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The Global And Growing Use Of Pesticides

We look at the huge and growing global use of pesticides, at implications and alternatives.

Belarusian Emergency Ministry employees carry plastic barrel with pesticide at a burial site in a forest near the village of Novaya Strazha, some 200 kms (125 miles) southwest of Minsk, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP)

Belarusian Emergency Ministry employees carry plastic barrel with pesticide at a burial site in a forest near the village of Novaya Strazha, some 200 kms (125 miles) southwest of Minsk, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP)

We use billions of pounds of pesticides globally as a weapon to control weeds, and to kill the bugs that infect our crops and spread diseases.   Five billion pounds in 2007, and even more today.  They coat our produce, keep our lawns weedless and green, keep diseases like malaria in check.

But many are carcinogens. They’ve been linked to depression, birth defects, ADHD, Diabetes, even Parkinson’s. Now, scientists are looking for a better way.

This hour, On Point: we look at the growing global use of pesticides, and the implications and alternatives.


Erik Stokstad, staff writer for Science. He was part of the news team behind this month’s special issue on the global use of pesticides. (@erikstokstad)

Edwin Rajotte, professor of entomology at Penn State. (@edrajotte)

Brenda Eskenazi, professor at the school of public health at the University of California Berkeley.

From Tom’s Reading List

Science: The Pesticide Paradox – “Although science is guiding some policy changes, there is still room for major improvement when it comes to pesticides, by more carefully tracking their effects, using them more judiciously, reducing their negative impacts, and finding alternatives. Scientists are making strides in precisely understanding the effects of the chemicals now in our arsenal, including the myriad ways in which they are broken down in the environment and the harm they cause to wildlife. Meanwhile, cohort studies in the United States are beginning to map out their troubling effects on the young developing brain.”

Science: The War Against Weeds Down Under — “Weeds will often become resistant to a specific herbicide while remaining vulnerable to others with different modes of action. Thanks to the weak concentrations that farmers were applying, however, ryegrass evolved a kind of cross-resistance that allowed it to rapidly break down a wide variety of herbicides. The mechanisms behind this are not fully understood. But it meant that Australian farmers lost four classes of herbicides in a matter of years. ‘They are absolutely cursed with the worst scenario you could come up with,’ says weed scientist David Shaw of Mississippi State University.”

The Hill: EPA turns to pesticides to protect bees from colony decline – “Federal officials have developed new labels to warn users that some pesticides may kill honeybees. The measure from the Environmental Protection Agency is intended to combat a sharp decline in bee populations, known as colony collapse disorder, that has far-reaching effects on global agriculture but has remained somewhat of a mystery to scientists and federal regulators.”


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  • 2Gary2

    As someone who has a big Japanese beetle problem I am grateful for the product Sevin which quickly kills these pests. I love perfect looking trees and grass and do not want ragged leaves because of these pests.

    • Al_Kidder

      Boy, I’ll bet you shave your head. Natural would be too messy

      • 2Gary2

        I am naturally bald :)

    • 1Brett1

      Apply nematodes (different varieties of worms) to soil at the end of summer (now). Make sure nematodes are fresh and soil stays moist after application. Next year, spray with Kaolin Clay/Kaolinite. It is preferable to Sevin, as Sevin kills beneficial insects as well as pests and is classified as a carcinogen (and is banned in several European countries)…Cut lawn by 1/3 instead of 2/3. Keep lawn weed free by hand as weeds begin to appear instead of letting weeds take over then saturating them with pesticides. (Most lawn pesticides are designed to kill at a different ph than healthy grass; however, usually people either start to use them when their grass has been taken over by weeds and is unhealthy, or they use them in both spring and fall whether pesticides are needed or not, causing over use–not to mention poisoning of run-off water.) A strong lawn will keep it from weed infestation. nematodes will keep both plants and soil from Japanese beetles.

      • fun bobby

        not to mention that applying nematodes to the lawn will prevent and control fleas and many other pests without harming beneficials

        • 1Brett1

          You’ve impressed me, FB!

          • fun bobby

            thanks bro,
            I enjoy organic gardening.

        • 2Gary2

          my brother has chickens who keep the bugs in the lawn down. I do not live where I could go that option. Now that is a natural option.

          • fun bobby

            I am trying to convince the wife to let me get a pig next year in part to clear out some pesky roots from a garden plot. the chickens provide great aeration and free fertilizer. I know some people who live in a Boston suburb who have chickens. are they specifically prohibited in your town. people make pens now that are pvc frames on wheels that you can move around on the lawn to clear out the bugs and fertilize without overdoing it or letting the chickens go everywhere

      • 2Gary2

        Thank you for the advice. I really appreciate it and will look into it.

        The one good thing about Sevin is that it works right away. I sprayed my European Mountain ash tree and with in 5-10 min every Japanese beetle was falling out of the tree dead.

