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Health and Diet

Pesticides Use On The Food We Eat

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Pesticides and Profit

In order to keep profit margins high, factory farming routinely uses chemical pesticides to protect crops from insects and animals. Many good biological, nonchemical, and nontoxic methods are seldom used. The pesticide industry markets its products and vigorously promotes vast savings for growers.

The dangers of pesticides have become well known in the industrialized countries. Many have banned the use of certain kinds, but these very same pesticides are still manufactured and exported to other countries.

For example, one-quarter of the pesticides exported by the U.S. companies cannot be sold in the U.S. for any purpose (1). Ironically, agricultural products sprayed with banned pesticides return to the U.S., which imports about 25% of all the fruits and vegetables its population consumes.

Children are at special risk. They have smaller bodies than adults and tend to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Therefore they are exposed to a much higher concentration of cancer-causing pesticides - about 4 times more than adults.



Pesticides facts and figures

  • Despite a tenfold increase in the use of chemical insecticides since the Second World War (1939 - 45), the loss of food and fibre crops to insects has risen from 7% to 13%.

  • 60 Pesticide active ingredients have been classified by recognised authorities as being carconogenic to some degree. 118 pesticides have been identified as disrupting hormonal balance.

  • The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 3 million acute, severe pesticide poisonings and 20,000 accidental deaths each year.

  • A UN FAO survey in 1995 compared the effect of ten years of effort to reduce the impact of pesticide use in developing countries. It revealed no change on health issues and a deterioration of the environment.

  • Ten companies now control over 80% of the global agrochemical market, valued in 1995 at US$30 Billion. 25% of agrochemical sales are in developing countries and this is increasing.

  • One teaspoonful of concentrated pesticide could pollute the water supply of 200,000 people for a day.

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency has produced a critical report on the health effects of the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos. Two other US reports have linked this OP - also used by British troops in the Gulf War - to allegations of birth defects and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).

  • Nervous system effects of chlorpyrifos include confusion, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, slurred speech, insomnia, nightmares, emotional instability, or toxic psychosis resulting in bizarre behaviour.

  • The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), has published a report of the UK water companies analysis of nitrate, pesticides, and lead data for 1991 to 1994. The herbicides atrazine, simazine, isoproturon, diuron, and mecoprop were most frequently detected above EU standard. There were declines in the percentage of tests breaching the standard for atrazine, simazine, diuron, mecoprop and 2,4-D.


Why Are Pesticides Different From Other Chemicals?

Pesticides are released into the environment as toxic chemicals, intended to kill various insect, mammal, plant, and other pests.


Pesticides are used in enormous quantities


In 1986, it is established that over a billion gallons of pesticide spray was used in Britain. In 1987, 26.5 million kg of active ingredients were used in Britain alone, that works out at nearly a quarter of a pound of active ingredient per head of population. This represents sales worth over 409 million.


Pesticides Are Used Over A Huge Area Of Land

In 1983, the estimated area of land treated each year with pesticides was nearly 26 million acres. Many crops, especially fruit and vegetables, are treated with multiple applications of pesticides.


People Have No Control Over Their Exposure Of Pesticides

People may be exposed to pesticides through their work, in factories, farms, or parks. As well as occupational exposure, people may be unwittingly exposed by coming into contact with spray drift from adjacent field areas that have recently been treated, or through ingesting pesticide residues in food and water.


Alternatives to Pesticide Use

After viewing the above data we can see that the mass use of pesticides and organophosphates is not only very damaging to human health and the environment, but is also not proving to be very effective in pest control.

What alternatives are there to the agricultural use of pesticides?

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM)


IPM is a general term that refers to an ecological or holistic approach to pest control. It can include all forms of control used in such a way to maintain pest populations below levels which cause economic injury, while minimising hazards to humans and the environment. It therefore avoids unnecessary or excessive blanket pesticide use.

IPM relies on an understanding of all the components of a given agroecosystem. This would include knowledge of the biology of the crops, pests, their natural enemies, soil flora and fauna as well as abiotic factors such as the soil and climate.

The theoretical concept of IPM is not new but the extent of its use in practice has been low. Modern IPM was developed in the early 1950's, but traditional farmers have practised many elements of IPM for centuries.

An IPM programme attempts to maximise natural pest control and minimise the need for outside measures such as the use of synthetic chemical pesticides. IPM can include any of the following pest control methods.

  • Biological Control.

Allows natural enemies which already exist in an area to be introduced, protected or augmented.

  • Cultural Control.

Requires the use of a combination of farming practices such as tillage, planting, irrigation, sanitation, mixed cropping and crop rotation which makes the environment less favourable for pests.

  • Education.

All aspects of IPM involve the dissemination and proliferation of

information. IPM works in a slow, gradual fashion, and educational resources are needed to ensure successful and continued pest control.

  • Organic Agriculture.

IPM programmes allow for a reduction in pesticide use which reduces the risk of environmental and human damage. In the case of organic farming synthetic pesticides and soluble fertilizers are not used at all. Organic agriculture relies on a knowledge of ecology. It seeks to strive for a balance between crop production and environmental protection. The long term health of the soil is vital to the process of organic farming and much emphasis is placed on building soil fertility and maintaining a healthy soil profile.


Organic farming creates more jobs and produces better, life enhancing food. Although organic food production uses more land this is counterbalanced by the fact that about 20 vegetarians can be fed on the land that it takes to feed 1 meat eater. This astounding fact can be further supported by the following data. Eighty per cent of the corn raised in the United States is fed to livestock, as well as 95% of the oats. Altogether, 56% of all agricultural land in the United States is used for beef production.(4)


Organic farming requires more care and attention, but the rewards are real and healthy food, and a sustainable agricultural system that respects the earth.






  1. Bright 1990, p.30.
  • Caplan et al. 1990, p.124.
  • Pesticide News. The Journal of the Pesticide Trust. Eurolink Centre, 49 Effra Road, London, SW2 1BZ, UK.
  • Robbins 1989, p.1

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