The Pros & Cons of Pesticides &
by Rachel Delp, Demand Media
For the past 10,000 years, humans have
worked to domesticate plants and to develop
cultivation techniques that have evolved into
agriculture as we know it today. These early
farmers provided their communities with
food and fiber, and little changed in their
practices for millennia. The Industrial Age,
however, brought about fundamental changes
in agriculture, including the introduction of
manufactured pesticides and fertilizers. These
changes have agricultural and economic benefits but have also caused environmental problems.
Agricultural Benefits
Use of pesticides and fertilizers has agricultural benefits. Plants feed off soil nutrients required
for their healthy growth and development. Over time, if these nutrient supplies are not
replenished, soil will be incapable of sustaining plant life. Fertilizers are used to put these
nutrients back into the ground. Organic fertilizers like livestock manure improve soil quality, but
they release nutrients slowly. Manufactured fertilizers, on the other hand, give soil the quick
boost needed during the growing season. Pesticides also provide an agricultural benefit by
controlling pests that can damage or kill plants, saving at least 8 percent of crops annually.
Use of modern day agricultural practices like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides provides
economic advantages. For example, harvest yields are significantly increased, lowering
production costs and making food more affordable. In addition, sufficient food can be grown to
support a growing population, keeping people healthy and productive. Synthetic fertilizers
deliver nutrients more uniformly and efficiently, are less costly and can be transported more
easily than organic soil amendments. Pesticide production is a multibillion-dollar industry, and
40 percent of that manufactured in the United States is exported and sold elsewhere.
Toxicity and Environmental Problems
The pros of pesticide and fertilizer use are offset by the problems related to their toxicity. For
example, pesticides used to protect crops from harmful pests often kill beneficial insects. Runoff
of chemicals used in pesticides and fertilizers can drain into streams and lakes, and eventually
our water supplies. Excess nitrogen from fertilizer runoff can cause excessive algae growth in
rivers and lakes. Pesticides can also adversely affect the health of people who use them, as well
as people who live near large agricultural areas, not to mention those who consume food treated
with chemical pesticides. As many as 20,000 Americans suffer from pesticide poisoning each
year, and the World Health Organization estimates 1 to 5 million people worldwide are affected
by pesticide poisoning annually.
Genetic resistance is a problem associated with the use of pesticides. The number of weeds and
insect pests that have become resistant to at least one pesticide has increased fivefold since the
1950s. As a result, despite certain agricultural advances, more crops today are destroyed by pests
than in the 1940s.