(Beyond Pesticides, February 27, 2020) A new report finds that as birds and pollinators continue to decline, and chronic diseases remain on the rise, the global agrichemical industry is raking in billions of dollars from hazardous pesticides that contribute to these crises. A joint investigation from Unearthed and Public Eye finds that 35% of pesticide sales from the largest agrichemical corporations are made from the most toxic pesticides on the market.
Pesticide production was a $57.6 billion market in 2018, according to the report. While the profits of the industry are privatized, the public health and environmental effects are broad. Studies conducted over the last decade show that the impacts of hazardous pesticide use dwarf the market for these chemicals.
The impact of pesticides on public health results in a drag on the economy. Earlier this year, research from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine found that childrenâ€™s exposure to organophosphate insecticides was estimated to result in over 26 million lost IQ points and over 110,000 cases of intellectual disability, totaling roughly $735 billion in economic costs each year. A 2019 study from the same scientists determined that endocrine disrupting chemicals, including organophosphates and organochlorine pesticides, were attributable to $340 billion in health care costs annually.
The damage pesticides cause to the natural world also results in significant economic impacts. Pollination alone contributes between $20 and $30 billion in economic value to agriculture each year. A 2016 review, titled The Hidden and External Costs of Pesticide Use, pinned the total environmental costs of pesticide use, including issues like bird and fish kills, loss of pest management by the killing of non-target animals, and pest resistance to pesticides to result in at least $39.5 billion in economic costs annually.
The report from Unearthed and Public Eye finds that the five major chemical companies represented by the trade association Croplife, including BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Corteva Agriscience, FMC, and Syngenta/ChemChina, sold roughly $37 billion worth of pesticides in 2018, comprising 65% of the global market. Of that group, the investigation found that 10% of leading product income from Croplife members came from chemicals considered highly toxic to bees by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Focus of the report centered around the outsized influence Croplife members have on the sale of â€śhighly hazardousâ€ť chemicals around the world, as defined by Pesticide Action Network International. In high income developed countries, Croplife companiesâ€™ sales of highly hazardous pesticides accounted for 27% of its market share, but in lower income developing countries, hazardous pesticide sales were nearly 50%. This is especially concerning in countries like Brazil, which is home to some of the most biodiverse areas in the world. Since the election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonoro, pesticide approvals in that country have skyrocketed.
While it is certainly important to restrict use of the most toxic pesticides on the market, what is truly needed is an end to pesticide dependency. The ongoing success of organic agriculture shows that we can transform our farming systems from an economic drain on ecosystem services and public health to one that fosters biodiversity, delivers more nutritious foods, and adds to economic growth. Â Under organic, use of a limited list of least-toxic pesticides is allowed only under the conditions determined by a comprehensive organic systems plan.
If youâ€™re concerned about the use of pesticides on Brazilian biodiversity and imported foods, consider joining Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ boycott of Brazilian food products. And to hear more about the connection between pesticide use and adverse economic impacts, considering attending Beyond Pesticides National Pesticide Forum, where Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, of the NYU research team will provide a keynote talk on his research. Â
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.