        I think that is the appeal of products like Sevin

        • 1Brett1

          Only you/your professional can decide the best application for you. But, one downside to introducing a mild, less intrusive treatment is that its effects may not be quite as immediate and comprehensive.

          Another thing to consider is the right plant (annual, perennial, shrub, tree) for the right location, in terms of light, water, competing nutrients with other plants, etc. If a plant is in the wrong spot and is weak/sick as a result, it is much, much more susceptible to disease and pest infestation.

          Most of my experiences with problems people encounter in the garden have to do with either neglect/improper management/maintenance, improper installation to begin with (including poor placement), and so on. If those things are reined in, usually maintenance is easy (at least easier) and problems are kept to a minimum.

          • 2Gary2

            Thanks–As a former member of the arbor society my trees are all very healthy and all well taken care of and in the right location.

            Its just these darn Japanese beetles. I hate them.

    • fun bobby

      c’mon man use milky spore. its been around for a long time and targets the beetles without any chemicals

      • 1Brett1

        Good for grubs and beetles…NOW is the time to apply this bacterium.

  • AC

    this makes me think of a scifi film where aliens use pesticides on humans….pesticides make me nervous, as does genetic modifications on ‘edible’ crops – but what else can we do??


    • 1Brett1

      There ARE so many things we can do that don’t require chemical pesticides. There are organic pesticides (see my comment to 2Gary2), we can use companion crops/plants that attract beneficial insects (that eat pests), we can grow in staggered groups instead of rows (to confuse pests), we can stay vigilant and rid plants of pests as soon as they appear (pests communicate with each other and tend to go elsewhere if their habits are interrupted early in their process), often the over and under use of water will attract pests (and unhealthy plants will attract pests faster), The use of a mild insecticidal soap (much less toxic than many commercial pesticides) is also an alternative…

      • nj_v2

        There are a number of problems with this, the main one being that all the current “alternative” methods of pest control cannot compete with the economics of mega-industrial-scaled, corporate agriculture.

        The cost of food produced by unsustainable, industrial agriculture is still so low (for a number of reasons), that the alternative cultural practices which don’t involve heavy, continual pesticide inputs cannot produce food at a cost that is comparable.

        Another issue is what you posted is that “organic” is not a magic bullet, either. Yes, it eschews synthetic pesticides, but still allows inputs and materials which, in the long run, aren’t sustainable, such as mined, mineral supplements. And, usually, even when they are effective, organic pesticides must often be applied more frequently, which increases production cost.

        • 1Brett1

          I don’t subscribe to the “magic bullet” solution to any problem. I was really talking about gardening and not agriculture (as I had just written a reply to 2Gary2 about Japanese beetles in his garden).

          I do agree with your concern about attempting to apply techniques of organic gardening on a grand scale (hence, my question to Yar who is more of a farmer than a landscape designer).

          Organic gardening is more labor intensive and often there are more production costs. My mention of organic pesticides was a suggestion as an alternative to some problems and not a magic bullet proclamation.

          As an aside, composting that is done on a grand scale comes close to something miraculous, and it is a wonderful way to recycle. Have you seen it used on a commercial scale? As part of a solution that keeps plants and soil healthier, these approaches can minimize the use of pesticides, as well.

          Utilizing a number of strategies, if applied correctly can either minimize or negate altogether the need for using pesticides. Vegetables won’t look as good, sure, and there will be some yield loss (although, experienced farmers can really minimize that).

          What solutions do you have to offer?

          • nj_v2

            Points taken. Perhaps you were not proposing “organic” production as a “magic bullet,” but others often seem to.

            The problem i have with a lot of these musings on how to solve our various problems is that they seem to ignore the larger picture and take for granted that the current scale of human development is sustainable in its current form.

            It would take a number of posts to posit my full thinking on this, but it shares a lot with Kunstler (James Howard), so if you’re familiar with his rantings, you’ll get in the ballpark.

            The entire infrastructure of the “developed” world has been made possible by cheap, plentiful, liquid fossil fuel. Everything. Our settlement patterns, all the stuff we have, our jobs, the buildings we live in, the food we eat. Every thing.

            Sooner than later, this party is going to be over, and we’ll have to fact the fact that energy—the juice that makes the whole system run—is going to get a lot more expensive, and, with it, everything we do, use, eat, and buy.

            Much of of current thinking seems, to be to be tinkering around the edges and doesn’t address the fundamental structural aspects of the unsustainable system we’ve built with cheap fuel.

            …Yes, i work with someone who has a commercial-scale composting facility. It makes a world of sense to close resource loops this way. But, it can be a difficult enterprise to do well and conscientiously, as one is constantly competing against low-ball operations that don’t properly manage, monitor, or test their product.

