tolerate higher applications of herbicides, has driven increased sales of weed killers.
Myth #7: "Pesticides Are the Answer to Global Climate Change"
Reality: Multinational corporations are working hard to increase their market share by exploiting climate change as a sales opportunity. As of 2008, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont, BASF and others had filed 532 patents for “climate-related genes,” touting the imminent arrival of a new generation of seeds engineered to withstand heat and drought. Their approach will further restrict the age-old practice of farmers saving seeds with desirable traits—a practice that may prove even more important as the climate changes in unpredictable ways and demands more, not less, farm-scale diversity.
Evidence is showing that sustainable farming provides important solutions to climate change. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
In fact, evidence is showing that sustainable farming provides important solutions to climate change, with resilient systems that create far fewer greenhouse gases, promote on-farm biodiversity and create carbon sinks to offset warming.
Despite this latest gene-grab, none of these companies have yet been able to engineer any kind of yield-increasing or “climate-ready” seeds. Their promises to end world hunger through drought-, heat- and salt-tolerant seeds and crops with enhanced nutrition have proven empty.
Myth #8: "We Need DDT to End Malaria, Combat Bedbugs, etc."
Reality: The resurgence of bedbugs in recent years has nothing to do with the 1972 ban of DDT. Bedbugs, like many mosquitos, are resistant to DDT—and they were decades ago, when DDT was still in use. In some cases DDT even makes bedbug infestations worse, since instead of killing them, it just irritates them, making them more active.
In some cases DDT even makes bedbug infestations worse. Photo credit: Pesticide Action Network
Resistance is also an issue for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. DDT had been abandoned as a solution to malaria in the U.S. long before it was banned for agriculture use.
Around the world, practitioners battling the deadly disease on the ground report that DDT is less effective in controlling malaria than many other tools. A small cadre of chemical advocates continue to aggressively promote widespread use of DDT to combat malaria, bedbugs—even West Nile Virus—despite its lack of effectiveness and growing evidence of damage to human health, even at low levels of exposure.
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Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.
Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.
Spider Plant<p>Spider plants are one of the best plants you can buy for increasing indoor humidity, according to <a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">research</a> from 2015.</p><p>Even NASA agrees. It did a <a href="https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> in the '80s that found spider plants are able to remove toxins like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from indoor air.</p><p>Perhaps the coolest part of all? They're super easy to grow.</p><p>Their stems grow long. A hanging container is best so the plant has room to cascade.</p><p>Spider plants grow best in bright, indirect sunlight, so try to keep them near a window that gets a lot of natural light. Aim to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.</p>
Jade Plant<p><a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">Research</a> shows that a jade plant can increase the relative humidity in a room. Most of its evapotranspiration happens in the dark, making it a good option for increasing humidity during darker months of the year.</p><p>To help keep a jade plant thriving, keep it in a bright spot, like near a south-facing window. As for watering, how much you give it depends on the time of the year.</p><p>The spring and summer is its active growing time, so you'll want to water it deeply, and wait till the soil is almost dry to water it again.</p><p>In the fall and winter, growing slows or stops, so you can let the soil dry completely before watering again.</p>
Areca Palm<p>Palms tend to be great for adding humidity, and the areca palm — also called the butterfly or yellow palm — is no exception.</p><p>They're relatively low maintenance, but they do require lots of sun and moist soil. Keep them near a window that gets a lot of sunlight. Water them enough to keep their soil moist, especially in the spring and summer.</p><p>They can grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall and don't like crowded roots, so you'll need to repot it every couple of years as it grows.<span></span></p>
English Ivy<p>English ivy (<em>Hedera helix</em>) is easy to care for and gives you a lot of bang for your buck because it grows like crazy.</p><p>It's also been <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-018-0618-9" target="_blank">shown</a> to have one of the highest transpiration rates. This makes it a good option for increasing relative humidity AND removing carbon monoxide from indoor air.</p><p>A hanging basket is best for this small-leafed ivy. It'll grow as long and lush as you let it. To keep it controlled, just prune to the size you want.</p><p>English ivy likes bright light and soil that's slightly dry. Check the soil to make sure it's almost dry before watering again.</p>
Lady Palm<p>The lady palm is a dense plant that's low maintenance when it comes to sunlight and water needs.</p><p>It does best in bright light, but is adaptable enough to grow in low-light spots, too, though at a slightly slower pace.</p><p>Lady palms like to be watered thoroughly once the surface is dry to the touch, so always check the soil before watering.</p>
