Chemical solutions become chemical problems

What’s with these pharmaceutical commercials? The asthma medicine increases the chance you’ll die of asthma. Depression pills make it more likely you’ll commit suicide.

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Take something for arthritis, gout, or an unresponsive organ, and the side effects are worse than the illness. (Four-hour erection, anyone?)
What kind of lunatic would go to their doctor and ask for this crap?
Answer: All kinds of lunatics, which is apparently what we’ve become.
The new American slogan: If you can sell it, it must be good. If someone will buy it, let them.
After a million years of survival without the benefit of synthetic chemicals, we’ve decided there is no problem a chemical won’t solve.
What we haven’t figured out is that every chemical solution begets a new set of problems.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, one chemical solution was DDT. It killed mosquitoes and reduced the incidence of malaria. Check out Looking Back on page 6, about the manager at Father Hennepin using it on mosquitoes in the park. Said the editor, the result was “almost too good to be true.”
Indeed. DDT was the silver bullet that brought dozens of bird species to the brink of extinction. Thanks to Rachel Carson, it was taken off the market in time for eagles, osprey, falcons and hawks to make a comeback.
Fast-forward 50 years, and the agricultural chemical of choice is Roundup. For decades we’ve been told that Roundup is perfectly safe. Monsanto, which invented the stuff, actually called it “safer than table salt,” but they lost a false advertising case and dialed back their claims.
A few weeks ago, this headline appeared: “Birth defects caused by world’s top-selling weedkiller.”
It turns out that several studies have indicated health problems associated with Roundup’s main active ingredient, glyphosphate, and regulators have known about the dangers since 1980. Roundup itself was never tested by the EPA, but glyphosphate was considered safe enough to spray all over the landscape.
Roundup also contains other ingredients that are proven to be dangerous by themselves, and which may be even worse when combined with glyphosphate.
Roundup was approved for use in the U.S. in 1973, but it really took off after 1996, when genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” soybeans were patented. By Monsanto, of course. Many other Roundup Ready plants followed.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, were quickly (too quickly?) deemed safe by our regulatory agencies, and now, 90 percent of the corn and soybeans planted in the U.S. are Roundup Ready.
That means more Roundup than ever is being sprayed on our lands and our crops.
The Roundup revolution was meant to grow more food, and to grow it cheaper. Monsanto would argue that its products have saved millions from famine.
That’s true to a point, but it didn’t have to be that way. Smart, compassionate policies, from family planning to resource management to foreign aid to regulation, could also have prevented famine, but now we’re so far down the chemical road that it might be impossible to turn back while feeding the world’s billions with safe, natural farming methods.
Our fatal flaw may be infatuation with our technological solutions. We love our inventions so much that we never ask if we’d be better off without them.
As the chemical revolution continues in medicine, agriculture and food production, we don’t seem to be any healthier, wealthier or happier.
Maybe we should go back to snake oil.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

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