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Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

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Episode 168
The Doctor's Farmacy

How Food, Agriculture, And Energy Are The Cause And Solution To Environmental Collapse

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The cost of our food and personal care items is much more than what we pay at checkout. The true cost is measured by the impact that thousands of chemicals have on our health, the environment and climate, our economy, and many other facets of life. 

Being an informed and engaged consumer is one of the most powerful ways to turn around our toxic world, and we have some incredible resources at our fingertips to do that, like the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Today, I’m excited to talk with Ken Cook from the EWG about food, conscious consumerism, and our impact on the planet.

We currently support a system that promotes the growing of commodity crops using loads of chemicals, which are turned into processed foods. Those foods cause mass chronic disease and create huge amounts of healthcare costs, while also destroying the environment with glyphosate, the overuse of water, declining biodiversity, and the list goes on. Ken explains that these are the expansive costs of our food system that require us to make a serious investment on all levels. We talk about what that looks like federally, personally, and all parts in between. 

The EWG has revolutionized the way we shop for produce with their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists and their Skin Deep Database gives a comprehensive inside look at the many ingredients, good and bad, that make up personal care products. Ken and I discuss how the EWG has bridged the gap between personal health and environmental health with tools like these that empower consumers.  

We’re seeing a shift in consumers pushing for more accountability in the marketplace. The EWG plays a vital role in modernizing the environmental movement to fit the times, where more is at stake than ever before. Ken and I have a hopeful and action-oriented conversation, I hope you’ll tune in.

This episode is brought to you by Paleovally, ButcherBox, and Athletic Greens.

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Athletic Greens is offering Doctor’s Farmacy listeners a full year supply of their Vitamin D3/K2 Liquid Formula free with your first purchase, plus 5 free travel packs. Just go to athleticgreens.com/hyman to take advantage of this great offer.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

In this episode, you will learn:

  1. How the great farm crisis led Ken to begin working on agricultural policy
    (4:09 / 7:41)
  2. Ken’s perspective on the regenerative agriculture movement
    (7:37 / 11:09)
  3. How we can improve food and agriculture policy
    (10:05 / 13:37)
  4. How glyphosate became the most widespread agrochemical in the world and what we should do about it
    (26:11 / 31:16)
  5. Improving government oversight and regulation of harmful chemicals
    (32:54 / 38:00)
  6. Harnessing consumer action to drive policy and marketplace change
    (35:09 / 40:13)
  7. EWG’s Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen, and Skin Deep resources
    (37:31 / 42:35)
  8. The power of individual behavior and participation to create a healthier country, world, and planet
    (50:43 / 55:47)
  9. The future of energy
    (55:05 / 1:00:10)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Ken Cook

Ken Cook is the president and co-founder of the EWG. He is widely recognized as one of the environmental community’s most prominent and influential critics of industrial agriculture and the nation’s broken approach to protecting families and children from toxic substances. Under Cook’s leadership, the EWG has pioneered the use of digital technologies to empower American families with easy-to-use, science-driven tools to help reduce their exposure to potentially harmful ingredients in food, drinking water, cosmetics, and other household products. Capitol Hill’s closely read newspaper, The Hill, regularly lists Cook in its annual roster of Washington’s top lobbyists. It has said Cook’s “influence spans the country” and called EWG “the tip of the green movement’s spear.”

Show Notes

  1. Learn more about the Environmental Working Group
  2. Follow EWG on Facebook
  3. Follow EWG on Instagram
  4. Follow EWG on Twitter

Transcript

Ken Cook:
If you start making a difference in the marketplace by smarter purchases, and cleaner products start displacing the sketchier ones, whether it’s on the cosmetic shelf or in the grocery aisle or what have you, that starts changing the whole industry.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman and that’s Farmacy with an F; F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. And if you care about food, if you care about your health, if you care about the environment, if you care about climate, you better listen up, because today’s podcast is with one of my good friends, an inspiration to me and many others, one of the leaders in the environmental movement, Ken Cook. And he is the president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, which I’m on the board of. He’s recognized as one of the country’s leading environmental spokespersons and influential critics of industrial agriculture, which you know I’m no fan of. And he also talks about how we need to protect our families and our children from toxic substances, and has really focused in on that with his work in the environmental group in a very data-driven way. It’s very impressive. A science-based, data-driven, no opinion, just fact.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Under Cook’s leadership, the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, as it’s now called, as pioneered the use of digital technologies that empower families with really easy to use science-based tools that help reduce their exposure to harmful ingredients in food, in our drinking water, in our cosmetics that we put on our skin, our face, household products. And I use these tools every single day, I recommend them to my patients, because how do we know what’s going in us and on us if we’re not paying really close attention? And EWG has done the hard work to help inform us of what’s out there so that we can make an informed choice about what we want to put in our bodies or not.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Capitol Hill, which has got a great newspaper called The Hill, lists Cook as its top lobbyist in Washington, one of its top lobbyists. He has had such an influence on our policies, things that you probably aren’t even aware of, that he’s been behind. And the Environmental Working Group is often called the tip of the green movement spear. So Ken, welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy podcast.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
You know, when I was in junior high, I read a book called The Greening of America, which was this incredible environmental book that also opened my eyes to this thinking and led to a lot of the things that I was focused on, which is the environment, and at the time it wasn’t climate issues that we talked about much then, but environmental degradation, and even agriculture. And I remember studying this course in a summer program I went to after my freshman year in college called the Institute For Social Ecology with Murray Bookchin, and he was an anarchist-

Ken Cook:
Oh yes. I loved his work, yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. And he was so far ahead of his time. He was talking about climate change back in the 1960s and was writing about it. And he created this incredible program on environmental issues and agricultural issues, and we took this course on biological agriculture and read about [inaudible 00:03:16] revolution and the un-selling of America and soil and health. And so all these things were percolating in my mind, understanding ecosystems, and it really led to a lot of the work that I’m doing now, which is really ecosystem thinking about human health, but also how it intersects with the environment and our food system.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And so you’ve really been a pioneer in bringing some of these ideas out that I actually wrote about in Food Fix, which highlighted the challenges with our current agricultural model. And I’d love you to highlight, take us on a little history journey of your work in the EWG to understand the intersection of our agricultural system, the way in which the agrochemicals are affecting environmental, climate and human health, and also how the food itself is a source of harm for so many of us that’s produced from this system.

