The Baby Boom generation holds a lot of distinctions, but one you may not have thought about is this: Baby Boomers are the first generation to grow up eating food treated with pesticides. Synthetic chemical pesticides were introduced in the 1940s, when our nation needed to produce more food to feed the post-war babies. Pesticides protected crops from harmful bugs and plant diseases. Their use by farmers helped ensure both the quality and quantity of the food supply.
Those early pesticides have been greatly improved. Crop protection chemicals now used by farmers are safer and degrade much more quickly in the environment. Yet environmental activist groups continue to attack pesticide use. Lately, the rhetoric has become more reckless and desperate.
If pesticides are as harmful to human health as the Environmental Working Group and Consumers Union would have you believe, then there ought to be plenty of proof of this in the Baby Boom generation, which has lived 50 years with pesticide-treated food. If what they say is true–that millions of children today are exposed to unsafe levels of pesticides in fruit and vegetables–then those of us who are Baby Boomers would have had our lives shortened or suffered all kinds of serious illnesses.
The facts say otherwise. Global life expectancy has grown more in the last 50 years than over the previous 5,000 years. A recent major study found that 70 percent of midlife adults consider their health to be excellent. These are the people who grew up eating fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides. If anything, pesticides have contributed to the good health and longevity of Americans. They’ve made it possible for us to eat a healthy diet, one with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Still smarting over the bad exposure they got years ago for the Alar scare, activist groups have again attacked apples with full-page newspaper ads intended to alarm parents and pressure the Environmental Protection Agency as it implements a new food safety law. The Environmental Working Group claims that some apples are so toxic that one bite can deliver an unsafe dose of pesticides to a small child. The proof is only in their manipulation of data. No leading medical groups or scientific bodies concur with their findings.
Many Baby Boomers carried an apple every day to school in their lunchbox. As babies, they ate apple sauce and drank apple juice. They are now the healthiest group of middle-aged adults that has ever lived. Did the use of pesticides on food crops hurt them? Ask them in another 50 years, when an amazing number of them reach 100.
Stewart Truelsen is the director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation. This essay first appeared in the March 8 issue of Focus on Agriculture, a Farm Bureau publication.