It’s time for U.S. agricultural policy to put our health, and the health of our farmlands, first.

More than 75 years ago, Hugh Hammond Bennett, founder of the Soil Conservation Service said, “Take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.” Those words should be at the heart of U.S. agricultural policy, and those policies should make it easy for farmers to grow nutritious food for everyone and leave the land healthier than we found it.

But for the most part, that’s not what’s happening, and the policies in the U.S. farm bill are discouraging farmers from farming sustainably. Unless those policies change, our tax dollars will continue to promote agricultural practices that rely on billions of pounds of fertilizers and pesticides. Dangerous chemicals that drain into our rivers, get into our drinking water, stay on our food and end up in our bodies.

  • <h4>Chemicals In Farming</h4><p>American farms used nearly 900 million pounds of pesticides in the most recent year for which we have data.</p><em></em>
  • <h4>Chemicals In Farming</h4><p>Dicamba is found in about 1,100 herbicide products. It can only be used on crops that were genetically engineered to be resistant to it, otherwise it will kill them along with the weeds. It easily becomes airborne and drifts away from where it is applied, landing on another farmer’s crops and damaging them.</p><em>Public Domain</em>
  • <h4>Risks To Our Health</h4><p>Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, has become the most widely used agricultural chemical in history. The chemicals in Roundup have been linked to cancer and other health problems.</p><em>Mike Mozart</em>
  • <h4>Risks To Our Health</h4><p>The class of pesticides known as pyrethroids accounts for nearly one-third of all pesticide use worldwide. A recent study found that pyrethroid exposure was linked to a 56% increased risk of premature death.</p><em>Public Domain</em>
  • <h4>Risks To Our Health</h4><p>Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used on many fruits and vegetables. It often remains on the produce when it’s bought at the grocery store. The insecticide has been shown to cause brain and developmental damage in children.</p><em></em>
  • <h4>Polluting Our Water</h4><p>Chemicals can make their way off farms as runoff and end up in our rivers, streams and eventually our drinking water. Nitrate runoff from fertilizers can be especially harmful to infants, and is linked to “blue baby syndrome” because the babies have difficulty transporting oxygen.</p><em>Penn State</em>

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American Farmers Are Too Reliant On Chemicals

Why are we using so many chemicals on our crops?

Every year, the U.S. government spends billions of dollars on subsidies for insurance on crops. But the subsidies are only for certain crops, like corn, wheat and soybeans. These subsidies incentivize farmers to plant the same one or two crops year after year. Most farmers can’t afford to have one bad season, let alone a couple in a row, so it becomes too risky for them to plant anything else.

The result? 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. With these monocrops, pests build up over the years, so farmers need more pesticides to keep weeds and insects from flourishing, and ensure a successful harvest. This increased chemical use puts our food, our drinking water and the health of our families at risk.

Over the last several decades, the American food system has become increasingly reliant on heavy use of pesticides and herbicides.
Rudy Umans via Shutterstock
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

Our tax dollars should be used to help farmers grow all the food we need, and protect our health and the environment at the same time. And there is mounting evidence that it’s possible

In one study done over the course of 13 years at Iowa State University, farmers and researchers were able to reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides by 88 percent by using diverse crop rotations. And those researchers believe 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. 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.”

But as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. And unless we make changes to the U.S. farm bill, we will be paying for more chemicals, more threats to our health and more damage to the land we rely on.

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.

Farmers have been able to reduce pesticide use and maintain yields by rotating crops and using other sustainable farming methods.
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