Healthy Farms, Healthy Families

INVESTING IN SMART, HEALTHY FARMING — Most modern farms are far too reliant on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that can stay on our food or drain into and pollute our drinking water. It's time to implement low-chemical farming practices, and protect our health and environment.

If you are like most Americans, when you go grocery shopping, you’re probably focused on choosing healthy, tasty food for you and your family, at a good price. You might also be among the growing number of people who are buying organic, or just paying more attention to how your food is raised and grown. 

Unless you’re a farmer, you probably aren’t paying too much attention to the complex and, in many ways, miraculous agricultural system behind all that abundance and variety — a system that provides enough food to feed hundreds of millions of Americans, and many more around the world. 

But it’s also a system that has profound implications for our health and a huge impact on our environment. And if we don’t act soon to improve it, the decisions we make in the coming years could affect the food we eat and the water we drink for decades to come. 

OUR FARMS ARE TOO RELIANT ON CHEMICALS 

There is a growing body of evidence, including some research done by farmers and scientists at Iowa State University, that suggests we can dramatically reduce the use of some synthetic chemicals while still growing as much food as we do now — and maybe more.

Why is that such a big deal? Most modern farms have become far too reliant on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. These chemicals can stay on our food or drain into and pollute our drinking water, and have been linked to all kinds of problems:

  • American farms used nearly 900 million pounds of pesticides in the most recent year for which we have data, and chief among them is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. The chemicals in Roundup have been linked to cancer and other health problems, and are showing up in our food and water.
  • Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used on many fruits and vegetables, which often remains on the produce when it’s bought at the grocery store. One EPA analysis estimates that almost 90 percent of women of childbearing age have traces of chlorpyrifos in them, and the insecticide has been shown to cause brain and developmental damage in children
  • Runoff from farming fields can find its way into our drinking water. Nitrate runoff can be especially harmful to infants, according to the EPA, and is linked to “blue baby syndrome” because the babies have difficulty transporting oxygen.

WE'RE SUBSIDIZING THIS CHEMICAL OVERUSE

Every year, the U.S. government spends billions of dollars on subsidies for insurance on crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans. These heavy subsidies incentivize farmers to plant the same crop year after year.

However, planting the same crops over and over again drains the soil of nutrients, and farmers must rely more and more on fertilizers to replenish the soil, and on pesticides to keep weeds, insects and more from flourishing, in order to ensure a successful harvest. This increased chemical use puts our food, our drinking water and the health of our families at risk.

But many farmers and researchers agree we can grow as much food as we do now, without relying so heavily on chemicals. In one study done over the course of 13 years at Iowa State University, farmers and researchers were able to reduce the use of herbicides by 88 percent by using diverse crop rotations. And those researchers believe there is a realistic possibility these systems could be expanded to a larger scale in order to “greatly reduce the need for fossil fuels, chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, without sacrificing yields or profitability.”  

These techniques aren’t borne out of some new, untested technology either. As an author of the study put it, “these were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.

WE HAVE THE TOOLS FOR HEALTHIER FARMS

Shouldn’t our tax dollars be invested in the best farming practices? Practices that not only grow all the food we need, but protect our health and the environment at the same time?  

Implementing these changes will be crucial to protecting our health and the safety of our food and drinking water. That’s why we’re building a wide coalition of concerned citizens, farmers, health professionals, and anyone who’s concerned about the health and safety of the food they feed their family or the water they drink. We’ll be in the cities that rely on the food we grow, and the farming communities that are most directly affected by the use of these chemicals. 

Together, we can spread the word so our decision makers know that people are paying attention, and that they want our policies to support healthy farms, and healthy families. 


Image credits, from top: Oticki/Shutterstock, MN Studios/ShutterstockChafer Machinery CC by 2.0

Issue updates

Blog Post | Public Health

Our Children’s Cosmetics Should Be Safe | Dev Gowda

When a parent buys something for their child, they shouldn't have to worry about whether that product contains harmful chemicals. Parents assume items on store shelves are safe, and expect that we already have regulations in place to protect kids. But at the start of 2018, national children's retailer Claire's issued a recall of nine makeup products after testing by a law firm found they may contain cancer-causing asbestos fibers.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health

A Year In Review: Progress Getting Toxic Chemicals out of Personal Care Products | Dev Gowda

In the past year, we’ve seen a lot of progress to get toxic chemicals out of personal care products and to convince companies to disclose fragrance ingredients. Consumers are at the forefront of making that happen, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to harness consumer preferences and push several companies to do better.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

KIDS' MAKEUP SOLD BY RETAILER CLAIRE'S POTENTIALLY CONTAINS ASBESTOS

National children’s retailer Claire’s has issued a recall of nine makeup products after reports surfaced they may contain cancer-causing asbestos fibers. The makeup contained traces of asbestos, according to a law firm which tested the products. Asbestos is not used commercially in makeup, but can be found as a contaminant in talc, a common ingredient in cosmetics. Sparkly, shimmery, and powdery makeup often contains talc as a major ingredient. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health

Personal Care Product "Trade Secrets" Are Hurting Consumers | Dev Gowda

The new shampoos, hand creams, soaps and body washes we unwrapped this holiday season smell like roses, chamomile, lavender, springtime.

