Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Chapter 16 - Pesticides


“Good soil is not just dirt. It is a hive of life, much of it either microscopic or even disgusting to urban eyes because urbanites don't understand the need for the growth and decay of slimy things to sustain life. Good farmers are not just people who dig in the dirt. They are the stewards of healthy soil.”

George B. Pyle, Land Institute, Salina, Kansas

Pesticide use is among the most controversial of topics. Yet, pesticide use is prevalent. Some individuals believe pesticides are necessary to destroy the enemies of human agriculture and health. Others believe we can use organic farming to accomplish these ends without synthetic pesticides. A third group believes pesticides are needed, but recognize their limitations; they work to minimize pesticide use under the rubric of “Integrated Pest Management”. There is no simple “right” answer, but we do need answers. Consider this challenge from the authors of the article, Can green chemistry promote sustainable agriculture? “Human population is increasing. Demand for food is rising … Environmental impacts are worsening. Taken together, few issues reflect the difficulties of sustainable development more than the problem of controlling pests and increasing food production while protecting the environment and conserving natural resources.”

Section I discusses why we use pesticides and who uses them. After briefly addressing three major insecticide families, we consider selective versus broad-spectrum pesticides. Section II looks at pesticides as pollutants, as food contaminants, and their effects on non-target species. We also examine the important phenomenon of pesticide resistance.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Further reading
Bent, A.Reconnecting farms and ecosystems – if it pays. Science, 298(5597), 15 November, 2002, 1340–41 (a book review)
Bormann, F. H., Balmori, D., and Geballe, G. T. Redesigning the American Lawn: a Search for Environmental Harmony, 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001
Bourne, J.The organic revolution. Audubon, 101(2), March/April, 1999, 64–73
Ferber, D.Food fright: risks and benefits: Genetically modified crops in the cross hairs. Science, 286(5445), 26 November, 1999, 1662–66
Gardner, G.Integrated pest management and the war on pests. World Watch, 9(2), April, 1996, 20–27
Goldman, K. A.Bioengineered food: safety and labeling. Science, 290(5491), 20 October, 2000, 457–59
Hileman, B.At last: a biosafety pact. Chemical and Engineering News, 78(7), 14 February, 2000, 65–74
Hileman, B.Pesticide reregistration. Chemical and Engineering News, 79(20), 14 May, 2001, 31–35
Hileman, B.Polarization over biotech food. Chemical and Engineering News, 79(21), 21 May, 2001, 59
Hileman, B.US Department of Agriculture sets standards for organic foods. Chemical and Engineering News, 78(11), 13 March, 2000, 11
Hjeresen, D. L. and Gonzales, R.Can green chemistry promote sustainable agriculture?Environmental Science and Technology, 36(5), March, 2002, 102A–107A
Naylor, R. L. and Ehrlich, P. R. Natural pest-control services and agriculture, in Nature's Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems, ed. G. C. Daily. Washington, Direct current: Island Press, 1997
Saffron, L.Fighting famine with ancestral agriculture. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(5), May, 2002, A234
Sampat, P.Groundwater shock: polluting the world's major fresh water stores. World Watch, 13(1), January/February, 2000, 10–22
Timmer, C. P.Unbalanced bounty from America's farms. Science, 298(5597), 15 November, 2002, 1339–40 (a book review)
Welch, R. M., Combs, G. F. Jr., and Duxbury, J. M.Toward a greener revolution. Issues in Science and Technology, XIV(1), Fall, 1997, 50–58
Wolfenbarger, L. L. and Phifer, P. R.The ecological risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants. Science, 290(5499), 15 December, 2000, 2088–93
Youth, H.The plight of birds. World Watch, 15(3), May/June, 2002, 18–29
Internet resources
Audubon. 2001. You Have a Choice (to use less pesticides, etc.) (accessed December, 2002)
Oregon State University. 2002. National Pesticide Information Center. (accessed December, 2002)
United Nations Wire. 2002. Biodiversity: Organic Farming Benefits Wildlife (25 May).
US Department of Agriculture. 1999. Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas. (accessed December, 2002)
US Environmental Protection Agency (a US agency). 1992. Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment. (accessed December, 2002)
US Environmental Protection Agency (a US agency). 2001. What Integrated Pest Management Means. (accessed December, 2002)
World Bank. 2001. Sustainable Agriculture. CropsOrganicFarming (accessed December, 2002)