Understanding Pesticides

by Emma Orbach on February 17, 2014

imagesUnderstanding Pesticides


Pesticides are chemicals designed to kills insects, rodents, weeds, or other substances that pose a threat to crop growth. In theory, pesticides are, by definition, intended to kill living organisms. As humans are in fact living organisms as well, this has instilled a fair amount of skepticism in the average consumer regarding the treatment of their produce before it reaches them. It should be noted that pesticides are not exclusively used for the control of agricultural enemies. They are commonly found in household staples such as rodent poison, mold and mildew killers, disinfectants, some cleaners, and even insect repellents used on skin. While there aren’t any formal conclusions regarding the dangers of pesticides, evidence-based research that links pesticides to various negative health outcomes continues to surface.

It is important to note that pesticides are in fact beneficial to humans in many ways, especially through the control of germs, pathogens, and other disease-causing agents.

Trusted organizations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Pesticide Information Center, generally advocate for pesticides being used safely and how they were originally intended to, but also recommend the limited use of pesticides, especially around food and children.

Pesticides are used to increase crop yields by preventing insects from ruining the plants. However, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has proven to be an effective, safe, and environmentally friendly way to protect crops while going pesticide free. IPM utilizes a combination of methods that relies on a greater understanding of the specific pest in question, as well as its lifecycle, the crop, and the general ecosystem. It takes more focus and discipline than simply dousing a crop in a pesticide spray, but experts believe that it has a far safer effect on the environment and those who consume the crop. IPM is the only fully pesticide-free method of protecting crops from harmful insects and weeds.

These synthetic pesticides pose a great deal of concern to public health professionals. Some research indicates a connection between synthetic pesticides and health conditions and diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as certain kinds of cancers. Additionally, some materials used to make synthetic pesticides are neurotoxins, and are linked to delayed or accelerated development in children, low body mass, cognitive and behavioral issues, and disturbances to the endocrine, reproductive, and immune systems. It is important to note that the high level of synthetic pesticide use is relatively new, and the medical community may not see the results these chemicals pose over a lifetime, for several decades. With scientists and medical professionals speculating over the potentially severely damaging properties, many are hesitant to expose themselves and their families to potential toxins. However, not everyone has this luxury, with organic produce typically costing twenty – one hundred percent more than it’s conventionally counterparts.

Limiting themselves to organic produce is a common way for the average consumer to avoid pesticides. However, just because a food is organic doesn’t necessarily mean that no pesticides were used to aid its growth. An organic certification simply refers to the lack of synthetic chemicals used to protect the plants – not a pesticide-free method, like IPM. Farmers of organic foods likely used IPM, but also could have applied pesticides made of natural materials rather than synthetic.

There is still a significant amount of research to be done, and unfortunately there won’t be any official evidence regarding the harmful properties of pesticides until children who have consumed them over a lifetime are much older. The avoidance of pesticides is a personal choice that each family is posed with, made only harder by the high cost of and, in some cases, lack of access to organic foods.












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