Are pesticides bad?

Some things are just annoying, like flies! Plants get “bugged” by other species too. Pests are animals or plants that harm humans, our food or our living conditions [1]. They destroy about 35% of crops globally before they can be harvested [2]! Pesticides are chemicals that kill pests [3], including weeds, diseases or certain insects [4].

There are two big benefits of pesticides. First, they increase crop growth [5]. Investing US$1 in pesticides can lead to US$3-6 in earnings [6]. Considering that about US$40 billion is spent on chemical pesticides each year [7], they have a huge impact. This could help feed our growing population without using more land [8]!

Second, they can control diseases [3]. For example, spraying houses with pesticides kills mosquitoes [3], hence reducing spread of diseases like malaria [23].

But pesticides have downsides too. In some cases they actually reduce the amount of food produced [9]. In one study, farmers using more pesticides produced less fish and rice [9], possibly because pesticides disturb wildlife and the services that ecosystems usually provide [10,11].

Pesticides can spread far in air or water [11,12] and often kill many species that are not pests [11], including insects that pollinate flowers [13,14]. Many plants (including nearly 70% of major food crops) rely on pollinators in order to reproduce [13,15,16,17].

Early pesticides harmed human health [18], but there are now more regulations to try to prevent this [19]. In low- and middle-income countries, however, toxic pesticides are still a big health problem [8].

Using pesticides is a complicated issue. They can be harmful but they are here to stay [20]. A solution for now is to regulate them well, rather than ban them [21]. Before a new chemical is used, we need to more carefully test how safe it is, both for us and for the planet [22].

References

[1] https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l~ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l-ch5~ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l-ch5.1

[2] https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021859605005708

[3] https://www.who.int/topics/pesticides/en/

[4] https://doi.org/10.2478/v10102-009-0001-7

[5] https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-012-0105-x

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17745183?dopt=Abstract

[7] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13593-012-0105-x

[8] https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/pesticide-residues-in-food

[9] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.062

[10] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11625-016-0409-x

[11] https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-27455-3_13

[12] https://www.slu.se/en/Collaborative-Centres-and-Projects/centre-for-chemical-pesticides-ckb1/information-about-pesticides-in-the-environment-/pesticide-spread-in-the-environment/

[13] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2010.01.007

[14] https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2007.0030-1299.16303.x

[15] https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.1550

[16] https://ento.psu.edu/pollinators/resources-and-outreach/what-are-pollinators-and-why-do-we-need-them

[17] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2006.3721

[18] https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(01)05329-6

[19] https://www.who.int/whopes/resources/en/

[20] http://www.panna.org/blog/us-and-world-pesticide-use

[21] https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/199175/9789241509923_eng.pdf?sequence=1

[22] https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32345-0

[23] https://www.who.int/features/qa/10/en/

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