I read somewhere that babies were being born nowadays with
a number of man-made chemicals detected in their bloodstreams.
This is pretty scary. How could it be?
-- Sandra McGregor, Portland, OR
Burden," a 2005 study by the non-profit Environmental
Working Group (EWG), found that American babies are born with
hundreds of chemical contaminants in their bloodstreams. The
findings are based on tests of samples of umbilical-cord blood
taken by the American Red Cross from 10 babies, located in
different part of the U.S., that were born in August and September
of 2004. The most prevalent chemicals found in the newborns
were mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical
"Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical-cord blood,
we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are
toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth
defects or abnormal development in animal tests," the
In the month leading up to a baby's birth, the umbilical cord
pulses with the equivalent of at least 300 quarts of blood
each day, pumped back and forth from the nutrient- and oxygen-rich
placenta to the rapidly growing baby cradled in a sac of amniotic
fluid. This cord is a lifeline between mother and baby, bearing
nutrients that sustain life and propel growth.
Not long ago scientists thought that the placenta shielded
cord blood--and the developing baby--from most chemicals and
pollutants in the environment. But the results of EWG's study
show otherwise. "Now we know that at this critical time
when organs, vessels, membranes and systems are knit together
from single cells to finished form in a span of weeks, the
umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life,
but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants
and pesticides that cross the placenta as readily as residues
from cigarettes and alcohol," the report said.
"These 10 newborn babies ... were born polluted,"
said House Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York, who is leading
the charge in Congress to hold chemical producers more accountable
to higher standards. "If ever we had proof that our nation's
pollution laws aren't working, it's reading the list of industrial
chemicals in the bodies of babies who have not yet lived outside
the womb," Slaughter added.
Slaughter also had similar tests done on her own blood, which
she found to contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that
were banned decades ago as well as chemicals like Teflon that
are currently under federal investigation. "I have auto
exhaust fumes, flame retardant chemicals, and in all, some
271 harmful substances pulsing through my veins," she
said. "That's hardly the picture of health I had hoped
for, but I've been living in an industrial society for more
than 70 years."
CONTACT: EWG Body Burden Report, www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/.
Is it true that livestock grazing is harmful to the environment?
-- Paul Howe, Athol, MA
and environmental experts view livestock grazing as an ecological
disaster. For starters, cows and sheep are indiscriminate
eaters and tend to remove every piece of grass and shrub in
sight, thus eliminating shelter and food for birds and other
wildlife, leading to their decline. In drier regions, landscape
used extensively and repeatedly for grazing eventually turns
into barren wasteland not even suitable for the livestock
themselves. Further, the significant amounts of waste that
livestock animals leave behind play a key role in the pollution
of our freshwater supplies.
Today, cattle and
sheep ranchers lease roughly 300 million acres of public land
in 11 western U.S. states. George Wuerthner and Mollie Matteson,
in their book Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction
of the American West (Island Press), document the enormous
destruction caused by livestock grazing: "The combined
area is as large as the entire Eastern Seaboard from Maine
to Florida, with Missouri thrown in," they report. Indeed,
as much as 90 percent of Bureau of Land Management land and
69 percent of U.S. Forest Service land is leased to livestock
producers. Federally leased public land includes numerous
national parks, wildlife refuges and other nature preserves.
Welfare Ranching charges that livestock ranchers are heavily
subsidized with tax dollars, routinely leasing public lands
for grazing at well-below market prices. They cite the fact
that the federal grazing fee is "often eight to 10 times
lower than fees charged on comparable private grazing land."
In addition to dirt-cheap grazing fees, livestock ranchers
are also the beneficiaries of low-interest farm loans, and
taxpayers support them with emergency bailouts and other state
and federally funded programs.
Stephen Leckie of Canada's International Development Research
Centre (IDRC) says the problem is not limited to the U.S.
He cites a 1997 report by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) showing that 20 percent of the world's
land is used for grazing, while only around 10 percent is
devoted to growing crops. In Central America, for example,
more than a third of the forests have been cut since the 1960s,
while pastureland has increased by 50 percent. Meanwhile,
in India, free-roaming cattle and goats pose a serious threat
to tiger reserves and national parks, and are jeopardizing
re-forestation efforts (by eating young shoots of new plants)
that are trying to help mitigate global warming.
Vegetarians have long insisted that raising livestock is one
of the least efficient ways to feed people. FAO research,
for example, indicates that farm animals are extremely inefficient
converters of plants to edible flesh. Studies show that livestock
in North America are fed about six times as much corn and
other crops as the amount of edible meat they produce. Meanwhile,
Overseas Development Council analysts estimate that if North
Americans were to reduce their meat consumption by just 10
percent, it would free up 12 million tons of grain annually
for humans to eat. And a study by the non-profit Worldwatch
Institute found that one pound of steak from steer raised
in feedlots costs five pounds of grain, 2,500 gallons of water,
the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and about 35
pounds of eroded topsoil.
CONTACTS: FAO, www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0603sp2.htm;