But the fragrances that fill many of our bottles and bars are far from natural, and because of a lack of transparency in labeling, we could be “cleaning” our bodies with chemicals that can disrupt our hormones, cause developmental issues and even lead to cancer.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from U.S. PIRG Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG | Public Health

CA Assembly Passes Bill to Disclose Toxic Chemicals in Cleaning Products

Cleaning shouldn't harm anyone's health. But for far too long we've been kept in the dark about health-harming chemicals used in cleaning supplies. Today the California state Assembly passed SB 258, The Cleaning Product Right-to-Know Act. 

> Keep Reading

High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WITI FOX6 News in Milwaukee recently tested certain fidget spinners for lead and according to the lab results, four fidget spinners bought from high-profile online and retail stores contained alarmingly high levels of lead. One fidget spinner contained a part that was found to be more than 400 times the legal limit for lead. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Lessons From Harvey: Mapping Out Toxic Sites In Hurricane Irma’s Path

A map of potential toxic sites and a statement by Kara Cook-Schultz, Toxics Program Director for U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund and Florida PIRG Education Fund.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Looking Forward After Katrina

We have developed a quick snapshot of some of the environmental health problems in the wake of the hurricane, as well as recommendations for governmental officials to take into account as they move forward.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Needless Risk

Across the country, petroleum refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities use and store large amounts of hazardous chemicals that, if subject to an accident or attack, would release dangerous toxins.  Such releases could injure or kill thousands of people that live in communities in close proximity to these facilities. Petroleum refineries stand as a stark example of the unnecessary risk posed by such facilities in the event of an attack or accident as well as the opportunity to mitigate this risk by using safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Raising Risk

Although genetically engineered crops are still poorly understood, corporations and universities are growing them experimentally in the open environment with little oversight and public notification. Contrary to assertions made by proponents of the technology, genetic engineering is not precise. Scientists cannot control where the gene is inserted into the host’s genetic code, nor guarantee stable expression of the gene in the new genetically engineered organism.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Duty To Disclose

Scientists in the United States and abroad continue to raise serious concerns about the environmental and human health risks associated with growing and consuming genetically engineered crops. As a result, genetically engineered foods may pose financial risks to the food companies buying and selling genetically engineered crops.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Voters in Seven California Counties Consider Banning Genetically Engineered Agriculture

In March 2004, despite industry spending $700,000 in opposition, Mendocino County passed Measure H, which makes it unlawful to cultivate or raise any genetically engineered crops or animals. As a result of Mendocino County’s success, seven other counties in California are poised to make decisions to also prohibit genetically engineered agriculture this fall.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Public Health, Antibiotics

If It Looks Like a Chicken and Walks Like a Chicken | Steve Blackledge

Earlier this week, Tyson Foods announced another big step toward stopping the overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms. The announcement underscores a larger trend that’s been happening for a few years now; consumer pressure is helping to drive important public health changes in the marketplace. To be sure, there are laggards on the antibiotics front (see our recent blog on KFC), but perhaps no company has lagged as aggressively and proudly as Sanderson Farms. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Antibiotics

Chicken Industry Moves Further Away From Antibiotics, but KFC Still Chickens Out | Matt Wellington

Bravo, Tyson Foods! Today the company announced its plan to eliminate antibiotics in the chickens raised for its brand name chicken offerings (breasts, wings, and nuggets). This move by the largest U.S. meat company (in revenue), is indicative of a larger paradigm shift in the chicken industry.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health

Lead: the sneaky ingredient in your lipstick and lotion | Anna Low-Beer

Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration announced new guidelines for the level of lead allowed in lipstick and other cosmetics. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t there already a rule that says that lead -- a toxic heavy metal -- is not permitted in the products we apply to our bodies? Sadly, because of weak and outdated federal regulations, the FDA does not currently limit lead levels in cosmetics. And it’s not a small problem -- the FDA tested hundreds of lipsticks from popular brands in 2012, and found lead in every single one.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health

In the Bid to Save Antibiotics, Are Drug Companies Allies or Enablers? | Jeremy Flood

While many hospitals have begun developing antibiotic stewardship programs and adopting strict policies in clinical settings, the routine overuse of antibiotics in meat production continues to quietly thrive as a multi-billion dollar industry.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Toxic-Free Holiday Tips | Anna Low-Beer

The holidays are fast approaching, and we’ve got a few tips for you to ensure a safe and toxic-free gift-giving season. From children’s toys under the tree to cosmetic gift boxes for your colleagues and neighbors, check out our tips for a safe holiday season.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

DEFEND THE CFPB

Tell your senators to oppose the “Financial CHOICE Act,” which would gut Wall Street reforms and destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as we know it.

Support Us

Your donation supports U.S. PIRG’s work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.

Consumer Alerts

Join our network and stay up to date on our campaigns, get important consumer updates and take action on critical issues.
Optional Member Code