Ken Cook:
So I got my Master’s degree in soil science, and then I got a job in Washington, working at the Library of Congress. And this was during the period when we had the great farm economic crisis. There were tractors on the mall, farmers were very upset that they were getting low prices, just after former Secretary of Agriculture and late Earl Butz had told everyone to plant fence row to fence row, we were getting the government out of agriculture, the world needed all of the food we could possibly grow. Plow up everything in sight. Farmers did that, and then came the hangover from the party, which was depressed farm prices, incomes, mounting farm suicides. We’ve seen some of that lately again. Because we got it wrong, right? We overbuilt the sector and started using more fertilizer, more pesticide, cutting down trees, eliminating wildlife habitat on farms to get every single acre we could into corn and soybeans wheat. It was a disaster.

Ken Cook:
Well, that’s when I started looking at agriculture policy. I’d never really paid much attention to it before. So my first involvement was to find ways we could utilize this huge amount of money that we were spending on agriculture subsidies in a way that would actually benefit the environment. And so with a small group of people in the early to mid 1980s, that was kind of how I made a name for myself in agriculture and environmental circles, by coming up with ideas that eventually got into law.

Ken Cook:
Now, they weren’t by any means perfect, but we were just trying to find some way to deal with this problem. We have about a billion acres of land in farms, private land, and it contributes a tremendous amount to water pollution, air pollution, it’s where we grow all of our food. Most of it’s used to grow stuff we don’t eat directly, but we feed to livestock. Just 20 or 25 million acres is used for fruits and vegetables, and 400 million acres is used to grow this commodity stuff. That’s where a lot of the damage is happening. So we were trying to look at some of those subsidy flows and say, “Well, how can we protect wildlife, water quality, reduce pesticide use by coming up with ideas that move some of that investment in a better direction?” Because most of that land, most of those farming practices, are completely unregulated. I mean, farmers will say otherwise, but they’re not regulated under the Clean Water Act, barely regulated under the Clean Air Act. Pesticides are regulated, but we still are using plenty of them, and I think a lot of them are unsafe.

Ken Cook:
So that was how I initially got into it, and I learned how to become a lobbyist. After my first stint doing research, I started working as a consultant and I was hired by Sierra Club and Autobahn Society and American Farmland Trust and a whole bunch of other groups because I had this weird knowledge of the subsidy programs and conservation and the environment. So believe me, it was not visionary. It just landed in my lap that I had those skillsets at a time when the environmental community was really waking up to agriculture in a way that they hadn’t since [crosstalk 00:07:36] Carson.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. So what’s going on right now is this movement towards regenerative agriculture, which wasn’t even a thing back then. It wasn’t even a name of something. We talked about organic, we talked about reducing the environmental inputs, the toxic inputs from agrochemicals. But now there’s this movement termed regenerative agriculture that is actually incorporating a lot of the ideas that you had really been exploring through the Environmental Working Group and advancing through the Farm Bill and food policy. What’s your perspective on this whole movement? And do you think it’s going in the right direction? And what are the challenges, and how do we accelerate it?

Ken Cook:
Yeah. I’m excited about it. I mean, I’m excited about organic, because I think it does a tremendous amount of good, but it’s still small on the American landscape and in the shopping cart. As Phil Landrigan likes to say, “Organic is still private school for food.” What we need is public school for food. We need it to be available for everyone.

Ken Cook:
So, on the health side, I’m encouraged that people are thinking holistically now. Regenerative agriculture is great for a lot of reasons. It’s great because, as we’ve modeled it and others have, it’s going to mean less chemical inputs, it’s more reliance on natural cycles, less emphasis on massive agriculture production and more focus on food production. There are some concerns we have, that maybe we’re overstating the case a little bit about what we can do with respect to storing soil carbon as long as we’re farming. We do worry that some of that is exaggerated. For all good reasons, people want to think that agriculture can make a huge contribution to climate change, and it can make an important one, but I am a little bit worried that people feel like we can keep emitting all the stuff we’re emitting, industrial and in transportation systems, power plants, and that somehow agriculture is going to fix all of that. And that’s-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, it’s both and, right? It’s both and.

Ken Cook:
It’s both and, that’s right. We need both. But I think regenerative agriculture, we used to talk about it in the ’70s and ’80s as soil health; regenerative sounds cooler. But the idea is really the same; to take the soil seriously and to farm it as if it’s a living part of the system, as opposed to just a repository where you dump chemicals around roots and you get a yield at the end of it. It’s much more than that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So for 50 years you’ve been in this stuff. You’ve had your hands deep in the dirt of all that’s going on in our environmental, agricultural and food systems. We have a new administration coming. If you were the food czar, or the Ag czar, or the secretary of whatever that had the authority to change some key policies, what do you think are the biggest levers for change? What are the biggest problems that we face now in food and agriculture systems, and what are the biggest levers that would make a real difference?

Ken Cook:
Well, in-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And by the way, I’m asking this because I know how deep you’ve been in the arcane data and minutiae of the Farm Bill and the food policies and the Ag policies and the chemical policies. So there’s probably very few people on the planet who understand all of it in the depth that you do and would have a really important perspective. So it’s not just a throwaway question.

Ken Cook:
No, no, I appreciate it, it’s a great question. Well, the most important word maybe in what you said was lever, or leverage, because we don’t have very much unless we can somehow utilize this flow of money that comes out of the Department of Agriculture to better ends than it’s used now. I mean, we’re coming into a very difficult situation, the President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris. There have been these huge subsidy flows going to farmers, mostly the larger ones who collect most of it, mostly growing corn and soy beans and cotton. And are we going to wean them off of those big payments and use some of that money to invest in conservation to solve some of the problems we have with regenerative agriculture? Are we going to invest more in getting more access to fresh fruits and vegetables? All of those changes are within our means, but they’re not happening politically because we don’t yet have the clout.

