However, there is mounting evidence of the harm glyphosate-based herbicides do, and concern has been expressed that their toxic effects have been underestimated or played down by the agrochemical industry and international regulators.
When DDT was launched in the 1940s in the aftermath of the Second World War, it was also said to be "safe to eat", and an entomologist trying to sell it to an African tribe apparently gave a practical demonstration of this ill-founded assumption. Watch the clip from the 1946 selling campaign on Youtube. Horrors. The poison is sprayed liberally into the air and on the ground with local tribespeople sitting close to the action. No-one has a protective mask or clothing. The pictures of the entomologist eating his DDT-laced porridge are beyond belief, although the scene may have been staged without the actual poison for the sake of filming. If it really happened, it would be interesting to know what happened to the protagonist later in his life. Unnervingly, the whole film, 'DDT versus Malaria', (viewable on the Wellcome Library), is an unashamed, contrived piece of propaganda for the DDT programme against malaria in Kenya, with the tribe eventually accepting the spraying of their homes, and the prime opponent of the programme being taught his lesson when his child falls ill 'after the malaria epidemic is over'. But the tribal members and their chief who are depicted as initially rejecting the poison were proved right in the long term. DDT was banned from production in the United States in 1972, and banned from agricultural use worldwide through the Stockholm Convention of 2001, with the provviso that it could still be used under controlled conditions against malarial mosquitoes, although alternative methods for combating them have been proposed in order to eliminate the use of DDT.
DDT is still around and in the food chain, despite the bans all those years ago. No doubt glyphosate herbicides will be banned in due time - probably when the manufacturers ahve a substitute they can sell as 'safer'. How much damage do pesticides have to cause to the environment and human health before they are totally withdrawn, or at least strictly controlled? Or do we really have to keep repeating the cycle of waiting thirty-odd years for the manufacturers to develop new poisons to replace them, with new reassurances that this time these really are safe to ingest, and so on and so on, ad infinitum?
© Vivian Grisogono 2014