Pesticides surround us – they are used on everything from our food to our skin. However, how much do you know about the possible dangers they carry for our bodies and our ecosystems?

Pesticides are defined as anything that kills an organism. Widespread usage of these chemicals in farming has heavily disrupted ecosystems, especially as un-targeted species are inadvertently affected.  For instance, pesticides used on oilseed rape crops have been found partially responsible for the large-scale extinction of wild bee populations.

HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: Chinese farmer He Guolin, 53, hand pollinates flowers on a pear tree on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. Farmers pollinate the pear blossom individually. Hanyuan County describes itself as the 'world's pear capital', but the long-term viability of hand pollination is being challenged by rising labor costs and declining fruit yields. A recent United Nations biodiversity report warned that populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and climate change. It noted that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production, meaning declines pose potential risks to the world's major crops and food supply. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: Chinese farmer He Guolin, 53, hand pollinates flowers on a pear tree on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

In China the bee populations have become so critically low that some plants must now be hand-pollinated. Evidently this is not a viable long term solution as there are not enough people to hand pollinate all the crops we need for our survival!

Pesticides aren’t just confined to farming; many people use them on the body’s largest organ, our skin. For example, DEET is used as a mosquito repellent. This unfortunately can kill aquatic wildlife if it washes off into waterways, and hence tourists using it can adversely affect the local environment.

Not only representing a hazard to our ecosystems, pesticides also are a direct threat to human health. According to the United Nations (UN) 200,000 people die worldwide from the toxic exposure of pesticides each year, and these chemicals are causally linked to serious illnesses like cancer and neurological disorders.

Why then are we globally using approx. 2.5 billion kg of these deadly substances every year? This is partially due to problems in testing (click here for further information), which leads to regulators declaring pesticides safe at first, and only realising a few years down the line that they are in fact carcinogenic. Massive pesticide profits also mean that big companies such as Bayer and Monsanto spend millions on lobbying every year, which helps keep these substances legal despite evidence demonstrating their harmful effects.  According to the UN, these unethical manufacturers have “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions.”

Surely, despite their downsides, we need these chemicals to protect our food and ourselves? Well actually alternatives are readily available in natural products and processes already in practice all around the globe. Biological control agents (i.e. fungal/ roundworm pathogens) can target individual species, and hence this method shows promise for targeting pests without drastically altering ecosystems. Furthermore, the Soil Association promotes natural methods of pest, disease and weed control, such as planting strips of wildflowers on farms. This can increase populations of natural predators, decreasing the need for pesticide sprays, as well as boosting pollinator numbers. Studies in the International Pest Control journal have also shown yields of crops can actually be boosted by decreasing pesticide use, and also that profits are rarely affected. As for finding alternative insect repellents, our award-winning products are all natural with many organic ingredients. Our insect repellent spray and roll on lines are 100% natural and have been tested as just as 100% effective for up to five hours by many laboratories including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

How can you help our planet and yourself to stay healthy? Buy more organic, natural products! And donate time or money to people power organisations fighting big businesses to outlaw these dangerous chemicals; 38 Degrees, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth all do work in this regard. As Rachel Carson wrote in 1962, “It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray.”

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