Ken Cook:
And so one of the first questions will be does the Biden administration … to what extent do they ask for some reforms in how we spend all this money, our taxpayer investment? And if you go to our website, you can see exactly where we spend money. Each farmer, we list how much they’ve received over the decades. Sometimes the most conservative, “Get the government off my back,” voices in rural America get plenty of money directly deposited to their bank accounts from the USDA. So, first of all-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, it was shocking to me to find that I think there were 50 millionaire farmers who received over a million dollars in subsidies each. It just doesn’t make any sense, right?

Ken Cook:
Yeah, no, and the Trump bailouts, which he put in place to deal with his China trade war that was hurting farmers when China retaliated against soy bean growers and cotton growers, all of that has made things much more difficult for the Biden administration in the agriculture sector.

Ken Cook:
So the first thing, I think, is to find a leader at USDA who has the trust of the President and Vice President of the new administration to really take us a in a different direction. There would be three things I would look to. First of all, I would look for ways to invest in conservation and in environmental protection on the farm, instead of just assuming, like we’ve always assumed, that the more we grow, the more we can sell, the environment be damned. We’ll just plow it all up, cut down the trees, let’s go for broke. And when we don’t have a market, we’ll ask taxpayers to bail us out. That whole cycle has to end. We’ve spent 450 billion dollars or so that we track in our payment systems since 1995 alone. You could have bought a substantial amount of rural America for that amount of money. And we’re still in the same place we were when we started 450 billion dollars ago. So we need some creative and courageous rethinking there to reset, and part of that’s going to be more conservation practices on the ground that keep fertilizers and pesticides out of our water, that encourage farmers to plant cover crops and take other practices that can at least reduce some of the impacts on the climate, restore our stream banks to trees and capture carbon that tree. Simple things. It’s not really rocket science. But that’s the first piece-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, you have to remove the commodity subsidies, because I think this is a real debate, right? You need to end subsidies, or crop insurance is what they call it. Maybe you could explain that. Because we talk about subsidies and people get confused between subsidies and crop insurance. But the idea is that we support a system that promotes the growing of commodity crops, wheat, corn and soy, that are turned into processed food that kill people, that cost huge amounts in healthcare, and in the process of growing that food, creates massive destruction of the environment through nitrogen fertilizers, glyphosate, herbicides, pesticides, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, overuse of water resources. So we’re in this vicious cycle that’s just self-perpetuating; how do you break that cycle? And through this current model, how do you crack the code on that?

Ken Cook:
And that’s just it; government funding is baked into that business model. It’s a big part of what drives it. And that’s our money. It’s not farmer’s money, it’s taxpayer’s money. And we should all have a say. And that includes having a say over do we have unlimited, basically, funding for the largest farms so that they can get even bigger and use these mechanical and chemical systems to continue to affect the Midwest? Or do we start putting some limits on that? Do we start investing in farmers who are willing to take conservation practices seriously on their land? I think we can do that, and I think there’s actually quite a bit of support in agriculture for that, but it’s going to take someone to stand up and make that as a statement.

Ken Cook:
The second thing we need to do is we need to take care of hungry people. Right now especially. We need to invest in healthy food so that everyone has access to it. And that means low income people. Whether or not COVID is happening, we have lots of Americans who don’t have access to clean and healthy food. We should have universal school feeding programs that carry through the summer for low income kids so that they get healthy fruits and vegetables and a diverse diet. We need to wean them off as much meat as they’re eating now, and wean them more in the direction of healthier eating habits. We could do all that. We have more than enough money to do it. But we have to make it a political priority and we have to stop demonizing people who need support to eat well.

Ken Cook:
And the final thing we really need to do is we need to make a very serious investment in how we’re going to grow out the food production process in this country. I think it’s best to do it on a demand basis, as opposed to spending money to grow more pears and apples. But I think we need to have institutions like hospitals being smarter about the investments they make in diet, school systems, the same, corporations. That needs to come from the private sector in some ways, and the government’s role should be, “Well, let’s provide some additional assistance so people can afford these healthy eating habits that we want to instill in them.” If we did just that, regenerative agriculture would fit right in. We would begin to start restoring our badly damaged landscape, we’d save on pesticides, we’d save on nitrogen fertilizer, we’d use animal waste more judiciously. All of those things could fall in order, but we have to have the political will at the top to do it. And so far, agriculture is kind of a backwater in most administrations. The Department of Agriculture is not accorded the high priority it should. And as a result, a lot of these tough decisions get punted down the road.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well it just seems to me that the problems we’re really trying to solve, chronic disease, the pandemic of COVID-19 which affects those who are obese and chronically ill, which is mostly caused by food, the economic impact of that, the climate change issues, the destruction of rural communities, the social injustice and unrest, these are all linked to food. In one way or another, they’re all linked to food. And so the big problems that we’re trying to solve, I mean the four policy agenda items that the new administration have, addressing COVID, economics, addressing the climate issues, and racial justice, these are the four stated goals, they’re all linked to food.

