Researchers compared the effectiveness and environmental impact of organic pesticides to those of conventional and reduced-risk synthetic products on soybean crops.
An organic mineral oil-based product was among the less effective ones, as it killed ladybugs and flower bugs, which are important regulators of aphid population and growth.
According to Science Daily:
"These predator insects reduce environmental impact because they naturally protect the crop, reducing the amount of pesticides that are needed."
Coming up with safe, effective alternatives to the toxic chemical pesticides sprayed on the majority of U.S. food crops is extremely important, but simply swapping out synthetic pesticides with organic versions may not be the best solution.
The problem that Canadian researchers stumbled upon in their new study was that the natural mineral-oil based pesticide, which works by smothering pests like aphids, also smothered beneficial insects like ladybugs and flower bugs.
Because these latter two bugs are naturally useful in controlling aphid populations, the researchers ruled the organic mineral oil pesticide to be even more harmful, environmentally speaking, than the synthetic varieties.
I certainly don't agree with this conclusion, as synthetic pesticides are notoriously hazardous not only for human health but also to the environment, but it does highlight the increasing need for integrated pest management programs that use a variety of natural, non-toxic methods to keep pests at bay.
Synthetic Pesticides are a Disaster for Your Health and the Environment
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic, and most are also damaging to your nervous system as well. In fact, these powerful, dangerous chemicals have been linked to numerous health problems such as:
- Disruption of your endocrine system
- Immune system suppression
- Male infertility and reduced reproductive function
- Parkinson's disease
Ironically, studies have shown that often less than 0.1 percent of an applied pesticide reaches the target pest, leaving 99.9 percent as an unintended pollutant in the environment.
Thousands of pounds of these poisons then find their way, intentionally or unintentionally, into your food and water supplies on an annual basis. It's well known that conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are often tainted with unacceptable levels of pesticide residues, but you're also exposed when you eat animal products.
Factory-farmed animals eat feed full of pesticides, and these toxins accumulate in their flesh and fat over the course of their lifetimes. When you eat factory-farmed meat, you then ingest these accumulated pesticides.
Pesticides also linger in the environment, where they can cause even more damage over time. For some "high-persistence" pesticides, the half-life is greater than 100 days in soil. The more difficult a pesticide is to break down, the more damage it can cause to the environment and living beings, because it is more susceptible to soil runoff and evaporation into the air.
In addition, measurable amounts can move through the atmosphere and accumulate in more distant locations, including in waterways, fish and vegetation.
Because you and your family are at the top of the food chain, you are all exposed to these high levels of toxins whenever you consume fish or other animals that have bioaccumulated pesticides or other organic chemicals in their bodies.
You're also exposed if you live near agricultural fields or drink water that's contaminated with pesticide run-off. Your children may even be exposed at school, as many routinely use pesticides in the building and on the grounds.
Even "Inert" Pesticide Ingredients May be Toxic
Most pesticides contain unregistered and untested "inert ingredients." These so-called inert substances can be more dangerous (or can contaminate an area longer) than the active or "registered" poisons in the pesticide formula itself, but they're not required to be listed on the label.
According to BeyondPesticides.org:
"In general, inert ingredients are minimally tested, however, many are known to state, federal and international agencies to be hazardous to human health. For example, the U.S. government lists creosols as a "Hazardous Waste" under Superfund regulations, yet allows these chemicals to be listed as inert ingredients in pesticide products.
Creosols are known to produce skin and eye irritations, burns, inflammation, blindness, pneumonia, pancreatitis, central nervous system depression and kidney failure.
Some inert ingredients are even more toxic than the active ingredients. One of the most hazardous ingredients in the commonly used herbicide RoundUp® is a surfactant, which is classified as an inert, and therefore not listed on the label. The pesticide naphthalene is an inert ingredient in some products and listed as an active ingredient in others."
It should be noted, too, that even with their harsh, synthetic chemicals, pesticides are not 100 percent effective. Over time, pesticides can become ineffective because pests develop resistance to them. Most farmers and other growers became familiar with pesticide resistance in the 1950s, as a result of widespread insect resistance to DDT.
Since then, growers have come to expect the eventual loss of pesticide effectiveness because of resistance. By the mid-1980s, there were records of about 450 resistant species of insects and mites.
When pests do become resistant, more virulent and dangerous pesticides are rolled out to address the resistance, causing greater human and environmental damage. It is estimated that the cost of catering to pest resistance costs the government at least $1.5 billion annually.
Safer, Integrated Pest Management Practices are Available
The risks of dousing virtually all U.S. food crops in toxic pesticides are steep … especially when there are far less toxic options available.
At the forefront of this area is Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a program of prevention, monitoring and control that can eliminate or drastically reduce the need for synthetic pesticides.
What makes IPM different is that there is no one program. Rather, it works by utilizing a variety of methods, including sanitation, structural repairs, mechanical and living biological controls and other non-chemical methods to control pests. Prevention is also key, and preventive measures are used as a primary means of pest control in IPM.
If there's still a problem after the non-chemical options have been exhausted, then only the least toxic pesticides, such as boric acid, diatomaceous earth, or those made with essential oils, are used.
Better still, pesticides that meet any of the below criteria are banned from use in natural IPM programs, according to BeyondPesticides.org:
- Determined by EPA to be a possible, probable, or known carcinogen, mutagen, teratogen, reproductive toxin, developmental neurotoxin, endocrine disruptor, or immune system toxin
- A pesticide in EPA's toxicity category I or II
- Any application of the pesticide using a broadcast spray, dust, tenting, fogging, or baseboard spray application
There are some chemical-based programs out there that are IPM "imposters," but at its roots, this is a system that prides itself on finding non-toxic methods of pest control that are safe and effective for you, your family and the environment, for the long run.
Simple Options for Avoiding Pesticides at Home and in Your Food
Despite all the influx of pesticides into your environment, there are ways you can protect yourself from exposure, and minimize future exposure. One of the best strategies if you live in a geographical area that uses a great deal of pesticides, is to move to a more protected area.
Next, seek out organically grown food as much as possible. If you have to choose, pick animal products first, as these will have a greater pesticide load if purchased non-organic, and then try to buy organic versions of these most highly contaminated fruits and veggies.
Also, unless you have an Artisan well or well water that has been tested so you know it is safe and clean, then the water you use for showering, bathing, washing dishes, cooking, and drinking is likely to be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and other toxins.
I recommend you use a Reverse Osmosis water system, or at very least, a good charcoal filter, to keep pesticides out of your water supply.
Finally, do not use synthetic pesticides in your home or garden, or in the form of insect repellant, lice shampoo, pet sprays or otherwise. There are safe and effective natural alternatives for virtually every pest problem you come across.
For instance, boric acid powder is a very effective deterrent to roaches and ants. Sprinkle some in the inner corners of your cabinets and in the corners under your cabinets. Pests will carry it back to their nests on their feet and kill the remainder of the infestation. Boric acid is non-toxic for animals and only kills the insects.
Or, for a homemade garden spray that will discourage most pests, use some mashed garlic paste combined with a little cayenne pepper or horseradish. Add a small amount to a gallon jug of water and let it sit for a day or two, shaking it occasionally. Just spray a small amount onto a few leaves first to make sure it's not so strong that it will burn them.
For more details on these types of natural solutions to pests of all kinds, I recommend the book Dead Snails Leave No Trails by Nancarrow and Taylor, or visit the website BeyondPesticides.org. They have a section on do-it-yourself natural solutions to a wide range of pest problems along with a resource to find pest management companies that use non-toxic products.