The sustained use of agricultural chemicals by conventional agriculture is having widespread and negative unintended consequences on U.S. farmworkers, according to a new report from The Organic Center (TOC).
The TOC, which operates under the administrative auspices of the Washington, D.C.-based trade group, the Organic Trade Association, said the report examines how adult farmers and farmworkers are exposed to pesticides, the negative health consequences of those exposures, organic production practices and processes used by organic agriculture to protect farmers and farmworkers.
The report, funded by the UNFI Foundation, also provides an overview of pest management practices that can be implemented in any farming system to reduce the need for pesticides such as crop rotations, intercropping, the use of buffers and hedgerows, and the promotion of soil health to balance the farm ecosystem.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that between 1,800 and 3,000 preventable pesticide exposures occur among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers each year.
The report also cites “a large body of research that documents the health risks associated with both short- and long-term exposure to pesticides: cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and poor reproductive health.”
The report said there are about 900 synthetic pesticides approved for use in conventional farming, while the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) allows about 25 synthetic materials that pose little risk to human health or the environment in organic production. Examples of synthetic materials allowed for use in organic farming include hydrogen peroxide, soaps and Vitamin D3.
For the report, the TOC synthesized 129 research studies ranging from the impacts of toxic, synthetic pesticides on the health of farmworkers and farm communities, to the science supporting the efficacy of chemical-free pest control to demonstrate how certified-organic production can substantially benefit those working in agricultural systems.
“Practices used by organic producers to support robust agroecosystems to naturally combat pests can reduce chemical inputs in any farm setting,” said Jessica Shade, TOC director of science programs. “By shifting to more sustainable farming systems that rely on balanced ecosystems as a first line of defense against pests, we can ensure sustainable food security and healthy farm communities into the future.”