We can eat as much kale as our palates can withstand but if it’s grown in chemicalized soil, doused with chemical rain and chemical irrigation, breathing chemical air as its tiny leaves unfurl, sprayed with chemicals, rinsed in chemical water, wrapped in plastics, exposed to car and truck exhaust on its way to a fume-laden loading dock, handled with plastic gloves, carried home in more plastic, and cooked in tainted water, well, how good is it for us?
There is no such thing as clean or pristine food. Organic food breathes the same air and drinks the same water as non-organic food. We have chemicalized the environment; our diets have been chemicalized.
Chemical Pollution Has Passed Safe Limit For Humanity, Say Scientists, The Guardian, 18 January 2022
The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends, scientists have said.
Plastics are of particularly high concern, they said, along with 350,000 synthetic chemicals including pesticides, industrial compounds and antibiotics. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and some toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, are long-lasting and widespread.
Chemical pollution threatens Earth’s systems by damaging the biological and physical processes that underpin all life. For example, pesticides wipe out many non-target insects, which are fundamental to all ecosystems and, therefore, to the provision of clean air, water and food.
“There has been a fiftyfold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is projected to triple again by 2050,” said Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) who was part of the study team. “The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.”
Determining whether chemical pollution has crossed a planetary boundary is complex because there is no pre-human baseline, unlike with the climate crisis and the pre-industrial level of CO2 in the atmosphere. There are also a huge number of chemical compounds registered for use – about 350,000 – and only a tiny fraction of these have been assessed for safety.
“There’s evidence that things are pointing in the wrong direction every step of the way,” said Prof Bethanie Carney Almroth at the University of Gothenburg who was part of the team. “For example, the total mass of plastics now exceeds the total mass of all living mammals.”
The researchers said stronger regulation was needed and in the future a fixed cap on chemical production and release, in the same way carbon targets aim to end greenhouse gas emissions. Their study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.*
Prof Sir Ian Boyd at the University of St Andrews, who was not part of the study, said: “The rise of the chemical burden in the environment is diffuse and insidious. Even if the toxic effects of individual chemicals can be hard to detect, this does not mean that the aggregate effect is likely to be insignificant.
The food we’re eating right now is going to be considered “clean” 50 years from now. Our descendants will long for the good ole days when people (us) enjoyed their chemicalized kale that was grown in SOIL.
* Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities, Environmental Science and Technology, 18 Janaury 2022