I'm very glad that the authors have kindly allowed us to publish excerpts of the speech, as it appears in the book, and particularly that Schlosser, longtime Atlantic contributing editor, who expanded his introduction with the collaboration of Will Allen, of Growing Power, gave his permission to his extremely strong remarks, which appear as an afterword in the book. --Corby Kummer
* * *
For years Prince Charles has challenged the assumptions of industrial agriculture and criticized the behavior of large agribusiness firms. He's been one of the few world leaders brave enough to say -- publicly, not just privately -- that the current system is unsustainable. In return for that honesty the Prince has been attacked on many occasions by defenders of the status quo. Why should anyone, his accusers ask, listen to what Prince Charles has to say about agriculture? That question has a simple answer: The Prince knows what he's talking about. His criticisms of how we grow, process, and distribute food are right on the mark. And his proposals are sound. The personal attacks on Prince Charles have served to divert attention from the real issue: Our agricultural practices are causing tremendous harm.
As Americans raised in different states and different circumstances but united by a belief that change must come, we want to reform the nation's current system of food production. It is overly centralized and industrialized, overly controlled by a handful of companies, overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, and fossil fuels. Its low prices are an illusion. The real costs are much too high, and they are being imposed on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the United States.
Organic food, for example, isn't just better for the soil and the land. It's better for the human beings who work the land. There is some scientific debate about the health effects of pesticide residues, at minute levels, in food. But there's no debate about the effects of pesticide exposure upon the 1 to 2 million migrant farm workers who harvest America's fruits and vegetables by hand. For them, the need for organic food isn't an academic issue. It is literally a matter of life or death.
Pesticides are poisons. They have been carefully designed to kill insects, weeds, funguses, and rodents. But they can also kill human beings. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that every year, 10,000 to 20,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning on the job -- and that's a conservative estimate. Farm workers, their children, and the rural communities where they live are routinely exposed to these toxic chemicals. And what are the potential, long-term harms of the pesticides now being sprayed on our crops? Brain damage, lung damage, cancers of the breast, colon, lung, pancreas, and kidney, birth defects, sterility, and other ailments.