Total Recall

by guest blogger Coach Mark Smallwood, Executive Director of the Rodale Institute.

Just this week, Evenflo recalled 35,000 convertible highchairs. Eight children had apparently fallen out of the chairs when the trays detached. Injuries reported: a few bumps and bruises. Meanwhile, Mom is out front spraying the sidewalk cracks with Roundup and Dad is out back sprinkling Weed-n-Feed on the lawn.

Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides are known to disrupt testosterone, meaning risk of infertility, low sperm count, and prostate or testicular cancers rises as a result of exposure. And they have the demonstrated ability to cause genetic damage to DNA at very low concentrations. This is the most popular kind of agricultural chemical in use, with at least 180 to 185 million pounds sprayed just on U.S. farms.

Weed-n-Feed’s active ingredient, the infamous “Agent Orange” chemical 2,4-D, has been shown to cause birth defects, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, hormone disruption, and more. And the debate is raging right now as to whether to approve a genetically modified corn resistant to 2,4-D. If the GMO corn is approved, use of the herbicide would skyrocket. And use is already high. In 2007, anywhere between 52 and 62 million pounds were sprayed on farm fields, backyards, and landscapes across the country, according to EPA statistics.

A crib rail pinches a finger and in short order the product is pulled. Why isn’t it the same true for 2,4-D or glyphosate? Why don’t we hold toxic, man-made chemicals to the same sort of standard we hold other products?

We know that:

  • Environmental/water-source exposure to pesticides during conception is linked to birth defects usually associated with alcohol consumption, smoking, and diabetes.
  • Low-dose responses to agricultural chemicals and chronic dietary contact mean pesticide residues on food do “count” as exposures.
  • Environmental exposures to pesticides have been linked over and over to dramatically increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

We also know that:

  • Children are much more susceptible to chemical exposures than adults.
  • Pesticides used in and around the home can increase the risk of childhood leukemia sevenfold.
  • Pesticide residues show up in our children’s urine, bloodstream, and umbilical cords.
  • More than 80,000 synthetic chemicals are used in this country and only a few hundred have been tested for safety.

The scientific community has known for years that the toxins we use to “protect ourselves” from bugs and weeds are insidiously damaging to our health, yet we allow chemical companies decades to phase out their products. Why isn’t the Environmental Protection Agency flooded with irate parents?

Although it doesn’t seem like the savviest PR move, chemical companies balk at the slightest suggestion of a product ban that it will threaten “livelihoods,” aka their bottom lines. Yet, toy companies regularly recall unsafe products with little if any complaining about the strain such a recall would have on corporate profits. Mattel voluntarily recalled 1.5 million toys for lead paint and another 9 million toys as other safety hazards in 2007, telling news sources the company was “working extremely hard to address your concerns and continue creating safe, entertaining toys for you and your children.”

I’m not holding my breath for any voluntary recalls, but how about this: We create a systematic method for the eventual ban of all toxic synthetic chemicals in food production. That includes pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. We establish guidelines for a phase-out, a timeline and, most importantly, provide all of the proven alternatives.

Just because you can’t see the poison doesn’t mean it isn’t doing damage. The science is in, and it is time to protect our families. Let the recalls begin!


Coach Mark Smallwood has been dedicated to environmental sustainability, efficiency and conservation for decades. Since joining Rodale Institute in December 2010, he has brought heritage livestock back to Rodale Institute’s 333-acre farm, expanded and enhanced Rodale Institute’s research efforts, as well as launched “Your 2 Cents,” a national campaign to support and promote new organic farmers. In recognition for his sustainability efforts, Coach was chosen as a messenger for Al Gore’s Climate Project presenting to over 15,000 people on the effects of Global Warming. Last, but certainly not least, as a long-time organic farmer and biodynamic gardener, Coach has raised chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, and driven a team of oxen.


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7 Responses to Total Recall

  1. robin June 12, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Great idea!

  2. Jean Nick June 12, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Chemical companies have much deeper pockets…and have more legislators in them…than toy companies do. It is also much easier to get the masses excited about immediate, visible consequences — even just a few cases — than it is to get people interested in something they can’t see happen and that takes years or decades to manifest. I think we are moving towards an awakening though, keep up the good work!

  3. Dorina June 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    Great work! One day all your work will pay off.

  4. Kathleen June 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    I say buy organic and use organic garden products. If other people see you do this, they might think it’s the way things should be. You too can be an ad.

  5. Bonnie June 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Thanks! I often need some help when arguing with Hubby (and others) about pesticides. Your article will be kept on hand for just such purposes.

    Many years ago Hubby used Weed n Feed on a lawn and my favorite cat was ill had to have several surgeries and later died at a much earlier age than my other 2 cats. She had been out on the lawn before it rained. No proof, but that was my suspicion.

  6. John June 18, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    Thanks for the article – this leads to a pet peeve of mine – why do organic farmers have to crawl through a quagmire of legislation and paperwork just to prove that their produce is grown properly while none of this paperwork is required to lace our food with pesticides. If we decided that the ‘normal’ way of growing food was the way is has been grown from the dawn of agriculture until a couple of generations ago and we had to certify any food not grown this way, the burden of proof would then be on those not growing food organically rather than the perverse reverse situation we have found ourselves in.

  7. Marcus September 13, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Thanks for you tireless work in this arena. Some very good points were made in the article as well as in the responses. Sence the all powerful government agencies that make the rules for the agricultural industrie are headed ( in large part ) by leaders in the Ag and chemical companies there will always be a fight to achieve a more natural ( normal) path. The battle has to be fought with a bottom-up strategy. Buy organic, support organic producers and demand organic alternatives in our stores. Educate friends, neighbors and your community. This is a free market society and corporations have to sell what people will buy or fold.

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