It’s 50 years since US author Rachel Carson wrote her groundbreaking book Silent Spring, an expose on the dangerous impact of pesticides used in farming on wildlife and our own health.
At the time she was ridiculed, hounded and unfairly criticised. But in the end her message proved too strong and has been widely credited for the US ban on the pesticide DDT.
As environmentalists applaud her legacy, an interesting question to ask is, if she was still alive today what subject would she be writing about it? What environmental issue is being underplayed or ignored by policymakers and industry?
Despite the success of her book, the overuse and misuse of pesticides around the world is still a major problem. In a disturbing report on pesticide use in China
, a local environmental official explained that "if the guidelines say to use one bottle cap’s worth of pesticide, the farmers will use three, just to be sure
In 2010, a report from the US president’s Cancer Panel
said the number of cancers caused by our growing exposure to environmental toxins had been "grossly underestimated". Biologist Sandra Steingraber
who produced a film on the issue, still says there’s a "taboo about telling industry and agriculture that practices must change to prevent cancer".
In terms of human health, there are also growing concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture and human health. Health experts fear that some types of intensive farming (seen as essential for increasing meat consumption), particularly pig and poultry units, have become too dependent on sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics designed to promote animal growth. The result is the spread of antibiotic-resistance and potentially, new superbugs that are untreatable with existing antibiotics.
The failure of the major polluting countries to agree to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change is probably the biggest silence of all.