• Are All Pesticides Toxic?

Environmental Laboratory

Are All Pesticides Toxic?

Dec 25 2022

By their very nature, pesticides have been specifically engineered to be toxic to organisms. Granted, they are intended to fight off unwanted flora and fauna, such as fungi, weeds, insects and other pests. Nonetheless, toxicity is baked into their design and for that reason, their widespread use has become the source of much agricultural pollution, with a variety of unforeseen consequences.

This has led to scientific studies into the long-term impacts of the most damaging types of pesticides, followed by national and international legislation aimed at curbing their use. At the same time, there do exist alternative products and solutions which can control pests without inflicting the same damage on the environment as their chemical counterparts. We examine those options in further detail below.

A brief history

Pesticides have been used for millennia, though it wasn’t until the last century that chemical products began to be developed. Indeed, the 1940s saw significant growth in this field, as substances such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) were discovered to have anti-insect properties. Originally used across the globe, the product was found to be effective in deterring pests, boosting crop yields and making food more available and affordable for all.

Of course, it was later discovered that DDT could have disastrous repercussions for human, animal and environmental health and was finally banned in the early 1970s. This forced the scientific community and agricultural producers to investigate new products which would (at least initially) appear to be more eco-friendly.

Controversial chemicals

Perhaps the most famous of these (and certainly the best-selling herbicide in history) was glyphosate, which is a key component in Monsanto’s popular Roundup product. Exceptional at deterring the growth of weeds, glyphosate soon became a bestseller around the globe from the 1980s onwards. However, the damaging effects of long-term exposure to the chemical – either through inhalation or consumption of food contaminated with glyphosate – have only recently been discovered and the product has been banned in many parts of the world following a slew of litigation cases against the manufacturer.

Similarly, neonicotinoids have been proven to have an outsized impact on bee populations. Since we rely heavily on bees to cross-pollinate crops, the sharp decline in their numbers which has been witnessed the world over is a very troubling issue. For that reason, these substances are also prohibited in the UK, the EU and other parts of the planet.

Going organic

That’s not to say that all pesticides are as toxic as the ones mentioned above. For example, neem oil has been used as a natural insecticide in China for thousands of years and, when applied appropriately and without adulteration from other, more harmful chemicals, it can produce impressive results without damaging side-effects.

Meanwhile, amateur gardeners can concoct homemade pesticides from such household items as soap, garlic, cayenne pepper, onion and tobacco, all of which can fight off unwanted intruders in the garden without damaging the ecosystem. Of course, applying these types of fixes at an industrial scale is not possible, so chemical pesticides remain an integral part of farming today – despite the toxicity they carry.

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