All pesticides are similar. Some are more toxic some less but all of them are toxic. There is not one single pesticide today that is health-promoting. DDT for example is now a banned substance in many parts of the world, but it was not so once upon a time. The government used to endorse the product, and the chemical industry pushed it aggressively. It remained massively supported for an extended period by the government and industry. A type of miracle substance. The diabolical weapon of modern science kills billions of insects and saves millions of humans. The final solution to malaria and other insect-carrying diseases.
Pesticides are neurotoxins for insects but not for humans. DDT in insects opens sodium ion channels in neurons, causing them to fire spontaneously, which leads to spasms and eventual death. All the bug needs to do is to walk over the treated surface. In the scientist’s mind, it was just a neurotoxin for insects. They could not consider the likelihood that it might do other stuff in the long run. A big chunk of pesticides used today is much worse than DDT.
One more reason DDT was banned is that for 30 years it was overused and insects became resistant to it. It happens in an environment when a poison is introduced.
Some bugs survive and multiply. The genetic characteristics of survivors will be more adapted against the same kind of pesticides. The pesticide used for the first time will have the most significant impact and will do more harm. However, some insects that survive will carry their genes forward. With time, forthcoming generations will be capable of withstanding its effects more and eventually becoming tolerant. Like mosquitos in South Africa. The longer time a chemical is used, the more resistant insects became. It is the same story as antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. When this happens, the more effective and more potent, and toxic poisons have to be used by farmers. That will repeat the cycle. New compounds are usually more expensive, so the economic cost will become higher and are also increasingly toxic. That generates a higher level of pollution and thus deteriorates the overall balance of the ecosystem even more. The high rate of reproduction of insects means that in a couple of decades they can become tolerant but what about you.
Pesticides will run off into groundwaters and streams and rivers. That will affect the biology of many species of fish, birds, mammals, and other animals in a food chain eventually ending up in your body as well.
GMO organisms are primarily created because of this so that pesticides like Roundup can be used in high dosages to kill all of these new resistant and nasty insects. We have reached the point where we have to alter genes artificially to keep pace with natural evolution.
One good example is McDonald’s French fries. In every McDonald’s restaurant in the world, the fries are made from the same potato named Russet Burbank.
This is a potato from America that’s unusually long, and it is also very difficult to grow. It has to be very long because we like those red boxes with a little bouquet of very long fries visually. So McDonald insists that all potatoes be Russet Burbank. They also insist that all chips be clear without blemishes. There is one common defect of Russet Burbank called net necrosis. Because we like fries to be clean without brown spots on them, McDonald’s won’t buy potatoes from farmers who had them. The only way to eliminate the blemishes is to eliminate the aphids. The only pesticide that can kill them is called Monitor. It is so toxic that farmers who grow these potatoes have to spray the pesticides and would not go back to the fields for five days after the spraying. They have to wait for pesticides to wash off before they can go back. When they harvest the potatoes, they have to put them in atmosphere-controlled sheds. In some cases, the size of sheds can rival football stadiums. The reason they are put into sheds in the first place is that they are not edible for six weeks. The potato has to off-gas all the chemicals in them.
In organic farming, crop rotation is useful for addressing many problems of the over usage of pesticides. Monoculture excessively depletes the soil of certain nutrients. The rotation has the purpose of rebuilding the soil. One crop that leaches the soil of one kind of nutrient is then in the next growing season replaced by another crop that doesn’t leach that specific nutrient but draws a different ratio of nutrients. In some cases, if done correctly crop rotation can even return that nutrient to the ground. Rotation in time will build biomass and fertility and structure of the soil from various root structures.
When one species is grown continuously, year after year, it will in time build up the number of pests, and by rotation, the buildup of pathogens and pests will be mitigated. However, as the human population has grown, monoculture with synthetic fertilizers is the only economically effective way to produce all of the crops we need. It is also left crops to be vulnerable to extensive attacks by pests. Today we annually use more than 5 billion pounds of pesticides across the Earth. All of those chemicals eventually end up in the soil and ocean. On top of that, these chemicals have altered the genetics of many species creating superbugs. Colorado potato beetle, for example, is resistant to more than 50 insecticides. Other bugs get caught in the crossfire.
For example, since the late 1990s, there is an unexplained and sudden reduction in the number of bees. On a global scale, there are unusually high rates of decline in honeybee colonies.
More than one-third of world crop production depends on bee pollination. The loss of biodiversity can explain it. Due to monocultures that bees cannot use for food and the widespread use of pesticides, some of them can kill them directly or indirectly, the situation is now terrible. Bees dying reflects the dysfunctional balance in nature with a dysfunctional food system and flowerless landscape. In some sections of the world, there are no bees at all. In such places, people are paid to do pollination by hand. In the US, bees have been in decline since World War 2. There were around 4.5 million beehives before the war and now the number is around 2 million hives. Food deserts are large-scale monocultures that do not provide any food to insects including bees. The farms that use to support the life of bees are now food deserts dominated by one or two species like corn or soy with no flowering plants that bees need for survival. For example, the scale of the almond monoculture is such that today 1.5 million hives or almost all of the hives in existence in the US are needed to do successful pollination. Hives are required to be transported across the US to pollinate just this one crop. They are trucked in semi loads, and after bloom almonds are flowerless landscapes with no food for bees, so they are needed to be transported to some other place to do pollination. The problem is that food production that requires bee pollination is rising annually. And then pesticides are necessary because monocultures are a feast for the pest that feeds on them. In pollen that bees collect there are at least six types of insecticides. There is one insecticide that is especially toxic for bees called neonicotinoid.
Pesticides had improved over time and became stronger and more targeted, but still, they are not natural and still pollute soil, water, wildlife, and our health too.
Exposure to these substances directly causes cancer and other tumors, leukemia, lymphoma, birth defects, infertility, and other reproductive problems, stillbirth, spontaneous abortion, sterility and infertility, brain and nervous system damage, and damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and other body organs.
Without them, food prices will skyrocket, and a big chunk of the human population will die from starvation or mosquito-borne diseases.
Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]