It’s popular among environmentalists and health food fanatics alike to point a guilty finger at pesticides. Often, the speech surrounding the topic tastes of unchanging acrimony: pesticides are bad – end of story. I dare to ask, “Why? What makes pesticide usage so invariably wrong and unethical?”
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Given the importance of health and wellness to many people, it’s nothing short of wise to more rigorously investigate the topic. Let’s dig beneath the rhetorical headlines, shall we?
The Background Of Pesticides
The birth of pesticides largely finds itself in the late 19th century, at least in the sense of conventional farming. Natural pesticides, however, have been around since the beginning. This usually refers to other bugs, plants, or even natural dust.
Today, the modern pesticide industry has a ton of business. Billions upon billions of dollars are made every year through the production, sale, and exportation of pesticides. It’s not surprising either. Whether its chlorine or picloram, pesticides are made up of powerful chemicals to do a powerful job. Usually dusted or injected into their given environment, pesticides get to work by killing and destroying unwanted forms of life.
The logic behind pesticides is simple enough: introduce a chemical into a given environment to control the growing conditions and outcome. The problem is that pesticides have strong chemical compounds that are naturally incompatible, and in effect, deadly, to humans.
Depending on the type of pesticide, the nervous system or endocrine system may be negatively affected. Some are carcinogens, and others will irritate the skin or eyes and cause nausea. Because chemicals found in pesticides can have many effects, the types of diseases one can develop are numerous. For example, in a 2004 report from the Journal of Public Health, researchers found a frightening rise in brain diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other motor neurone diseases in relation to the use of pesticides and similar environmental pollutants.
While some ‘daily' pesticides are found to be relatively safe, the EPA neglects the instance of mixing chemicals. In scientific terms, the EPA doesn't consider the synergistic effect of the active ingredient with other chemicals; a phenomenon that can prove to be extremely deadly regardless of age, health, or stature.
Looking past the deleterious effects on our health, there is a positive aspect to pesticides. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to the mass production of food, an inherent need for a mass protection of crops reveals itself. So if you’ve ever enjoyed those low prices at your local grocery store, you’ve enjoyed one of the benefits pesticide usage brings.
Even if you buy organic, pesticide-free groceries, chances are you come into contact with them. Disinfectant pesticides called antimicrobials are put into all public water supplies to protect against waterborne disease. While this may seem conspiracy theory-esque, it highlights the utility of pesticides and their function of protecting against bacteria and viruses.
Let’s remind ourselves: pesticides are used to control any kind of troublesome organism, whether it’s a insect, weed, fungus, rodent, or fish. Like the low prices, if you’ve ever enjoyed walking down the street, admiring the green grass of the neighbors and parks, you’ve enjoyed an instance of pesticide-usage.
Still not convinced? You shouldn’t be. There are a number of problems with the argument protecting pesticides.
Why We Need To Move Away From Heavy Pesticide Usage
First, pesticides aren’t always a success. Genetic resistance is major problem for pesticide manufactures. In addition, because pesticides have killed off the predators of the pests, each year spraying is more and more important. Otherwise, the pests’ populations will skyrocket. Clearly, this method isn’t the reasonable choice for a long-term investment.
Second, because health is the most important thing, protecting it trumps moneymaking or quick food production. Like we saw, the fact of the matter is that pesticides are poison. They pose a real threat to human health if there is overexposure or large amounts of exposure over time. To Dr. Jesse Hanely, MD and co-author of Tired of Being Tired, “Pesticides kill pests by damaging their cellular function [and] we have enough in common with insects that we are damaged, too.”
There is also a business aspect. We need to back away from corporate control of agriculture. Because of the enormous amount of buying power of big business, they force local farmers to engage in the same conventional farming system, one that includes pesticides and intensive tilling. With this, however, a bright side may still yet be found. Corporations could work with each other, local farmers, and government to create a more ethical, healthy work environment for consumers and environment. The puppeteers of big business just need to come to terms with the f
act that the avarice of monstrous business unfortunately is no justification for pesticide usage.
Finally, if we plan to feed future generations, which I sincerely hope we do, we must back off the use of unnatural chemicals. Pesticides are nonspecific, meaning they affect a large number of species, and that poses a great threat to the natural environment. According to the USDA National Agriculture Library, organic farming is far more effective than conventional, unnaturally treated farming in reducing soil erosion and maintaining soil productivity. Organically handled farming lasts longer, meaning it’s a wise future investment.
If you're interested in finding out what pesticides end up on your food, download the What's On My Food app. If you're looking for alternatives to harsh chemicals in your home garden, see 4 Tips for Easy Organic Pest Control.