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    Friday, 16 December 2016

    Hawaii to Investigate Pesticide Poisoning


    Everywhere, pesticides are a heavily regulated aspect of the food supply industry. They help maximise crop yields and play a crucial role in the management of controlled growing environments. However, this often comes at the cost of controversies concerning public health, environmental degradation and the fear that the sterilisation of crops could reduce their capacity to resist disease mutation.

    This week, however, the state of Hawaii announced plans to investigate the impacts of pesticide use on crops in the above terms. As Hawaii News Now reports, ‘the state is also working to build a rapid response team in case of pesticide emergency.’ The central concerns, it seems, are that pesticide residues could run into the surroundings of crop-bearing fields, damaging the environment; or that people could be exposed to dangerous levels.

    Pesticides, however, are also seen by some to carry further dangers. Certain commentators, for example, ask questions like: ‘if pesticides can kill insects, what are the potential dangers they have on our body? [sic]’

    Such speculation is generally posed in relation to ‘synthetic’ pesticides, as opposed to their ‘natural’ counterparts. Broadly speaking, the latter are often defined as ‘materials derived from plant and animal parts or residues,’ such as compost, manure and worm castings; whilst the former group are defined in terms of their being composed of ‘inorganic compounds - usually derived from by-products of the petroleum industry’, like ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphate, superphosphate, and potassium sulphate.

    Still, all pesticides can be lethal in high enough doses. The British Food Standards Agency claims: ‘We are here to protect consumers by ensuring that any pesticide residues [in food] are as low as practically possible and within safe limits.’ It is quite normal for governments to regulate pesticides in order to minimise people’s direct exposure to them.

    However, some of the claims in circulation are somewhat more dubious. As Southland Organics writes, ‘Synthetic fertilizers can seriously deplete the nutritional content of foods. Direct contact or exposure to synthetic chemical fertilizers can kill babies or cause health problems in many people.’

    However, Hawaiian food standards authorities seem only to share such a view in part. The fact that they are looking to establish a reaction force to contain spills and contamination suggests the fear of direct exposure is, in their view, at least somewhat grounded. However, the growth of regulations regarding fertiliser has little to do with their being detrimental to people’s health. Indeed, such a stance is shared by all US states, which all permit the use of synthetic fertilisers on crops intended for human consumption.

    The investigation set to commence will cost Hawaiian authorities half a million dollars over the next year, and will involve the monitoring of water quality, in order to determine whether pesticides are moving off specified sites at unacceptable levels.


    James Stannard

    James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.
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