Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins are Making Our Children Chronically Ill
By Philip and Alice Shabecoff
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010
Healthy people depend on healthy animals and produce. Healthy animals and produce depend on healthy soils. Healthy soils depend on healthy air, earth, and water. Unfortunately, America’s earth, wind and water supplies are none too wholesome. Monolithic corporations protected by U.S. government policies and aided and abetted by average consumers who purchase their ephemeral artifacts—as well as invest in these companies via stocks and bonds—are all together culpable for this sorry status quo.
The millions of consumer goods that clutter our lives are manufactured using a vast array of complex chemicals invented, patented and produced over the past century. These chemicals are now found in abundance in the nation’s air, soil and water. From the seemingly pristine organic orchard to the fully pastured livestock operation, no farm, lake, stream or infant can escape their touch. Industrial, agricultural and pharmaceutical chemicals drench the globe, from the heartland to the Arctic, with staggering dangers to our health and that of our children.
While the mega-companies who make these chemicals defend their safety and necessity with sophisticated, politically correct PR, the people most closely exposed to them and those who fight bravely to reveal the truth about them tell a far different story. The sobering reality includes ground water contaminated with tritium, a nuclear isotope; well water tainted with trichloroethylene (TCE), which is implicated in various cancers and birth defects; tap water sullied with dozens of partially metabolized pharmaceuticals and hundreds of other industrial-chemical residues, all with effects almost impossible to know or predict.
As the Shabecoffs see it, we have become ruthlessly destructive and short sighted in the care of the precious resources and beauty of the world around us, sullying and staining everything we touch, and maiming others for our own transient comforts and conveniences. It is a grim picture.
While the Shabecoffs do an excellent job in revealing the ways corporate interests have usurped government agencies and scientific foundations to further their own gain, such as USDA and FDA, some of their call for change would merely prop up the same broken system: gather greater political pressure; give the government more power to regulate; just get them to do the right thing this time. For those familiar with the government’s handling of numerous other issues, especially regarding real foods like real milk, such calls will rightly be met with disdain and opposition.
Many point to the fact that the federal government is a major contributor to much of global poisoning. As one of the world’s greatest polluters and killers, the U.S. Department of Defense is the number one polluter in the world alone. The federal government protects polluters and corporations via various regulations that actually permit them to pollute. By regulating markets so heavily in the first place and creating so many barriers to entry and innovation for new companies these policies protect large companies from any real competition that would force them to curtail their polluting practices to stay competitive.
The same laws have whittled away citizens’ rights to sue companies when harm occurs (for example, the recent Supreme Court ruling on vaccine injury). For instance, enacting a law that encompasses the precautionary principle could easily keep more toxic chemicals in use longer by handicapping small, innovative firms with testing requirements that they can’t afford or that are used by regulators to protect their corporate sponsors.
We have seen this happen in the natural foods industry: unsafe items are given GRAS status, while traditional foods or new truly natural items are regarded with suspicion and heavy testing burdens. Free markets and capitalism are yet again blamed for current woes where neither free markets nor real capitalism actually exists, similar to the media’s treatment of the ongoing financial crisis. The belief that government acts as a benign savior intervening to protect the average person from the cruelties of capitalism has been contradicted by decades of contrary fact. The negative view of corporations, fully warranted in the case of the many evil institutions that now manipulate our political system and maim our world and its inhabitants, nevertheless ignores the complexity of the history and issues involved.
Political action is surely necessary and unavoidable, but the kind of action that is taken, who is empowered and protected, and a whole host of interrelated issues cannot be boiled down simply to more government involvement and power. All of this points to a more fundamental ideological commitment the authors have, which undermines some of their effort to position themselves as non-partisan and non-political, and may lessen the impact of their work by turning away possible allies.
The calls for personal action at the family and community level are sensible and surely needed. We all can do more, both in our homes and in our communities, to address these problems. “Clean food,” as they call it, is a must for everyone young and old, and especially for those who want to conceive. People have tremendous power over companies by voting with their dollars, both at the store and in the investment portfolio. Communities have the ability to block or ban CAFOs, pesticide usage, and more, if citizens have the willpower and winsomeness to engage and educate their neighbors as well as endure the hard battles that will result from such efforts. Those who love real, traditional foods (especially fats, which have a special affinity for toxins and dangerous chemicals that accumulate in them) and value their purity and healing powers cannot overlook this facet of the health equation and their need to be a part of the solution.
The book comes replete with a large section of helpful links to dozens of other organizations, websites, and resources for understanding and fighting against community destruction, and a bibliography that will allow the reader to pursue more information on a wide variety of topics.
The solutions to these problems and even the existence of the problems themselves will continue to be debated. For those who desire nutrient dense, clean foods, however, Poisoned for Profit serves as a reminder that these treasures are not possible apart from a clean world, and a clean world hinges in many ways on the decisions each of us makes on a daily basis. This includes not only decisions about the food we eat, but the products we purchase, the homes we live in, the places we work, the ways we live and play, how we invest in the future, and our general manner of interacting with all of creation. Even in the midst of political gridlock and corruption, there is much that can be done by each of us in each of these areas to bring about lasting change. May we make and leave wise traditions for our families and communities to follow and encourage others to do likewise.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2011.