          • fun bobby

            yup most of the current people on earth are made out of oil. without the oil we cannot support 7 billion humans

    • fun bobby

      lots of things

  • Yar

    Making stronger pests best defines our current pest management system. In an attempt to fix problems we are creating more problems. Some pesticides are so toxic to bees that just a few parts per billion in concentration is deadly. Fungicides ( until recently, it was thought they didn’t even affect bees) change the fermentation process in bee bread, a pollen mix bees rely on for protein. Hives suffering from fungicide exposure actually have higher fungus levels than hives not exposed to the chemicals. We have destroyed the balance of nature and don’t know how to get it back. Every simple solution only makes the problem more complicated.

    • 1Brett1

      I am a gardener. I grow ornamental plants and grow some vegetables for personal consumption. I also design and install gardens for customers’ home gardens…As a farmer who grows on a grander scale, what are some of the approaches you have to naturally manage “pests”? And do feel (as I do) that many pests are more easily managed and kept in check than people realize?

      • Yar

        I don’t have answers, I am trying to study how things relate. I watch bees, I don’t kill spiders, which means I don’t do much of anything. It takes time to figure out relationships. When we add layer upon layer of complication, we destroy the very relationships we are trying to understand. A single farm can’t figure it out either. The wild swings in pest populations move across property lines. My spiders might manage local pests but not the pests from my neighbor who kills everything including spiders. I have read parts of One straw revolution. It talks about balance and spiders. The sweet corn I grew this year was pretty clean, not perfect by any means, but good. Crop rotation is important. Adjusting expectations of the customer is important as well. I tell my customers they will see bugs. I have not figured out a profitable niche.

        • 1Brett1

          You mention a very important component to your work (and mine): changing customers expectations. I get calls from customers in a panic; they freak out over seeing a few bugs. I go out, determine if the bugs are truly invasive and what a solution might be, etc…

          Often people then expect to see “gear” with large tanks filled with pesticides, sprayers, employees wearing respirators, and so on. It takes a little education to explain, if, for example, the bugs they see are actually beneficial, that nothing is required. Or, that the asparagus I planted as a background ornamental textural effect is attracting caterpillars for a good reason: to eat aphids, and so on.

          LIkewise, with fruits and vegetables, people are used to seeing nearly perfectly formed produce from a grocery store. Their usual first reaction to seeing organically grown produce is that something is wrong with the produce.

          • fun bobby

            I find my organic produce is much prettier than that from the store

        • keltcrusader

          I HATEHATEHATE spiders (scared, really), but I leave them alone in my garden to do their work.

        • fun bobby

          I have found nematoads, mantids and lady bugs will keep most pests in check. the mantids are pretty awesome

      • fun bobby

        IPM does exist

        • 1Brett1

          Some pest management plans are better than others; some are simply different than others, as you know being the experienced gardener you are.Yar’s approach, in terms of specifics (and maybe even in general terms), may be very different than mine.

          I only use organic material in my business. On occasion, I have customers who don’t quite understand what services they are procuring when they come to me, and there are those awkward moments when I say, “no, I don’t use_____” (fill in the blank for synthetic pesticide or fertilizer of choice. Sometimes a customer will go, “there’s a bunch of RoundUp™ in the garage and…” To which I say no and warn them that the use of that after I’ve installed an organic garden is counter to what they hired me for.

          I also don’t use power equipment like weed trimmers (they really just make weeds stronger and when used to dress up somebody else’s lawn mowing job, there is a risk they could damage plants, shrubs and tree roots. I don’t use roto-tillers, and so on, either. They compact the soil and destroy aeration, micro-nutrients, beneficial critters like earth worms, etc.

          There is a lot of initial customer education sometimes, but, also, my methods open up the idea of having my company come back for maintenance contracts. It is easy to talk someone into having me maintain the garden I’ve just installed for them.

          • fun bobby

            I imagine some people are surprised when you pull up with a horse and plow or a drove of pigs

          • 1Brett1

            They are sometimes surprised at how quiet we are with no power tools, no radios/portable CD players (I’m really strict about all of that), etc. Some do scratch their heads at the thought that I am sometimes bringing in “bugs” as a solution to a pest problem or planting certain things to attract “bugs.”

            …I did look at buying a truck one time from the 1920s as my main work vehicle but decided against it.

            I helped start a public “teaching”/ornamental/CSA/community garden about 20 years ago, and we used a team of horses hitched to various antique farm equipment for the dedication ceremony. That was fun.

          • fun bobby

            my wife is always asking. “why are there bugs in the fridge?” “how long are there going to be bugs in the fridge?” “can we do something with these bugs in the fridge?”

  • nj_v2

    Thanks to OnPoint for this topic! This is a complex, multi-layered issue.

    By far, agriculture accounts for the largest use of pesticides. The use of pesticides in conventional agriculture involves regular, sustained, perpetual use of these materials.

