Commentary: Questioning study of depression linked to herbicides

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Those French scientists are at it again. This time researchers are bombarding the world media with their findings that farmers who used weedkillers (herbicides) are more than twice as likely to be treated for depression than farmers who didn’t use the chemicals.

Let’s not consider all the other environmental differences that one farmer to the next encounters growing up plus family dynamic differences and eventually their work around crops and weeds—with most of them only using herbicides during one short time span annually.

Let’s also base this on the small number of 567 farmers of which we know little about their background of herbicide use and even less about their overall pesticide contact, and how much safety concern and regulations they ever followed. And how about their home residence chemicals contact, the local environment where they live and the working conditions for side jobs they do away from farming.

Why the study’s lead author of French farmers is an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health is beyond my understanding, but anyway, Marc Weisskopf’s research group claims 83 farmers, about 15 percent, said they had been treated for depression. But of those 83 farmers, 47 had never used herbicides and 36 had used weedkillers to some degree or another. The report doesn’t seem to specify one herbicide over another one, although there was an attempt to determine high herbicide users compared to low herbicide users.

The researchers also tried to link farmers with Parkinson’s disease to herbicide use, again not one specific herbicide, according to a report filed by Genevra Pittman, Reuters. In general, a link doesn’t seem to hold up for a cause and effect.

“One possibility that wasn’t ruled out is that the exposed farmers might have had other health conditions that affected their ability to work, which in turn made them vulnerable to depression,” Pittman wrote.

But the researchers made their computers slice and dice the less than extensively proven data about their test subjects to establish a link between depressed and non-depressed farmers and weedkiller use. The computers were programmed so that they illogically determined that farmers who worked with fungicides and insecticides were less likely to be depressed than farmers who worked around herbicides.     

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