Have you ever wondered what is in the food you eat? Have you ever questioned about the amount of pesticides that were put on the fruits, vegetables, and grains that you have eaten? Pesticides, by definition, are chemical compounds intended for the prevention, destruction, repelling and mitigation of pests (Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The application of pesticides in agriculture dates back to around 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, the modern Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan (Unsworth). At the time, humanity became more settled, and farming was the way to survive for hunters and gatherers. As a result, there was a need for farmers to keep their crops alive. The crops would be vulnerable to pests that caused significant losses. Pesticides are substances designed to control pests. The chemical substance is used to kill insects, fungi, and weeds; it is used by farmers to grow crops and for homeowners for personal use (pools, house, pets) (Unsworth). Over time, food produced using pesticides can be extremely dangerous to human health. Eventually, pesticides build up in the body and can cause food allergies; they are harmful and cause illness 100% but not immediate death (Aktar et al. 2). Therefore, this exploration argues that pesticides bring benefits to food crops by increasing productivity, availability of basic foods necessary for healthy living to prevent chronic diseases but the residual accumulation can harm the body through bioaccumulation leading to cancers, cardiovascular and neurological disorders.
There are profound benefits attributed to using pesticides as foods growing using these inorganic fertilizers always record higher productivity. Aktar et al. report that tremendous benefits have been documented with the use of pesticides especially in the domestic, health and public health spheres, but agriculture is the primary beneficiary (p.2). The authors provide estimates on the benefits of food grown using pesticides, and from a cross-sectional study in India, they reported that foods produced between 1948 and 1949 which had 50 million tons as returns, increased to fourth-fold at 198 million by the end of 1997 (Aktar et al. 2). There are similar increments in yield recorded in the corn yields in the USA as well as wheat yields from the UK. Pesticides are crucial to the improved productivity as they reduce crop losses from weeds, insect pests, and diseases hence increasing the amount of the harvestable produce (). Nonetheless, when exposed to the environment, most of the pesticides go through photochemical transformation thereby producing metabolites relatively non-toxic to the environment and human beings (). Therefore, without pesticides, the world would experience a decline in food production, there would be a short supply of fruits and vegetables while in the same case, the prices would go up. Hence, pesticides are the solutions to roaches, termites, rates, ants, as well as other pests. From this, consumers have higher quality products free from pest contaminations like insect blemishes.
To confirm the health benefits of using pesticides on food, Aktar et al. (3) argue that any restrictions on using pesticides lead to the reduction in the availability, affordability along with the overall consumption of vegetables and fruits as essential foods in protecting people against cancer. From the field of toxicology, the primary reason is that the risks associated with foregoing a diet comprising fruits or vegetables are far much more significant than the risk involved when one digests residues from the pesticides. Gattuso focuses on the work of Bruce Ames, as a molecular biologist and a biochemist who had a 20 year of experience studying the causal agents of cancer (p.34). He reported that fruits and vegetables help in preventing cancer, and as such, pesticides play a vital role in preventing cancer since they ensure that fruits and vegetables have been made available, abundant, and affordable. The conclusion is also supported by the scientific evidence, from 172 epidemiological reviewed studies showing that diets that have enough amounts and levels of vegetables and fruits reduce a person’s risks to cancer (Gattuso 34). Hence, through pesticides, food becomes much more available to the population.
The other benefit of using pesticides on food or applying the chemicals in agriculture is because of the overall improvement of the quality of food (Aktar et al. 5). Pesticides lead to the survival and abundance of fruits and vegetables. Hence, blueberries and apples made available through pesticides ensure that the population has plenty of foods with high antioxidant concentrations to protect them against heart diseases and cancers, all attributed to the use of pesticides for controlling weeds. Pesticides are also precursors to serious health concerns like aflatoxins which are common among the agricultural crops, even a carcinogenic agent (Goodman et al. 73).