    And this is what creates the problems associated with this approach: These novel, synthetic materials are being pumped, sprayed, and spread into the environment on a massive scale, in huge amounts, on the same acreage year after year after year.

    This form of use also guarantees the development of pest resistance—of insects to insecticides and weeds to herbicides. Rotating pesticides to avoid resistance is theoretically possible, but with the need for continual, yearly treatments, there simply aren’t enough different kinds of appropriate chemistries available.

    We’re currently reliant on an unsustainable food-production system, and not just from the standpoint of pesticide use. Synthetic fertilizers are fossil-fuel based, so their costs will continue to rise as limited supplies of these materials become more scarce. And the energy requirements of production and shipping long distances make the system susceptible to inevitable price increases as we surf along the downslope of fossil fuel supplies.

    Other inputs are similarly problematic. In fact, peak phosphorous is likely to be as serious a problem as any other.

    • fun bobby

      yeah I saw that video too about the peak phosphorous.

  • nj_v2

    Don’t expect too much to change in the Corporate States of America, though.


    [[ "President Obama knows that agribusiness cannot be trusted with the regulatory powers of government. On the campaign trail in 2007, he promised: We'll tell ConAgra that it's not the Department of Agribusiness. It's the Department of Agriculture. We're going to put the people's interests ahead of the special interests.

    But, starting with his choice for USDA Secretary, the pro-biotech former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, President Obama has let Monsanto, Dupont and the other pesticide and genetic engineering companies know they'll have plenty of friends and supporters within his administration.

    President Obama has taken his team of food and farming leaders directly from the biotech companies and their lobbying, research, and philanthropic arms:

    Michael Taylor

    former Monsanto Vice President, is now the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

    Roger Beachy

    former director of the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center, is now the director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

    Islam Siddiqui

    Vice President of theMonsanto and Dupont-fundedpesticide-promoting lobbying group, CropLife, is now the Agriculture Negotiator for the US Trade Representative.

    Rajiv Shah

    former agricultural-development director for the pro-biotech Gates Foundation (a frequent Monsanto partner), served as Obama's USDA Under Secretary for Research Education and Economics and Chief Scientist and is now head of USAID.

    Elena Kagan

    who, as President Obama's Solicitor General, took Monsanto's side against organic farmers in the Roundup Ready alfalfa case, is now on the Supreme Court.

    Ramona Romero

    corporate counsel to DuPont, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the USDA." ]]

    • fun bobby

      when bush did this sort of thing it was criminal. for some reason this guy gets a pass. someone should round-up Michelle’s garden and see how she likes it

      • nj_v2

        fun bobby proffers: “when bush did this sort of thing it was criminal.”

        News to me. Who was prosecuted? Who went to jail?

        • fun bobby

          scooter libby? I guess that was a different thing.
          just because no one was charged does not mean they did nothing illegal. who knows what is in Cheney’s man sized safes?
          My statement was more to do with media outcry than literal prosecutions. perhaps I should have said “when bush did this sort of thing the liberal media blew a gasket” I think that both men’s cronyism is reprehensible and should be illegal if it is not already.

  • creaker

    One thing I’ve read more of lately is even if pesticides were perfectly safe for humans, they can affect the flora in our intestines which could potentially lead to all sorts of problems.

    • fun bobby

      how would one divide the two?

  • creaker

    They’re also wondering if there might be some connection between pesticides and obesity. Supposedly they’ve found even animals in the wild are getting fatter.

  • MatthewNashville

    I would rather pay it forward, eat healthy organic food, and live a healthy life instead of paying less for food and having to spend the money I saved on medical expenses because I’m sick from the cheap food I ate.

    • fun bobby

      too bad everyone can’t do that

      • tbphkm33

        Actually, everyone can. There are lots of myths regarding the cost of foods. I eat all fresh and mostly organic. Several times friends and I have discussed this. For example, one friend who tends to bring frozen foods to work for lunch and cooks some, spends nearly 4 times as much on food as I do. Prepared food, fast food and restaurant eating costs way more than eating organic and cooking yourself. I honestly can live on mostly organics for around $35 a week – and I am 6′, 200 lbs and hike 150 miles a month.

        We really just need more cooking educational outreach. People love watching cooking shows, but the majority of the dishes are overkill when compared to everyday good food. You can make good and healthy meals with 6 or less ingredients (including spices).

        • fun bobby

          now that we have the perspective of an entitled white American, what I meant was that not everyone on Earth could do that. we literally cannot produce nearly the volume of food needed to feed the current population of earth without petroleum fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified grains, herbicides and mined phosphorous.

  • brian copeland

    Are you not going to discuss the dead (hypoxia) zone in the gulf? These pesticides all runoff somewhere!

    • fun bobby

      that’s probably more to do with fertilizer runoff

  • Paul Beaudette

    Doesn’t use of pesticides of varying synthesis lower soil nutrients, carbon and nutrient values? In the coming decades w/climate change will soils become more and more depleted and lost to erosions?

