Professor Jim West
15 May 2012
The Hidden Cost of Convenience
Human beings have had a relationship with the Earth through farming since 10,000 B.C., and to this day humans remain dependent on that very relationship. The development in farming techniques has exploded since the early 1900’s with the development of chemical pesticides and Genetic Engineering (GE). GE crops treated with pesticides produce larger quantities of food at an immensely faster rate. Approximately 70 percent of processed food come from GE seeds and are treated with chemical pesticides. Because of the massive amounts of food that are being produced, the dollar expense is decreased for these abundant products. This may seem to be an amazing revelation in food technology, but what if the very processes which make food available, affordable, and convenient are what is making modern Americans sick? What are you really sacrificing for convenience?
Pesticides are substances used to destroy insects or any other organisms (pests) that are harmful to cultivated plants or animals. There are many variations of natural pesticides and chemical pesticides. The use of chemical pesticides raises a controversy about the safety of our food, and our environment. A number of studies conducted by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program suggest that the use of pesticides is extremely dangerous. These studies conclude that about three million agricultural workers suffer illnesses such as cancer from severe poisoning due to pesticide exposure. Of this number, 18,000 die every year (Drake). However, Mr. Rick Melnicoe, Director of the Western Integrated Pest Management Center and the UC Statewide Pesticide Coordinator claims, “it is the dose that makes the poison and that there is virtually no illness associated with modern pesticide residue on foods. Illnesses that do occur are caused by misuse, exposure to concentrated levels by workers, and basic stupidity” (Safe Pesticides?). Overall, it is more or less important reason why pesticides cause illness but rather that they do, and everyone should be aware of what is on or in their food before they feed themselves or their loved ones. We can only be as healthy as the products we put into our bodies and our environment allow us to be.
Pesticides have been used by various farmers since 2,500 B.C., but these pesticides consisted of natural substances such as honey, salt, and sulfur. In today’s world, the most abundant types of pesticides are ones consisting of synthetic chemicals. After World War II the agricultural effects of the chemical dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane (DDT) was discovered by Dr. Paul Muller, and was commercially produced worldwide. DDT seemed to be the perfect pesticide, it was easy to use, it seemed to have low toxicity to mammals, and decreased insect-originated diseases, like yellow fever, malaria, and typhus. But a few years later, insects and other pests were found to develop a resistance to DDT, so it was deemed no longer as effective. It was later discovered that DDT was very toxic to the environment, caused cancer and caused genetic damage in animals. Rachel Carson, an American Marine Biologist, contended in her book Silent Spring that DDT alone has irreversibly harmed animals and contaminated the world’s entire food supply. DDT is now much less abundant and is used mainly to combat malaria. Many pesticides are still in use to this day that have similar toxic effects of DDT and because of the ever present chemical resistance in pests more new pesticides are being developed. We are now in constant need of chemical development to combat natures adaptation. To interrupt the balance of nature is to put many lives in harm’s way.
There is no debate that chemical pesticides harm the environment. The most dangerous types of pesticides are insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. These substances have contaminated water, poisoned...