CAROLINA COSITORE: Where in the World is it (relatively) Safe to Eat?

When Monsanto lost its appeal of California State Supreme Court’s July 2017 decision listing glyphosate as a cancer-causing chemical, not only did California cause Monsanto a giant headache but also that summer two more states, Arkansas and Missouri, banned glyphosate’s replacement—the Monsanto-manufactured weed killer dicamba, which kills crops not genetically engineered to be “dicamba ready.” More than the economic concern, exposure to the toxic pesticide dicamba can cause loss of appetite, vomiting, muscle weakness, slowed heart rate, and shortness of breath. The Missouri ban is especially noteworthy, as Monsanto is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

Globally, environmental and health organizations have long been lobbying, protesting, and organizing to ban glyphosate, among other dangerous chemicals. In the face of the U.N. World Health Organization’s finding that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen for humans and animals, Monsanto has been fighting hard to overturn that decision.

Lists of countries standing up to Monsanto and banning glyphosate change frequently. As of publication, only seven countries ban both the use of glyphosate and the importing of products grown with it, with a few of those doing so only partially. Only seven countries, in the whole world? Before revealing these “good guys” of the anti-pesticide world, here is an overview of a large chunk of our world taken, to date, from watchdog organizations. …

Cuba. With Cuba’s well-deserved reputation for prioritizing the health of its people, progressives should ask, “Why isn’t Cuba banning glyphosate and GMOs? Or is it?” The entire populace of the island had been engaged in a countrywide discussion of whether to continue to ban the planting of genetically engineered crops and the consequent pesticides required for them to grow. In a pamphlet written twenty-five years ago titled, “The Struggle for Ecological Agriculture in Cuba,” biologist and public health expert Richard Levins addresses those themes. Levins, who worked for many years establish­ing experimental and pesticide-free farms in Cuba, examined Cuban agricul­ture with an eye toward Cuba’s novel and sometimes “alternative” ways of approaching the question of pesticides: “We know from the dismal environ­mental conditions of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that socialism is certainly no guarantee of ecological approaches, and that the advantages of social planning can be overwhelmed by other factors. Indeed, they were overwhelmed in Cuba, also, during the first decades of the revolution.”

However, Cuba’s socialist organization of production and decision-making, Levins contended, are not held hostage to strong commercial interests in manufacturing, selling, and applying pesticides. “Unlike other countries, Cuban government officials do not invest in the import business, nor do they have other personal economic interests in purchasing pesticides,” Levins wrote.

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