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Agrochemicals around the globe

(article, Culinate staff)

A month ago, New Yorker science writer Elizabeth Kolbert wrote a book review about population growth that began with a history of modern agrochemicals. The Germans, it turns out, came up with a way to synthesize nitrogen fertilizer literally out of thin air, transforming 20th-century farming (and, incidentally, 20th-century warfare, with its nitrogen-dependent explosives). As Kolbert poetically put it:

bq. It’s been estimated that almost half of the world’s current population subsists on crops grown with the output of the Haber-Bosch process. These people — who may well include you and me — are eating bread made of air, and so, in a sense, are made of air as well.

Around the same time, the Associated Press covered a different agrochemical story, about the increasing use of pesticides in Argentina and a concomitant rise in health problems. The anecdotes of people falling ill and dying from pesticide overexposure are sadly familiar; they're the same sorts of stories we've heard since Rachel Carson began telling them half a century ago in Silent Spring.

And a month before that AP story ran, the New York Times reported on the health problems suffered by people in the U.S. whose water had been contaminated by agricultural runoff — sometimes manure from farm animals, sometimes fertilizers and other chemicals, sometimes both. The accompanying slideshow shows both cows and children playing in a pool — shades of '"Erin