Should we be eating pesticides?
A two year old article published in the Guardian has been circulating social media recently. I posted it and it has had 21 shares in less than 24 hrs so I thought I would take the opportunity to add my knowledge and experience to this conversation through this BLOG.
The headline was:
UN experts denounce ‘myth’ pesticides are necessary to feed the world
Report warns of catastrophic consequences and blames manufacturers for ‘systematic denial of harms’ and ‘unethical marketing tactics’
You can read the article HERE.
Pesticide is a term used to describe the various poisons that eradicate certain species of plants and animals and it covers herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and synthetic chemicals to kill other animals. We often do not realise the number of pesticides that are approved for use in our agricultural systems.
According to the EPA NSW, there are two types of pesticides and numerous applications.
"Two broad divisions of pesticides have been used in agriculture:
inorganic pesticides,for example, arsenical and mercurial compounds organic pesticides,for example, organochlorines or OCPs (more correctly termed chlorinated hydrocarbons), organophosphates or OPs (more correctly termed phosphate hydrocarbons), carbamates, synthetic pyrethroids, and growth regulators.
As an indication of the variety of chemicals that might be found, there are currently:
93 products registered for use on sugarcane 96 products registered for use on bananalands 157 products registered for use on cotton 223 products registered for use on cereals 40 products registered to control ectoparasites on cattle."
While all of the crops listed above are broad acre crops far from urban areas, the EPA has also listed a warning regarding urban fringe historical market garden and orchard sites as well as current sites.
"It is important to note, though, that small-cropping, local orchards and market gardens are all significant consumers of pesticides and farm chemicals. There are generally fringes of small plantations, orchards and market gardens around all towns and cities. These areas are eventually overtaken by urban growth. Their potential for adverse health and environmental effects should not be ignored.
Farmers are free to choose which chemical cocktail they like for their particular crop and pest issues. Suggested applications, withholding periods and risk prevention is all provided by the agricultural company or the crop industry. There is no regulation of the amount of pesticide used on the farm."
Contaminated sites are governed throughout Australia under national and state legislation. You can read more from the NSW EPA HERE.
Many of these pesticides are also readily available for home use, whereby the home user has no training in the application, or disposal of them. What possibly could go wrong?
The Monsanto trials are touching the surface of what has gone wrong, and what potentially could get worse. The corporation chose some colourful marketing and study ghost writing to avoid the human health risk of their glyphosate-based herbicide becoming widely known. It has taken many years for this scientific information to be made public and the litigation has just begun. You can read more about the world changing Round Up trials HERE.
Whilst these trials predominately look at human health, there is other science that looks at the damage that pesticides can do to the environment; our waterways, our soil health, our native plants and our pollinators.
Many states in the USA and many countries around the world are beginning to ban pesticides for these reasons. The EU in particular have taken a strong stance on a group of neonicotinoids that are having a detrimental affect on our pollinators, the bees and other insects that take pollen from one flower to another so that a fruit or vegetable can form. Without these pollinators which were once freely available in nature, our food industry will suffer greatly. You can read more about Australia's thoughts on the EU ban HERE.
What can be done? What are the alternatives to pesticides?
Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology, Dr Don Huber explains his long history with pesticides, nutrients and agricultural crops. John Kempf hosts the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast and interviews Dr Don Huber in this episode called Symbiotic Relationships in Ecology with Dr. Don Huber. He explains in layman terms how our ecology works when we grow our food. You can listen to the podcast HERE.
Regenerative Agriculture is a modern term for using science based knowledge to grow food and fibre without the use of pesticides. There are various farming methods that can be described as regenerative such as biodynamic, organic, holistic, permaculture, spray free, natural sequence farming and sustainable systems which are all on a spectrum based on the farmers' choices.
Instead of selecting a herbicide to reduce the competition from 'pest species' for the desired crop, a farmer could choose an alternative such as mulching under the drip-line, steamweeding, edge plantings, native species swards and ground cover crops. The object is to increase biodiversity, the number of plant, animal, insect and microbe species so that no one pathogen or pest grows out of control. Nature has a way of maintaining a perfect balance and we can use biomimicry to do so in our farming systems.
There are multitudes of courses and tools available for crop specific regenerative farming. The Australian Institute of Ecological Agriculture is a great starting point for farmer education and assistance. You can read more HERE.
Soil health, and the health of the microbes within soil is only a relatively new field of study. The links between soil health, nutrient density of food, and overall health of our own gut microbiomes are being studied around the world. The use of pesticides has been found to reduce microbe populations and often allow for a new pest to populate the crops. It becomes a vicious cycle of eradication rather than trying to restore a balance.
Having a child born with food intolerances almost twenty four years ago, I have had a very long time to delve into the connection between how we farm, our food choices and our gut microbiomes. HERE is a great article to learn more.
We all get to choose what we eat and supporting farmers who understand the importance of regenerative farming and the health of the community and the environment is within reach of us all. This information is readily available and farmers make it easy for us to buy this type of food. The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance work behind the scenes with farmers and to promote regenerative agriculture. You can read more about them HERE.
There is also the Australian and New Zealand Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network which distribute a box system of food grown straight from the farm using natural farming and regenerative methods. You can read more about them HERE.
We all have the power to help make a nation-wide shift in farming by choosing whether we eat pesticides, or not.
We are all in this together.
Have a great day!