Each time I think or write about pesticides I am shaken up. It’s being thirty-eight years since I joined the Office of Pesticide Programs of the US Environmental Protection Agency. I retired in 2004. Equally heavy on my consciousness is the persistence of a largely useless “debate” Americans and Europeans have been having about pesticides. Pesticides are just as entrenched in 2017 as they were in the 1960s or 1990s.
Behind post-WWII chemical farming was the hubris of arming farmers with a multitude of mostly large machines run on petroleum and, of course, petrochemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
The petroleum solution for agriculture is no solution at all. The looming global warming is a stress signal to agriculture, which is a major contributor to the warming of the planet. In addition, land is full of life and petroleum is full of poisons killing life.
Where were the scientists when the petroleum deal was struck for agriculture? They were all over, in fact, they have been the glue of industrialized agriculture. They have known that crop land and petroleum are incompatible, but times of war, nuclear bombs, and cold wars did not allow for independence of thought, much less resistance to the satrapies of governments and industries.
Indeed, the scientists of the agricultural (land grant) universities embraced the new petroleum vision of the world. They almost invented chemical farming. Pesticides came out of chemical warfare and the brains of the scientists of the land grant universities. These agricultural professors take money from agrichemical companies to raise doubts about chemical risks. But it is giant agrichemical corporations that keep twisting the truth about the safety of their products. They give the world the deceitful impression that pesticides are safe and essential for food production.
The triumph of this aggressive form of farming has meant the sidelining of science and the formal, state-supported addiction of farmers to pesticides. In this agricultural context science became a weapon. The petrochemicals industry drafted the pesticide laws in America and Europe. Such blatant power grab infused everything about pesticides with loopholes, secret to the public but crystal clear to the industry and most regulators, politicians, and environmentalists.