'Silent Spring' Turns 50

SUBHEAD: In 1962 Rachel Carson warned of the 'Pesticide Treadmill' powered By Big Ag.

By Lynne Peeples on 27 September 2012 for Huffington Post -

Image above: Detail from portrait of Rachel Carson by Minnette D. Bickel, 1987. From (http://www.chatham.edu/host/library/carson/collection/full_view/pcw15.html).

Fifty years ago Rachel Carson wrote,
  "Chemical control is self-perpetuating, needing frequent and costly repetition."
"This is not what Rachel Carson would have wanted for her 50th anniversary present." Mardi Mellon, senior scientist with the non-profit Union of Concerned Sciences, referred to the pending rollout of crops engineered to be resistant to "one, two, three, perhaps more herbicides."

The resultant "dousing" of crops with larger quantities of a multiple poisons, Mellon said, is not exactly the future Carson sought with the publication of her landmark book, "Silent Spring," on Sepember 27, 1962.

Thursday's anniversary comes as debate over the healthiness of conventional, genetically-modified foods has arguably reached record decibels -- thanks in part to the publication this month of two controversial studies. One concluded that organics offered no better nutritional value  than conventional foods (IB Editior note: without taking into account the effects of pesticides nor genetic engineering); another suggested that genetically modified corn increased cancer in lab rats.

Lost in this debate, some experts said, is a more fundamental issue facing the food system and public health: a vicious cycle of chemical-dependency that we can't seem to break, even 50 years after Carson warned of the dangers of an arms race against nature we are destined to lose.

The marine biologist may have been among the first scientists to refer to the "pesticide treadmill," as well as to suggest that the chemical industry keeps it running by "pouring money into universities to support research on insecticides."

Many scientists repeat those insights today.

"Herbicide resistance is not new. We've been dealing with it for about 50 years," said Mike Owen, a weed expert at Iowa State University. "But every time we've ended up with resistance in particular weeds, industry would bring forward a new solution -- so it again became a non-problem."

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