    • fun bobby

      1. nope
      2. perhaps.

    • andic_epipedon

      I’m a soil scientist. Pesticides can affect soil nutrient values indirectly:


      Basically, it is possible to kill soil organisms with pesticides. If you dump enough or a toxic enough pesticide to kill the earthworms and other macrofauna, materials will not break down as fast leading to a decline in nitrogen. If you use a pesticide that kills bacteria that fix nitrogen you will definitely have problems.

      The climate change question is much more complicated. Each soil was formed in a specific climate. If a long term weather change occurs the soil will have to adapt and substantial erosion may occur. Some regions are predicted to have more climate changes than others. The main causes of erosion are wind, water and ice. It’s best to look at a region by region breakdown to see what kind of changes will occur within the soils.

  • Inner Fortune Karen Ribeiro

    This call is fantastic and I wish I’d called in earlier in order to ask more about the connection I have researched between fertility and soil fertility. We’re all carbon beings with varying degrees of balanced nutrients in our bodies and soil carbon is a critical component of soil fertility which is a critical component of nutrient density in the crops we consume – assuming we are eating real food! For all who are interested in pursuing this, there is a conference on biochar coming up at UMass in October – 2013 USBI N.A. Biochar Symposium. Continuing to learn about our own biology through shows and conferences like these is a way to stay hopeful given all the concerns so many of us have about our health – both short and long term.

    • fun bobby

      I have tried the biochar in informal gardening experiments. as far as I could tell its bunk.

  • DeJay79

    what are bug traps considered? We have a home garden and to avoid spraying it with chemicals we bought two traps to catch the pesky Japaneses Beatles. in a very small back yard we caught one to two hundred of these beatels.

    Is that “organic”?

    • nj_v2

      Traps may or may not be organic, but they were never designed as a control measure.

      In particular, Japanese Beetle traps were originally intended to be used as a monitoring device to detect when the beetles moved into an area so other control measures could be taken.

      Numerous studies have indicated that these traps actually attract more beetles to an area than would otherwise be there. The pheremones used in the traps can travel great distances.

      • DeJay79

        well i can tell you that the year before our raspberry bush was decimated by them and with the traps they never touched it this year.

    • fun bobby

      that ought to be. good work. you may want to consider some milky spore as another organic way to control them if that’s not working. traps are better as a way to monitor pest infestations than to end them

      • DeJay79

        we have started a milky spore regiment, but being the first year it is not that effective. they take a build-up of a few treatments to become most effective

        • fun bobby

          good work. keep it up. get some mantis egg cases in the spring. once they hatch most bugs will be hard to find

          • DeJay79

            That is sooo funny, you keep suggesting all the things my Wife and I are doing. She bought three egg sacks this spring and we have been watching those awesome Mantises all summer long. The biggest one so far was easily 3 inches long. Next year we also plan to get lady bugs & mantises

          • fun bobby

            I put out mantids, lady bugs and nematodes every year and I don’t really worry about pests.

    • truegangsteroflove

      Japanese Beatles sounds like a cover band from the land of the rising sun. We’ve become conditioned to seeing the play on words as the actual word. It’s beetle. Beatel is even worse.

    • tbphkm33

      This will not take the Japanese beetle, but look up “soda bottle mosquito trap” – uses an old soda bottle with a mixture of brown sugar and yeast. I have friends who swear by it. One friend said his whole neighborhood uses them, they went from not being able to sit outside to being more or less fine.

  • Bystander

    As an educated lay person, I am really surprised, shocked even, at the conflation of “pesticide” with “Herbicide.” Why did “Science” decide to do this? I point out to my children the difference between a pesticide and an herbicide. Conflating these terms just adds to the confusion and ignorance of the general public. Can someone explain what the scientific basis for this is? Wouldn’t there be differences in the toxicology of the chemicals; researchers who concentrate on only one of these groups?

    • fun bobby

      thanks I noticed that. I have had to make that correction so many times I have given up on it.

    • MaineSt

      “Pesticide” is a general term referring to a substance that prevents or mitigates pests. Herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, acaricides, etc. are all types of pesticides. “Pesticide” is simply a blanket term that encompasses all of these target-specific substances.

  • thequietkid10

    I’ve read and heard a lot of talk about bees, ecosystems and unsustainable farming methods, but what about human health. Anybody have a good article measuring the health benefits of organic foods vs pesticide ridden foods. I know there was a report out a few months ago challenging the conventional wisdom.

  • fun bobby

    we did manage to feed ourselves for all of human history until a hundred years ago without petroleum based pesticides. the problem is that we have made too many people out of oil to support them without oil.

