People and Pesticides: What’s the Cost to Human Health?

People and Pesticides: What’s the Cost to Human Health?

Chemical pesticides are commonly used in agriculture to prevent crops from being eaten and damaged by insects, birds, weeds and other natural pests that have the potential to reduce a farmer’s yields. So yes, pesticides are helpful to farmers, but if they’re able to kill and deter living organisms, what impact can pesticide exposure have on human health? 

It’s a complex question, with multiple contributing and conflicting evidence and opinions. At the end of the day, pesticides are poisons. Unfortunately, they can harm more than just the “pests” at which they are targeted. Pesticides are toxic, and human exposure can result in a number of negative health effects. 

Did you know?

Pesticide use in crop production worldwide increased nearly twenty-fold from 1960 to 2000 and further increased from 1.0 billion tons in 2002 to 1.7 billion tons in 2007. 


Some people are more vulnerable than others to the harmful effects of pesticides:

  • Infants and young children – whose organs, nervous systems and immune systems are still developing
  • Farmworkers can be exposed to pesticides in agriculture through the treatment of crops and livestock
  • Pesticide applicators
  • Those who live close to where pesticides are used can be exposed to pesticide drift
  • Pesticide residues found on (and in) our food also puts us at risk.

According to Pesticide Reform, pesticides can cause adverse acute (short-term) health effects as well as long-term, chronic effects that can occur years after exposure. 

Examples of acute health effects include:

  • Rashes
  • Stinging eyes
  • Blisters
  • Blindness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Death.

Examples of known chronic effects include:

  • Congenital disabilities
  • Cancers
  • Reproductive harm
  • Immunotoxicity
  • Neurological and developmental toxicity
  • Disruption of the endocrine system.

Chronic health effects may not appear for weeks, months or even years after exposure. This makes it difficult to link these health impacts to pesticides.

Is it possible to go pesticide-free? 

The use of pesticides in food production is currently a hotly-contested topic of debate. Can humans increase food production and feed a growing population without relying on conventional farming techniques such as pesticides?

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that up to 40% of global crop yields are lost each year due to pests.


Your sustainable farming solution  

At Zylem, we believe in reducing (and possibly phasing out) pesticides as part of a sustainable farming solution. Using pesticides isn’t a sustainable solution to pest problems as weeds, insects, and other pests are able to develop resistance to the chemicals that are designed to destroy them. This means that chemical companies must constantly develop new pesticides.

Integrated pest management is safer and more sustainable. It uses a variety of methods to solve pest problems while simultaneously minimising risks to people and the environment. 

These practices can include: 

  • Crop rotation
  • Sanitation measures to remove disease vectors, weed seeds, and habitat for pest organisms
  • Cultural practices that enhance crop health
  • Introduction of predators of the pest species
  • Nonsynthetic controls such as traps, lures, and repellents
  • Mulching with fully biodegradable materials to suppress weeds
  • Mowing
  • Livestock grazing.

Are you interested in investing in a future without harmful pesticides that also improves your profitability? Contact us today to find out how we can apply our expertise to your unique circumstances:

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