Old Problem, New Concerns
Mixed Blessings of Pesticide Usage
Since men first tilled the earth, farmers have fought endless battles with pests that prey on crops and livestock. For 40 years, the agricultural industry has waged all-out war on insects, disease, worms and weeds with modern-day chemical weapons. But powerful pesticides, once hailed as miracles of science, have spread mixed blessings on the fields.
Agricultural pests still consume at least one-third of the food crops that the world grows each year. Synthetic chemical pesticides, while helping farmers double crop yields, have also bred resistant insects and set new pests loose by killing their natural enemies. Sprayed indiscriminately across the fields by helicopters or low-flying “crop dusters,” lethal compounds have killed wildlife, contaminated soil and streams, and built up in human tissues.
Americans first became aware of the possible hazards of widespread pesticide use with the publication in 1962 of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. In the book, which became a national best-seller, Carson argued that many pesticides in use on farms and timberlands had unknown and cumulative toxic effects. Because so little was known about the effects of these chemicals, Carson said, their use should be curtailed.