Ken Cook:
Yeah, they all are.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
In different ways, right? I mean, COVID is a lot of our deaths, and the reason we’re getting so sick and filling up the hospitals compared to other countries is because of the level of vulnerability of our sick and overweight population, caused by food. The economy, one third of our federal budget is for chronic disease, which is caused by food, and then soon to be more, including about a third of state budgets. The social injustice and unrest in part is created because of some of the health disparities in these communities that don’t have access to real food. And the climate issues; arguably the most important factor in addressing climate is addressing the food system, right? And you can argue if it’s 30% or 50%b of climate change, it’s right up there with fossil fuels or bigger. And nobody’s talking about these linkages or how to think about these problems as one problem. And the solutions that you laid out, simple, doable things that don’t need advanced technology or billions of dollars of investment, they’re just facilitating things that we know already work and know already how to do.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, even things you were talking about in terms of helping these communities. We’re willing to have a mask mandate in many states, it’s not something the federal government can do, but they’re talking about this mask mandate; what about having a mandate that any federal program or state program that’s buying food has to support regeneration of human health and regeneration of environmental and planetary health? That would be a simple guiding principle. And there are programs like the Good Food Purchasing program which outline the principles of how do you buy food for institutions like schools or prisons or government buildings or universities, hospitals, all of which we see federal funding. If you’re a hospital and you’re getting Medicare dollars, well the Medicare dollars should be tied to optimal nutrition in the hospital.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I had back surgery this summer and I made a post, [inaudible 00:20:58], but it basically showed my breakfast after I woke up from surgery, which was basically French toast with fake Maple syrup with caramel color, which is carcinogenic, plus a high fructose corn syrup in the juice that I got, and a muffin, which was full of sugar, and a creamer which had trans fat, which has been banned by the FDA, or basically ruled not safe to eat, even though it’s still the food supply. And I was like, “Wow, this is going to kill me. This is an inflammatory-

Ken Cook:
Get you on your road to healing with that breakfast, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
No, no. But why can’t we do that? And I think those are some of the issues that you’ve really struggled with in terms of the Environmental Working Group.

Ken Cook:
Yeah. Tying those things together, and again, it’s often economic signals that come from the government, that could be righted. There was an attempt in the Obama administration and Congress took some steps to fix school lunch, and there was an uproar about it, fighting back, saying, “How dare you get rid of our pizzas and our French fries,” and all the rest. So that battle is there, but I think over time the culture is too slowly moving in the direction where there’s a greater health consciousness. And so we don’t need to just rely on USDA and agriculture, we need to have more doctors like you out there and a healthcare system that supports them, right? What about health insurance supporting healthy eating? What are the measures we can take to improve there or to incentivize that? We can’t spoonfeed everybody healthy food, but we can certainly change all the signals that are encouraging them now to think that their health is something separate from what they eat, when it’s not. It’s not.

Ken Cook:
So all of these things require leadership and vision at the White House, and the White House needs to empower an integration of the health insurance system we have in place that certainly needs an overhaul, the agriculture system that we have in place that needs a complete overhaul too. I think if you have that kind of leadership, there will be a lot of opportunities in the coming years. Even if you can’t do it with a stalemated Congress, there are a lot of things the administration can do on its own, and we’re certainly hoping that they will.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. I mean, I think the fact that even climate change is being discussed as an issue is a big advance.

Ken Cook:
Yeah, that’s exactly right. Yeah. And I think just stopping some of the bad things that have happened in this administration, pesticide bans that were reversed, pesticide approvals that were expedited, whether it’s glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, or pyrophos, the insecticide that was slated for a ban under the Obama administration, very bad for children’s brains. Obama stopped the ban. We need-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
You mean Trump stopped the ban.

Ken Cook:
I’m sorry, Trump stopped the ban. I misspoke. We want Biden to come in and restore that ban and make sure that we don’t use these dangerous outmoded chemicals that have been on the market since Sputnik in some cases, and it’s time for them to go. We need new technologies for controlling pests in agriculture.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, when you create a regenerative ecosystem, there really isn’t as much need for herbicides or pesticides or fertilizer, because the ecosystem itself provides all that.

Ken Cook:
That’s exactly right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Because of integrated pest management. I mean, we plant marigolds in the garden so you don’t get pests. And you brought up glyphosate, which I want to dive into a little bit, because it’s something that EWG has really worked intensely on, and most people don’t realize the fact that this herbicide is the most widespread agrochemical used in the world. It’s on 70% of all crops. It is deadly for the microbiome for the soil, which is critical for not only storing carbon, but also providing nutrients for the plants that we get. And there are a lot of potential health consequences that are being explored and billions of dollars of lawsuits that have been waged, and many won with billion dollar settlements.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Hey everybody, it’s Dr. Hyman. Thanks for tuning in to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I hope you’re loving this podcast, it’s one of my favorite things to do, introducing you to all the experts that I know and I love and that I’ve learned so much from. And I want to tell you about something else I’m doing, which is called Mark’s Picks. It’s my weekly newsletter and in it I share my favorite stuff, from foods to supplements to gadgets to tools to enhance your health. It’s all the cool stuff that I use, and that my team uses, to optimize and enhance our health. And I’d love you to sign up for the weekly newsletter. I’ll only send it to you once a week on Fridays, nothing else, I promise, and all you have to do is go to doctorrhyman.com/picks to sign up. That’s doctorhyman.com/picks, P-I-C-K-S, and sign up for the newsletter, and I’ll share you with you my favorite stuff that I use to enhance my health and get healthier and better and live younger, longer. Now, back to this week’s episode.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The glyphosate issue is a big deal. So can you talk about what EWG has done to highlight it, what you have learned about the environmental and health consequences, what’s true, separating fact from fiction, and what we really need to do about it. Because it just seems like it’s everywhere. It’s in the water. And I did my glyphosate test, my urine test, and I thought, “Oh, I’m not going to have any glyphosate because I don’t really eat GMOs and I’m very careful and I try to eat well, but the truth is, I travel, and I eat out at restaurants, and I don’t always have control over my food and I don’t know what I’m getting. I try to eat real food, but even if you eat real food, it’s 70% of all crops. So I had 50th percentile, and I was like, “Oh my God, I need to pay attention.” So tell us about the EWG’s journey on addressing this.

Ken Cook:
Yeah. This was a weedkiller that came along really in force in the ’90s. It was invented much earlier, but in the ’90s it was matched to bioengineering technology that allowed them to develop crops that were resistant to the weedkiller. So you could spray a field, while the crop was standing in it, after it had been planted and had popped up, you could spray that field and kill all the weeds, but the crop would survive. That’s the genesis of why we have so much Roundup in our world now, used on, as you say, hundreds of millions of acres. It’s in air in the Midwest during the spray season, it comes down in the rain. It’s everywhere. I liken it to, in a way, the Oxycontin, right? It was something that at the beginning had some merit, obviously, for therapeutic treatment of severe pain. And this was not the worst weedkiller molecule out there, glyphosate. There are others that are worse. What made it so bad was the greed to take it from a certain market level to a mass market level, multi multi billion dollar market level where it was used everywhere and abused.

