Lessons from the use of pes­ti­cide

Franklin County News - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - JOHN ALLEN

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.



Let­ters should not ex­ceed 250 words and must have full name, res­i­den­tial ad­dress and phone num­ber. The editor reserves the right to abridge or with­hold any cor­re­spon­dence with­out ex­pla­na­tion. Let­ter may be edited for sense, pa­per’s style, brevity or good taste. Write to Let­ters to the Editor, Franklin County News, PO Box 14, Pukekohe or email julie.kaio@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz with your views.

John Allen

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