Vegetables in Cuba Might Not Be Healthy

Erasmo Calzadilla

Urban farming alongside a heavily trafficked avenue in Alamar. What will their lettuce be like?

HAVANA TIMES, April 26 — I don’t want to be an alarmist, I’m only trying to warn people and share a concern.

During the crisis of the 1990s, with the shortage of fuel for transporting food from the countryside to the city, the government opted for intensive urban agriculture. Given its delicate nature, this strategy has become a “political” issue, and herein lies the danger since almost no one dares to question it.

For many years it’s been known that along automobile-trafficked streets, the nearby soil and plants often become loaded with heavy metals from the burning of fossil fuels.

In case anyone doesn’t know, heavy metals are very toxic – they make people ill and can cause death.

Cadmium and nickel, for example, are carcinogenic. Similarly, lead* causes neurological disorders and damage to major organs, with children being the most sensitive to it. I’ll stop here, but the “menu” is extensive.

A while ago I looked through several scientific articles and journals to find out to what degree our urban organic farms are contaminated with these substances. My inquiry was unsuccessful, until I recently came across a work of great value. Apparently it escaped being censured.

In 2009, the Provincial Meteorological Center and the Agricultural Research Centre of the University of Santa Clara** conducted research on four urban organic gardens in that central province.

On the ground, in the water and especially in plants, they found traces of heavy metals at concentration levels that exceeded (predominantly) or were close to the maximum limits set by international organizations such as the World Health Organization.

If this is the case in Santa Clara — which isn’t a commercial, industrial or mining center — one can only imagine the situation in more populous areas such as the capital city?

One person who is knowledgeable about the matter (he asked me not to publish his name) assured me that research on the subject tends to be road blocked or immediately shelved.

How, can they justify this silence?

If this is true, the authorities are committing a crime, and I say this in the full since of the word, since organic gardens supply children’s daycare centers and schools.

(*) A few years ago, the medical section of the Granma newspaper addressed the issue of lead poisoning. The specialist consulted said this condition isn’t a health problem in our country due to the preventive and control measures to stave off environmental pollution…

(**) The referenced article is titled: Contribución a la Gestión ambiental en el contexto de las producciones agrícolas urbanas en la ciudad de Santa Clara (Contribution to Environmental Management in the context of urban agricultural production in the city of Santa Clara). If you are interested in downloading it, then hurry, in case it disappears.

Those responsible for this research proposed a list of interesting recommendations. None of them was, by the way, tell the people about the dangerous medals they are eating. The closest was the proposed Item 6: “Develop environmental training programs on this subject aimed at decision makers, leaders and farmers.”

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

2 thoughts on “Vegetables in Cuba Might Not Be Healthy

  • Well Michael, in this case it does kill you without making you stronger first.

  • Due to the outrageous prices for ORGANIC vegetables at my local food co-op supermarket, I purchase most of my veggies at a regular, corporate supermarket. When I do shop at the co-op, I usually purchase their lower priced veggies. When I arrive at the check-out line, I tell the cashier that I am purchasing “inorganic,” rather than organic, vegetables, but she usually corrects me by saying, “non-organic.” From what you report, Erasmo, I am technically correct. Next time I purchase the lower-priced vegetables, I’ll say that they ARE “inorganic,” since they are likely to contain trace amounts of heavy metals, such as cadmium and nickel. Remember, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

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