EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 27 Another intriguing study found that the highest rates of birth defects in babies born in the U.S. occur among those con- ceived in the months from April to July. It is also during these months that levels of pesticides as well as nitrates from fer- tilizer are at their highest levels in sur- face waters. Conceivably some of these chemicals may have an effect in utero. Of course, an association like this does not prove cause and effect; pollen in the air or even TV reruns increase during spring- time and could be associated with birth defects. But admittedly the pesticide con- nection is scientifically more plausible. And yet another interesting finding. Men who work in flour mills tend to father fewer sons than daughters. A study car- ried out in the state of Washington found 63 per cent of the children born to flour mill workers were girls while in the rest of the state, girls made up 49 per cent of new-borns. Flour mill workers are exposed to a number of pesticides that are used to keep insects and rodents out of stored grain and flour. The idea that pesticides may have an effect on repro- duction is not far-fetched. Thirty years ago, dibromochloropropane, a compound widely used at the time to kill nematodes that attack the roots of fruit trees and crops, was banned because it caused ste- rility in male mammals including humans. But what does all this mean though for those of us who are not farmers, don’t live in communities where pesticides are extensively used and don’t work in flour mills? We are all still exposed to pesti- cides through our food, water, air and even kitchen floors. All this exposure combined, though, is orders of magni- tude less than that of farmers, or indeed families of farmers. The bottom line? Occupational exposure to pesticides merits continuing investigation, but I will happily keep eating my several apples a day in spite of the fact they may harbour residues of forty pesticides, with an aver- age of four per apple. The amounts in my view are insignificant. But I will add that I have produced only daughters and grand- daughters.   Joe Schwarcz PhD is Director, McGill University Office for Science and Society, Montreal, QC, Canada “Modern day food production cannot be accomplished without the judicious use of agrochemicals.”