Insects and weeds can pose a huge problem for farmers or anyone else in charge of a large crop-growing operation. Spraying fields with pesticides is one of the most essential and commonplace aspects of farming — but pesticides can be really, really dangerous.
It’s clear that when it comes to yield and profit, pesticides are incredibly valuable. Every dollar spent on pesticides (about 10 billion dollars annually in the United States alone) yields four dollars in crops saved. On average, that’s about $40 billion in crops that would otherwise be damaged, and these cultivation practices keep produce prices down nationwide. But those savings come at a cost.
Pesticides are typically classified by the type of pest that they control. In the farming industry, the most commonly used ones are herbicides (which kill weeds), insecticides (which kill insects), and miticides (which kill mites), but there’s a wide variety of other types of pesticides used, including molluscicides (which kill snails and slugs), nematicides (which kill microscopic nematodes, which feed on roots), ovicides (which kill insect and mite eggs), repellents (which repel insects and birds), and rodenticides (which control mice and rodents). There are hundreds of different varieties of pesticides out there, and they’re each programmed for specific purposes.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seriously invested in making sure that pesticides are used responsibly, and that they don’t pose adverse effects to humans and the environment. At the same time, the USDA and the FDA set standards for the level of pesticide residue that’s allowed on or in crops. While just about all non-organic commercially produced crops contain trace amounts of agricultural pesticides, it’s impossible to study or quantify whether or not chronic exposure to these trace amounts of pesticides in food results in actual toxicity in the body.
But although pesticides are regulated and can’t be proven to be toxic when consumed, that doesn’t mean that they’re safe. Not by a long shot. According to a 1993 report by the National Academies, "Depending on dose, some pesticides can cause a range of adverse effects on human health, including cancer, acute and chronic injury to the nervous system, lung damage, reproductive dysfunction, and possibly dysfunction of the endocrine and immune systems."
Pesticides, by definition, are toxic substances, so exposure to them can be dangerous: not just for people, but also for the environment. It’s also worth noting that pests can develop resistances to pesticides, meaning that new pesticides need to be developed constantly, and, until then, higher and higher quantities of pesticides are used. Foods produced through organic farming don’t use any synthetic pesticides, so, if you’re concerned about these substances, you might want to go organic. Read on for 10 truly scary facts about pesticide use in America.
More Than One Billion Pounds of Pesticides Are Applied in the US Every Year
That’s about three pounds of pesticides for every person in America.
Children Are Far More Vulnerable to Pesticide Poisoning Than Adults
Children spend a whole lot more time close to the ground than adults, and also have a tendency to put things in their mouths. Also, because their bodies are still growing and vulnerable, pesticide poisoning has far more potential to cause permanent damage.