Whether the pros outweigh the cons of
pesticides is dependent on which pesticides you
consider and who is affected by pesticides.
It’s important to realize that pesticides are
used nearly everywhere for farming. A pesticide is
basically any substance that kills something
that’s going to harm your crop, whether a plant,
bug, fungus, or bacterium. Even organic farming
uses pesticides, but doesn’t use what they
consider to be “synthetic pesticides.” If we
don’t protect crops in some manner, a large
percentage of the crops will die before we can eat
them. We’re competing with a lot of different
organisms for the nutrition of the crops. If
everyone stopped using any substance that could be
considered a pesticide, it would be catastrophic
and probably billions of people would starve to
When the Earth had only hundreds of millions
of people on it, pesticides probably weren’t as
necessary. But now that the population is 7
billion, pesticides are crucial for maintaining
and increasing that number. That being said,
certainly there can be negative effects of
pesticides. Some are harmful to humans, though
it’s only a problem for the people spraying the
pesticides rather than the consumers of the
In developing countries where farm workers
don’t have much protection when spraying
pesticides, there is an increased risk for
illness. Though either way, by time the product
gets to the consumer, there is not a biologically
relevant amount of pesticide left in the product.
And killing of organisms that aren’t supposed to
be targeted by the pesticide is also problematic.
Now looking specifically at the problem of bee
death, or colony collapse disorder (CCD),
pesticides are probably a significant factor.
However, they are almost certainly not the only
contributing factor. Many pesticides do appear to
have a stronger effect on some bugs than others.
In the case of bees, a particular family of
pesticides called neonicotinoid seems to be
involved. The current perspective is that the
pesticides don’t kill the bees, they stress
them. A stressed bee may not be able to deal
with a parasite, virus, or conditions due to
climate change as well . Therefore, there are
many factors interacting with each other in a
complicated manner that has caused CCD. If only
pesticides were eliminated, it is entirely
possible that the problem would persist, perhaps
with less intensity.
1. That's a complicated economics question and
really not one that can be answered
scientifically. However, pesticides generally are
only a temporary solution to insect pests,
because the insects subjected to pesticides will
eventually evolve resistance to said pesticides.
This will force us to either use new pesticides,
come up with some other form of pest-control, or
just accept living with the pests.
2. Yes, and work on this is being done. Among
the most favorite are something called
biocontrol agents: other living things that
we can use against insect pests like biological
weapons, and which can either evolve naturally
(some wasps) or be engineered (some bacteria) to
be only deadly to specific insects, namely the
ones that are acting as pests. The pests will
eventually evolve resistance to these controls,
too, but creating and deploying a new biocontrol
agent is less environmentally destructive than a
new generally toxic pesticide.
3. Good question - the answer is sometimes yes
and sometimes no. You're probably familiar with
the idea of swarms of locusts (grasshoppers) from
the Old Testament and other places, which indicate
that yes, sometimes pests really can cause famines
and other catastrophic devastation. The amount of
organic produce that you can buy in stores,
however, tells you about what pest damage looks
like more often: not having pesticides or
genetically-modified produce means that the
produce is less plentiful and so more expensive,
but there are still farmers who do well enough to
make a living off of it.
One more thing that you aren't considering:
bees have their own pests, among them a mite that
infects bee colonies and kills the bees inside of
the colony. There is good evidence that the die
off rates of honeybees are due to this mite as
much as to pesticides.
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