‘Shift in attitudes’ but environmental issues remain 50 years after Silent Spring published

Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published.

The book helped bring attention to the dangers and an end to the widespread use of using dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane — better know as the insecticide DDT — and other chemicals in growing food. It also helped launch the modern environmental movement.

Perceptions and actions have begun to change, but more needs to be done, author and Environmental Defence executive director Dr. Rick Smith says.

“There has been a shift in attitudes towards environmental issues in the world,” he said. “Organic food sales have gone up 9.5 per cent, double that of consumer food sales. There is hard evidence that organic food works.”

Smith spoke at an event held at the University of Toronto on Sept. 24 to mark Silent Spring’s anniversary.  The event included a discussion about current problems with industrial farming and the use of chemicals in everyday products.

“Many people would be shocked to learn that 15 chemicals — including PCBs, phthalates, arsenic, dioxin and mercury — can be found in the cord blood of a newborn baby,” said Smith, co-author of the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck.

The problem with industrial farming is not just the harmful chemicals that are used, Smith said, but that it also leads to less variety of food and the destruction of top soil.

“Studies show that 95 per cent of what we eat comes from only 30 varieties of plants,” he said. “We have lost 97 per cent of vegetable varieties since 1900. Industrial farming also causes soil fertility decline and water fertility decline.”

Still, Smith remains hopeful.

“I’m optimistic,” he said, but added there’s more to be done.

“It is important to put pressure on the government to ensure that companies are not allowed to sell products or use chemicals in farming until they can prove that it does not harm people or the environment,” he said.