Is Our Sexuality (and our Future) at Stake? Maria Rodale’s take on the impact of Atrazine

Maria Rodale’s main concerns are healing the planet, feeding the world, and keeping us safe. She is a third generation family owner and CEO of Rodale Inc., a publishing company that has played a key role in the growth of the American organic movement. She is also an author; her most recent book, Organic Manifesto, is a handbook to all things organic. She speaks below about atrazine and it’s impact on our health. You can read her interview with Women Of Green here, where she talks about misconceptions, the South Beach Diet, and the changing landscape of organics in the United States.

There are certain things I didn’t dwell on too much in my new book, Organic Manifesto—partly because I didn’t have quite enough evidence, and partly because they’re so uncomfortable to think and talk about that I didn’t want to overwhelm people. But there are some things I’ve learned in new studies since my book went to press, and these raise serious questions about our ability to reproduce as a species…unless we stop poisoning ourselves, and our children, with chemicals.

The first one involves atrazine, which is one of the most widely used herbicides (weed killers) in America. Over 80 million pounds are spread on our land every year. A new study by the University of California–Berkeley, has found that atrazine turns boy frogs into girl frogs. More important, 75 percent of the male frogs in the study were literally castrated by chemicals. Worldwide, there has been a consistent and relentless decrease in amphibian populations. Atrazine is the smoking gun.

Why should we care? Because many of our wells and waterways are contaminated with unsafe levels of atrazine, and the chemical has been linked to reproductive effects in humans, too. Those frogs are on the fast track to extinction—paving the way for us to follow.

Many major publications have done stories recently on the “epidemic” of young boys who seem to lack drive, ambition, focus, and the attention span to get jobs and keep them. It’s been blamed on everything from absentee fathers to the increasing empowerment of women. Endocrine disruptors like atrazine mess with hormones, and now it’s looking like they turn boys into girls and castrate our children.

It’s not just the boys at risk, either. Many years ago, a small village in Mexico in the Yaqui Valley had a major disagreement about whether to allow chemical farming in the region. Half of the village decided to stay and farm with chemicals, the other half moved up into the mountains to escape contamination.

A researcher from the University of Florida has been studying the families for more than a decade. In 1999, she published a report showing that the children in the chemical valley were unable to draw age-appropriate pictures of people, due to neurological damage they’d suffered. Now that these children are growing up, she has not only found instances of early puberty, but also that the overly large breasts of the young women do not contain mammary glands. So they look like women but will never be able to feed their babies—if they can even conceive and carry a child to birth in the first place. Similar studies done in India have found the same thing.

Here’s what gets me angry. We spend all of our breath in the United States huffing and puffing over gay marriage—and yet our farming practices are actually destroying healthy sexuality and gender. We’ll spend a fortune on in-vitro fertility treatments when we have trouble conceiving, but we won’t spend a few extra bucks a week on organic foods so we can avoid chemicals that affect our ability to reproduce.

As I mention in my book, Syngenta, a Swiss company, makes atrazine; Switzerland has banned atrazine. Even the EPA has said that banning atrazine in the U.S. will only lead to a 1 percent decline in our food production. We can handle that, since we already have too much food to begin with. So why are we allowing this stuff to contaminate our water?

Wake up, America!

Maria’s links:

Maria Rodale is the CEO and Chairman of Rodale Inc., the world’s leading multimedia publisher of advice and information about health, wellness, and the environment, and the largest independent book publisher in the United States. Rodale reaches tens of millions of people worldwide through magazines like Prevention, Men’s Health, and Women’s Health; through books like The South Beach Diet and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth; and with the content-rich web sites that complement its publications. Maria is Editor-in-Chief of the company’s newest online venture,, which features the latest news about healthy living on a healthy planet.

Maria is the author of three books: It’s My Pleasure, written with her daughter Maya Rodale, Betty’s Book of Laundry Secrets, and Maria Rodale’s Organic Gardening.

In 2004 Maria received the National Audubon Society’s “Rachel Carson Award” for “Working to Ensure a Healthy Environment for Future Generations.” In 2007 she received the United Nations Population Fund’s “Award for the Health and Dignity of Women.”

Maria lives in an ecologically-friendly house in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with her husband and three children.

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