Ken Cook:
So what we face now is it’s in air, it’s in water, it’s in all of us. Then they started using it at the end of the growing season for other crops that weren’t genetically engineered to resist it, like wheat and oats. So they would spray wheat and oats right at the end of the season when it had grain on it, and that’s probably why you got your 50th percentile. Because when they did that late in the season, it was right there in the final food. And when that went to the miller, it stayed in, and when it went to the baker, it stayed in, and it came out. It’s in hummus, we found it there, it’s in Cheerios-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, people don’t realize. The number one top product that contains glyphosate, the most amount, is hummus, which is crazy.

Ken Cook:
Yeah, it’s bizarre, right? And so-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And people are eating it to get healthy.

Ken Cook:
Right. Because it was used on chickpeas at the end of the growing season to make the harvest easier, and it’s cheap.

Ken Cook:
And so all of these abuses, first of all those end of season abuses, which probably account for most of the dietary exposure, the Biden administration should just go in and say, “No more post-harvest or end of harvest use of glyphosate.” That would immediately lower a lot of the exposure that we experience in the food supply. But really it’s a story about mistakes we make over and over again in agriculture. We’re lunching for that big market, growing as much corn as you can, growing as much soy bean as you can, and have the pesticides and fertilizers to go with. Everybody makes a lot of money as long as the system’s working, but the accountability for the environment and health is close to not existent.

Ken Cook:
So for glyphosate, what we’re saying now is, “Look, at minimum we should end all of this late season use that gets it in our food, and then we should dramatically reduce use in residential and home situations where it’s sprayed oftentimes by groundsmen.” These are a lot of the cases that are the subject of the litigation now. They’re spraying it out of backpack sprayers around their properties and so forth. That needs to end. We need to put very tight controls on that, if not banning the compound altogether. And then for agriculture generally, I think we need investments in systems that don’t require this heavy use of Roundup. They’re available and out there, but they’re starved for money. Farmers, like all the rest of us, we do the things that we do. If someone told me the camera here on this computer was carcinogenic and I couldn’t use it anymore, I’d be concerned. Right? But these are tools. We can fix the tools. We can fix the tools. And that’s what we need to have the leadership at the federal level to do, because the companies won’t do it themselves.

Ken Cook:
And what we’ve learned from so many of these cases you mentioned is there’s consideration now of a 12 billion dollar settlement of thousands of cases where people have developed cancer, they’ve gone to court and said it was caused by glyphosate. And they’ve won a lot of these court cases. What we really need to think through is that if, going forward, we can avoid some of these chemical exposures and reduce that cancer incidence, and if we can make sure that when these suits are settled, they direct Monsanto, now Bayer, to make some changes in how this chemical is used in the economy, we’d be much better off.

Ken Cook:
But the real thing that has broken through here is, from the discovery in these lawsuits, we’ve realized that Monsanto knew a long time ago that there were problems with this chemical. They didn’t tell anybody, they hid the information, but that has come out now in juries. And that’s really what gets men on juries upset. It’s not the toxicity per se, it’s that they were lied to, right? And I think that behind many of these chemicals, PFAS chemicals to Teflon chemicals, many of the pesticides we worry about, behind them is a story of companies knowing there were problems and not being required to or not complying with the duty to report and explain that this is toxic stuff. They knew that, but they didn’t tell us.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Now, the Environmental Working Group has been really at the forefront of highlighting these chemicals, doing the research on them, bringing this to light to policymakers, and maybe you could share a little bit of the successes that you’ve had around getting rid of these chemicals in our food, water, air, agriculture? Because I don’t think there’s been any other group that’s been as effective in using science and data to change policy as the Environmental Working Group.

Ken Cook:
Well, thanks. I know you start with science yourself, so I really appreciate the compliment coming from you, Mark.

Ken Cook:
No, we’ve gone about it in a number of ways. One way is we do research and present it to federal agencies. We take it to Capitol Hill and make the case, “Hey, look, this chemical is posing risks that shouldn’t be accepted. We need to fix our regulatory system, we need to enact stronger laws, we need to take action in regulatory agencies.” And we’ve had considerable success on a number of chemicals, like the perfluorinated chemicals, the Teflon chemicals. We were instrumental in getting federal action on a few of those. Much more needs to be done. Pyrophos, our work in the ’90s helped take it out of a lot of uses, particularly around the home, and there are many other examples.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s a pesticide?

Ken Cook:
That’s a pesticide. Pyrophos is a bug killer, an insecticide. So pesticides are weed killers, bug killer, rodenticides that kill rats and stuff. In that mix, the insecticides and fungicides tend to be some of the most toxic, and we’ve worked on all of those, as well as Roundup.

Ken Cook:
But you know the real thing that’s changed, Mark? And it’s been exciting to see it, we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go; because the internet allows us to engage with so many people simultaneously and get feedback from them and inform them at a pretty low cost point, we don’t have to go through a front page story in the New York Times to get information to people anymore, they can come directly to us, they can come to your podcasts and so forth, that has begun to build an awareness in people that companies are beginning to listen to. I mean, it’s behind the growth in organic food in agriculture, it’s certainly behind efforts to clean up personal care products, the work we’ve done rating cosmetics and cleaning products and so forth. What I’m excited about now is we no longer have to just rely on the government taking action as the first step. We can start with consumers taking action to protect themselves and their families, companies starting to listen to that, and we often then find the companies come with us to Capitol Hill and say, “It’s time to change the playing field, add some tough new rules. Our consumers want it, the market’s demanding it, let’s take action.”

