Lowenfels: Dreaming of a pesticide-free Christmas

Jeff Lowenfels

All I want for Christmas is an end to pesticide use.

I came to this gift idea a couple of days ago when a reader asked what I wanted from Santa. She was operating under the assumption her husband would like the same thing. Up until then, I hadn't given too much thought to the question. I am too old to accumulate any more "things" and there isn't a garden thing I wish for.

And then it hit me. I want an end to pesticide use. OK, I realize that this might be impossible. It is too big of a present for someone who behaved as poorly as I did this year. Still, a smaller version would do, say, just the state of Alaska going pesticide free. I would even settle, this year at least, for just Anchorage to be a pesticide free zone. What a gift that would be for us all.

This really shouldn't be much of a request. True, it would have been not so many years ago when these products first were described as miracles of modern chemistry and any yardener could get his or her hands on them to save the earth one quarter-acre lot at a time. We believed the advertising, didn't understand the labels (which didn't have warnings in many cases) and plunged into a greener, less insect- and fungal-ful, weed-free world.

Today, of course, the most die-hard chemical user recognizes that synthetic pesticides have proven to be far from miracles in any sense of the word. Just reading a pesticide label these days should be enough to end their use. It goes beyond not being able to pronounce the chemical ingredients or know what the inert ones are. There are dire warnings on most of these labels.

More than 300 diseases have been linked to pesticide use. These are not as a result of lab rat tests and studies either. They are based on real-life, epidemiological studies of humans around the country. Of the top 25 pesticides used to manage "facilities" and the 13 used in "landscape management," 11 are linked to cancer, five cause birth defects, 10 cause liver or kidney damage, 12 are linked to neurological problems and the list goes on.

Of course, children are the most susceptible to injury from pesticide exposure because their systems are still developing. Many pesticides are endocrine disrupters, so the development that is supposed to happen happens "wrong." There is even now link to lower I.Q. in children when exposed. This is not a happy state of affairs.

Adult blood samples indicates that 95 percent of us have at least one pesticide residue in our blood streams. This can't be good. It did matter, incidentally, if the samples were taken from an urban or a rural location. It's on the food we eat if it isn't in the air or water.

And speaking of streams, 90 percent of water and fish samples taken from streams in the United states contain one or more pesticides. If memory serves me, Alaska was the only state that didn't show these high numbers when the survey was taken. All of us who enjoy fishing or makes a living from those who do, should be asking Santa for the same gift as me.

Yes, pesticides usually work. They kill weeds, insects, fungi and help produce a flawless crop of tomatoes or cabbage. Their use, however, has consequences and they are becoming clearer and clearer as being unwanted and unnecessary.

The more I think about it, this should be a pretty easy gift. What are a few aphids compared to a child's I.Q.? All you Santas out there just need to leave a little reminder to each and every gardener on your list to stop using pesticides. I think most will be agree.



Jeff Lowenfels' is author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to The Soil Food Web." He can be reached at www.teamingwithmicrobes.com



Jeff Lowenfels