As someone trying to live compassionately and make good, eco-friendly choices, the weekly food shop can be a minefield.
Choosing to eat a vegan diet has made the weekly march around the aisles slightly less daunting, however, even when it comes to stocking up on fruits and veggies there are issues to consider.
Almost all of the fruit and vegetables that line the shelves of your local supermarket have been grown with the use of pesticides. Pesticides are chemical formulations that take the form of a liquid, sprayed all over the fields of crops by farmers to keep away pests.
By minimising the damage done by pests (such as flies, rats, mice and other insects), the farmers can get a greater yield from the crop, therefore making more money.
It’s understandable why farmers would be trying to keep pesky critters away from their land, however, the harsh chemical nature of these pesticides can have huge impacts on the ecosystems and environments surrounding the fields.
It’s estimated that up to 98% of the insecticides sprayed on crops end up reaching a part of the environment that was not originally intended. This accidental, wide-spreading of chemicals can have dire impacts on the planet.
So Why Are Pesticides Bad for the Environment?
Below are 6 reasons why we need to stop spraying the planet with chemicals and why these pesticides are bad for the environment:
Contaminates Water Supply
When the chemicals are sprayed across fields, the particles that don’t land directly onto crops eventually reach the ground and seep into the soil.
This adds an extra layer of protection from the pests for farmers, however, there are much more long-term effects. Once in the soil, the chemicals leach from sprayed soil into the ground below and get into water supplies.
Because of the nature of application – spraying – it is hard to control where the pesticides end up.
When it rains, the raindrops that land on the farm fields can run off and spread the chemicals to other non-commercial lands. This then destroys and alters the local ecosystems.
Whilst rodents and insects might be a nuisance to farmers, they are an integral part of the food chain for many animals.
It’s not just animals that pesticides aren’t good for, when they get into the water supply via the rainwater runoff, they can seriously harm humans as the chemicals begin to appear in the water system.
Ruins Soil Quality
Over time the use of harsh chemicals begins to alter the soil of the land where they are sprayed, killing off a lot of important factors that help the soil to be fertile and allow plants to thrive.
Pesticides decrease the number of nutrients in the soil and reduce biodiversity. Nutrients allow crops to grow strong and bountiful, whilst biodiversity ensures that land remains habitable for animals and humans alike.
As the effects of pesticides take place, we damage the delicate natural balance of the land.
Affects Plants Longterm
In the same way that soil quality is reduced, plants also suffer wildly.
Pesticides cause a decrease in Nitrogen in soil, which is needed to grow plants. This actually leads to smaller crop yields and weaker, less flavourful produce. Because of this, over time farmers are encouraged to plant GMO crops that pose their own issues in our food chain.
Animals are Harmed
Whilst the point of pesticides are in fact to deter and destroy ‘pests’, the chemicals are deadly to a wide variety of animals. Any wildlife that attempts to eat the crop or plants grown nearby in soil that has been contaminated will be poisoned.
Likewise, when other animals come along to feed on smaller animals below them in the food chain, they ingest the chemicals secondarily.
In a wider sense, the food supply for native animals becomes scarce and many more animals can be killed off from the second-hand effects. For example, when worms are less available because of the poisonous soil, birds lose their source of food and numbers of their species will decline as they can no longer survive.
Water dwelling creatures such as fish and frogs become poisoned by the chemicals in the water supply and the pesticides also end up altering the ecosystem of local rivers, lakes and ponds.
Worst of all, over time, pests actually become resistant to the chemicals used so more damage is done to animals that aren’t intended than the pests themselves.
Air Quality is Reduced
Pesticides contribute to pollution in a big way and whilst a lot of farming happens in more rural locations, larger towns and cities nearby are not unaffected.
Because of the spray application, the pesticide particles are carried along in the air by the wind and can end up in towns miles away. This so-called ‘pesticide-drift’ means that humans have become affected too.
Humans Are Affected
Whilst the effects of pesticides are most greatly felt in the agricultural ecosystems themselves, it doesn’t mean there’s no threat posed to humans.
The farmers who work in the industry as well as civilians that live near farms are all at risk of worrying side-effects, such as birth defects as well as respiratory illness, cardiovascular illness and cancer.
The pesticides can enter through breathing in the pesticide-contaminated air, drinking contaminated water supplies and accidental ingestion.
What’s the Alternative for Farmers?
As with most things that have negative effects on the planet and our health, there is always a better alternative to using pesticides that are bad for the environment.
In terms of less harmful alternatives that can be used by growers, there are physical options that can be used in place of the chemicals. Nets, wires and covers can all be utilised to keep crops safe and protected from pests, whilst minimising damage to the environment.
Biotechnology is another thing that many people within the agriculture industry are working to develop and get introduced, to allow the growth of naturally stronger, more resistant plants.
Why Choose Organic Produce?
As a consumer, we can make choices that help create a better environment and reduce harm. One way to make an impact is to choose to buy organic produce, over the usual fruit and veg you may buy normally.
While the price is a little more, it helps to tell big supermarkets that you want them to consider what growers they work with. A classic example of ‘put your money where your mouth is.’
By choosing organic foods you are ridding yourself of harmful chemicals; no pesticides means less effect on wildlife, the environment and humans. As you well know after reading this article, pesticides are bad for the environment.
Organic foods also tend to mean lower carbon emissions from your food as well as higher-quality, more natural food.
And if that isn’t enough to convince you, in a study by Kantar, Millward and Brown, the taste of organic foods are said to taste better than their pesticide-grown counterparts!