Ken Cook:
So instead of really saying the market is substituting for the government, it’s really market forces that can be harnessed to support civil action, to support change at the regulatory level and the legislative level. Just this year we had almost two dozen chemicals banned in California from personal care products, and we had the agreement of the industry to do it. They were outmoded. Some companies still use them, but not the majority. Consumers were rejecting them in the marketplace. And so we came together with the Trade Association for the cosmetics industry and worked together to get those banned. That’s beginning to happen more and more often.

Ken Cook:
So it’s different than the way it worked when I was coming up as a lobbyist, where you’d take science to Capitol Hill, you’d hear feedback from bipartisan people of good will, they’d pass a law, they’d pass regulations after the law, and industry would comply. It doesn’t work that way anymore. Now it’s science comes out, consumers see it first, in many cases. They start changing their behavior, companies pay attention. When they pay attention, they realize that maybe they need to go to the government, because if they’re doing the right thing and other companies are sneaking by and doing the bad thing, they’re at an economic disadvantage for what they’re trying to do the right way. So it’s just shifted the dynamics in some interesting ways. So [crosstalk 00:37:09] personal behavior can matter, not just for your own health, but when you add it up in the marketplace, it creates a demand for better behavior from companies, and that’s translating into policy, slowly.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to talk about next, because EWG’s not only focused on the hard work of bringing science to policymakers and getting various chemicals banned or regulated, you’ve created an interface with the consumer which has actually been among your most successful efforts. Because you could bang your head against a wall for a long time in Congress and the White House and agencies, and you realize that by going directly to the consumer and providing them with tools to understand what they were exposed to and how to avoid those chemicals, that it creates the demand which then drives the free market businesses to change their supply, which then wants them to change the regulations. So it’s this beautiful virtuous cycle.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So let’s talk about some of the things, because I think most people don’t understand. If you just go to ewg.org, there’s an enormous amount of resources that are really available and pretty much free, including the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list of which are the most contaminated and least contaminated fruits and vegetables, the Skin Deep resource database, which looks at skincare products, which is probably what you used to do the regulatory changes in California-

Ken Cook:
Yep, absolutely.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What household products you should be using or not using. If you’re eating animal products, which ones are the best for you and the environment. Which fish you should consume that’s harvested or farmed sustainably and also is the least toxic. So you have all these incredible resources that are really user friendly, that often are on apps, that allow people to really at the point of sale find out if their toothpaste or their face cream or their broccoli is safe to eat or consume or put on their skin. And it’s really an incredible resource that I don’t think most people understand. And I was shocked to learn, when I joined the board of the Environmental Working Group, about how much data there is that drives these apps. You’ve got teams of scientists combing the research database and then putting it in a user friendly form. No one’s going to go on PubMed and read 15,000 papers, but you guys did-

Ken Cook:
We will so you don’t have to. Right. I know you do it, but that’s right, most people won’t. Of course not.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And they won’t. And you synthesize that into these incredible … So talk about the development of these tools. What do they do? Tell us about some of these things that you’ve created that help people change their lives and change their health and drive the change in the marketplace and ultimately the policy.

Ken Cook:
Well, it’s one of my favorite things to talk about, because it was my failure of imagination that led us there. In a way, we started as a policy shop, where we thought our job was to bring information to the forefront so that policymakers would take action and things would get better. This was the environmental model for a long time. And it still would be without the internet. We’d have very few tools to make the marketplace change, but the internet has changed all of that, of course.

Ken Cook:
But our first endeavor was the Dirty Dozen. So here we are, we’re making the case that we should get some pesticides off the market that are sketchy. They may cause a threat to the nervous system, they might be carcinogenic, even mildly carcinogenic; you don’t want to eat a lot of that if you can avoid. They might cause problems for the endocrine system, they might affect the immune system. All these biological effects that we saw in the open literature and even the government regulators were pointing to, but they couldn’t get the job done. They couldn’t get the pesticide off the market or out of the foods that we wanted it out of.

Ken Cook:
So we thought, “Well, why don’t we just show people how they can shop for themselves?” We know organic will get you out of most of those whack-a-mole problems with the chemical toxin of the day, just by organic, but what about conventional, where maybe the levels are low? And we found government data, we still use it every year, where, because of the type of the pesticide they use and when they use it on the product, the human exposure at the consumer end is low. That became the Dirty Dozen, the ones you want to buy organic, and the Clean 15, where you could buy conventional and you’d still avoid pesticide exposure. We just did this because I kept getting asked, “What can I do while the government is making up its mind for decades?” For decades, right? Some of these chemicals have been in regulatory jeopardy since I was in my 30s, which was a while ago.

Ken Cook:
And so we put this list out. And it exploded, people loved it. It was on refrigerators. People would come up to me and say, “You’re the Dirty Dozen guys, aren’t you?” Although we weren’t guys doing it, mostly it was women on the staff who were doing it. It was amazing. And then we saw, as the media environment got tougher to break through on, well, now we’ve got the internet we can go directly to people. So this brilliant scientist, Jane Hoolahan, said, “Well why don’t we look at the chemicals in personal care products?” Because she read a study that was published by the CDC that showed that phthalates, this plasticizing agent, was used in nail polish and other cosmetic products, and it was showing up at worrisome levels in the blood of women of childbearing age. And the CDC science says it might be personal care products. And you’re thinking, “What? Is that an environmental issue? Personal care products? Well, maybe it is. If it’s ending up in us, why not?”

Ken Cook:
She starts building this huge database that became Skin Deep. We thought we were going to use it to change policy. The first use was by shoppers. Shoppers. People who said, “How do I avoid this stuff in my fingernail polish? And what’s all the rest of it in my shampoo, in my skincare, in my lipstick, my eyeliner, my mascara?” On and on. So it just sort of rolled out from there. And I joke, I mean it really was not a master plan. It was being led by the interest that people showed us where they were starting from. People online just shopping. And we get 1000 people an hour coming to the Skin Deep website, and we probably get 4000 people every day downloading the Dirty Dozen, because people want to help themselves.