Despite the substantial benefits of using pesticides, some serious side effects make the chemicals quite harmful to human health. For instance, pesticides are currently attributed to various cancers in humans including ovarian, blood, breast, brain, liver, prostate as well as testicular cancers (Goodman et al. 75). Reports also indicate that the farmer’s children are twice more likely to be affected by developing throat cancers in comparison to those children living in residents without the elements or presence of pesticides (Aktar et al. 3). Besides, those children living with parents who are farmers and frequently use pesticides, are prone to serious health risks, for instance, being twice as likely to develop cancers of the brain (Aktar et al. 3). Moreover, the effects are seen on children because they are still at the development stage. In this case, the body system of a child is still not developed and accustomed to fighting toxic pesticides as their immune systems are yet to be fully developed, also same to detoxifying mechanisms and nervous systems (Aktar et al. 3).
Chemicals used in pesticides when present in food are harmful because of the biomagnification and bioaccumulation processes. Bioaccumulation refers to the process by which a substance builds up in the body when there are no proper processes or ways of removing the contents (Lu et al. 8). However, the same happens with pesticides. Most of the non-biodegradable and synthetic pesticides enter the body and become permanently stored in the tissues since the body does not have a proper mechanism for breaking down the compounds. The body is also exposed to severe health implications through biomagnification as a term defining the increase in the pesticides concentration or any other harmful chemicals in the food chain and as such, DDT is one of the most common examples of biological magnification. As such, the pesticides accumulating in the body cause serious harm and even can be passed to the next predator (Lu et al. 7). As one continues the consumption of foods grown using pesticides, there are more chances of accumulation, and with time, serious health risks or concerns are bound to happen due to the chemicals overwhelming the body organs.
Scientific evidence has equally outlined some of the severe health implications of using pesticides in growing food crops. Aktar et al. (7) refer to a study on Indian workers from 356 respondents (n=356) with the findings revealing neurological symptoms at 21% relative to the intensity of exposure to the chemicals. The study similarly identified profound changes in serum LDH levels, ECG, as well as cholinesterase activities as vital indications of cardiac-toxicity effects. The males observed from the industrial settings were also noticed to have been experiencing fatigue, vomiting, nausea, headache as well as the irritation of the eyes and skin (Aktar et al. 7).
Health implications through food commodities have equally been established. For instance, Aktar et al. identified a survey that analyzed 9700 samples of foods for pesticides. From the review, each sample was determined to contain 5.2% residues while 0.31% of the sample recorded higher residues than the recommended MRL levels for the specific pesticide (p.8). Hence, from the data, it is quite evident that growing foods using pesticides is like feeding humans chemicals without their knowledge despite the negative or severe impacts on their health. One of the reported cases is in India, Kerala in 1958 when over 100 residents died after eating parathion-tainted wheat flour (Aktar et al. 6). Hence, best to say, using pesticides on foods is extremely harmful to human health and may lead to serious diseases, even poisoning resulting in death.
In conclusion, as shown in the above exploration, growing foods using pesticides present both positive and negative implications. On the better side, pesticides improve the availability of foods, especially vital macronutrients from fruits and vegetables thereby protecting people from cancer and other cardiovascular diseases. Through pesticides, the overall productivity is improved, pests and insects are fought, and eventually, there are higher quality foods available for the population. However, the negative health implications have likewise been documented, especially the accumulation of the residues which can cause cancers as well as compromise the neurological system. Children are the worst affected as they develop brain tumors and liver problems. Cases of poisoning have been reported, and this is due to bio-accumulation and magnification. Hence, despite the benefits, there are serious harmful effects of pesticides when used on food crops.
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- Aktar, Md. Wasim et al. “Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: Their benefits and hazards.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology 2.1 (2009): 1–12. PMC. Web. 25 Jan. 2018.
- Environmental Protection Agency. What is a pesticide?. Web. 25 January 2018.
- Gattuso, Dana Joel. “Understanding the benefits of pesticides.” Consumers’ Research Magazine, 83. 2 (Feb. 2000): p. 34.
- Goodman, Richard E., et al. “Allergenicity assessment of genetically modified crops—What makes sense?.” Nature Biotechnology, 26. 1 (2008): 73-81.
- Lu, Yonglong, et al. “Impacts of soil and water pollution on food safety and health risks in China.” Environment international 77 (2015): 5-15.
- Unsworth, John. “History of pesticide use. 10th May 2010. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Web. 25 January 2018.