The agrochemical industry brings around 234 billion dollars worldwide. It includes a wide variety of chemicals that are used to upkeep the production for our dizzyingly high need in crops. Pesticides form one branch of the agrochemical business and they are used to remove pest from agricultural crops and at-home gardens. Pesticides come in three forms; insecticides to kill insects, herbicides for herbs and fungicides for fungus. Gardeners, farmers and businessmen alike became quite fond of dumping large quantities of pest controlling agents on their crops because it increases production at a relatively cheap cost. However, pesticides are known to have sulfur, chlorine, nitrogen, phosphorus and bromine with heavy metals like copper, arsenic, sulfates, lead and mercury within it. So, after decades of pesticide spraying, the consequences are now more apparent than ever because these toxic chemicals are now in our soil, our water and our food.
Ecosystems all have deep interrelated relationships. When pesticides are applied on crops, it will trickle down into the soil and eventually seeps itself into every sphere of life. It weaves itself into underground waterways, reaching far into the food chain and travelling many kilometres, contaminating all water sources in its path.
First of all, let’s look at the terrestrial consequences. The chemicals that are in the soil are eventually consumed by the organisms that are at the bottom of the food chain, often being plants or insects. This triggers the first step for what is called Biological Amplification. When an organism eats from a contaminated source, like soil exposed to pesticides, it will store some of its toxicity in its body. When an animal eats the contaminated plants or insects, it will ingest that toxicity but at a much larger scale, increasing the concentration of it even more. Then, carnivores eat the animals that ate the plants, and they garner the most toxicity. Therefore, the pesticide that was sprayed onto the soil has now trickled up into the food chain all the way to carnivores, affecting all involved animals.
This eventually affects us, because we consume the food that is sometimes contaminated by our own pesticides. We either directly eat the fruits, vegetables or grains that are sprayed with chemicals or we eat the animals and plants that have chemicals in their bodies. Because of that, according to the World Health Organization, there is “about three million cases of pesticide poisoning and 220,000 deaths reported in developing countries.” Infants, young children, farm workers and pesticide applicators are the groups that are most susceptible to the toxicity of pesticides. In addition, according to Dr. Kanwal Shazadi, researcher at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), there are many neurological effects that are attributed to pesticide exposure like “the loss of coordination and memory, reduced visual ability and reduced motor signalling.” Physically, pesticides are associated with asthma, allergies, hypersensitivity, damaged immune systems, cancer, infertility and more. We are essentially poisoning ourselves with the overuse of toxic chemicals to sustain a higher rate of agricultural production.
Finally, the pesticidal chemicals will continue to trickle deeper and will eventually reach groundwater. Water that is consistently exposed to these elements will be considered contaminated or polluted. These waterways are also slow-moving and virtually impossible to clean-up. Groundwater does have an evacuation process, but it may take up to 50 years until it rids itself from the toxic compounds. This groundwater will ultimately flow into lakes and rivers, destroying their respective ecosystems. It comes to no surprise that arsenic, chlorine, lead or mercury is extremely poisonous to any organisms that come in contact with it. Consequently, fishes, frogs and water birds alike are dying in clusters. Pesticides also cause the reduction of pH levels, essentially bleaching the life away from water sources. It is also responsible for causing mutations and growth abnormalities in fish, making them especially vulnerable as prey and unable to survive in their environments anymore. In addition to that, pesticides contaminate fresh water sources all around the world, polluting our drinking water.
Governments have been trying to ban the use of pesticides, especially the more toxic ones like organochlorines and neonicotinoids. But this is not a viable solution as it only targets the production within a specific country, meaning that all imported foods coming from outside the country may still be contaminated. Nations with weaker or no laws against pesticide usage are even diversifying and are now applying a wide variety of toxic chemicals on their plants. Another alternative brought up by governmental institutions is to simply reduce the use of pesticides. As much of good solution as this is, it is nowhere near enough to circumvent this problem. If this rule is not imposed internationally, which would be difficult considering the size of this industry, it will not be enough for farmers abroad to change their methods.
Real solutions come from common sense. If we provide farmers viable, sustainable ways to replace pesticides as a way to manage plant-destroying lifeforms, only then will the use of pesticides go out of style. The Pesticide Environmental Stewardship mentioned that through regular rotation of crop-types, controlled irrigation to avoid high humidity coupled with techniques that exposes the pest to natural enemies will make for a sustainable agricultural environment. Another solution was about the use of physical barriers by “netting small fruits and screening in greenhouses.” The PES provides the most valuable piece of information, being the right use for pesticides. According to them, these chemicals should be used in times of emergency. Only when farmers need the highest yields to survive or when there is an unbearable outbreak of pests should this method be used.
In terms of people using pesticides on their gardens, the solution also lies with it going out of style. Having those vibrant flowers and tomatoes to compliment your nice home is obviously a need that has been sold to us through marketing. It is unnecessary, and people should consider to start talking about that fact. Awareness should be raised to break the stereotype of needing a perfect garden to compliment a nice home. Nature is imperfect in every way, and engineering yourself out of that reality by chemically enhancing your garden has proven to be awful for the environment you live in. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot have a beautiful garden anymore. According to the Botanical Garden of Montreal, there are a few golden rules to follow to have a pesticide-free garden. These rules include handpicked plants that are resistant to insect and disease by default, the creation of a diversified environment by planting different families of plants, regularly enriching the soil by using compost and many other tricks to sustain a varied colourful garden from home.
Pesticides have been a must-buy for farmers and gardeners alike. Most of these products are made with toxic chemicals that are detrimental to anything that it comes in contact with. Its mass usage has contaminated and killed so much, yet the industry stands strong in many countries around the world. A strong stance should be taken by any environmentalists out there against pesticides, as this contributes to the destruction of the environment as much as any other polluting activities. International communities should start boycotting countries that relies on pesticides and chemicals to enhance their agricultural production and offer them a viable alternative so that they may be able to restore their local ecosystems in time. Pesticides represent a perfect example that everything we inject into nature will eventually be thrown back at us, whether we like it or not.