The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma

The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma

The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma

The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma

Synopsis

The Death of Ramón González has become a benchmark book since its publication in 1990. It has been taught in undergraduate and graduate courses in every social science discipline, sustainable and alternative agriculture, environmental studies, ecology, ethnic studies, public health, and Mexican, Latin American, and environmental history. The book has also been used at the University of California-Santa Cruz as a model of interdisciplinary work and at the University of Iowa as a model of fine journalism, and has inspired numerous other books, theses, films, and investigative journalism pieces.

This revised edition of The Death of Ramón González updates the science and politics of pesticides and agricultural development. In a new afterword, Angus Wright reconsiders the book's central ideas within the context of globalization, trade liberalization, and NAFTA, showing that in many ways what he called "the modern agricultural dilemma" should now be thought of as a "twenty-first century dilemma" that involves far more than agriculture.

Excerpt

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring galvanized the American public into an awareness of the dangers of synthetic chemical pesticides. Her book was so sweeping in its indictment of the way society was undermining the health of nature that she is often given credit for starting the modern wave of environmental awareness that began in the 1960s. More specifically, Silent Spring led to a decade of intense political infighting and scientific research resulting in the virtual banning in most industrialized nations of many persistent pesticides such as ddt. As a result of the limitations on the use of persistent pesticides, the peregrine falcon, the California brown pelican, and other species began to make an encouraging comeback. the revival of many of the declining bird populations constituted a heartening sign that humankind could recognize its errors and make amends to nature.

However, the growth of the pesticide industry continued, doubling and redoubling output since Silent Spring. Seeing their markets for the persistent pesticides drying up in the more prosperous nations, chemical companies shifted their sales to the Third World, selling there what they could no longer sell in the United States and Europe. There was some justification for this, particularly in the dependence of tropical and subtropical nations on cheap pesticides for the control of malaria and other insect-borne diseases. But the social and ecological conditions of the countries of the South tended to magnify rapidly the ill effects of dangerous pesticides. Since the most lucrative market for pesticides in the Third World was for pesticides to be applied to crops exported to richer nations, consumers in the United States and Europe began to fear that what they had prohibited at home was returning to them on the fruits and vegetables they imported from abroad. David Weir and Mark Shapiro’s Circle of Poison (1981) documented the basis for such fears and aroused the public to a new level of awareness.

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