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How to live longer

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted July 6, 2009

I learned last week how to live longer.

Four of us had wrangled through 90 minutes of public debate in New York City about food regulation. In a forum sponsored by the Smith Family Foundation, we were essentially arguing about organic versus conventional farming.  

  • Michael Hansen of Consumers Union continued his decades-long contention that farm chemicals make our foods dangerous and unsustainable. (Never mind the century of lengthening life spans and no age-adjusted cancer increase—except among smokers.)
  • Curtis Ellis, producer of the movie King Corn, claimed most of our corn goes to produce meat and canned sodas that "help make us fatter."
  • Will Vogt, of Progressive Farmer, said the farmers will produce whatever kind of food we demand—if we can just agree on what type of food that is
  • Dennis Avery, lonely advocate for higher-yield farming, said it's the only way to feed 9 billion affluent people in 2050—without plowing down millions more acres of forest to get more cropland.

After Hansen condemned pesticides, I noted that conservation tillage is the most sustainable farming system in history;  it cuts soil erosion—the farmers' arch-enemy—by up to 95 percent!  But no-till depends on herbicides to control weeds instead of plowing.  Organic farmers refuse to use the herbicides, so must suffer the continuing erosion,.

I also said the world's farmers are facing their biggest challenge in history:  providing more than twice as much food and feed by 2050. This means tripling the world's crop yields per acre, again, and quickly. Organic farming has lower yields, and there's a crucial worldwide shortage of organic nitrogen.

My fellow panelists weren't willing to give up their food safety and obesity scares just to save wildlife. They went back to minutia, such as one farm wife whose non-Hodgkins lymphoma the doctors said "might have been caused by pesticides." Except there's no consistent evidence linking pesticides to this cancer, despite reams of studies.

I also pointed to Dr. Bruce Ames of Cal-Berkeley, who found that 99.99 percent of all the carcinogens we swallow are natural pesticides that Nature put in the fruits and vegetables to fend off diseases, insects and herbivores. Hansen grumbled, "That's been disputed."  Disputed by whom? Ames recently won the National Medal of Science, largely for that work.

After the debate, we went out to dinner with the Smith family and friends—but were still sniping across the table.

Two of the New York guests finally resolved the debate. One was a breast cancer surgeon, the other an epidemiologist at Columbia University. The two women asked, "Do you really want to know how to live longer in the modern world?"

Of course we did. Everybody does.

"First," they said, "don't smoke. Second, wear your seatbelt. Third, choose your parents carefully, because many diseases—including several types of cancer—have a hereditary link. Fourth, get plenty of exercise. Fifth, women increase their breast cancer risk when they delay childbearing." 

The final known factor in reducing cancer is eating more fruits and vegetables—no matter whether they're organic or not. The one-fourth of our population that eats the most fruits and eatables gets only half as much cancer as the one-fourth who eat the fewest fruits and vegetables.   . 

Those are the secrets of a long life. The rest is trivial, unsubstantiated, or combat-related. ESR

Dennis T. Avery is an environmental economist, and a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.  He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or email to cgfi@hughes.net.





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