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Farm Babe: How anti-pesticide activists are making people sick


Pesticides can literally save lives.

Now that sounds silly, right? Everyone knows that by not spraying, we are doing the environment and our health a favor, right?

Well, not necessarily.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) is an organic-industry sponsored lobbyist group that is spending big bucks and time to fight against agrochemicals in Hawaii. This doesn’t sound too bad on the surface, right? We all care about the planet and want to use the least amount of chemicals.

This is a common ground. No farmer wants to use chemicals if they don’t have to. They’re expensive and time-consuming to apply, and there are preventive measures that can be taken to minimize their use.

Farmers know this. They understand this, but sometimes they are a very necessary feat to protect their crop, but more importantly, the people. It’s ironic that CFS preaches “food safety,” yet their ideology can be anything but. As an anti-GMO organic-industry sponsored lobbying group, not only do they spread point blank lies about GMOs and farming in general, but they also fail to mention that organic farms use chemicals, too. Regardless of marketing label, our food is held to very strict safety standards. There are actually certain chemical pesticides that cross over, whether crops are organic or not, like sulphur or Sluggo insecticide.

Sluggo. A very benign granular insecticide, available at any Home Depot or Walmart.

Why do I bring up Sluggo? It is a product that kills slugs and snails.

In Hawaii especially, there is currently a very serious disease that is being passed around through rats and slugs called rat lungworm disease. Basically what happens is snails and slugs eat infected rat feces, rats eat snails and slugs, the worms live in the rats, before being transmitted through the rat feces, only to be eaten by more snails. It is a vicious cycle.

Eventually these infected slugs and snails can make their way to produce, particularly green leafy vegetables. If humans eat these vegetables they can become infected, and it can cause paralysis, coma, meningitis, and, in extreme instances, death. Sometimes when snails and slugs are young, they can be translucent and very tiny and difficult to see. Of course you should make sure you’re buying from a reputable place and not always out of someone’s backyard garden if proper food safety measures and cleanliness aren’t in place, but always wash your produce.

This is what is so dangerous. When activist groups chime in and try to stop farmers from using agrochemicals, it can literally be a matter of life or death for some. CFS claims that pesticide free food is healthier, but in the case of diseases like this, that is definitely not the case. Everything your typical farmer does is for a good reason.

According to the Hawaii Health Information Corp., instances of rat lungworm have spiked. Jon Martell, the medical director at Hilo medical center, where most of Hawaii’s rat lungworm sufferers are treated, has seen his caseload double in the past two years. He believes that the situation is more serious than it seems, since the parasite is not widely known among doctors and is difficult to detect.

Rat lungworm has likely been in Hawaii for hundreds of years, and researchers believe it was originally brought over by Polynesian ships. Hawaii is sometimes a “hub” for produce that gets shipped from Asia. Produce is always inspected, and occasionally rejected if it doesn’t meet food safety standards. Although the chance of risk is quite small, it is still something we shouldn’t take lightly, and a few cases of rat lungworm have been diagnosed in the continental lower 48 states. Unlike a lot of the 48 states, Hawaii is a very tropical climate, so it doesn’t get the harsh winters like ice and snow that kill a lot of things off.

As these cases of rat lungworm have become more prevalent, it has really done some damage to the local farmers of Hawaii. People are scared to eat local produce. Some folks won’t eat raw salad, and will only eat veggies that have been cooked. This fearmongering, and diseases could be eradicated if people washed their produce, allowed farmers to do their jobs, and trust them, and not always buy into the whole “organic chemical free” produce marketing and activism.

CFS has remained quiet during all of this.

We have to listen to the science. We have to listen to the researchers. The farmers, the experts. Not the activists.

For some people, it may sound crazy to hear that pesticides should sometimes be celebrated. This is why it’s so important to let farmers do their jobs and do them well. Trust the research — the science behind entomology, agriculture, food safety, etc. Your health may depend on it.


Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

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