Sarah Clifford investigates the controversial farming methods of managing "pests" and other unwanted rodents, weeds and fungi.
Photo by Emre Gencer
The world’s five largest pesticide companies are making roughly 35% of their profits from the sale of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). These companies are all members of CropLife International, a combination of different agricultural companies.
CropLife say that HHPs are a vital tool to support the growing population on earth, and that they educate their customers on the safety precautions needed to use such chemicals before they sell them, however the number of health problems and environmental issues believed to be caused by HHPs speaks otherwise.
What are Highly Hazardous Pesticides?
Many pesticides are classed as hazardous, however HHPs are those that cause disproportionate harm to the environment, meaning that even small doses can cause serious harm to habitats and/or human health.
These types of pesticides have a high likelihood to cause acute to chronic levels of health problems, including cancer. HHPs have caused serious illnesses in humans when they have been exposed repeatedly, and are one of the most common means of suicide, being the cause of 19.7% of cases globally.
Environmental Effects of HHPs
The facts about Highly Hazardous Pesticides are very sobering. HHPs have been detected in air, soil, water, humans and animals all around the globe. They have also been found in many foods such as bananas, coffee, rice, fruits and vegetables when they have been used during their growth.
The Effect on Bees and Other Pollinators
A growing number of scientific studies into neonicotinoids, the most widely used type of insecticide on the planet, have been making links between the presence of this chemical in the environment and deaths or reduced efficiency of bees, other insects, and insectivorous birds through Colony Collapse Disorder.
Colony Collapse Disorder is when bees suddenly leave the hive, the queen and young bees behind without ever returning. This is caused by the toxicity in the pesticides leading to bees forgetting where flowers are, impairing their ability to forage for nectar, and causing them to forget the location of their hive. All of these can cause death of bees or a loss of efficiency in hives.
Additionally, herbicides, though not a direct threat to bees, attack flower populations which in turn reduces bees’ food sources. Herbicides also have the potential to be toxic to bees when mixed with certain insecticides.
In essence, the use of all types of chemical in agriculture and cultivation is putting our bee populations under significant strain.
Why are HHPs Still Being Used?
Although some HHPs have been banned in Europe, they are still being used in developing countries, meaning habitats and pollinators continue to be threatened worldwide.
Since the discovery that HHPs are causing significant harm, an effort has been made to phase them out of use. Progress in this area has been stunted though due to companies’ reluctance to revoke large-scale investments in HHPs which have already been made, policies and investment in developing countries which are not centred around sustainability and the environment, and limited affordable alternatives to HHPs.
As recently as December last year, DW, a German public broadcasting service, conducted an investigation into slaughterhouse conditions in Germany for both animals and employees, entitled 'The high cost of cheap meat' with the accompanying hashtag #AnimalRights. It found that unpaid overtime and shifts exceeding sixteen hours were commonplace in the industry.
What is Being Done About HHPs?
The FAO and WHO created guidelines in 2016 to help other countries control their HHP use and understand the dangers they pose. There are three ways to reduce the amounts of these pesticides being used: ending use of HHPs, restricting their usage, and changing methods of use to reduce exposure.
Since the discovery of the damage these pesticides are causing, a coordinated effort has been made to reduce their use, and while some progress has been made, much more is needed in order to reduce the long term damage and save our bees, pollinators and environment.
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