NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Impact of Agrochemicals

December 7, 2012

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring. The book is credited with galvanizing the modern environmental movement, which focuses on reducing the use of manmade chemicals. However, people are living longer and healthier lives, cancer rates have declined even as chemical use has increased, and chemicals are not among the key causes of cancer, says Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Agrochemicals and advancements in biotechnology have yielded several benefits:

  • Biotechnology has increased agricultural yield, which has staved off food shortages and lowered global food prices.
  • Biotechnology has also prevented the spread of diseases like malaria.
  • Furthermore, biotech has resulted in less land needed to grow on, which lowers the rate of deforestation around the world.

Additionally, the incidence of health problems due to pesticides is low. The Centers for Disease Control found that widespread spraying to control mosquitoes carrying West Nile during 1999-2002 only caused two definite cases of health impacts.

Environmentalists contend that agrochemicals have adverse impacts on humans and the rest of the environment.

  • However, pollution -- including residue from pesticides -- only accounts for 2 percent of all cancer cases.
  • Most incidences of cancer stem from tobacco use or dietary choices.
  • Moreover, humans aren't exposed to levels that are unsafe.

In addition, limited and targeted uses of pesticides protect the environment and don't harm species. It is true that some pesticides have harmed particular wildlife species. However, environmentalists use examples of harmed species without consideration of the overall positive effect that pesticides have.

Moreover, as food supplies become scarcer because of weather conditions and trade policies, many developing nations are implementing regulations to curtail the use of agricultural chemicals and technologies. As a result, farmers are likely to completely stop using chemicals to comply with government regulations. This is likely to threaten food security and raise the price of crops anywhere from five to 200 times.

Source: Angela Logomasini, "Rachel Was Wrong," Competitive Enterprise Institute, November 30, 2012.


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