Pesticides: A Massive Problem Masquerading as a Solution?

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

Pesticides: A Massive Problem Masquerading as a Solution?


Byline: Barbara Damrosch Special to The Washington Post

To the little people, it never felt right. The readers of the old Organic Gardening and Farming magazine saw no logic in spraying poisons on their vegetables.

The magazine was founded 75 years ago, with no glamour or gloss, and its circulation reached more than a million at its height. It featured tales and photos from real home gardeners, bursting with pride in the healthy, vigorous, chemical-free plants they had grown.

The sad history of pesticide use in horticulture bears their hunches out. One product after another has been found unsafe to use. In the 19th century, a concoction named Paris green was the insecticide of choice before being replaced by lead arsenate -- an unholy marriage of arsenic and lead first used in 1892. When that proved deadly to humans as well as insects, it was followed right after World War II by DDT, which reigned until Rachel Carson disgraced it with her book "Silent Spring" in 1962.

So all these were sold commercially for a long time before their dangers were recognized, and to this day many pesticides are considered harmful to humans, wildlife and the quality of soil, water and air, even as they remain in widespread use.

That reality is reinforced in a new report from the United Nations, "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food." Pesticide regulation has largely failed. Pesticides are "responsible for biodiversity loss and water and soil contamination and for negatively affecting the productivity of croplands, thereby threatening future food production."

This prediction runs counter to the claim made by powerful food industry giants that pesticides are needed to feed the world's future population. Rather, the report says, the industry's "inequitable production and distribution systems" keep food from those who need it. It's cheering to read that a "rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less or without any pesticides is feasible." Green agriculture, it states, "is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population. …

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