Pesticide exposure in conventional banana farming increases risk of cancer for farmers, farmworkers

farmworker standing in field in tropicsBananas are one of the most popular fruits imported from tropical regions across the world, and industrialized conventional monocultures of bananas are notorious for their extensive use of pesticides, often under poorly regulated conditions. A new study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that indeed, farmers and laborers who work in conventional banana plantations exhibit up to 80% more genetic anomalies that indicate cancer risk than those who worked on “ecological” or organic farms managed without pesticides. When chemical compounds damage genetic material in a cell, it causes mutations. These mutations provide a biological indicator of a response to chemical exposure that can lead to cancer. This study compared genetic mutations in farmers and farmworkers from conventional versus “ecological” or organic banana plantations in Ecuador, and found that micronuclei in conventional farmers and farmworkers increased 2.6-fold, while other genetic anomalies increased 24% to 80%. The results demonstrate that farming without the use of pesticides not only decreases pesticide exposure, but can significantly reduce cancer risk for those who work in those plantations. The authors make a call for more regulatory measures and more education regarding safe use and handling of pesticides in conventional banana production.