The Problem with Pesticides
Pesticides are present in our day-to-day lives. And far too often, they end up on our plates.
Despite campaigns against glyphosate and neonicotinoids (and the increasing evidence of the danger these present), our food and farming system is stuck on a chemical-reliant treadmill and we need it to stop.
The number of chemicals applied to major UK crops is increasing dramatically - despite industry claims to the opposite.
- Seriously harm nature and wildlife
- Lead to the creation of cancer cells
- Affect our endocrine system
- Trap farmers in a system that only helps a handful of corporations.
Scientists increasingly believe there is no safe lower dose for human exposure.
Because we’re all exposed to pesticides it is difficult to prove a cause-effect relationship, like: exposure to X amount of pesticide Y causes cancer Z.
However, there are strong links between pesticide exposure and ill health. Children whose mothers were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy are more likely to have a reduced birth weight, lower intelligence, altered behaviour and they have an increased risk to develop leukaemia and other cancers. That’s a shortened version of a list of health risks.
Then there is a statistically increased risk to develop ‘neurodegenerative diseases’ like Parkinson’s.
And many pesticides are endocrine disruptors, they are likely to have an effect on everything from the thyroid gland to fertility.
Pesticides role in a farmland wildlife crash
Research indicates pesticides are playing a significant part in the catastrophic farmland wildlife crash. Despite recent success with the banning of neonicotinoids, removing single pesticides in isolation is not the answer. They will simply be replaced.
What is needed now is a farming system that moves away from this reliance on pesticides. We want the next generation of farmers to grow up without the pressure to put toxic chemicals on their fields, and the next generation of children never to eat it. It isn't enough to fight for a ban after ban. We need to break the cycle.
Pesticide approvals are largely based on safety tests of individual pesticides, but farmers don’t apply just one spray on a farm – they apply many; insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and more. This devastating cocktail of pesticides could compound the already devastating effect it is having on nature and human health.
Neonicotinoids work as an insecticide by blocking specific neural pathways in insects’ central nervous systems, causing disorientation, inability to feed and death.
How does this pesticide affect bees and other wildlife?
These insecticides are supposed to be more targeted than non-systemic pesticides. One might think that would prevent them from contaminating both the countryside and beneficial wildlife, but that’s not the case:
- Because they are systemic, these insecticides are taken up into every part of a growing crop. This includes small amounts in the pollen and nectar of flowers – where bees and other pollinators can become exposed to small doses. Whilst these aren’t usually enough to kill outright, they are enough to affect the ability of these insects to survive.
- The majority of these chemicals leach out of plants and seeds into soil and water. Nearby wild plants take them up and become toxic. Despite the partial ban, this is still happening on thousands of hectares of our countryside, as cereals like wheat are still being treated.
- Even when an animal isn’t exposed directly to a neonicotinoid, they can be affected. There is evidence that many bird populations may be crashing as a result of lack of food – due to the loss of insects harmed by neonicotinoid contamination in water courses.
What’s the latest on neonicotinoids?
On the 27th of April 2018, neonics were banned on all outdoor crops in the EU.
You might not know the name, but you’ll no doubt know the brands that use it. Glyphosate is a weed killer that is used in products including Roundup. And whilst the general public use it on their gardens, farmers and public bodies use it on a far larger scale.
Glyphosate in farming
Many farmers use glyphosate to aid in killing weeds right before crops start to grow in Spring.
Alarmingly, in addition to this, they are used right before harvesting. The aim is to dry out the crop to make them easier to harvest. This, despite the fact there is little evidence that doing so creates an advantageous situation. This has resulted in glyphosate residue appearing in many day-to-day food items including bread.
Glyphosate and Human Health
Concerns about the dangers of glyphosate to human health have been around for years. There have long been concerns that glyphosate is a hormone disrupter which can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. If this is the case, as some scientists argue, there is no safe lower level for human consumption.
The chemical companies and the food industry claim the level of glyphosate in food poses no danger to the British public. But recent World Health Organisation (WHO) findings and the chemical cocktail often found in bread sold in the UK bring this into serious question.
The amount of glyphosate in bread may sit well below the level deemed unsafe by the EU, but this level has not been re-examined since the WHO's 'probable carcinogen' ruling.
The safety regulators in the UK and EU only look at glyphosate on its own, often referring to unpublished industry studies that aren't publicly available and have never passed peer review or been exposed to expert critique. In the real world, glyphosate is always mixed with other chemicals to make sure the glyphosate sticks to and penetrates the plants it’s sprayed on.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) panel looked at what farmers are actually using.
Making a Difference
Helping farmers get off the chemical treadmill requires a wholesale rethink of our food and farming systems.Discover the solution today