Negative Effects of Agricultural Practices #2
In my previous article concerning negative effects of chemical pesticides, I talked about the phenomenon of pesticide treadmilling, the problem of superbugs, and super weeds. Pesticides not only bring about changes in bugs and weeds, but also changes in human health.
Pesticides have led to health problems for farm workers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are about fourteen thousand cases of poisoning of farm workers and farmers in the US which are a result of pesticide overuse. The export of banned pesticides from industrial countries to the developing countries has exacerbated this problem because farm workers in developing countries are often illiterate and thus “have little experience with manmade poisons” (Boucher). Farmers are poisoned through exposure to “drifting pesticide sprays and leaking pesticide applications” (Boucher). The third problem that resulted from chemical pesticides is soil contamination. Toxic pesticide residues accumulate in conventional farm soils and contaminate the soil (Boucher). For example, methyl bromide gas can kill virtually everything in the soil. It is “lethal to soil biota—the good and useful, along with the bad and harmful” (Wilshire et al.).
Apart from these on-farm sustainability issues stated above, the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides has also engendered off-farm environmental problems. First of all, pesticides contaminate off-farm water supplies and thus endanger the health of living creatures through biomagnification. Some of the one billion pounds of pesticides US farmers spray on their land will end up in groundwater, rivers, and estuaries. According to a research conducted by US Geological Survey between 1992 and 1996, half the wells and nearly all the streams around the nation contained at least one pesticide. Commonly-used pesticides such as Sevin and Roundup reduce aquatic biota by fifteen and twenty two percent, respectively.
Secondly, pesticides contribute to air pollution and global warming. The spray and gas can easily leak into the air and cause mass amounts of death in bird populations. For instance, DDT is one of the greatest bird killers of all time. In addition, many tomato crops are sprayed every week with pesticides that have reduced the number of birds. Pesticides also deplete the ozone layer. Many conventional farms are fumigated with methyl bromide gas which is “considered the most powerful ozone destroyer in large-scale use” (Wilshire et al.).
Despite the undesirable consequences, farmers continue to apply pesticides to their fields due to the following reasons. Farmers are being squeezed because the prices of agricultural output are decreasing while the prices of inputs are continuously increasing They have to find less-costly ways to produce. Most farmers “see pesticides as silver bullets, providing relatively cheap, extremely effective control of their worst problems” (Bourne).
Secondly, farmers can hardly get information about eco-friendly alternative practices, because “the companies they buy their chemicals from are certainly not helping them” (Bourne).
Lastly, governmental funding for alternative practices is far from adequate. Only thirty four percent of the thirty thousand research projects supported by US Department of Agriculture in 1995 and 1996 focused on organic production. UMass Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program lost governmental funding of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.
So what do you think the government should do?
Douglas Boucher, ed., The Paradox of Plenty: Hunger in a Bountiful World (Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 1999).
Bourne, The Organic Revolution. pdf. (The passage can also be found herehttp://www.audubonmagazine.org/organic/)
Wilshire et al., The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery(New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Team 5: International Health
Smith College sophomore