Myths and Facts on Pesticides

Written by Kajsa IngelssonJanuary 28, 2020

I have been eating an all organic diet for several years now. When I found out that conventional farming = spraying chemicals on food, often while wearing hazard-suits, I was kind of put off.

I have had quite a few people questioning my dedication to organic and traditional farming, stating some of the myths below as arguments. People seem to think that since biotech and pesticide corporations are allowed to work with the support from the state, it has to be safe and effective.

Here’s the thing; you cannot trust that s*it! These companies intentionally distort information to make their products seem safe and necessary — but they’re not.

Myths about pesticides are a testimony to the power of advertising, marketing and lobbying. Pesticide corporations, like big tobacco and the oil industry, have systematically manufactured doubt about the science behind pesticides, and fostered the myth that their products are essential to life as we know it — and harmless if “used as directed.”

The book Merchants of Doubt calls it the Tobacco Strategy: orchestrated PR and legal campaigns to deny the evidence, often using shady scientists to invent controversy around so-called “junk science” to deny everything — from second-hand smoke causing cancer to global warming to the hazards of DDT.

Here are eight of the seemingly plausible myths we hear from agrichemical corporations every day:

  1. Pesticides are necessary to the feed the world
  2. Pesticides aren’t that dangerous
  3. The dose makes the poison
  4. The government is protecting us
  5. GMOs reduce reliance on pesticides
  6. We’re weaning ourselves off of pesticides
  7. Pesticides are the answer to global climate change
  8. We need DDT to end malaria, combat bed-bugs, etc.

Let’s debunk them one by one, shall we?

Myth #1: “Pesticides are necessary to the feed the world”

Truth: The most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date tells us, among other things, that feeds most of the world now — is small-scale agriculture that does not rely on pesticides.

DowDuPont, Bayer (now merged with Monsanto), Syngenta and other pesticide producers have marketed their products as necessary to feed the world. Here’s the thing, as insecticide use increased, crop losses doubled.

More to the point, hunger in this age is not about not having enough food to feed the hungry. It’s about 1) choosing to use this grain to feed livestock destined for dairy and meat production, as well as 2) the huge amounts of food-waste going on in the western world and lastly 3) the fact that we grow enough extra grain to feed 1/3 of the world’s hungry — only to pour it into gas tanks.

Myth #2: “Pesticides aren’t that dangerous”

Truth:  Pesticides are dangerous by design. They are engineered to cause death. And harms to human health are very well documented, with children especially at risk. Here are a few recent examples from the news:

  • An entire class of pesticides (organophosphates) has been linked to higher rates of ADHD in children.
  • The herbicide atrazine, found in 94% of our water supply, has been linked to birth defects, infertility and cancer.
  • Women exposed to the pesticide endosulfan during pregnancy are more likely to have autistic children.
  • Girls exposed to DDT before puberty are five times more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • The World Health Organization recently designated the key ingredient in the widely used herbicide RoundUp a “probable human carcinogen.”

A large and growing body of scientific studies document that pesticides are harmful to human health. The environmental damage caused by pesticides is also clear; from male frogs becoming females after exposure, to collapsing populations of bats and honeybees.

Myth #3: “The dose makes the poison”

Truth: Well, if someone is exposed to an extremely small amount of one ingredient from a single pesticide at a time, and few times, it might pose little danger. Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely scenario.

First, pesticide products typically contain several potentially dangerous ingredients. Second, we’re all exposed to a cocktail of pesticides in our air, water, food and on the surfaces we touchThe combination of these chemicals can be more toxic than any one of them acting alone. Third, many pesticides are endocrine disruptors  and even extremely low doses can interfere with the delicate human hormone system and cause life-changing damage.

It’s also important to understand that research used to determine the safety of a pesticide is funded and conducted by the corporations marketing the product, often leading to distortion of findings.

Myth #4: “The government is protecting us”

Capitol

Truth: You still believe this old fairy tale? More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied every year on U.S. farms, forests, golf courses and lawns. Farmworkers and rural communities suffer illness throughout the spray season and beyond, and infants around the world are born with a mixture of pesticides and other chemicals in their bodies.

As as the President’s Cancer panel concluded in 2010:

The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. Instead of requiring industry to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful.

