Conventional food production in the United States incorporates a variety of pesticides. Farmers look to synthetic herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers to add crop yields. These chemical applications have generated decades of documented problems for the environment, and are acknowledged to hold risks for human health as well. But the truth about just how toxic these chemicals are; and what levels of tolerance humans can safely withstand through food, water and air exposures is often hard to find. Regulators largely rely on scientific studies funded and directed by the agrichemical companies who market the chemicals to judge their safety, and funding and opportunities for independent analyses are limited.
In March 2015, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, called glyphosate, was classified by the World Health Organization as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Other pesticides in use, including chlorpyrifos and 2,4-D, pose known dangers to people and the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is promoting the expansion of new types of pesticides based on natural components rather than synthetic chemicals, called biopesticides. These are generally considered more environmentally friendly. But broad use of chemical pesticides continues, generating billions of dollars in sales for agrichemical companies.
Key Resources on Pesticides
Heavy use of herbicide Roundup linked to health dangers-U.S. study. Carey Gillam, Reuters, April 25, 2013.
Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells. Crystal Gammon and Environmental Health News, Scientific American, June 23, 2009.
Angry mothers meet U.S. EPA over concerns with Roundup herbicide. Carey Gillam, Reuters, May 27, 2014.
Misgivings About How a Weed Killer Affects the Soil. New York Times, September 19, 2013.
USDA Scientist: Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide Damages Soil. Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, August 19, 2011.
Argentines Link Health Problems To Agrochemicals. Michael Warren and Natacha Pisarenko, Associated Press, October 20, 2013.
Monsanto Calls Glyphosate ‘Safe’ After AP Report. Michael Warren, Associated Press, October 22, 2013.
Superweeds, Superpests: The Legacy of Pesticides. Josie Garthwaite, New York Times, October 5, 2012.
Invasion of the Superweeds: We Knew It Was Coming. Michael Pollan, New York Times, May 6, 2010.
Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass. Charles Duhigg, New York Times, August 22, 2009.
A Valuable Reputation. Rachel Aviv, New Yorker, February 10, 2014.
Syngenta’s Campaign to Protect Atrazine, Discredit Critics. Clare Howard, Environmental Health News, June 17, 2013.
Why Eat Organic
Why Organic Is the Right Choice for Parents. Dr. Alan Greene and Anna Lappe, Time magazine. June 23, 2014.
The Assault on Organics. Stacy Malkan and Kari Hamerschlag, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. July 1, 2014.
Study of Organic Crops Finds Fewer Pesticides and More Antioxidants. Kenneth Chang, New York Times, July 11, 2014.
Pesticides: Now More Than Ever. Mark Bittman, New York Times, December 11, 2012.
More Helpful Fatty Acids Found in Organic Milk. Kenneth Chang, New York Times, December 9, 2013.
Study: Organic Chicken Carries Significantly Lower Salmonella Risk. Tom Philpott, Grist, March 25, 2011.
Is Organic Better? Ask a Fruit Fly. Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, April 17, 2013.