The pesticide industry has grown rapidly and often exponentially, beginning with the use of DDT during the Second World War and up to the present day. Currently over 2.5 million tons of chemicals, worth over US $30 billion, are applied to crops in every country in the world. Of this amount, 73% is produced by just ten multinational agrochemical corporations; five countries – France, the U.S.A., Germany, Britain and Switzerland – are the primary producing nations.
Encompassing insecticides, herbicides, parasitocides, nematocides, growth regulators, fungicides, defoliants and dessicants, among others, this wide-ranging set of approximately 100,000 compounds (7000 of which are registered for use in Canada) have one thing in common; they are all designed to kill one or more species of living organisms, usually in a nonspecific manner.
The development of pesticide-resistant organisms became a concern early on in their use. The rapid multiplication rates of single-celled or other simple organisms makes it clear that such a problem is inevitable, but the speed with which resistance occurs has often surprised observers. Resistance to DDT was a major problem only five years after its introduction. Today, multiple pesticide resistance is common and new pesticides, like new antibiotics, are regularly produced by industry to address this problem.
Pesticides are among the most widely used chemicals in the world and also among the most dangerous to human health. Pesticides can have chronic health effects both as sequelae of acute poisonings and from chronic exposure. Many studies have documented adverse health effects on humans.
Organophosphates (OP), used in many common household applications, have been linked in many studies to neurological damage in humans. Chlorpyrifos, an OP pesticide, was recently banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when a review of the science demonstrated that children have been routinely exposed to unsafe levels.
The effect of pesticides on children, who are more susceptible to damage from toxicity, has been of increasing concern. Epidemiologic studies have linked exposure to insecticides in the home to the development of brain Cancer and leukemia in children. Studies have also documented reproductive abnormalities, such as an increased rate of miscarriage, in people with chronic exposure to pesticides. In Canada and in other countries, little has been done to update the regulation of pesticides, despite evidence that it is terribly obsolete.