Myth #5: “GMOs reduce reliance on pesticides”

Spraying pesticides

Truth: Genetically modified organisms are driving up pesticide use, and no surprise: the biggest GMO seed sellers are the pesticide corporations themselves. The goal of introducing GMO seed is simple: increase corporate control of global agriculture. More than 80 percent of the GMO crops grown worldwide are designed to tolerate increased herbicide use, not reduce pesticide use.

Bayer (Monsanto), the world leader in patented engineered seed, would have us believe that its GMOs will increase yields, reduce environmental impact and mitigate climate change — and that farmers use fewer pesticides when they plant the corporation’s seeds. None of this is true.

On average, Bayer’s (Monsanto) biotech seeds reduce yield. In 2009, Monsanto (now Bayer) admitted that its “Bollguard” GMO cotton attracted pink bollworm — the very pest it was designed to control — in areas of Gujarat, India’s primary cotton-growing state. Introduced in 1996, Bollguard seeds, which include toxic traits from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), now account for half the cotton grown worldwide. In India, the productivity of Bt cotton has fallen while pesticide costs have risen by almost 25%, contributing to the tragic suicide epidemic among India’s debt-ridden farmers.           

In 2009, 93% of U.S. GMO soybeans and 80% of GMO corn was grown from Monsanto’s (now Bayer) patented seeds. “RoundUp Ready” corn and soybeans were designed for use with Bayer’s (Monsanto) weed killer, which mostly feed animals and cars rather than people. Now that weeds have developed resistance to RoundUp, DowDuPont and Bayer (Monsanto) are introducing GMO corn that includes tolerance of dicamba and 2,4-D, antiquated and dangerous herbicides prone to drift from where they’re applied on neighboring non-GMO fields and into neighboring communities.

Myth #6: “We’re weaning ourselves off of pesticides”

Roses in a garden are sprayed with a pesticide.

Truth: After 20 years of market stagnation, the pesticide industry entered a period of vigorous growth in 2004. The global pesticide market was worth approximately $46 billion in 2012 and continues to grow. It is expected to reach $65 billion by 2017, with the U.S. accounting for 53% of global use.

About 80 percent of the market is for agricultural use, but non-agricultural sales and profit margins are growing faster, driven by the rise of a global middle class adopting chemically reliant lawns and landscapes. In addition, the industry strategy of promoting GMO seeds, most of which are engineered to tolerate higher applications of herbicides, has driven increased sales of weed killers.

Myth #7: “Pesticides are the answer to global climate change”

Global climate change

Truth: Multinational corporations are working hard to increase their market share by exploiting climate change as a sales opportunity. As of 2008, Bayer (previously Monsanto), Syngenta, DuPont, BASF and others had filed 532 patents for “climate-related genes,” touting the imminent arrival of a new generation of seeds engineered to withstand heat and drought.

Here’s the thing, evidence is showing that sustainable farming provides important solutions to climate change, with resilient systems that create far fewer greenhouse gases, promote on-farm biodiversity and create carbon sinks to offset warming.

Myth #8: “We need DDT to end malaria, combat bedbugs, etc.”

Collection of pesticides, including DDT, that were still in use by some farmers in the 1970’s. Photo was taken at a Kansas farm in 1976.

Truth: Bedbugs, like many mosquitos, are resistant to DDT — and they were decades ago, when DDT was still in use. In some cases DDT even makes bedbug infestations worse, since instead of killing them it just irritates them, making them more active.

Resistance is also an issue for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. DDT had been abandoned as a solution to malaria in the U.S. long before it was banned for agriculture use.

Around the world, practitioners battling the deadly disease on the ground report that DDT is less effective in controlling malaria than many other tools.

After learning all this, I’m honestly disgusted that companies are allowed to toy with our planet and living beings like this. And for what? Shareholder value and profit? What does this really matter when we will have no more clean water and nutritionally void food?

Not only will I stick with my organic diet, but I will from now on be a fierce advocate for traditional and sustainable farming methods, speaking with whomever wants to listen and hear the truth. Once again it’s up to us to save humanity by voting with the almighty dollar. As so beautifully put by the iconic rock band Pink Floyd; together we stand, divided we fall.