Farmers' DNA Damage Linked to Farming Chemicals Detected

Jenn Hoskins
4th March, 2024

Farmers' DNA Damage Linked to Farming Chemicals Detected

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In Normandy, France, some female farmers showed more DNA damage linked to long-term herbicide use and equipment cleaning
  • Larger meadow areas and poultry presence on farms were tied to less DNA damage in these women
  • Surprisingly, female smokers and ex-smokers had less DNA damage than non-smokers
Understanding the risks associated with certain occupations is crucial for ensuring the health and safety of workers. One such area of concern is the agricultural sector, where exposure to various chemicals and environmental factors may increase the risk of health issues, including cancer. In a recent study by Inserm U1086 ANTICIPE at the Université de Caen Normandie[1], researchers focused on a demographic often overlooked in this field: female agricultural workers. The study aimed to explore the relationship between occupational exposure in agriculture and DNA damage in females, which could provide insight into the potential increase in cancer risk. DNA damage is a critical factor in the development of cancer, as it can lead to mutations in cells that may become cancerous if not repaired properly. The comet assay, a test used to detect DNA damage in cells, was employed on samples from 245 women working in open field farming and cattle raising in the Normandy area of France. The researchers collected data through individual questionnaires that detailed the tasks performed by these women, allowing for a direct assessment of their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Additionally, environmental exposures were evaluated based on information about the farm productions from a separate questionnaire. Surprisingly, several tasks that involved exposure to chemicals were not linked to increased DNA damage. However, women who had a longer duration of using herbicides on meadows or were involved in cleaning and maintaining agricultural equipment showed higher levels of DNA damage, despite the low number of women in these categories. Environmental factors also played a role in the DNA damage observed. A larger surface area of meadows and the presence of poultry on the farm were associated with lower levels of DNA damage. Conversely, the presence of swine was linked to higher DNA damage. An unexpected finding was that smokers and former smokers had less DNA damage compared to non-smokers, a result that contradicts the well-established knowledge of smoking as a risk factor for DNA damage and cancer. The findings of this study are particularly significant in light of previous research[2][3][4] that has suggested increased risks of colorectal cancer and sarcomas among agricultural workers, with some associations to specific farming types and tasks. For instance, earlier studies within the AGRICAN cohort have identified increased risks of colorectal cancer for farmers producing certain livestock and crops[2], as well as a heightened risk of sarcomas related to cattle farming and greenhouse production[3]. Moreover, research on the genotoxic effects of pesticides has shown that occupational exposure can lead to more DNA damage[4]. The current study not only corroborates these concerns but also expands our understanding by highlighting the nuanced effects of different types of exposures on female agricultural workers. It also underscores the importance of the comet assay in evaluating DNA damage, as recommended by a recent consensus statement that emphasizes the need for standardized reporting to ensure the reliability and verification of results[5]. In conclusion, this study from Inserm U1086 ANTICIPE provides new insights into the potential health risks faced by women in agriculture, particularly in relation to DNA damage. It highlights the need for further research to understand the full impact of environmental and direct chemical exposures in this workforce. The study also calls for better protective measures and awareness of the specific risks associated with different farming tasks and environments, which could help mitigate the potential health hazards for female agricultural workers.



Main Study

1) Agricultural exposures and DNA damage in PBMC of female farmers measured using the alkaline comet assay.

Published 2nd March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Colorectal cancer among farmers in the AGRICAN cohort study.

3) Agricultural exposure and risk of soft tissue sarcomas and gastrointestinal stromal sarcoma in the AGRIculture and CANcer (AGRICAN) cohort.

4) Occupational exposure to pesticides: Genetic danger to farmworkers and manufacturing workers - A meta-analytical review.

5) Minimum Information for Reporting on the Comet Assay (MIRCA): recommendations for describing comet assay procedures and results.

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