Lessons from the use of pesticide
Pesticides is the proper term for them. But I prefer to call them poisoning ‘cides.
Poisoning because that is what they do, and calling them ‘cides exposes their pervasiveness as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, molluscicides, nematicides.
For sure, we need to control pests and diseases in our gardens and in agriculture. But do we need to use poisoning ‘cides as freely and as indiscriminately as we do?
Agriculture originated 10,000 years ago when hunter-gathers collected edible seeds. Around that time, rice and millet were domesticated in China. Some 7500 years ago, rice and sorghum were farmed in Africa and corn, squashes and sunflowers were grown in the Americas.
As populations settled, the cultivation of staple foods became increasingly common, and so farming became the way of human life.
Five millennia later, and in the absence of chemical industries, hand control, natural compounds and witch doctory or appeals to religious deities, were the means of controlling pests and diseases.
A mere 72 years ago, after World War II, the use of chemical pesticides became fashionable and a significant danger to consumers. Prior to that, inorganic chemicals, like sulphuric acid, and organic chemicals derived from natural sources were widely used despite their limitations and dangers.
The turning point towards synthetic poisoning ‘cides followed the success of DDT in the mid 40s. As it turned out, DDT was a disaster to human health and it was banned in 1972 after more than 10 years of public protests. Likewise, the insecticide Aldicarb. Another disaster. Used for 25 years before being banned in 2010.
These examples demonstrate that our environmental and health regulators were deficient in protecting the interests of the public - their reason for being. Must this same scenario now be played out again, this time with glyphosate?
In an insightful blog, Guy Watson wrote, ‘‘… history suggests that regulation has repeatedly underestimated the risks posed by pesticides. Yet the underlying assumptions used in assessing the toxicity of pesticides have not changed.’’
That’s a big concern. More so given President Trump’s attacks dis-empowering the US EPA which is, in part, our de-facto regulator. We see this predisposition to underestimate risks in our own EPA. Last month, it issued its first-ever Red Alert to ban products containing Chlorothalonil.
That acutely toxic fungicide has been used for over 40 years and is likely to be found in the cupboards of many gardeners. Worse, it will continue to be used because safety warnings issued by our EPA are weak, lack potency and are not reaching home gardeners.
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