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Emily, Jake, and Zach
Do we have unhealthy levels of pesticides in our
Have you ever wondered how the agriculture industry is able to produce such a high quantity of crops while also keeping it fresh as it is transported from farms to grocery stores? For years farmers have used chemicals called pesticides to prevent plant disease and insect infestations from ruining farms and gardens. In turn, farmers are able to cheaply and effectively produce a high quantity and high variety of food while also increasing profits. Pesticides are any substance that eradicate, alter, or destroy the life cycle of any pest. However, Pesticides are chemically based and have been shown to have certain health effects on humans when consumed in large quantities. This has sparked the controversy over whether or not pesticides are too harmful to humans. Many argue that pesticides can be used safely and that the amount we use in our food is not enough to harm us, while others argue that pesticides raise too many health concerns and should not be used. Therefore, we beg the question: Do we have unhealthy levels of pesticides in our food? (1)
Types of Pesticides:
Herbicides: used to kill weeds
insecticides: used to kill insects
antimicrobials: used to kill microorganisms
fungicides: used to kill mold and other fungus
rodenticides: used to kill rodents
organophosphates: used in about half of insecticides and working by affecting the nervous system through the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase. (1)
- We use about 4.5 billion pounds of chemicals
as pesticides every year
- About 1 million farms use 944 million
pounds of pesticides per year
- About 74 million households use 76 million
pounds of pesticides (4)
Benefits (pros) of Pesticides:
- controlling agricultural pests and vectors of plant disease
- higher yields of food
- increased profit
- reduced labor
- controlling human and livestock disease vectors and nuisance organisms (2)
Harms (cons) of Pesticides:
-"Recent estimates quoted by Food and Agricultural Organization (2000) from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) show that approximately three million people are poisoned and 200,000 die from pesticide poisoning use each year. The largest number of deaths are in developing countries" (5)
- possible reduced immune response (5)
-Farmers are the most at risk group (7)
- nerve damage (5)
- development of resistance of targeted pests to pesticides (5)
- neuropsychological and endocrine effects in children (4)
- children are at high risk for pesticide poisoning due to the fact that they have a developing immune system and are exposed to airborne pesticides when playing outside. They also stick their fingers in their mouth and touch multiple surfaces. (4)
- easily absorbed through four routes of exposure: skin, lungs, mouth and eyes (4)
Alternatives to Pesticide Usage :
-Integrated pest management (IPM), emphasizes the use of natural toxins
- the most economical methods
- used for preventative measures such as rotating crops, choosing pest-resistant strains of plants and planting nonfood crop nearby (1)
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has recently stated that the fruits and vegetables we eat today are safer than ever. The EPA has done many things in recent years to increase the safety of pesticide use in foods. For one, the EPA currently evaluates every pesticide before use through their four-step risk assessment. This assessment is as follows:
Step 1: Hazard Identification- what are some health problems or effects that could develope as a result of exposure to the pesticide.
Step 2: Dose-Response Exposure- at what levels does a pesticide become harmful
Step 3: Exposure Assessment: determines in what ways a person can be exposed to a pesticide
Step 4: Risk Characterization: combines the first 3 steps to give an overall assessment of the risk associated with a pesticide and how dangerous it is or is not (1)
The EPA also establishes acceptable tolerance levels that set the maximum level of a pesticide a person can be exposed to before harmful effect occur. Therefore, the EPA claims pesticides can be used safely and “just because a pesticide residue is detected on a fruit or vegetable, that does not mean it is unsafe.” (3)
Studies involving Myths about :
“A number of the studies evaluated farmers as a group exposed to pesticides; however, inference about cancer incidence in farmers may reflect not only their possible exposure to pesticides, but also exposure to petrochemical products, exhaust fumes, mineral and organic dusts, and biological exposure to animals and microbes. The great majority of the cohort studies of chemical workers employed in the manufacture of pesticides did not indicate an excess of brain cancer mortality.” (6)
“In this study, over 700 conventional and organic fresh produce buyers in the Boston area were surveyed for their perceived food safety risks. Survey results showed that consumers perceived relatively high risks associated with the consumption and production of conventionally grown produce compared with other public health hazards. For example, conventional and organic food buyers estimated the median annual fatality rate due to pesticide residues on conventionally grown food to be about 50 per million and 200 per million, respectively, which is similar in magnitude to the annual mortality risk from motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Over 90% of survey respondents also perceived a reduction in pesticide residue risk associated with substituting organically grown produce for conventionally grown produce, and nearly 50% perceived a risk reduction due to natural toxins and microbial pathogens.” (8)
In other words, the study showed that many people perceive pesticides to be more harmful than they actually are.
Minimizing Pesticide Residue:
There are many ways to reduce the consumption of pesticides from food. Many studies show that a person can remove 80% of pesticides residues on food by washing them with water. A person could also use a brush to scrub their produce and reduce pesticides in that form. Studies also show that by removing the skins of fruits and vegetables (although this may remove vitamins and nutrients as well) will remove pesticide residues. Lastly, it is encouraged that people consume a variety of as this will also expose them to a variety of pesticides and reduce the potential of being heavily exposed to one pesticide. Therefore, it will reduce the possibility of having large amounts of a pesticide in the body, but will instead result in small harmless quantities of multiple pesticides. (1)
As a group, we feel that although there are potential risks in using pesticides, overall our foods do not contain unhealthy amounts of pesticides. Through our research we have found that pesticides are only dangerous to humans in large quantities and the quantities present in food alone are not enough to cause serious harm. We have also found that a majority of harmful effects and deaths to due pesticide poisoning occur in farmers (specifically in lower developing countries) who have been exposed to large amounts of pesticides as a result of misuse or poor equipment. Therefore, when used correctly, pesticides are not harmful. As for the trace amounts of pesticides in food, they can be taken care of through washing of produce. There is also the problem of airborne pesticides near pesticide storage areas and the dangers of using pesticides in homes. However, if a person makes sure they are clean, wash their hands, and refrain rubbing their eyes, nose and mouth when they know they have come in contact with a pesticide, any harmful effects can be avoided. Our conclusion is also supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates and controls all pesticide use and confirms the safety of pesticides. They assure all consumers that pesticides can be used in a safe manner to increase the efficiency of the agricultural industry. Therefore, we conclude that we do not have unhealthy levels of pesticides in our food.
1. Blake, Joan Salge., Kathy D. Munoz, and Stella Volpe. Nutrition: From Science to You. 3rd
ed. N.p.: Person, 2016. Print.
2. Cooper, Jerry. "The Benefits of Pesticides to Mankind and the Environment." Crop Protection
26 (2007): 1337-348. Science Direct. Web.
3. "Food and Pesticides." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Dec.
4. Weiss, Bernard, Sherlita Amler, and Robert W. Amler. "Pesticides." Pediatrics (Evanston)
113.4 (2004): 1030-036. General OneFile [Gale]. Web.
5. Wilson, Clevo. "Why Farmers Continue to Use Pesticides Despite Environmental, Health and
Sustainability Costs." Ecological Economics 39.3 (2001): 449-62. Science Direct. Web.
6. Brain tumor and exposure to pesticides in humans: A review ... (n.d.). Retrieved December
6, 2016, from
7. M, M., AC, F., & F, M. (n.d.). University of Milan, Department of Occupational Health, Hospital
L. Sacco, Milano. email@example.com. Retrieved December 06, 2016, from
8. Perceived Risks of Conventional and Organic Produce: Pesticides, Pathogens, and Natural
Toxins. (n.d.). Retrieved December 06, 2016, from
9. Pesticide Video:
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