Pesticide reliance undermines health and ecosystems
Pesticides are chemicals including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides that are designed to kill and control insects, weeds and other pests. Since the late 1950s, the use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture has grown dramatically. Pesticides are now a $12.5 billion industry in the U.S., with more than one billion pounds used per year, and 80% of pesticide use in agriculture. Widespread reliance on pesticides was encouraged by multinational chemical corporations, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and others, as part of a large–scale transformation to industrial agriculture across the countryside, rather than small, diversified farming. These same chemical corporations now control more than 70% of the global pesticides industry and have significant influence on national and international agricultural and environmental policy. Their influence extends into the halls of government and major agricultural research institutions.
Since the 1950s, a wealth of scientific research has shown that pesticides cause 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.
As intractable as synthetic pesticide use seems today, such chemical dependency has only been part of agriculture for 70 years of its rich 10,000 year history. In fact, most of the food eaten around the world is still grown by small–scale farmers. Organic farmers have always grown food without relying on hazardous pesticides and chemicals. Such farmers and gardeners, along with the scientific researchers who support their work, continue to demonstrate that agriculture need not rely upon toxic pesticides to be successful.
Future generations at risk
Over the past 25 years, scientists have demonstrated that pesticides cause tremendous risk to human health and ecosystems. Pesticide exposure can cause immediate illness and death, and long–term exposure is linked to several diseases and children’s health harms, including various cancers, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays and cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s Disease, and several others. Eaters, farmworkers, farm families and rural communities are all at risk, and pesticides are now in all of our bodies.
Resources for more information:
- A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence.
- Pesticide–Induced Diseases Database.
- Living Downstream, a book and documentary film that describe an ecologist’s work to break the silence on environmental pollution and cancer.
- What’s On My Food? An interactive database on which pesticides are found on commonly eaten foods.
Pesticides wreak environmental havoc, threatening biodiversity and undermining the ecological systems upon which life depends. According to biologists, we now sit precariously on the edge of mass species extinction, losing the plants and animals that are key to all of our survival. 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 pesticides. Of the 100 crops needed to feed 90% of the world, over 70 of these crops are pollinated by bees.
Resources for more information:
- 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.
- Vanishing of the Bees, a compelling documentary that describes the crisis of disappearing and dying honey bees.
- 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.
- Pesticides and pollinators, a fact sheet describing the links between pollinator declines and pesticides.
- Pesticides and U.S. grassland bird declines, aquatic ecosystem biodiversity.
The Ceres Trust supports work to reduce and eliminate pesticide use and exposure. The organizations below are examples of those across the country that are providing leadership on these issues:
On–going public education and engagement on these issues is key. In that spirit, the Ceres Trust supports the production and distribution of engaging documentaries.