Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Pervasiveness of Pesticide Use

By Tiffany Liang

When Silent Spring was published in 1962, over fifty years ago, Rachel Carson brought attention to an important national issue. She claimed that pesticides in the United States were both overused, misunderstood, and damaging to public health. Her book, which arguably began the environmental movement, sparked a firestorm of controversy.

Carson died shortly after Silent Spring’s publication, but her legacy lives on. Unfortunately, her fight against pesticide use probably did not end up the way she wanted. Carson called for the careful use of pesticides and advocated for the use of biological control on food crops, in particular. She warned that overuse of pesticides would create resistance in pests.

Now, pesticide use is as rampant as ever. It is legal, and big companies such as DuPont and Monsanto bombard farmers with the message that pesticide use will not only increase crop yield, pesticides are essential to growing crops. Various types of food crops are now pesticide-resistant or genetically engineered to produce pesticides on their own.

Pest control has been around ever since farming began. Before synthetic pesticides were invented, farmers used sulfur compounds, poisonous plants, intercropping, and various other methods to keep pests away. Now, with the advent of large-scale agribusiness, such labor-intensive methods are no longer preferred.

However, not all hope has been lost. Organic farming has been gaining popularity for years, and farmers markets are now competing with supermarkets to sell produce. Local family farms are starting to make a comeback; community-supported agriculture (CSA) is gaining traction as a way for families to get produce.

Since Silent Spring was first published, the world has changed in many exciting, frightening ways. However, Carson would undoubtedly be pleased at how deeply her message has penetrated the American, even global, psyche. As a female biologist, ridiculed for being neither male nor a chemist, Carson was the underdog. Fortunately, her story did not end there.

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