|What are the other implications for high use of pesticides?|
Apart from leaving unwanted residues of pesticides on the food we eat, there are other implications for the current levels of pesticide use in agriculture.
1. Exposure of agricultural workers to pesticides
Workers responsible for applying pesticides, or who have to go into treated crops to carry out other tasks, are likely to have high levels of exposure to pesticides. In developed countries, there are regulations designed to ensure that pesticide users are properly trained and have adequate protection, but it is impossible to eliminate all the risks. A number of studies have shown that pesticide users have a higher risk of developing diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer, although a causal link has not been proven and we don’t know which pesticides are likely to be responsible.
2. Exposure people living in agricultural areas to pesticides
Even in the UK where pesticide use is tightly regulated and controlled, many of those living next to agricultural land are unhappy about the frequent application of pesticides and the long-term consequences for their health.
PAN UK’s PEX project aims to support those whose health has been compromised by pesticide exposure and to change regulations to give better information and better protection to those living near agricultural land.
3. Exposure of workers and residents in developing countries
In developing countries, training and protective clothing, equipment and storage facilities are often completely inadequate. Pesticide poisoning is all too frequent – a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2004 estimated that one million to five million cases of pesticide poisonings occur every year, resulting in several thousands of fatalities, including children.
“Most of the poisonings take place in rural areas of developing countries, where safeguards typically are inadequate or lacking altogether. Although developing countries use 25% of the world’s production of pesticides, they experience 99% of the deaths due to pesticide poisoning,”
“Children face a higher risk from pesticides because they may be more susceptible than adults or more greatly exposed than adults. Children's behaviour, playing and ignorance of risks, result in greater potential for exposure. Malnutrition and dehydration increase their sensitivity to pesticides. Currently around 200 million children are suffering from malnutrition”.
The levels of pesticide that we are exposed to from our imported produce are very much lower than the levels that the people who grow it for us, and their families, are exposed to. Organic produce has little or no pesticides used in its production, and fair trade produce has better controls and standards – “On plantations and in factories, minimum health and safety as well as environmental standards must be complied with, and no child or forced labour can occur” and so exposure to pesticides is likely to be better controlled – see Fairtrade Foundation website for more information. If you want to help the growers to have a sustainable, healthy livelihood, then consider buying organic or fair trade.
4. Environmental damage
Pesticides do a considerable amount of damage to the environment. They are an inextricable part of intensive agriculture, which has resulted in a serious reduction in biodiversity. Some farmland bird species that have declined dramatically since the seventies (corn bunting, grey partridge and yellowhammer) have now been shown to be affected by pesticides. See RSPB for more information.
Pesticides are frequently detected in water, too and a number of pesticides are extremely toxic to aquatic species. The Environment Agency reports on the levels of pesticides it detects in the rivers.
Both government and industry acknowledge the potential environmental impacts of pesticides. The government is developing a national strategy for pesticides, and since 2001 the industry has been running a Voluntary Initiative, both of which are aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of pesticides.
PAN UK’s Agriculture project is aimed at changing policy and practice to reduce the use and the impacts of pesticides in the UK.