The debate concerning the safety of chemical pesticides used on food crops for humans and animals alike rages on. Some believe the risk is negligible, and simply washing your produce mitigates any potentially risks these chemical pose, while others argue that plants grown in pesticides absorb the chemicals into their flesh, which means washing the outer skin offers little protection. Many people buy organic produce to avoid this, but others believe the organic label to be little more than a money making ploy.
Regardless of what side of the argument you land on, it has been proven time and time again that chemical pesticides wreak havoc on human health.
Why Are We Even Using Pesticides?
Throughout the years, putting toxic chemicals onto our food has been justified with the argument that doing so increases crop yields. Many believe we couldn’t produce enough food to feed the population without pesticides. And this may be true for mass produced crops like corn, soy, and wheat, which can be found in almost every single packaged food you find at the grocery store and make up the majority of fast food options.
But those crops are actually destroying the soil upon which they grow. If we wreck the soil and pollute it with too many chemicals, then what? Yield hardly matters in the face of utter soil degradation, and it’s happening already. Studies conducted by the Chinese government, in fact, showed that 20% of the arable land in China is now unusable due to pesticide contamination.
But hope remains. Two United Nations experts have recently called for a global treaty to not only regulate, but eventually phase out and ban chemical pesticides, moving worldwide food production toward more sustainable agricultural practices instead.
UN Calls for Global Treaty to Promote Chemical-Free Sustainable Farming
Two UN members — the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and the Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak — shared research with the Human Rights Council in Geneva showing that pesticide use causes 200,000 acute poisoning deaths annually.
Chronic exposure to chemical pesticides has been linked to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, sterility, developmental disorders, and hormone disruption. Sustainable Pulse reports:
The experts particularly emphasized the obligation of States to protect the rights of children from hazardous pesticides. . . .
The experts warn that certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends. . . .
The experts say the use of neonicotinoid pesticides is particularly worrying because they are accused of being responsible for a systematic collapse in the number of bees around the world. Such a collapse, they say, threatens the very basis of agriculture as 71% of crop species are bee-pollinated.
While acknowledging that certain international treaties currently offer protection from the use of a few pesticides, they stressed that a global treaty to regulate the vast majority of them throughout their life cycle does not yet exist, leaving a critical gap in the human rights protection framework.
Elver and Tuncak challenged the pesticide industry’s “systematic denial of harms” and “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics,” noting that the industry has spent a fortune lobbying to policymakers and contesting scientific evidence proving the harmful effects of pesticides on both human and environmental health.
Chemical Pesticides Are Not the Answer
Their report also denies allegations that pesticides are necessary to ensure sufficient amounts of food for a growing world population, calling this widely accepted belief a complete “myth.”
It is clear that decades of heavy pesticide use, along with genetic engineering, have done nothing to “eradicate world hunger,” but have instead contributed to soil degradation and food contamination. According to Elver and Tuncak, “The assertion promoted by the agrochemical industry that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading. In principle, there is adequate food to feed the world; inequitable production and distribution systems present major blockages that prevent those in need from accessing it.”
Sustainable Farming Practices
The report also offers solutions, urging for developments in sustainable and regenerative farming practices and demonstrating that biology in itself can replace the need for chemical pesticides, all while producing high yields of nutrient dense organic food — without harming the environment.
“It is time to overturn the myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world and create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production,” they said.
This could mean the end to chemical pesticides as we know it. Imagine walking into a store and not having to check labels or barcode numbers because you already that everything is safe to consume. That is how it should be, and it seems like people are finally starting to see and understand that.
This also means that we have a chance to save the soil, before it’s too late. If we continue farming as we have been, with mass-produced genetically engineered crops and vast amounts of chemical pesticides, we face losing all our land to pesticide contamination.
In the meantime, do your best to buy organic whenever possible. Support organic farmers and shop at your local organic farmers market. Even Costco recently announced their plans to buy land to support farmers who are growing organic produce, so you need not visit specialty stores to do your part.
The Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen
Organic produce is admittedly costly, so choosing only the most heavily contaminated products to buy organic can help stretch your grocery dollars. Fortunately, the people at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have compiled a “Dirty Dozen” and a “Clean 15” report that ranks foods based on highest and lowest pesticide contamination.
The Dirty Dozen
- Sweet Bell Peppers
The Clean 15
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
And there you have it! Soon, it will just be the “Clean Everything” list, but for now, this is useful information to keep on hand.