What do you think of when you hear the word ‘pesticide’? Do you imagine insect-free corn growing in a beautiful sunny field? Do you picture rows of bright, red tomatoes glimmering under a cloudless sky? How about extraordinarily large orange pumpkins filling the autumn aroma?
These all seem like lovely images, but what are the costs of these picturesque manipulations of nature? Has it ever crossed your mind that pesticides could be causing egg-shell thinning amongst birds, and thus huge population declines? How about lizard and fish species with serious reproductive abnormalities? Or even endocrine disruption in mammals, including humans?
In fact, many pesticides and insecticides have endocrine disrupting properties, functioning by mimicking or blocking natural bodily hormones. The endocrine system consists of tissues and glands that are responsible for the secretion of hormones that maintain homeostasis, reproductive functions, growth, and metabolism.
If these functions are disrupted, it could potentially result in negative repercussions. Such problems include cancers and osteoporosis in humans and reproductive abnormalities in wildlife (i.e. development of eggs and sperm within the same organism, a condition which we call intersex).
Researchers doing work with male alligators in the polluted lakes of central Florida have made some really disturbing observations. They’ve noted that pesticides and insecticides that were used in nearby fields have been causing reductions in reproductive rates (by 90%) and 1/3 reduction in the size of reproductive organs. Conclusively, these observations point to the idea that pesticides can alter the development of the testis from an embryonic stage.
Another interesting point worth mentioning is that pesticides such as DDT have been abolished from Canadian soil, but still exist due to bioaccumulation (build up in fat tissues). Because these chemicals have persistent properties, they never really disappear.
At first, few people suspected any negative repercussions about pesticides and insecticides. In fact, DDT was seen as a health benefit; children and women even lined up to get sprayed with it!
Sometimes I wonder why our history includes such disastrous events.....unfortunately, it doesn’t matter anymore. We’re where we are for whatever reason. The only thing we can do now is take careful steps in the future.
Is it worth it to give up a piece of the earth for the ‘perfect’ tomato? Is it worthwhile to trade our eco-conscience for the best coloured corn? It depends on what you think is important. Unfortunately, everything in the air ends up on our food somehow; we are what we eat and we eat based on what we are.