An unholy alliance

It becomes crucial for us to explore and draw attention to the hazards of purportedly farmer-friendly pesticides
Representational Image
Representational Image File/ GK


Every person on earth adores apples, and each bite makes our taste buds burst with deliciousness. Additionally, the most well-known proverb, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” has been ingrained in our minds since infancy because apples are loaded with vital nutrients.

Yet, lately, it’s worth pondering now that many fruits including apples are treated with an array of pesticides. If these chemicals can kill and control pests, then what potential risks could they pose to our health and the environment? In reality, it becomes crucial for us to explore and draw attention to the hazards of purportedly farmer-friendly pesticides.

With the advancement of medical sciences, the global population has exponentially increased in recent decades with direct as well as indirect impacts on our environment.

Due to this population explosion, consumerism has perpetrated its effect on the agriculture sector, especially on our farmers by enforcing an upsurge in food production. However, issues such as lack of cultivable land, infertile soil, and pest infestation persist and might be seen as the major challenge for farmers.

While some farmers have chosen to expand their property and properly manage their pests to satisfy demand, others have been compelled to clear forests and wildlife habitats for agricultural purposes.

Additionally, only a small percentage of farmers in the agricultural sectors have agreed to employ genetically modified crops that are pest-resistant and eventually provide higher yields.

Furthermore, organic farming is popular now among farmers, where pests are trapped using pheromones and bio-pesticides. Despite all these efforts to increase agriculture production, these sectors lose 45% of the outcome which is worth 6000 crores as a result of pest invasions.

Insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, molluscicides, nematicides, plant growth regulators, and other substances are all included under the umbrella word “pesticide”. In India, pesticide production started in 1952 with the establishment of a plant for the production of BHC (Benzene hexachloride) near Calcutta.

Today India ranks 12th internationally and is the second-largest producer of pesticides in Asia after China. India uses pesticides differently from the rest of the globe as a whole. In India, insecticides account for 76% of all pesticide usage, compared to 44% internationally, while herbicide and fungicide use is proportionally less common.

Cotton crops account for nearly half of all pesticide applications in India, followed by paddy and wheat. Pesticides are not only used in farming, but also in or around your house. Do you apply insect repellent in the summer to fight against bites from bloodsuckers like mosquitoes? If your home has a wooden deck, it most likely includes the insecticide Chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which helps to keep the wood from rotting.

Bleach, several types of paint, and even a few swimming pool chemicals are among the additional products that frequently contain pesticides. Also, herbicides, or weed killers, may be used on a lawn to stop the development of weeds.

Therefore, it is impossible to deny that the usage of pesticides has transformed our lives for the better by providing us with immediate benefits such as higher yielding and better quality crops that generate more income.

Therefore it is possible to claim that utilising pesticides has a number of benefits, from safeguarding recreational grass to preventing disease vectors from fatally infecting humans.

Besides its benefits, the indiscriminate use of pesticides is also very harmful to human, animal, and environmental health. Only 0.1% of pesticides reach their intended targets, with the remainder contaminating the environment and harming the species that live there.

Every living thing, including those in the water and on land, unintentionally comes into contact with pesticides. Humans generally get exposed to pesticides by eating pest-contaminated food and drinking water containing pesticide residues. Exposure can also happen inside or around the home while using pest exterminators. These pesticides infiltrate every biological system covertly, becoming pervasive in every ecosystem and habitat.

According to studies, about 300 or more distinct pesticides are present in around 50% of the fruits, vegetables, and grains. In the case of farmers, exposure mostly takes place during the formulation and use of pesticide spray solutions, followed by the cleaning of spraying equipment. Additionally, the pesticides in foods, such as butter and ghee made from cow’s milk, create bioaccumulation in the animal body.

Furthermore, it’s reported that honey, a significant source of antioxidants, may also contain pesticides. Presence of organochloride pesticide residues has been reported in the chicken and eggs also in aquatic life like weeds and fishes. Furthermore, the fact that pesticide residues are in human breast milk helps us better understand the severity of this issue.

Production workers, formulators, sprayers, mixers, loaders, and field labourers are among the high-risk populations exposed to pesticides. Hazards may be more likely during manufacturing and formulation because the procedures involved carry some inherent risk.

Abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and skin and eye irritation are the symptoms of acute toxicity. Chronic exposure causes adverse health effects like leukemia, lymphoma, brain, liver, pancreas, breast, and skin cancers and neurotoxic outcomes like Alzheimers disease. Strong evidence links pesticide exposure to birth abnormalities, foetal death, altered foetal growth, male infertility, and also a greater risk of diabetes.

Pesticide-related increased risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD and lung cancer, cough, wheezing, dyspnea, sarcoidosis, farmer’s lung, and allergic rhinitis have been reported in people who work in agricultural settings.

For lowest possible pesticide exposure, farmers can take safety precautions by using biological control or natural predators. Also, traps, manual weed removal, and natural pesticides like neem oil spray, beer, garlic, pepper spray, herbal water spray, pyrethrum spray, nicotine, and many others can be used.

Farmers should also utilise personal protection equipment (PPE) to prevent cutaneous exposure. Gas masks and respirators should be used for prevention of respiratory exposure. Likewise, we all can reduce our indirect exposure to pesticides by purchasing seasonal or organic fruits and vegetables and washing them thoroughly before eating.

If at all feasible, cultivate your food using organic techniques, and aim to use fewer chemicals overall. Thus, to reduce pesticide exposure, there is every reason to create health education programs based on knowledge, skills, and practices and to spread them throughout the community.

Dr. Abrar Ul Haq Wani, Assistant Professor cum Junior Scientist, Dept. of Medicine, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana, Punjab.

Dr. R.S Sethi, Additional Director of Research, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana, Punjab.

Dr. Shaikh Nasrul Islam, Sr. Scientist Biotechnology, R&D All Vet Diagnostic Solutions PVT LTD.

Dr. Showkat Ul Nabi, Scientist, Vety. Medicine, SKUAST-K.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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