    • tbphkm33

      Yep, and the human population explosion can only lead to a course correction. Big talk about feeding 10 billion, but reality is the masses will starve or die in impending resource wars. I would not be surprised if 100 years from now, there are between 2 and 3 billion people.

      • fun bobby

        a pandemic could do it at any time. if we don’t have famine or pestilence or war first. these things are not infrequent in history.

  • TyroneJ

    One of the things that isn’t appreciated much outside of Plant
    Physiology circles is the fact that almost all of the chemicals that give plants their flavors (except sweetness) when eaten
    are produced by the plant as an insecticide, herbicide, anti-fungal or antibacterial. All plants are huge factories for producing insecticides, herbicides, anti-fungals or antibacterials because plants don’t have the option to run away when predators or diseases move into the area they are living. They have to stand their ground. That is why even today, a huge amount of effort goes into studying plants around the world for their pharmaceutical potential.

    All of those spices that people love so much, flavors that make fruits taste different from just boring sugar, etc are mostly naturally produced insecticides, with some anti-fungals or antibacterials. Many plants exudes herbicides from their roots in order to suppress competition from nearby plants. Prof. Rajotte touched on this briefly when he talked about plant breeding (and GM crops) for insect resistance. Those programs simply try to get the plants to produce more of these chemicals, or on the case of GM, sometimes introduce a gene from one species to another to impart production of one of these chemicals.

    My point is not to claim we should not worry about the use of artificial pesticides and such (my family’s vegetable garden is organic), but that is that we intrinsically eat from a sea of naturally occurring insecticide-herbicide soup that often complicates and masks the effects of artificial insecticides & herbicides.

    • fun bobby

      that’s true, but we are not bugs.

    • truegangsteroflove

      This reads as advocacy of something for others that you don’t do yourself. Though plants produce their own chemical protections, they don’t have the laboratory capacity to concoct harmful chemicals that are not seen in nature. This is elementary, Watson (whether or not your name is Watson). Elementary enough for an elementary student to understand with ease. For some strange reason most adults have a harder time understanding the elementary.

      • fun bobby

        only safe things like nicotine and strychnine

      • TyroneJ

        Plants produce some of the most toxic (to humans) substances known. Ricin from Castor (ricinus communis), for example. The cardiac glycosides oleandrin and oleandrigenin from the Oleander plant (nerium oleander) is another example. The list of highly toxic plants (“all natural”) is literally endless. Natural does not mean safe, and if naturally occurring substances in our foods had to go through the same safety approval process as artificial chemicals, many of your favorite foods would be banned such as anything containing caffeine causes birth defects, is suspected to be mutagenic, etc.

        As for advocacy, my post advocates education. And I practice it too. Your inference of anything else shows, as I would say to my grad students, “defective thought processes”.

        • truegangsteroflove

          “As I would say to my grad students” is the kind of grandiosity that reveals a type that appears in abundance on the Web, and sometimes in person. Quoting oneself in an attempt to give weight to one’s otherwise pointless point makes the type even more clear. “Defective thought processes” is the kind of demeaning remark that makes me wonder what one might be teaching, to whom and where, that there would be such defectiveness.

          I suspect nowhere. Chemicals found in nature are by their very nature biodegradable. The kinds of chemicals foisted on us by companies such as Monsanto, DuPont and Dow tend not to be biodegradable, or have slower rates of degradation. When they enter plants and animals they can and do cause serious problems, and increase the risk of disease and untimely death.

          Nice try. If there really is a point, you can try again, taking it to the next level – a conclusion. An example might be, quoting no one, “Chemicals occur in nature, THEREFORE chemicals are good. If chemicals kill, then it makes no difference if they are cooked up in a lab or nature.” That at least would be a point, though a defective one.

          • TyroneJ

            As I would say to my grad students, claiming “Chemicals found in nature are by their very nature biodegradable.” is an example of profound ignorance of biology, chemistry, Earth Science and the English Language.

            When plants on Earth developed lignins about 360 million years ago, it took bacteria about 60 million years to develop the ability to “biodegrade it” with any efficiency. We call the period of Earth’s history the Carboniferous, and that lack of ability to biodegrade lignins is why we have vast coal seams all over the planet today. Think of it as if plants mutated into making PVC, and so when plants die they just start piling up without rotting for 60 million years.

          • truegangsteroflove

            I haven’t looked at this lately, was wondering what the esteemed maybe professor would offer as a retort. “Profound ignorance.” Not just run-of-the-mill everyday ignorance, but profound. Sophisticated. Deep.

            Every large university has guys walking around making faces and talking to themselves – students lost in the thickets of their minds, making up arguments that go nowhere, though very elaborate and, hmm, sophisticated.

            A different approach might work, but I doubt it. Nature has a brilliant way of maintaining itself and regenerating. We call it the ecosystem, but some have taken the perspective of the Gaia principle – that there is an overall guiding force or self-regulating complex that maintains life on this planet. The originator of the idea was omniscientist James Lovelock. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis) One of the things I remember him saying was that nature will survive, but we might not.