Ken Cook:
And it’s not really just about EWG, I think it’s how environmentalism has changed, Mark. And it’s not just in food and personal care and cleaning products, it’s even in energy. We’ve seen a shift so that the possibilities in front of us now are as exciting and plausible as we had long hoped they would be. Solar panels are now real. 10 years ago, when we were debating the last big Climate Bill, no one hardly mentioned it on the floor of the House or Senate. Batteries were something you put in a flashlight, instead of how you could store energy on site, even at huge power plants.

Ken Cook:
Here’s the change. What we’re fighting for now is as important as what we’ve been fighting against.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, it’s true.

Ken Cook:
Right? You’re fighting for good health; if we can do it, we can fix healthcare. We’re fighting for healthier food; we have models out there that show us what’s healthier. Energy, automobiles, we’re electrifying the fleet, we’re getting rid of fossil fuels. All of that exciting momentum is happening now, in part because environmentalists pushed back against the bad stuff for a long time, but also because that same push unharnessed, released, this tremendous creative energy that can reinvent our economy, reinvent medicine, as you’re doing. I mean, for goodness sake, if we had 10% of our doctors operating in your mode … no, I’m going to say five, that population health, we’d begin noticing at that level. And when patients come to see you, I’m not one of your patients, I probably should be, but when patients come to see you, I know what you tell them is the positive things they can be doing to take charge of their own health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s right. Yeah.

Ken Cook:
What they’re fighting for is as important as the diseases they’re fighting against. You’re giving them something to grab onto. You’re giving them a sense of empowerment and control, and those small steps that they build their habits around, one success, small that it may be, after another, is what I think is the future of the modern environmental movement, from Rachel Carson’s day. Yes, we have to fight against the bad chemicals like she did, and we will not stop doing that ever at EWG, but we can also tell you that there are plausible alternatives out there now. It’s not unicorns-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s really true. It’s really true. You reminded me of a meeting I had in Abu Dhabi with one of the guys who runs their entire sovereign wealth fund, and we were just chatting about different things and he said, “Yeah, we’re heavily investing in solar energy.” And I said, “Why? You guys have enough oil to last hundreds of years.” And he says, “It’s cheaper now for us to use solar energy to desalinate water than it is to use our oil.” Which is unbelievable. So I think we’re seeing those changes, yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I was talking about what is the true cost of what we’re doing; what is the true cost of the food we’re eating to our health, to the environment, to climate, to biodiversity, to our water resources, to soil health? I mean, what are the true costs? We’re not actually paying those costs at the checkout counter and the price of the food, we’re paying those through enormous burdens on our taxes, because we pay for the consequences-

Ken Cook:
Medical bills.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, medical bills, environmental destruction, all the consequences. So we don’t really have a free market economy, we don’t have free market capitalism, where the corporations are protected from the consequences of their adverse behavior, whether they’re intended or not. I don’t think Coca-Cola, when it started in 19 or 1800 or something thought it was going to create a massive epidemic of diabetes. It tasted good, it had a little cocaine in it, it gave you a little kick, a little caffeine. It was all right. They took the cocaine out, but it’s still become … and then there was high fructose corn syrup, it was seen to be cheaper, it was great to do. But all these things then we learn about and have to adjust what we’re doing and empower people to actually do the right thing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So I think we have to look at the true cost of the things that we’re doing, which you really make a great point of in a lot of the work you’re doing. It’s pretty exciting, I think, now, to use some of these databases. I mean, I use Skin Deep, and I remember seeing a patient; we measured urine levels of her phthalates and parabens and they’re off the chart. I’m like, “What are you doing?” “Well I use sun screen every day.” I’m like, “Great, that might be a problem. Why don’t you pick a better sunscreen that doesn’t have all that junk in it?” And so these tools are so incredible, and I just encourage people to check out the website, EWG, it’s just a treasure trove of resources. And also, it’s a non-profit, and it’s dedicated to improving your health and planetary health. And so, if you feel moved, I encourage people to donate, because it is … I donate every year, because I’m committed to the organization, and I believe everybody should do what they can. If you feel disempowered and you don’t know what to do and you feel like you want to be part of the change, this is an incredible organization and I would encourage you to check it out.

Ken Cook:
Well, thanks.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Because Ken, you really put your life’s work into this and you’re pretty tireless, I don’t know how you do it, and you’re like a dog with a bone with this stuff. And I hear you speak and I just listen to your talks when we go around the country in different meetings, and I just am so in awe of the level of sophistication and understanding and depth. Because there’s a lot of fluff out there, a lot of people saying things without real depth of understanding, and I think the Environmental Working Group’s efforts to bring science and bring coherence and bring key efforts and strategy changes, both for human health that people can do on their own and become empowered, and also for policymakers to actually have data.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I remember talking to one of my friends, Sam Kass, who worked in the Obama White House, and he’s like, “You know, all the agro-business companies, all the big food companies, they’d come in and they’d have their policy briefing books, they’d have their regulations written, they’d have the legislation already written. They’d literally have their lobbyist write the legislation, give it to the policymakers, who were very busy, don’t have time to do all the research, and, “Oh, this sounds good. Sounds great.” It’s like a dog and pony show with a great pitch. But it wasn’t really-

Ken Cook:
And a check comes with it. A corporate check comes with it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
A check comes with it. That’s right, a check comes with it. And they really then just translate those into regulation policies. Not out of any bad intention, because it seems good, but on the other hand, he said, there was nobody coming in from the food movement, from regenerative agriculture, or from understanding human health consequences of our food system to say, “Here’s what we need to do.” And I think that’s really what’s got to change, and Environmental Group is one of those few organizations that’s been doing that work for decades.

Ken Cook:
Well, you’re very kind to say so. I mean, we do believe, and I think you probably agree with us, the most powerful force in healthcare is an informed and engaged patient. Right? Someone who’s taking control to some degree of their own future, their own fate in the health system. And it’s true across the board. But what’s beginning to happen now is people are understanding that they need to do more. They need to act in civil society to get the next level of change. You can do all kinds of things as a patient to make your life better, and you can hold your doctors accountable and so forth, but at some point, we need to have better medical care, better medical practices, to really fully realize our human potential.

