You’ve seen the argument from big agricultural corporations time and time again: Pesticides are key to solving world hunger. It’s a clever spin; the industry can shift focus away from the health risks of pesticides, and paint their product as essential to feeding a growing world population. But according to the U.N., their claim is false.
U.N. experts address numerous problems with pesticides and their widespread use in their new report. The list of harms is exhaustive: Runoff from treated crops pollute our ecosystems, reductions in pest populations can upset important balances in food chains, and pesticide use can decrease soil biodiversity and lead to declines in crop yields, which actually threatens food security. In fact, the U.N. points out that the people who are most food insecure are often farm workers themselves. This is because farm workers are often forced to sell off their produce to pay for farm equipment, designer seeds, and agrichemicals.
But the biggest problem with pesticides? They put our health at risk. The report found that “chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.” In addition, an estimated 200,000 people die every year from acute poisoning from pesticides.
We can live in a different world. As of today, we have the science and technology to grow enough food to feed everyone without pesticides. How? We stop planting rows and rows of the same crop year after year. We implement common-sense solutions like crop rotation, utilizing local predators to go after plant pests, and growing crops that thrive in the local climate and soil. Not only do those solutions move us away from pesticide use, but the U.N. report goes so far as to claim that this will yield even more food.
Contrary to the agrochemical industry’s narrative, the widespread use of pesticides compromises our health and our right to safe food. We must increase regulation and ban unsafe pesticides in the short-term, but our end goal must be to move away from agrichemicals and monoculture completely.