            So, though I get a FAIL in the pretend professor’s pretend course, I can still invite him to come up with an actual POINT in his ruminations. There is plenty of time to walk around the campus and dream one up.

          • TyroneJ

            Glad you recognize your failings. Maybe someday you’ll be able to attend a real University and learn something, rather than get your info from Wikipedia. That way you’d be able to discuss things based on actual Science, rather than just grabbing on to vague ideas that appeal to your prejudices & engaging in character assassination.

          • truegangsteroflove

            Failing your imaginary course is hardly a failure. I graduated from three universities, two advanced degrees. Wikipedia is a useful source of first read on topics on the Internet. Genuine scholars respect it. If you get your information from late-night comedians, you would tend to have ignorance as your source of bliss. As for character assassination, pot-kettle.

            Nice try. Still no point made, no contribution to the subject at hand, problems caused by the growing use of pesticides.

  • fun bobby

    I have thought for a while we could solve many of our problems by switching our lawns to food production. we spend an enormous amount of time and energy growing cutting and disposing of grass that is purely ornamental. on one hand the fact that so many have lawns is a good sign that things are not that dire economically. when things get really bad expect to see less lawns and fewer bunnies, pigeons and squirrels running around

  • truegangsteroflove

    The use of herbicides and pesticides is organic in a very paradoxical way, in that it is the natural progression of the mass industrial system. If the goal of production is to achieve ever greater levels of output from existing or fewer inputs, then chemical applications are an “improvement.”

    As we are seeing every day, our improvements have come at an increasingly heavy cost. Wildfires are getting worse every year. The connection of these fires to the use of fossil fuels is unmistakable. Our great technology in catching fish is depleting the oceans, at least to the degree that isn’t caused by poisons, sonar, garbage and plastics. Chemicals in food cause health problems, not the least of which is cancer.

    We don’t have the institutional capability to undo these trends. The “U.S.” government is one of the most capable, but even here corruption is so vast that any meaningful reform or change in direction is prohibitive.

    The world productive system will have to change on its own, organically in the truest sense. World population cannot continue to grow exponentially, so something will happen to make the presence of humans on this planet less intrusive. The not so mythical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – war, pestilence, famine and death – will make changes for us.

    The human species has never been in this kind of predicament before. We don’t have any historical precedent or blueprint for facing what we are facing. That doesn’t mean we should give up. We can do many things on an individual level, and work to change our industrial system.

    In my own case I have to eat organic food to stay healthy. If I eat “conventional” foods – foods laden with chemicals – I get sick. I buy groceries at a food coop, 2 farmers markets, and joined a CSA. I buy fewer packaged foods. I drink kombucha to keep my microbiome healthy. I donate to environmental organizations, especially the most grassroots ones. We do our best. Tough times lie ahead, but we’re not helpless.

    • fun bobby

      perhaps not as a whole but there have been several times in history where populations of humans have exceeded the carrying capacity of their environment

  • MsAbila

    The increased use of pesticides and herbicides is the product of industrializing our food production. Additionally, so many different pesticides/herbicides are available to us in the stores so we may easily fight the pests/weeds around us. We also want to live a hygienic life where our surrounding seems ‘clean and spotless’ and in the process we poison ourselves. We all know this, but what can be done about it?

    Personally, I have stopped using pesticides/herbicides in my garden as well as poisonous cleaning products in the house years ago. As mentioned in 1 of the comments below, you may clean your kitchen and bathroom with substances such as vinegar, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide – and they work well.
    I have a few books on natural cleaning techniques and I use the book often to find ways of avoiding expensive chemical products.

    I believe we, as individuals, have to do our homework about reducing the use of chemicals in our lives first. We also have to let our congressmen/women know that we don’t want tax funds heavily supporting the agrobusiness and chemical industry which on the long-run creates a tremendous ecological disaster for all of us. (In fact, these companies socialize costs and privatize profits along with other industries.)

  • tbphkm33

    I have no problem with increased pesticide use… we have over population as it is, the human race owes the Earth for us to find increasingly creative ways for us to cull our own populations. Of course, cancers from pesticide use is an inefficient method of stemming the population explosion, but every little bit helps.

    Thank a chemical company today for doing their part in killing off the human population.

    • dust truck

      Don’t worry. Obama will help the overpopulation problem by bombing civilians in Syria.

      • brettearle

        Thanks so much for raising the bar for the quality of discourse on the “On Point” thread.

        Keep this up and you just might wind up substituting for Tom Ashbrook.

        Karen Shiffman is already giving you careful consideration.

        May God continue to steer you in the proper direction.

