Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide which has been sprayed on European farms for the past half century, despite a staggering weight of scientific evidence suggesting that exposure to the stuff dramatically reduces the IQ of children. It also kills greenfly and caterpillars, which is why farmers like it so much.
Unfortunately, chlorpyrifos survives on our spinach leaves, lettuce, potatoes and oranges. It is to be found in our kids’ urine, and in the umbilical cords of pregnant women.
Since 1965, evidence has been accumulating that this neurotoxin causes irreversible brain damage in youngsters, knocking 13 million points off the IQ of Europe’s children every year, and causing nearly 60,000 cases of mental deficiency.
The economic cost is estimated at 146 billion euros per year.
Chlorpyrifos is back in the news right now because, if Le Monde’s information is correct, the European Commission is considering a total ban on its use. Which is ironic, given that the commission has been avoiding a decision on this dangerous substance for the past two decades, accepting scientific evidence carefully selected and presented by the American manufacturer of the product, Dow Chemicals.
The EU’s pesticides database shows that the chemical is approved for use until the end of January, 2020.
Independent of Brussels, chlorpyrifos is banned by national governments in eight European countries at the moment. The French food safety agency has said the product poses no risks if used correctly. But they still felt it was wise to ban its use on all crops except spinach.
Professor Barbara Demeneix, a specialist in chemical interference with the human nervous system, has trouble understanding the French position: “Chlorpyrifos is a nerve poison,” she says in Le Monde, “it affects the way the thyroid gland functions, so it could have an impact on brain development.”
This chemical is from the same family as a nerve gas developed as a weapon during the Second World War. It kills creepy-crawlies by switching off a crucial transmitter in their central nervous system. Unfortunately, most animals, including us humans, make use of the same sort of nerve messenger.
The crucial chemicals come from the thyroid gland, which is known to play a massive part in the development of the brain of the unborn child. Too few of them and the baby will suffer intellectual damage.
Breaking our children's brains
In the United States, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest a link between autism and exposure to high levels of the chemical. The state of California has banned the stuff completely.
To quote a colourful passage from Le Monde: “The precise mechanisms are far from clearly understood, but there is no doubt that chlorpyrifos is housebreaking our children’s brains.”
So, where does the so-called scientific community stand in all this?
The short answer would seem to be, in the giant shadow cast by Dow.
Buying the judge, the jury and the courthouse
I say this because the Chlorpyrifos Task Force which is to advise the European Union on the advisability of future use of the chemical is run and financed by Dow. Worse, the country appointed to coordinate the inquiry is Spain, Europe’s top producer of citrus fruits. A series of tests in 2016 showed that 10 percent of Spanish fruit and vegetables contain traces of chlorpyrifos.
Dow’s documents come by the ton, are densely technical, and would defeat even the most ardent expert. Surprisingly, the latest volumes include references to only 131 studies of the toxicity of chlorpyrifos, that’s 13 percent of all available research on the subject. Those that are mentioned were financed by, you guessed it, Dow Chemicals! Not surprisingly, the results of the studies cited are broadly positive.
Only one piece of research which produced critical results is mentioned, and it is condemned by the Dow paymasters as inadequate, ill-informed and erroneous.
Two projects, financed by Dow but which showed a dramatic and dangerous thinning of the brain area called the cerebellum in lab rats exposed to chlorpyrifos, were omitted from the completed submission.
In simple terms, the European health authorities have based all their recent decisions on this chemical on an out-dated, biased and contradictory document produced and financed by the producer of the chemical in question.
The EU will make its decision on the future of chlorpyrifos in the next few months. Le Monde says Dow will spend 1.5 million dollars in lobbying deputies this year.