The Hidden Costs of Cheap Pesticides

Sijia Wang/Illustration

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Many people, whether they are home gardeners or big farm owners, choose to use pesticides to deal with pest problems today. To them, pesticides are easy to use and they kill insects and weeds fairly quickly.

Spraying pesticides over crops is convenient as well. It takes relatively little time for home gardeners to spray pesticides, probably less than five minutes; and for plantations, the usage of airplanes to spray pesticides are common and effective as well.

But most importantly, pesticides are cheap! One can easily get a bottle of pesticides for less than 10 bucks on eBay or Amazon.

Therefore, meeting the modern economic standard of being convenient, quick, effective and cheap, pesticides become the number one option people choose to deal with pests.

However, like many other capitalist products, pesticides in fact lay many of the costs on society despite their seeming benefits. The two major problems include their effects on the environment and on our health!

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the annual amount of pesticide used in the U.S. is about 1.23 billion pounds per year, in comparison to the global amount of 5.35 billion pounds per year. In other words, the U.S. alone makes up for about a quarter of the global pesticide use. This huge amount of pesticides has huge effects on our land.

Most of the pesticides do not reach their destination because they are carried away by wind to other areas. Air and water pollutions are often the result of this off-target spray of pesticides.

The pollution problems often worsen as pests become more resistant and thus more pesticides are required. Ecosystems are affected because pesticides reduce nitrogen in plants and thus cause many plants to die. Primary consumers are affected as pesticides are poisoning and reducing their food source.

Pesticides are also harmful to human beings. They can damage our nervous system and even cause a variety of cancers. They are especially harmful to pregnant women because they can cause birth defects, death and disorders to the babies.

Pesticides can either enter our body through inhaling polluted air or through vegetables or animals we consume.

What are some alternatives to pesticides then? In fact, there are actually many alternatives to using pesticides.

For example, farmers can abandon monoculture agricultural practices as polyculture can sometimes eliminate pests naturally.

Also, they can also introduce natural predators that eliminate insects or grow natural plants that scare pests away (such as garlic because pests do not like their smells). Lastly, composted yard waste can also be used to control pests as well.

Despite these available alternatives, pesticides are still preferred by many because they are cheaper and take less effort to manage. Yet, realizing the negative effects on society and nature, it is time for Americans to rethink and react.

Do we prefer our health and safe food, or do we prefer to hold on to the capitalistic way of doing things cheaply and quickly?

I leave this for the readers to decide!


David Law is a UC Berkeley student. Reply to [email protected]

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