ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS AND XENOESTROGENS
Pesticides are known endocrine disruptors, that is, they interfere with the healthy production, release, absorption and disposal of our hormones. Some of them, called xeno-estrogens, deceive the body and behave as if they were estrogen (but of course they are quite different) and can lead to a myriad of problems, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, estrogen dominance, thyroid dysfunction (which in turn can cause or aggravate dysmenorrhea, i.e. painful menstruation, irregularity of the cycle, heavy menstruation, acne, irritability, sleep disorders, depression, etc.).
Where they are to be found
Pesticides are not the only xenoestrogens and endocrine disruptors in our homes. Cosmetics, personal and household hygiene products, canned food and plastic containers, flame retardant fabrics in mattresses or sofas are other non-negligible sources. Our sensitivity to these substances depends on our genetics but also on the environmental conditions in which we live: a healthy body, even if genetically predisposed, could be only slightly sensitive. A weak body, even if not genetically predisposed, could be severely affected. It is therefore important to be informed about the presence and possible effects of these substances, and those who want a more detailed list can find it in this post on endometriosis.
Chemical pesticides have been widely used in the agro-industry for several decades. Produced and applied in industrial countries, they are now exported and imposed also in the so-called developing countries by the same manufacturing companies, which propose themselves as banks, seed suppliers, agrochemical suppliers, buyers of the final products and professional trainers, in spite of the free market.
One of the main reasons for their use is to increase crop productivity, an issue that is also very dear to the world of international development, given the demographic projections, which predict a significant increase in the world population over the next thirty years, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Productivity is also linked to increased profitability for agricultural entrepreneurs, both in the West and in developing countries. The mantra has remained unchanged for decades: to meet the growing demand for food and make it accessible to the largest number of human beings, it is necessary to use pesticides and chemical fertilizers in large quantities.
However, it is scientifically proven that the use of chemical pesticides degrades the environment and animal species, and not only those living near those fields, because air, water, insects and birds carry chemical compounds for thousands of kilometers. The World Health Organization’s State of Science report on endocrine disruptors states that a number of everyday chemicals pose serious health problems including cancer, asthma, reduced fertility and even birth defects.
Human health depends on a well-functioning endocrine system that regulates the release of certain hormones that are essential for functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. Harmful compounds are linked to various hormonal disorders in women and men, such as sperm reduction, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s syndrome, hypospadias and prostate cancer, to name but a few.
A FALSE MYTH THAT KILLS
Last month (March 2017) a United Nations (UN) report dealt a severe blow to the use of pesticides, declaring a “false myth” the mantra repeated by agrochemical companies that the use of pesticides is necessary to ensure the productivity of crops and therefore the Sustainable Development Goal of zeroing the number of undernourished people. The UN maintains that the problem of malnutrition is caused by inequalities and therefore is fundamentally a problem of distribution, not quantity.
The organization made strong accusations against the agro-chemical industry, blamed for “systematically denying the damage (caused by pesticides)” that causes “catastrophic damage to the environment, human health and society; of using “aggressive and immoral marketing tactics”; and of putting heavy pressure on governments that have “hindered reforms and paralyzed international restrictions on pesticides”. Pesticides used in agriculture, the report says, cause 200,000 deaths a year worldwide, almost all in developing countries, and pesticides are not needed to ensure increased agricultural production for a growing population.
A French research published in March 2017 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Plants seems to give the coup de grace to this false myth. The study examines nearly 1000 French farms that use large quantities or vice versa, small quantities, of pesticides and found that 94% of farms would not suffer a decrease in productivity if they cut the use of pesticides, indeed, two-fifths of farms would increase productivity by reducing them, according to the Guardian that today reported the news (“Farms ‘could cut pesticides without loss’, April 7, 2017). With regard to the specific use of pesticides, the study states that a reduced use would lead to an increase in production in 86% of the companies surveyed, and that no company would reduce the amount produced. Furthermore, 78% of farms would maintain or increase their profitability (ibid.).
The problem, also highlighted by researchers, is that agro-chemistry monopolizes the sector not only with regards to the sale of pesticides and the purchase of products, but also to the training of farmers, who consequently ignore the available, effective and economically efficient alternatives, thinking that chemistry is the only available option.
One of these pesticides, Chlorpyrofos, in addition to polluting Italian waters, is the subject of legal controversies in these days in the U.S., where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refuses to ban it despite its research, published in November 2016 (when Obama was still president) has proven that it increases by 140% the risk of developmental disorders in children. The new head of the EPA is Scott Pruitt, linked to newly elected President Donald Trump, both climate change deniers.
Glyphosate, among others, is causing very serious environmental and health problems in Costa Rica, as reported for many years by local organizations and Transparency International. In Italy, glyphosate contamination affects 63.9% of surface water and 31.7% of groundwater, despite the fact that experts from the Mach Foundation denied or belittled it when questioned by the newspaper L’Adige in 2014.
Pesticides are exceptionally harmful to ecosystems and highly overestimated in the fight against hunger. The citizen who chooses to produce and buy organic products can help form the critical mass needed to change the balance of power, preserve ecosystems and protect their endocrine system, which is fundamental for reproductive, mental and psychological health.