As you know, at The Organic Place we like our produce to be certified organic so that we can ensure that only the freshest, most nutritious fruit and vegetables are being delivered to you. Hold the toxins and nasties, thank you very much!
It’s a comfort to know that we are bypassing the chemicals that may be sprayed on conventional produce. We are all familiar with particular household cleaning products that come with a label warning that they are poison. We know they can cause terrible damage if they come into contact with our eyes or are ingested. With that in mind, what can other poisons like pesticides do when they are used en masse over the crops that grow the food we eat; the soil on which our livestock graze; the waterways from which we drink?
What do we actually know about pesticides? Why and how they are used? What are the effects they can have on the pests they are used on, the produce, and finally, us, the consumer?
What are pesticides?
Pesticides are chemicals that are used to kill a variety of pests. They are used in public health to kill carriers of disease, and in farming to kill pests that destroy crops. The World Health Organisation says in its definition of pesticides that: ‘by their nature, (they) are potentially toxic to other organisms, including humans, and need to be used safely and disposed of properly’ (2018).
Does this sentence send off warning bells for anyone else? If pesticides are potentially toxic to humans, how does the final part of this sentence even make any sense? How can something so toxic be used and disposed of safely?
What types of pesticides are there?
Many people are unaware that there are many different types of pesticides. They are broken down into groups according to the type of pest they kill. Insecticides target insects; herbicides target plants; rodenticides target rats and mice; bactericides target bacteria; fungicides target funghi and larvicides target larvae.
What are the possible reactions?
Pesticides are broken into these groups because no two pesticides are the same. Each is made up of a unique combination of chemicals and can be more hazardous to one type of living thing than another. For example, an insecticide may be very dangerous for insects whilst at the same time having little effect on another type of living thing, like a mammal. The level of toxicity of each pesticide to each type of living thing is different.
Like anything, a small amount of pesticide residue can have little or no effect on someone but more exposure can cause worse reactions. If someone accidentally ingests or is exposed to a high level of a pesticide they will have reactions like most who have come into contact with a poison: vomiting, nausea, swelling, respiratory difficulties, dizziness and so forth. Prolonged exposure to pesticides, especially if they are not used properly can lead to more chronic health complications such as cancer. In 2016 there were found to be many cases of people with Parkinson’s Disease in an area of Western Victoria where pesticides were widely used. Apparently “there has long been speculation that exposure to organophosphate pesticides could lead to Parkinson’s disease” (Davis, 2018), but as the data has not been collected over the long term, this cannot be completely verified.
How to prevent exposure
The World Health Organisation encourages people working closely with pesticides, such as those in agriculture, to use proper protection such as masks and gloves to lessen their chance of exposure. For the rest of us, they also suggest protection if we are using chemicals in the garden; and suggest that we wash or peel our fruit and vegetables to lower our chances of being affected. But what if the pesticide has gone further than through the skin of certain produce, especially if the fruit is one of the dirty dozen (the fruit and vegetables found to contain the most pesticides)? Naturally, the only real way to ensure you are not ingesting pesticides is to eat certified organic produce.
Unfortunately, some pesticides in the past have affected the soil and water and can remain there for years after they use. These cheaper and older pesticides have since been banned in developed countries The World Health Organisation is working on them not them not being used altogether.
What can we do?
One of the best things we can do for our health and that of the environment is to educate ourselves. Knowledge is power and the more we know on these topics, the more able we are in fighting against the use of these harmful toxins. Even if we eat organic produce ourselves, the fact is that pesticides are sprayed into the environment which means they can: affect the air, waterways and soil, and through that the plants and animals that reside there. Without a doubt, everything is connected.
Over the next few weeks we will be profiling the pesticides that are relevant to growing produce and finding out more about each of them. By arming ourselves with this knowledge, we will be able to share even more confidently why we choose to eat organic and hopefully can encourage more people to realise the benefits for their health and that of our environment.
Australian Government Department of Health (11/10) First Aid Procedures for Pesticide Poisoning. Retrieved from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l~ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l-ch5~ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l-ch5.16
Davis, J. for ABC News (25/02/18) . Blood test for farmers using pesticides, chemical the key to preventing long-term health problems. Retrieved from:
Dr Axe (2018). Dirty Dozen List: Are You Eating the Most Pesticide-Laden Produce?
Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/dirty-dozen/
Health Direct (08/18) Pesticides.Retrieved from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/pesticides
World Health Organisation (2018) The WHO Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard. Retrieved from:
World Health Organisation (2018) Pesticides. Retrieved from:http://www.who.int/topics/pesticides/en/
World Health Organisation (2018) Protective No Spray Zones. Retrieved from: https://apvma.gov.au/node/27936