As intractable as synthetic pesticide use seems today, it is only within the last 80 years of agriculture’s rich and diverse 10,000–year history that synthetic pesticide reliance has become hallmark to agriculture, and the lynchpin of an industrial and chemical model of production.
Pesticide reliance in agriculture has been aggressively encouraged by multinational chemical corporations including Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow–DuPont, and others. This push toward large–scale industrial agricultural production reliant on corporate inputs, including chemicals, fertilizers and seeds, has displaced farmers across the countryside around the world, preventing diversified, ecological, and productive food and farming systems while threatening viable rural livelihoods.
The large chemical corporations exert significant influence as key agricultural, food, health, nutrition, worker and trade policies are created and implemented. Their influence dominates markets, the halls of government and many agricultural research institutions. Since the late 1950s, the use of synthetic pesticides has grown dramatically. Pesticides are now a $50 billion global industry, and more than one billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States each year, touching all aspects of the industrial food system.
Since the 1950s, a wealth of scientific research has shown that pesticide exposure is linked to significant human health harms and ecosystem devastation, while providing precious little economic benefit to farmers, eaters or rural communities. Indeed, farmers that use pesticides become tethered to a pesticide treadmill: farmers pay rising costs for chemicals to multinational corporations each year, while finding it increasingly difficult to effectively manage insects, weeds and other pests, as the pests reliably become resistant to chemicals. Damage is most severe for those people and ecosystems on the front lines of pesticide exposure in rural communities, and for those people who face multiple exposures: at home, at work, at play, and at school.
Human health harm
Pesticide exposure can cause immediate illness and death, and long–term exposure is linked to several diseases, including various cancers, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays and cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s Disease, among others.
Pesticides wreak environmental havoc, threatening biodiversity and undermining the ecological systems upon which life depends. Amphibians, grassland birds, as well as honey bees and other pollinators such as monarch butterflies, are some of the species most obviously under threat from exposure to pesticides.
Protecting health, ecosystems and equity
Ceres Trust supports organizations and independent scientists in Hawai’i, the upper Midwest and the San Joaquin Valley of California that are part of movements to protect people, farms and ecosystems from pesticide poisoning.
Information about the human health harms of pesticides
- Agricultural Pesticide Use Near Public Schools in California – California Department of Public Health
- Kids on the Frontline and A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence – Pesticide Action Network North America
- Living Downstream, a book and documentary film that describe an ecologist’s work to break the silence on environmental pollution and cancer – Dr. Sandra Steingraber)
- Pesticides in Paradise: Hawai‘i’s Health and Environment at Risk – Center for Food Safety)
- Pesticide Use by Large Agribusinesses in Kaua’i– Joint Fact Finding Study Group)
Information about ecosystem harms of pesticides
- Pesticides and U.S. grassland bird declines, aquatic ecosystem biodiversity – American Bird Conservancy
- Preserving Biodiversity as if Life Depends on It, a report on how organic systems are key to re–establishing the biodiversity upon which all life depends – Beyond Pesticides
- Pesticides and Honey Bees: State of the Science, a report on the factors behind Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), with a sustained focus on the role of pesticides. – Pesticide Action Network North America