Ken Cook:
It’s the same in food, the same in personal care, same in energy. But that’s coming from people who are finding their way, especially young people now. I mean, what can be more exciting than seeing so many young people concerned about climate change, concerned about toxic chemicals, concerned about environmental justice? We see such a growing interest now, going back to agriculture, black farmers. We’ve been involved in that issue for a long time, fighting for their rights and their justice in a system at USDA that’s been anything but fair to them.

Ken Cook:
So it’s just an exciting time to feel that energy being rekindled, and oftentimes it gets expressed in demands for accountability for companies, changes in the marketplace, new black-owned businesses in personal care and food. Very exciting stuff. And we need to feed that kind of growth, that kind of enterprise, to make the modern environmental movement really fit the times.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What I hear you saying is in the midst of really environmental degradation and climate catastrophe and all these social, racial injustices, that you have a lot of hope. That you see the lights of hope popping up around various aspects of your whole system that are moving things in the right direction.

Ken Cook:
Yeah. I mean, I like to take a backseat to no one when it comes to cynicism, but at some level it’s hard to be cynical when you see so many individuals out there who’ve just decided, “I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to take charge of my own health.” And once they do that, oftentimes, the people who are active on our email list, who sign our petitions to government or show up for lobbying days when we do them on Capitol Hill, they’re often the people who’ve taken our personal advice most seriously. They’ve been recruited out of self interest. They’re shoppers to begin with, and then they become environmentalists, as opposed to the other way around. And it’s pretty exciting, right? Pretty exciting to see that transformation.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So how do you speak to people who are skeptical that any one person can make a difference and that our personal choices don’t really matter, that we can buy all the natural sunblock we want, or avoid strawberries because they have the most pesticides, but what is that going to really do? What would you say to those people about why it’s so important that we as individuals don’t be cynical and take action?

Ken Cook:
Yeah. Well, it’s a fair question, and I answer it in a couple of ways, and I get it all the time because people get discouraged. My response is, “Look, start with where you are and take stock of it, just like you’d try and do anything else, and recognize that when you’ve got the time and you want to investigate ways to get involved to make civil society change, to get involved with a local organization or get involved with EWG and make a difference, you can sign up. There are plenty of opportunities to do that out there. And the awakening that you have from your own behavior is the single, I think, most important route to doing that.”

Ken Cook:
Of course, you can sympathize, empathize, with people who are suffering, communities that are suffering from extreme levels of pollution; they need our support and help. That may not because your personal experience; “What good does it do?” Here’s what good it does. If you start making a difference in the marketplace by smarter purchases, and cleaner products start displacing the sketchier ones, whether it’s on the cosmetics shelf or in the grocery aisle or what have you, that starts changing the whole industry. That really does make a difference. And all these companies are racing to catch up. If you don’t believe me, look at where you get your electricity from now. This is going to change so dramatically over the next 10 years, it’s going to be like when we had landlines and cell phones replaced them. It’s going to be that dramatic. We’re going to see a completely new energy system. Why? Because one by one, power plants are realizing they can switch to solar and wind, and when they do that, without necessarily being regulated to do it, they’re making more money and you’re getting cleaner power.

Ken Cook:
You see solar panels going up on a neighbor’s house or down the road; these small changes are gradually starting to change the whole industry. And the power companies are now freaked out, because their control over the system, their control over centralized power production at big coal-fired plants or nuclear plants is slipping through their fingers. Not because they’re being regulated out of existence, but because there’s cheaper, better stuff. That, I think, is something that you shouldn’t discount, and participating in that economy, cleaning up your own behaviors, cleaning up your own products, your own household, making it safer for your family, is a big deal.

Ken Cook:
But then step out and join hands, join forces with people who are trying to make the food better at your school, which is tough, or your hospital. Or get involved behind some politician, local, state, federal, who’s really talking about the need to do things differently. Not that we need to give up modern life, but we can change its course so much for the better. So much is within our power.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Absolutely.

Ken Cook:
Yeah. So I’m all in favor of doing things out of self interest that adds up to a common interest. It doesn’t have to be that way, but we find great power in that at EWG now. We find our most active champions, who show up and make phone calls, are the people who’ve also cleaned up what’s in their shopping cart and in their medicine cabinet.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, wasn’t it Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Ken Cook:
That’s right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I always say that when you look at real change that’s happened in the society, it doesn’t start in Congress, it ends in Congress. Abolition, civil rights, women’s voting rights, women’s rights, civil rights; these things never were the ideas of politicians who came to us and said, “We see a vision for a better society.” They were the consequences of grassroots movements, of individuals, of people on the streets pushing forward ideas that then became our actual way of being. And I think that’s what you’re advocating for, and I think Environmental Working Group is one of the wedges. It’s really driving this movement. And I’m just so grateful for you, Ken, and the work of EWG, and I really hope, as we move forward in the next administration, we can start to pay more attention to things that we care about and matter in terms of agriculture and our chemicals, because we’re way behind. We’ve got a lot of catch up to do.

Ken Cook:
Yeah, we’ve lost some ground these past years. There’s no question about that. But it’s just so great to have you on our board as a voice of enlightened medicine and science. We feel very much at home in that end of medicine and healthcare, so it’s a thrill to talk to you any time, but maybe we’ll even be in person-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, soon hopefully. Yeah, so everybody check out ewg.org for all the resources we talked about, the Dirty Dozen, Clean 15, the Skin Deep website, what household products you should buy, what fish and meat you should consider eating, and lots more incredible resources. One of my favorites is Good Food On A Tight Budget, which is how to eat well for you, eat well for the planet, and for your wallet, which is addressing the issue of, “Well, can you eat healthy, and is it just an elitist idea?” And there’s so many resources. So check it all out and I hope you loved this podcast. If you loved it, please share with your friends and family on social media, leave a comment. We’d love to hear how you’ve impacted your personal health by maybe some of the things EWG has done, or what you’ve learned about how chemicals or toxins are affecting you. And subscribe wherever you get your podcast, and we’ll see you next week on the Doctor’s Farmacy.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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