UNITY— Over one billion pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. every year, and about 5.6 billion pounds worldwide.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about 50 million Americans get their drinking water from sources that are contaminated with pesticides. Cancers are on the rise and 39% of men and women in the U.S expect to get cancer in their lifetimes.

Those were just some of the statistics cited Saturday by Carey Gillam, author, investigative journalist and research director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative research group that focuses on the food industry.

“That just seems outrageous to me,” Gillam said. “That doesn’t bode well for my children or your children.”

Gilliam, of Overland Park, Kansas, was speaking at the 43rd Common Ground Country Fair in Unity which typically draws about 60,000 visitors over a three-day run. The fair is hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Author of the book “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,” Gillam  spent more than 30 years as a journalist for Reuters, an international news organization, covering floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, riots, shootings and other events. But she said she has spent most of her time, especially over the last 20 years, with farmers and visiting hundreds of farm fields in places such as Florida, North Dakota and Texas. As part of her work, she also speaks with top executives from companies such as Monsanto, which produces the weed killer, Roundup, as well as soil, plant and weed scientists.

What all that has led Gillam to feel, she said, is a “profound sense of dread.”

“We have created a huge problem for our future generations,” she said.

More than 100 fairgoers stood or sat on benches or hay bales to listen to Gillam speak in an area known as The Common.

“We have a pesticide-dependent food production system,” she said.

Companies that produce pesticides have convinced policy makers to focus on the rewards and the profits that result from such pesticides, instead of on the environment and the health of people, according to Gillam. She said health experts around the world say that pesticides are related to a lot of health problems including neurological issues, cancers and liver disease.

Yet policies in Washington continue to benefit the corporations, regulations are being slashed and pharmaceutical companies are making it sound as if “we should live with cancer, we should drug ourselves to feel better with cancer,” according to Gillam.

“It doesn’t seem like the right message, but that’s the message we’re getting, over and over and over again,” she said.

Gillam said 450 pesticides are used in agriculture and they are in our food and water. Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide is used in farming, sprayed on wheat, oats, barley, corn, soybeans and the like, and more than 18,000 people have filed lawsuits against the company, alleging it knew about the risks associated with the herbicide and hid those risks, according to Gillam.

“Jurors have awarded $2 billion in damages — mostly punitive damages,” she said.

Gillam said her book, “Whitewash…,” is not easy to read.

“It’s not a feel-good story, but it’s one that has to be told and I thank you for letting me tell it today,” she said.

She received a standing ovation for her speech.

Michael Crespi, of New Sharon, who was in the audience, said after her talk that there were no surprises.

“It’s just a reiteration of all Rachel Carson was talking about long ago about the horrific power of money over sanity, really,” Crespi said.

Like Carson, people try to discredit Gillam for her insights gleaned from extensive research and investigation, according to Crespi. It doesn’t seem to matter who is president or in control of policy, the large corporations have run their agendas successfully since the beginning, he said.

“It’s an age-old story,” he said.

Elsewhere on the fairgrounds, crowds watched livestock events, perused craft tents, bought produce from multiple farmers markets and dined on everything from Italian sausage to tofu fries and crabmeat rolls. Strawberry shortcake, baked potatoes, miso soup, chai tea, hot and cold cider, carrot juice and lemonade also were popular.

Fair Director April Boucher said 17,315 attendees entered the gates on Friday — about 135 more than the Friday last year.

“The weather was absolutely gorgeous, mid-70s, sunny to partly cloudy,” she said. “We had a great turnout. Yesterday was also our youth day. Over 3,000 youth, school-age children, enjoyed the fair and did activities and really got in touch with agriculture and traditional skills and also got to have a whole lot of fun, too.”

Boucher, the fair director for six years who has been at MOFGA a total of 12 years, said fair officials try to encourage people to ride their bicycles to the fair and last year, about 400 people did that.

“We’d love to increase that number and have more people biking to the fair,” she said.

The weather Saturday was in the 70s, warm, with a slight breeze. Boucher said people were excited to have bean hole beans back at the fair, to be served at noon Saturday and Sunday in the folk arts area.

On Saturday, vendors sold maple syrup, balsam fir products, artwork, pottery, jewelry, clothing, seeds, trees, tools, herbs and other items. Musicians played instruments, people took part in contradances and children, sitting or lying on large pieces of cardboard, slid down a hill of straw.

Mary Johnson, who lives in both Arizona and Michigan, was sitting at a picnic table in The Common area of the fair.

It was her first time at the fair and she said she learned about it from someone at a neighboring campsite.

“I think it’s home-grown and I like that,” Johnson said. “I’ve really gone around to see the crafts and the gardening things. The weather’s perfect. I think that I like the way that people are re-looking at traditional arts and lifestyles and considering their health and the health of the community.”

The fair opens at 9 a.m. Sunday for the third and final day of the season, and closes at 5 p.m. Those wanting more information may go to mofga.org.

 

 

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