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The Myth of Pesticides

by André Leu
Chair—Organic Federation of Australia

Conventional farming is dependent on synthetic biocides (pesticides, fungicides and herbicides). These poisons are used in food production to kill pests, diseases and weeds.

More than 7200 registered biocide products are used in Australian agriculture. 1 This is similar in the USA and Europe. Regulatory authorities assure us that these poisons have been rigorously tested and are used safely on our foods and in our environment.

The Residue Myth

A major myth is that most modern agricultural chemicals leave few residues. We are misled into believing that they break down and do not persist in our food.

A typical claim states:"...Organophosphorous pesticides, carbamate pesticides are mostly biodegradable, and therefore do not concentrate in the food chain. Synthetic pyrethroids... are generally biodegradable and therefore tend not to persist in the environment." 2

These types of statements give a false impression.

  1. Most agricultural and veterinary chemicals leave residues in food. That is why residue tolerances called the Average Daily Intake (ADI) are set for these poisons.
  2. The following are some of the poisons found in Australian foods in 2003:
    Acephate, Azinphos-methyl, Bifenthrin, Bioresmethrin, Captan, Carbaryl, Chlorfenvinphos, Chlorothalonil, Chlorpyrifos, Chlorpyrifos-methyl, DDT, DDE, Dimethoate, Diphenylamine, Endosulfan, Fenitrothion, Fenoxycarb, Fenthion, Iprodione, Maldison, Metalaxyl, Methamidophos, Methidathion, Methoprene, o-phenylphenol, Parathion-methyl, Permethrin, Piperonyl butoxide, Pirimicarb, Pirimiphos-methyl, Procymidone, Propargite, Propiconazole, Pyrimethanil, Tebufenpyrad, Tetradifon, Vinclozolin

    Testing in Australia only looks at a small sample of the large number of chemicals used. The majority of agricultural chemicals are not included in residue testing. Some of the most widely used chemicals, including herbicides such as Atrazine, Glyphosate, 2,4-D, Diuron and Paraquat were not included in the testing.

  3. Many of the current chemicals, including some of the Synthetic Pyrethroids, Organophosphates, Carbamates and Herbicides are as residual as banned Organochlorines such as Dieldrin, DDT, Chlordane, Heptachlor, Lindane and Aldrin.

The Breakdown Myth

One of the biggest myths is that once a chemical degrades, it disappears and is harmless. Most agricultural poisons leave residues of breakdown chemicals when they degrade.3,4

  1. A substantial number of agricultural pesticides such as organophosphates like Diazinon become even more toxic when they break down.
  2. Where research exists, it shows that many of the breakdown chemicals from agricultural poisons cause health and reproductive problems.
  3. There is virtually no testing to detect the residues of the breakdown chemicals of agricultural poisons in our food.
  4. Very little research has been done to determine safe intake levels for the breakdown chemicals of agricultural poisons. Consequently, there are virtually no safety levels to determine the Average Daily Intake (ADI) for the toxic breakdown chemicals that contaminate our food.
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