Toxins and Food Politics

Amanda Armstrong

In their article "Farm Chemicals Said Vital," Marge Davenport, a journal medical writer for the Oregon Journal, discusses the debates surrounding the ongoing use of pesticides and insecticides in the agricultural sector, as discussed during the August 1969 symposium at Oregon State University. Attendees, including Kenneth Walker, then deputy administrator of agriculture research for the USDA, expressed a general consensus that the continued use of pesticides was necessary for sustaining global food production. However, they emphasized that the primary objective should be the development of pest-resistant crops rather than solely relying on pesticides. Public health officials present at the symposium stressed the importance of continued pesticide use, particularly DDT, in preventing malaria and other vector-borne diseases, while also highlighting the necessity for further research to assess the subtle effects of "low-level exposure to pesticide residue" on American consumers.

Pesticides played a crucial role in sustaining the nation's agriculture industry, which, at the time, was the largest industrial sector generating an annual revenue of $284 billion. They safeguarded crops against damage caused by pests and other potential diseases that also posed harm to humans and other living beings. Additionally, the article discusses California's initiatives to restrict DDT usage in specific commodity crops cultivated within the state's extensive and robust agriculture industry. To add further context and historicize this document, Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking Silent Spring had been released seven years prior and shed light to the environmental and anthropogenic health concerns that pesticide and DDT use posed and increased public awareness. Moreover, this article was written during the Delano Grape Strike in California, where migrant farmworkers struck the farms that they had worked on to demand improved wages and living and working conditions. I am curious if the occupational health hazards that DDT and other pesticide use posed was central in the United Farm Workers’ strike demands and if there is any direct correlation with the ongoing strike and California’s pesticide regulations in the late 60s. I did do a little research and found this site that shared that Dolores Huerta, one of the founders of the UFW, was essential in banning the use of DDT in California grape and lettuce ranches in the 1980s.