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They Kill The Insects, But What Are They Doing To You?

30/05/2016 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Every kid has heard his or her mom order them to eat their vegetables (as a vegetarian, it was either that or nothing for me!). Even in school, we were taught that vegetables are an important source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Of course, all of this is true, but what else are we eating ALONG with the veggies? Let me enlighten you: The pesticides and insecticides that are routinely sprayed on them to keep them from being destroyed. These chemicals have definitely reduced the amount of crops lost, but at what cost?

[There is now overwhelming evidence that some chemical pesticides pose a risk to human life.

The pesticide residue problem is a serious food safety issue in India. A 2009 study on the benefits and hazards of pesticides noted that India is the world's twelfth largest pesticide manufacturer. The study went on to point out that there is now overwhelming evidence that some chemical pesticides pose a risk to human life. A 2013 study on pesticide residues in vegetables in the Andaman Islands found that 34% of the samples collected tested positive for pesticide residue. A 2007 study pointed out the potential side effects of a large number of pesticides. These include chronic liver damage, reproductive disorders, cancer and foetal development issues. While some pesticides have been banned, or have had their use restricted, a fair number are yet to be regulated.

Pesticides don't just enter our bodies through food. They also seep into groundwater and contaminate sources of drinking water. One survey, conducted on water extracted from hand pumps and wells around Bhopal, found that 58% of the samples were contaminated with organochlorine pesticides. A 2015 study on contamination of the Kaveri river detected the presence of DDT, endosulfan, among other organochlorine pesticides. India banned the use of DDT in agriculture way back in 1989. Once groundwater has been contaminated, it may take years for it to dissipate. In some cases, cleanup may be impossible.

One survey, conducted on water extracted from hand pumps and wells around Bhopal, found that 58% of the samples were contaminated with organochlorine pesticides.

Apart from the contamination issue, pesticides in water bodies also end up in fish. This is also a food safety issue. A 2006 study on the presence of organochlorine pesticides in fish collected from the Calicut region of Kerala did detect the presence of these pesticides in the fish. The concentrations of the chemicals were below the permissible limits, which may be fine for occasional consumption. The problem is that people eat these fish regularly, over a span of several decades.

Pesticide contamination/poisoning is definitely a big food safety issue. The easiest solution would obviously be to eat organic food, i.e., crops grown without pesticides. Unfortunately, organic food is prohibitively expensive. Just take a look at the price tag on these products the next time you're vegetable shopping. Educating farmers and encouraging them to reduce the use of chemical pesticides would definitely be a step in the right direction. The more organic farms there are, the cheaper the organic food. Education is a long-term solution, though. A shorter term solution could be to provide farmers with safe, or at least safer, pesticides and insecticides at a subsidized rate. The key is to start now!

Eat healthy, stay safe.

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