        • dust truck

          Wait, so you seriously think that Obama is going to bring peace and love bombs to Syria? That’s not how bombs work…

          • brettearle

            There are 2 kinds of sarcasm, MY FRIEND:

            Sarcasm in good taste

            AND……ta dah!:

            Sarcasm in BAD taste.

          • dust truck

            eh? I don’t get it, how is snarking on tbphkm33′s post while simultaneously criticizing the president bad taste?

            And if you have a problem with sarcasm about homicide/genocide, maybe you should also reread tbphkm33′s post where he suggested people should die from pesticides to reduce the population

          • brettearle

            Your sarcastic presumption is that a surgical strike on delivery systems–to stop warfare that is banned by many countries, across the Globe–will contribute to murder and genocide.

            You don’t know what you are talking about–whether it’s good sarcasm or bad sarcasm.

            Drone strikes are one thing. But if the US strikes, the only collateral damage will be people that the Syrian government could throw in front of the installations that are located away from Damascus.

            If they do that–which they probably won’t–that would be worse than voluntary manslaughter.

            What’s more, such a military action will prevent the Syrian Government from doing–what they have already done twice–again.

            I admit, however, that the US needs conclusive proof.


            I’ll pick and choose whose sarcasm I comment on.

            In the meantime, you can concentrate on raising your comments, out of the Gutter.

            If that’s possible.

    • thequietkid10

      Your dubious morals aside, we’d probably kill more by banning these chemicals and cutting the producing capacity of our farmers.

    • William

      Blame big government. Try to let your lawn go back to nature and you will be fined and eventually forced out of your home.

      • jefe68

        Not where I live. My lawn is but a path framed by raised beds of vegetables.

      • fun bobby

        out west you may get a credit or tax break from planting a low maintenance landscape

    • Michele

      I appreciate your wryness. However, humans aren’t the only ones affected. The rest of Nature chronically bears the brunt of our inexcusable irresponsibility. Maybe you’re right the less humans the more other species will thrive.

    • Carole Conatser


  • tbphkm33

    Yep, I have found white vinegar. Drop 1/3 of a cup in the dishwasher when the rinse cycle starts and you get super sparkling dishes. Use the 50/50 water mixture to clean house/car windows and mirrors, wet a rag and squeegee off. Drastically cleaner than Windex.

  • nj_v2

    All well and good, but folks shouldn’t delude themselves that individual lifestyle changes are going to compensate for or change the overarching, institutional juggernaut which will push all of us over the cliff (or blow us into the fan; choose your metaphor), while we are happily snuggled between organic cotton sheets having enjoyed a meal of organic veggies washed with vinegar.

  • Kirsten Lindquist

    The health of the Earth’s living systems, is embodied in human health, and vice versa. I think the question is not how to best regulate pesticides, but to shift paradigms in how we think of food production. One reason for the shortage of educational and protective resources to farmers is that we DON’T value their importance in our daily lives. We also no longer equate healthy land, waters and wildlife with food; the supermarket has substituted that connection for the majority of our “developed” population. We need to think about food production, and pest management, in a whole Earth-system terms: soil health, pollinators, human health, local economics, social equity, culture, energy and water consumption, biodiversity promotion, diverse diets, education, etc.

    • brettearle

      It’s well put. But it is a very, very Tall Order.

  • andic_epipedon

    I wish there were more choices than strictly organic and conventional. Correct use of Integrated Pest Management does not involve consulting Monsanto. Growing for Maximum Yield as opposed to a balanced approach does involve consulting Monsanto.

  • fun bobby

    In Russia vegetable eat you!

  • BarrytheBully

    Try growing a 10 x 20 organic garden and you’ll see firsthand just how much work it is to fight off pests, critters and weeds. It’s tireless and expensive. I do it and I love it but I have no idea how we expect big farmers to replicate this at a large scale. More money into safer farming practices than into wasted military or other wasteful government programs is the answer. More money to organic farmers than to the foreign aid is a good start.

  • sallyedelstein

    At the first sign of trouble suburban lawn doctors would whip out their trusty arsenal of pesticides. A look at mid century Americas love affairwith pesticides

Sep 18, 2014
Flickr/Steve Rhodes

After a summer of deadly clashes between Gaza and Israel, we talk to Jews on the left and right about the future of liberal Zionism. Some say it’s over.

Sep 18, 2014

Billionaires. We’ll look at the super super rich, and their global shaping of our world.

Sep 17, 2014
Bob Dylan and Victor Maymudes at "The Castle" in LA before the 1965 world tour. Lisa Law/The Archive Agency)

A new take on the life and music of Bob Dylan, from way inside the Dylan story. “Another Side of Bob Dylan.”

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Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson watches from the sidelines against the Oakland Raiders during the second half of a preseason NFL football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP/Ann Heisenfelt)

The NFL’s Adrian Peterson and the emotional debate underway about how far is too far to go when it comes to disciplining children.

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