2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's seminal work that sowed the seeds of the modern environmental movement. Its probe into the dangers of pesticides can be credited among other things with the ban, a decade later, of DDT.
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist who later become an environmental advisor to the Kennedy administration. Her work stood out for its solid scientific fundamentals and, apocalyptic thinking.
Her warnings are still incredibly relevant today. Organic pesticide-free agriculture is still the exception rather than the norm. Pesticide and insecticide use continues to rise* with a whole new class of chemicals. The rapid decline in bee populations has been largely attributed to neonicotinoid insecticides, which are used heavily in the UK as seed dressings on crops like maize. Studies show that even low doses - well below the ' safe' limits set by European governments can disrupt the behaviour of bees and other pollinating insects. The impact on plant life and the food chain could be catastrophic.
A parallel can be drawn in skincare, where this past month, safety of paraben preservatives has once again been revisited by the EU Scientific Committee which for a number of years has been declaring them safe in current permitted doses.
If Rachel Carson were alive today, she would probably be dismayed, but not surprised at the state of global governments' environmental policy. She knew that big industry calls the shots and would do for some time to come. The case for choosing organic food and products, meanwhile, has become all the more compelling.
*According to data from the Food and Environment Research Agency, use of insecticides on the percentage of crop areas treated rose by 86% on strawberries grown in the UK between 2005 and 2010.