"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Power of Pesticides

Pesticides were developed more than 100 years ago and since then we have relied on them to preserve our health and to keep our food supplies unharmed. Today, pesticides are seen as being harmful to our health. An example of the latest breakthrough was seen in an article written by Harminka and was published on Monday, May 14th 2007 titled 100 percent of pregnant women have at least one kind of pesticide in their placenta. This article states that women contain a high amount of organochlorine contaminants in their body which cause major defects in a new born. Harminka states that "Every year, we "invent" more than 2,000 new substances, most of them contaminants, which are emitted into the environment and which are consequently present in food, air, soil and water." This figure alone is very high, and we are now seeing the dangers increasing. Today, pesticide residues are in every single animal from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and now slowly in every human.
Scientists are doing a lot to improve our food quality. Organic and Natural foods are becoming very popular in our world these days but they are not grown the same way. Natural doesn’t exactly mean the food is safe because it has no legal meaning. Organic on the other hand means that the field where the food is grown, there are no pesticides used on the whole farm. Scientists have discovered that the industry and media are always aiming to produce the perfect look, in this case it is said that 40-80% of all pesticides that are used on farms for fruits and vegetables are used only to make them look appealing. Organic food is good economically, since they are grown without the use of toxic chemicals. Consumers are now aware of the dangers that pesticides cause, and therefore turn to organically produced foods to reduce the risk of many diseases. Now days there are organic certification programs that make sure that the foods that say "organic" on the label are actually grown by organic production methods. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to afford organic foods because they are more costly. I would recommend washing all your fruits and vegetables before eating them. This helps to remove pesticide residues as well as the wax and other chemicals that have been used. Overall, organic foods have become a necessity for our safety in the food industry for the future.
The common trends of pesticides have been used in farming and field working. Farmers are dependent on pesticide usage for single crop cultivation. “A National Cancer institute study found that farmers exposed to herbicides has a six times greater risk that non-farmers of contracting one type of cancer.”[i] “Other studies have shown similar results, with farmers exposed to pesticides having an increased risk of developing cancer”.[ii] The implications of pesticides are seen in several countries pesticides are kept in open containers, especially in moist and humid areas. This causes deterioration and spoilage of the food and possibly food poisoning or other sicknesses. The contents leak into the soil which contaminants the soil, water, and groundwater. This is very dangerous for the environment and wildlife since these chemicals are extremely toxic. It only takes a few grams to poison thousands of people. The main toxins and persistent pesticides identified by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) were aldrin, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, HCH, lindane, malathion, parathion and others. There are some countries that have decided to make a change to better their lifestyle and health. For example, Denmark has committed US $6 million for pesticide removal and capacity building.FAO advises all pesticide users to dispose all obsolete pesticides in high temperature in an incinerator. The only problem is that not all countries have the money and resources to be able to afford this machinery. Therefore, the pesticides are re-packaged and shipped to a country which has a hazardous waste destruction facility.
Today's pesticides are different from those in the past. They are less persistent and less toxic to humans. Nevertheless, they are still subject to strict controls, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to consider bans on some of them. A solution that could be implemented, in the future is an effort to reduce the influent organochlorine pesticide.The following offers the major categories of control strategies that could be enforced.
Technology-based Strategies
Local Regulatory Strategies
Public and Business Outreach
I have added a brief description on each of the categories below. Technology-based strategies use equipment or chemicals to reduce the amounts of organochlorine pesticides. The efficiency of this technology depends on the power of the technology to remove organochlorine from the source.
Local regulatory strategies consist of laws and controls on particular industries or sources. These controls may include product bans or limitations. The probability of this strategy is limited by state and federal law (e.g. FIFRA prohibits many local restrictions on pesticides). The usefulness of this type of tactic depends on the ability of the RWQCP to implement the regulations.
Regulatory strategies are normally not related to residential and technology based strategies. Therefore, outreach and public education are the most effective ways to create awareness and change to businesses so it can be a cost-effective. This can be accomplished in many different ways: Brochures, event displays and media advertisements. School programs can be used to create awareness in children which they can then pass on to their parents. Business outreach can apply education as well as the best management practices. These are effective ways of educating both business owners and the public about environmental issues.
An interesting study has been done on Apples in the recent years. A chemical called Alar is sprayed on apples so they ripen more slowly. Apples are less likely to drop from the tree before harvest and have a darker coloured texture. Alar is mostly used on Macintosh, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonathan and Stayman. Though, the use of Alar has decreased dramatically. Manufacturers and supermarkets will not purchase Alar treated apples to make their products. Therefore, it is said that an apple a day may not actually keep the doctor away.
[i] Shelia Hoar, “Agricultural Herbicide Use and Risk of Lymphoma and Soft-Tissue Sarcoma”, Journal of the American Medical Association, 256:1141-1147, 1986
[ii] Aaron Blair, “Leukemia Among Nebraska Farmers: A Death Certificate Study”, American Journal of Epidemiology, 110:264-273, 1979

1.Pesticides : making the right choice for the protection of health and the environment : report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development / Charles Caccia, chairmen ; Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Caccia, Charles, Ottawa : Minister of Public Works and Government Services, c2000. Pg 11,25
2. http://www.gca.ca/indexcms/index.php?pfn

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