If you’ve read my last two articles on water, fertilizer, and chemical use, then followed up by doing a little research on your own, by now you are beginning to wonder why it has taken so long for these things to become common knowledge. The good news is they finally are. The reason that it has taken so long is that the demand for safe and sustainable landscaping/agriculture products has come from the bottom up. We as consumers have become more educated and are now willing to do what it takes to live in a healthy environment, eat healthy foods, and drink clean water. The bad news is the opposition is formidable. That opposition is called big business and politics. The politics are that billions of dollars and millions of jobs are at stake. It stands to reason that you can’t expect rapid change because that will upset the apple cart, although even politicians understand that change is necessary.
The old system of using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides was created by big business and politics. After the United States had won the first and second world wars we found that we had a huge surplus of chemicals on hand. We had built factories to produce these chemicals and these factories employed a good number of citizens. So with a few modifications the same factories could still be used making agriculture and landscaping products. Long story short, some explosives became fertilizers (you’ve heard of the “fertilizer bomb”) and DDT along with some nerve gas formulations were now being used as pesticides. The only thing needed was to sell these products to the farmer and a trusting American homeowner. So salesmen were hired to market the products and the deal was done. Who knew?
We all know the story of DDT by now so we won’t get into that. However, after DDT more and more of these chemicals were found to have an afterlife (or having impact on organisms that went well beyond killing insects, weeds, or making the soil fertile). More were removed from the market and we continue to see a history of this to the present day. Before long the general public showed a growing mistrust for these “safe when used as directed” chemicals. So the stage was set for better, safer methods driven by consumer demand.
In 1999, a group of neurologists and pediatricians published their findings concerning the effects of various pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides on fetuses and young children. The report entitled “In Harm’s Way” can be seen on the web at http://www.igc.org/psr/. This scientific report gives startling facts as to how much exposure to neurotoxins we have in our daily lives and how these toxins adversely affect brain and nerve development. According to this study, measureable amounts of pesticide were found everywhere they tested. Alarming amounts were found in food, water, air, our homes, schools and businesses, even in newborn infants. One of the things we’ve learned in this age of information is to consider the source. So what do a group of physicians stand to gain from bashing the chemical industry? Maybe less patients?
At the turn of the present century the EPA announced that products containing dursban (chlorpyrifos) and diazinon the two most popular pesticides on the market were to be banned from indoor use immediately. This was done to keep people from living in close contact with these neurotoxins. Furthermore these same pesticides were to be phased out from outdoor use and removed from the shelf entirely by 2005. Dursban and diazinon are part of a group of pesticides known as organophosphates. The American public had been using these and other related products in good faith for as long as 50 years. Finally, after extensive research, the EPA concluded that these pesticides did in fact pose a threat to human health (especially small children) and the environment itself. Meanwhile a large number of pesticides considered neurotoxins by the EPA remain in circulation. As more of these come under the same scrutinization they will undoubtedly be banned as well. The EPA welcomes your opinion as a consumer. To learn more or to give testimony, go to epa.gov on the web.
So why doesn’t the EPA just go ahead and remove all the neurotoxins instead of just the two mentioned. Part of the problem lies in the fact that most of these chemicals do the job they were intended to do quite well. Once a farmer, rancher, or landscape professional finds a product that will kill insects, weeds, and/or control disease, they are reluctant to give it up. Furthermore, most of the agriculture based universities who are hired to test these products have extension agents whose job is to recomend these products to the public. Combine this with big companies who maintain powerful lobbies in Washington and you have a system that is hard to beat. Naturally the universities want to report positive results so they may receive more grants, the extension agent wants to keep his job, and the politician is told what he must do to re-elect. Yet with all this amassed power the wall is beginning to crack and the bricks tumble. The educated consumer has made a big difference and when good research is applied to natural products the results have proven that not only do they work, but in most cases they work better. Of course big business is well aware of this, but it takes time to develop new products.
As we find ourselves in the first decade of this new era, it has become obvious to most of us that things will have to change in order to sustain our soils, water rescources, and our very quality of life. Today the general public opinions and discussions you hear will likely run along these lines:
1. Given the choice we would rather not eat foods that contain residues of synthetic chemicals, steroids, foreign enzymes, or that has been genetically modified in any way. We understand that foods grown on sterile, lifeless soils will not contain near the protiens, vitamins, and minerals that organically grown food does. We want good healthy food and we have proven this point by paying extra to aquire it.
2. In response to this we see the number of organic products aimed at fertilization and pest controls has increased dramatically with literally hundreds of new products and vendors each year. We also see that the fastest growing segments of the agriculture industry are our certified organic programs. Estimated growth has been around 200% per year. Compare this to GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) where the growth rate has been much slower and you see where public opinion is. In fact the vast majority of the world market is refusing to import GMO’s from the U.S., Canada, or South America.
3. Given the health issues and poor track record of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, our average citizen would rather not expose themselves by continued use in the home and landscape. Given the choice, we would prefer that the least toxic or non-toxic solutions be used. Astute pest control and landscape services have become acutely aware of this. Some are a offering clients a choice of synthetic or organic methods while more progressive companies have gone totally organic.
4. The idea of applying compost to rebuild healthy soils is now unanimously accpted by all factions of the gardening industry although there are many that are reluctant (perhaps stubborn in some cases) to give up synthetic chemicals. Organic gardeners, farmers, and ranchers are revealing that in truth better results are had by feeding the soil rather than feeding the plant. Scientific research has provided data to support this beyond any reasonable doubt.
5. Ask any homeowner if they would rather have a low maintenance landscape and nearly every one will say “Certainly!” However the nursery industry continues to offer the one-size-fits -all type of plant selection a good part of which really can’t survive a hot, dry, Texas summer without copious irrigation. In the 1980’s, the nurseries in Texas that specialized in native or xeriscape (dry landscape) plants were a meager handful. Today that number has increased to over a hundred and is rising.
6. When faced with droughts and the resulting water shortage the general public will acknowledge the need for water conservation, but when water supply is adequate they quickly forget. The number one criteria among most consumers when purchasing landscape plants is aesthetic as opposed to sustainability, or put simply, how it looks compared to how much water it will need. Although this too is changing among a growing number of educated consumers there is still much to be done.
7. Most citizens view water as a public resource rather than a commodity that can be bought and sold by cities, the government, or private enterprise. We unanimously agree that each and every household should have the right to clean drinking water at a fair and equitable cost.
Legislation regarding water rights at the national, state, and local levels is being introduced and voted on right now. Now is the time to educate yourself and get active. Let your voice be heard. In the good old U.S. of A., we are especially proud of our inividual freedoms and the right to vote. There is another power which some of us don’t think of as often and that is our purchasing power as consumers. The power of the dollar is awesome. In reality we cast votes every time we spend money. Politics aside, the industries mentioned here are well aware of what we as consumers really want by watching our trends in spending. Words like nature, natural, bio, herbal, organic, and the like are showing up on all sorts of products (whether or not these products actually contain natural ingredients is beside the point) simply because marketing experts realize that today’s consumer wants a healthier lifestyle. So, whether you are interested in seeing more competitve prices on organic meats and produce or you’d like to help bring about change in the use of pesticides, spend your money accordingly. Refusing to buy unhealthy foods or products will also send a positive message. As election time rolls around again you can rest assured big business and the politicians will already have a pretty good idea what we want. Change is expected and indeed necessary for the advancement of our society so let’s make certain that the changes we make affirm a secure future for us all.