Posted on: December 4, 2019 at 10:38 pm

When you pick out your produce at the grocery store, you trust that it is safe for you to eat, and at least hope that it was produced in a way that is not harmful to the environment.

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Pesticides, of course, do not really fit within this narrative, and it turns out that while many types of harmful pesticides have been banned in other countries, the United States is not keeping up.

According to a June 2019 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health, over 25 percent of the pesticides we are currently using in the U.S. are banned in the EU, over three percent are banned in China, and over two percent are banned in Brazil [1].

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That means that of the 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides used every year in the United States, 322 million pounds of them are banned in the EU, 40 million in China, and 26 million in Brazil, thats 388 million pounds between them all [2]. To put this in a different perspective, 27% of all the gross weight of all pesticides used in the US are banned in the EU, and just over 10% are either banned, being phased out or have an unknown status in all three nations (EU, Brazil, and China) [1][2].

Are You Affected by Pesticides?

So what’s the big deal? 

Pesticides are a class of chemicals meant to kill or repel insects, fungi, vegetation and rodents, but they have been shown to have negative effects on humans as well [3]. In the short-term, pesticide poisoning can result in seizures, rashes, and gastrointestinal illnesses [3].

What researchers and health experts are even more concerned with, though, is how these chemicals affect your health in the long-term. Over the last few decades, there have been several studies that indicate a positive relationship between pesticide use and cancer [4]. This includes brain, prostate, and kidney cancer, as well as leukemia [4].

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Pesticides have also been linked to immune system abnormalities, as well as reproductive and developmental problems [5].

How Do Pesticides Affect the Environment?

Humans are not the only ones who are adversely affected by pesticides. Pesticides damage the soil, water, turf, and other vegetation [6]. 

Water: When crops are sprayed, the resulting runoff ends up in our rivers and lakes. This, in turn, affects the fish and other wildlife living in these areas [6].

Soil: Heavy treatment with pesticides can kill the beneficial microorganisms in the soil. This decreases the nutrient quality of the soil, which in turn reduces the nutrient quality of our food [6].

Other Vegetation: once pesticides are sprayed, it is difficult to control exactly where they end up. Pesticide drift can affect neighboring crops for up to several hundred miles, so even farmers who do not want to use these chemicals are unable to avoid them [6].

Studies on the damaging environmental effects of pesticides are ongoing, and many of the long-term effects are still unknown, which is why health experts are adamant that we need to minimize the general public’s exposure to these chemicals [6].

Why is the United States So Far Behind?

If pesticides are so damaging to our health and the environment, why are they so poorly regulated in the U.S.?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is the regulatory body responsible for implementing all pesticide regulations [7]. 

The problem is that the number of mandatory regulations put in place by the EPA has declined over the last several years. Instead, the agency relies on the agricultural and pesticide industry to voluntarily cancel the use of chemicals that are known to be dangerous [8].

Study author Nathan Donley found that out of 508 pesticides that have been used in agriculture in the United States since 1970, 134 have been canceled. 97 of those chemicals were voluntarily canceled [2].

Donley said: “These findings suggest that the USA utilizes voluntary, industry-initiated cancellation as the primary method of prohibiting pesticides, which is different from the non-voluntary, regulator-initiated cancellations/bans that are predominant in the EU, Brazil, and China.” [2]

How Can You Protect Yourself?

While you may not be an agricultural worker who is in direct contact with pesticides, there are still some steps you can take to limit your exposure to these harmful chemicals:

  • Wash your produce well before you eat it.
  • By organic whenever possible, if you want to avoid synthetic pesticides
  • Dry your produce before eating it – this will remove any excess pesticide residue left after washing.
  • Use only organic repellents for your own garden.
  • Peel off the outer layers – gently peel the outer layers of your produce to remove the surface that has come into contact with pesticides.
  • Know which fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide load – familiarize yourself with the dirty dozen!
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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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