We keep drugs and detergents out of the reach of children so that they don’t poison themselves. It is almost pointless: 130 other chemicals get inside their body everyday, chemicals that are undoubtedly harmful to human health. French documentary Toxic Chemicals: Kids in Danger asks where these substances come from and who profits from them.
The usual suspect, in the case of toxins, are pesticides. They are produced by six large companies – Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, Dow, Basf and Dupont – and the yearly turnover is 50 billion Euro. You can’t avoid them – 97% foods contain pesticides. When filmmakers took hair samples of twenty French children and had them analysed, they found traces of 40 pesticides in them. Their organisms contained glyphosate, folpet, fenoxycarb, chlorpyrifos and other substances.
Using a healthy dose of impudence French filmmakers around director Martin Boudot go to farms, to pesticide producing factories, even to a conference of Bayer shareholders and they ask the same question: How is it possible that you use substances that are harmful according to scientific studies? The reaction they get is often refusal or another popular tactics of corporate managers – disputing the competence of scientists and the validity of their studies and producing their own expert findings.
But say that to the parents of ailing children. According to scientists from The Endocrine Society there is a direct link between pesticides and the pandemic of autism. While in 1975 one in 5,000 babies was born autistic, today it’s one in 68. This ratio is higher than the number of new cases of cancer, diabetes and AIDS put together. In areas where pesticides are used on a massive scale, such as in Hawaii (all six mega-producers have large experimental fields there), there is not only a large occurrence of autism, but also large percentage of cancer, developmental disorders, leukaemia; a very rare disease gastroschisis, where the baby is born with intestines outside of the abdominal wall, has occurred in four cases in Hawaii.
And the solution? It’s rather depressing. When a referendum to ban pesticides was called in Hawaii, corporations poured millions of dollars into counter campaign. The proponents of the ban won nevertheless. But then the lawyers of the defeated quickly found a hitch and attacked the referendum’s applicability in relation to the relevant land. What seems like a correct legal dispute is in fact an effort not to establish a precedent – it is necessary to keep making money from poison!
France takes pride in the quality of its food. At the same time it is the third biggest pesticide buyer in the world. Should we be wary of wine for example from the Gironde area where you filmed farmers dressed in space suits sprinkling the field with folpet?
Many organizations have found traces of pesticides in French wines. Like this article from the New York Times reported in 2014. Furthermore, there is no maximum limit of pesticide in French wine, it’s actually one of the very few area where there is no limits. But these are only traces. The vinification system has actually some “good” consequences : it gets rid of certain pesticides and has a tendency to lower the pesticides levels. But consumers, especially French, are asking for more and more organic wines as time passes.
You mention certain improvements in the protection of citizens in your film, for example barriers around schools. What other possible means of health protection are there?
Actually these are very low security measures. France environmentalists are asking for “buffer zone” around sensitive areas like schools, hospital, kindergarden etc… In France there is a legislation forbidding spraying pesticides in case of high wind. But so far there is no special legislation regarding pesticides, like not spraying pesticides during school hours or the obligation to warn and inform he inhabitants before spraying.
You say that farmers are victims – they breathe “it”. Isn’t this a little bit hypocritical? Just as customers influence the quality of foods by the choices they make, so can farmers refuse to buy chemicals. Shouldn’t we press the farmers, who can choose more ecological methods, instead of the corporations?
When I say they are victims it’s because it’s true : the French social security recognizes the farmers as “professionally ill” because of some pesticides. No other person or community can be reimbursed in regard of their illness linked to pesticides. For example, officially, there is no cause-consequence for a kid with cancer that would grow up next to a field where there is spraying of pesticides that are carcinogenic. Only the farmers have this exception in France.
In France, the chamber of agriculture gave a lot of money to the farmers these last 50 years and told them to produce no matter what would be the ecological cost and the health consequence. Therefore, the farmer have been used to this kind of chemical agriculture: this is why I say that they also are victims of the system : they have really hard times having good money for their work and the put their health at risk at the same time.
Also during the investigation, we realized the farmers did not know what really was in the products they used nor the consequences on the health of children. This is why we emphasized on the role of corporations. But you are quite right: we need to influence their way of doing agriculture by choosing more and more responsible products.
Do you follow the situation in Hawaii? Has there been any solution to the democracy vs. money dispute since the shooting of the film?
Unfortunately, the situation has not really changed. A new complaint by environmentalist has been made saying that the Hawaiian law does not protect the people from Hawaii. The only positive thing is that the different trials made the corporation moved : they now declare on a website which chemical and which quantity they use. But it’s not mandatory and no one can verify.