Rubber Plant<p>The rubber plant isn't as finicky as other indoor tropical plants, making it really easy to care for. Rubber plants also have a high transpiration rate and are great for helping clean indoor air.</p><p>Rubber plants like partial sun to partial shade. They can handle cooler temps and drier soil (perfect for people who tend to kill every plant they bring into the home).</p><p>Let the soil dry before watering again. In the fall and winter months, you'll be able to cut watering in half.</p>
Boston Fern<p>The Boston fern has air-purifying properties that add moisture and remove toxins from indoor air. Did we mention they're lush and gorgeous, too?</p><p>To keep a Boston fern healthy and happy, water it often enough so the soil is always moist, and make sure it gets a lot of indirect sunlight by placing it in a bright part of the room.</p><p>Occasionally misting the fern's leaves with a spray bottle of water can help keep it perky when you have the heat blasting or fireplace going.</p>
Peace Lily<p>Peace lilies are tropical evergreens that produce a white flower in the summer. They usually grow up to around 16 inches tall, but can grow longer in the right conditions.</p><p>A peace lily feels most at home in a room that's warm and gets a lot of sunlight. It takes its soil moist.</p><p>No need to stress if you forget to water it on occasion. It'll handle that better than being overwatered.</p><p>If you have cats, you'll want to keep this plant out of reach or avoid it. Lilies are <a href="https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/lily" target="_blank">toxic</a> to our feline friends.</p>
Golden Pothos<p>Golden pothos is also called devil's ivy and devil's vine because it's pretty much impossible to kill. You can forget to water it and even forget to give it light for long periods, and it'll still be green whenever you finally remember.</p><p>That said, it thrives in brighter spaces and does like some water. Let it dry out between watering.</p><p>Its trailing stems grow as long as you want it to, so it's perfect for hanging planters or setting on a higher shelf.</p><p>The higher the better if you have pets, though, since some of its compounds are toxic to dogs and cats… and horses, if you happen to live in a big apartment with really relaxed pet rules.</p>
Dwarf Date Palm<p>Dwarf date palms are also called pygmy date palms. They're perfect as far as plants go. They're basically mini versions of the palm trees you see on tropical postcards.</p><p>They can help keep a room's air clean and increase humidity, and are super easy to maintain.</p><p>They can grow to be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall with bright, indirect sunlight and moist — not soaking wet — soil.</p><p>They also prefer a slightly toasty environment, so avoid placing them near a drafty window or source of cold.</p>
Corn Plant<p>The corn plant won't give you an endless supply of corn — just leaves that look like corn leaves and the occasional bloom if you treat it nice. It also helps humidify indoor air and remove toxic vapors.</p><p>Maintenance is easy. Let the top inch or so of soil dry before watering, and keep in a well-lit room where it can get a good amount of indirect sunlight.</p>
Parlor Palm<p>This is another high-transpiration palm that doesn't take any real skill to grow. You're welcome.</p><p>Parlor palms like partial sun, but can manage in full shade, too, as long as you keep the soil consistently moist with a couple of waterings per week.</p><p>To help it grow, make sure it's got enough space in the pot by sizing up every year or two, or whenever it starts to look crowded.</p>
Plants to Avoid<p>Plants are generally good for your environment, but some do have the opposite effect when it comes to humidity.</p><p>These plants tend to draw moisture <em>in</em> instead of letting it out. This doesn't happen instantly, and a couple of plants won't have enough of an effect to really zap the moisture out of your home.</p><p>Still, if you're looking for maximum moisture, you may want to limit these.</p><p>Plants that fall into this category are those that require very little water to survive. Think plants that you find in dry climates, like the desert.</p><p>These include plants like:</p><ul><li>cactuses</li><li>succulents</li><li>aloe vera</li><li>euphorbia, also called "spurge"</li></ul>
Pro Tips<p>If you really want to take advantage of all the moisture and purification these plants offer, here are some tips to consider:</p><ul><li><strong>Size matters.</strong> Plants with bigger leaves typically have a higher transpiration rate, so go bigger to humidify and purify a room.</li><li><strong>The more the merrier.</strong> Have at least two good-sized plants per 100 square feet of space — more is even better.</li><li><strong>Keep 'em close.</strong> Group your plants closer together to increase the humidity in the air and help your plants thrive, too.</li><li><strong>Add pebbles.</strong> If you're dealing with dry indoor air, put your plants on a pebble tray with water to create more humidity for your plants <em>and</em> your room.</li></ul>
The Bottom Line<p>If you're looking to combat dry air in your home and have some space, consider stocking up on some houseplants. Just keep in mind that this is one area where less definitely isn't more.</p><p>For a noticeable impact on the air in your home, try to have at least several plants in each room. If you only have room for a few plants, try to go for larger ones with big leaves.</p>
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