It’s time to take a stand against pesticides


Grace Dorsey

Every year between one and five million people are poisoned from destructive practice. Every year farmers will increase their chance of developing cancer due to these deadly operations. Every year we are exposed to these toxicants through our food and water, increasing our own risk of cancer while simultaneously decimating our environment. The only question that remains to be answered is when will this thoughtless use of pesticides end?
Pesticides and herbicides are hard to avoid. Potatoes, soy and corn have been most likely sprayed with both pesticides and herbicides. Governmental pest control consists of these chemicals and pesticides can even be found in tap water. The same chemicals meant to control insect and weed populations infiltrate the human body through inhalation, the digestive tract or through the skin. There, these toxic chemicals damage the cells and in turn, increase the likelihood of a mutation and subsequent cancer.
With all these shocking statistics, some may be wondering why pesticides are still in use. First of all, it’s easy to turn a blind eye and believe that pesticides and herbicides aren’t too bad given their availability and how essential they’ve become to agriculture.  In addition to being used for large scale farming these chemicals are sold at the local hardware store and are sprayed on local trails to keep poisonous plants at bay. Using this logic a rather obvious question comes up, why would the Food and Drug Administration allow the use of these pesticides and herbicides to continue on such a large scale if they weren’t safe?
On the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus, there’s a theater where talks often concerning the environment take place, known as the Monsanto Auditorium. The ironic thing is that Monsanto couldn’t be further from the sustainable, earth-friendly corporation that environmental scientists everywhere seek to promote. There is more than enough scientific evidence that show Roundup, Monsanto’s infamous herbicide, is both disease-causing and earth-wrecking. Glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, is part of a group of biochemicals called organophosphates, which includes insecticides and nerve agents like sarin that irreversibly inactivates acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme essential for nervous system functionality. A 2013 paper published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology also found that glyphosate prompts the growth of human breast cancer cells.
However Monsanto and glyphosate are just an example, there are plenty more companies that provide genetically altered herbicide resistant crops in conjunction with toxic herbicides and pesticides. This destructive duo ensures that farmers can drench their crops in these substances and kill everything except the soybeans, corn, or squash they sell to the local supermarket.
The reality of these massive companies is that they hold immense power over the government. Monsanto alone is worth 55 billion dollars and several ex and even current Monsanto employees have gone on to serve at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
Take for instance Michael Taylor, a previous vice president of Monsanto and current Monsanto lobbyist, who was appointed by Barack Obama to a high-level advisory role at the FDA. There is no way Taylor isn’t compromised by having both a governmental position and a job at an agriculture giant. It’s simply not to his advantage to put public safety over his own paycheck and yet he still was given the job. But Monsanto doesn’t just control the FDA, it also has a hold on the EPA (Environment Protection Agency).  In 2012, Monsanto challenged a governmental mandate limiting the use of glyphosate. Despite massive rallying by environmental and public health activists, one year later in 2013 the EPA approved Monsanto’s request to raise glyphosate tolerance levels, therefore further putting Monsanto over public health .
Monsanto also has a hand in tampering with scientific studies in order to make its product look safer than it is. When Monsanto conducted its own research concerning glyphosate back in the 1970s and 80s, it discovered that glyphosate caused multiple cancers including glioma tumors in the brain among other diseases in the mice, rats, beagle dogs and rabbits. These studies were then sealed from the public with help from the EPA, only to be opened just this year, in 2015 . This trend of dishonesty continues to today in the colleges that conduct pro-agricultural and Monsanto funded research. Many of the young scientists that attend these universities feel obligated to study things that Monsanto and other agricultural giants provide grants for, instead of discovering things beneficial to the world as a whole.
On the other hand, America is a free country, and individuals are responsible for their own decisions.
One could argue that it is Monsanto’s right as a company to sell whatever they want to whoever wants to buy it, following the rules of supply and demand. Pesticides are useful when it comes to preventing insect-borne illnesses from become epidemic, therefore saving billions of people from getting sick with Malaria or Yellow Fever. It is estimated that since 1945, the use of pesticides has prevented the deaths of around seven million people by killing pests that carry or transmit diseases.
There’s also the argument of feeding the growing population. If crops are entirely dependent on the right conditions, there’s a higher chance of famine. Hardier crops make it easier for everyone to get the food necessary to live.
“Without herbicides, the most widely-used class of pesticides in the United States, crop production, and yields would drop, pristine habitat would have to be plowed under to accommodate more crop acres, and the additional cultivation would result in more soil erosion,” said Leonard Gianessi of the national center for food & agricultural policy.
But what is the use of increased crop production if the environment gets so utterly destroyed that it can’t sustain life?
In 1998, scientists identified the cause of a massive drop in the population of amphibians as pesticide exposure. A few years later it was found that every year since 2006 the bee population has been decreasing by 29-36 percent. Pesticide has been shown to play a part in the disappearance of bees, as it is inherently toxic to the insects. A certain category of pesticide called neonicotinoids was found in high levels in the wax and honey of commercial bees. Bats are the most recent victims. In 2006 the first cave floors were found covered with dead bats in the Northeast. Some scientists believe that like amphibians, bats have developed weak immune systems due to the presence of pesticide.
The ecological problems pesticides create have extended more than just critical species going extinct. While pesticides succeed in killing most of their target pest populations, some live on to pass on genes of resistance to their young. If this cycle is repeated over and over again, the population of resistant pests grows, effectively disabling the chemical treatment. Today, worldwide, more than 500 species of insects, mites and spiders have developed some degree of pesticide resistance.
Another side effect of pesticide use is a process known as bioamplification, where fat-soluble pesticides infiltrate primary consumers’ bodies and go onto to reside in secondary and tertiary consumers. The pesticide increases in concentration at each level of the food pyramid because predators each much more biomass than lower level consumers. The tertiary consumers, therefore, will be most affected when pesticides are introduced into the ecosystem. This can lead to a drop in predator populations due to poisoning, in turn, the population of primary consumers will increase from lack of predators effectively counteracting the initial impact of pesticide.
If you want to help, you should start by supporting pesticide free companies. It’s easy to scoff at fancy-schmancy products that promote their lack of pesticides, however that precaution signals more than just pretentiousness, it likely signals a deeper understanding of the dangers of these chemicals.  It is also important to monitor your own pesticide exposure and actually take the time to wash your vegetables and fruit before consumption. Lastly, when working on your garden opt for natural weed and pest control.