Are pesticides really that toxic?

You’ve all heard about those famous chemicals used to make our fruits and vegetables look so beautiful, so polished and free from any defects? Of course, I’m talking about pesticides!

According to a survey by the WWF, over 90% of people are worried about the impact of pesticides on our body. So, are our worries really justified, or do we have to trust those who authorise them?

Pesticides, what actually are they?

Pesticides correspond to a set of chemicals: insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, herbicides … all employed by farmers in order to control animals, insects or plants which can cause harm to plantations. Although their primary function is to allow us to cultivate on a large scale, their recurrent use means they are now impregnated in our ground, our lawns, our drinking water, our fruits, our vegetables, our farm animals … In other words, all over the place!

What nobody anticipated was their potential toxic effect on our organism and on that of our offspring. Consequently, maximum residue limits have been imposed for each product grown with pesticides to ensure that they won’t have an adverse effect on health. But how can we be sure that all products are properly controlled? And what side effects are we really talking about?

Do they really have harmful effects on our health?

The answer is not yet clear … Indeed, we still don’t know much about the long-term effects of daily consumption of pesticides through food and water.

It is therefore difficult to have a clear position, but scientific studies tend to be quite alarmist and even the World Health Organisation (WHO) backs this up, raising concern amongst us all.

Pesticides could be involved in allergies, fertility problems, hormonal disturbances, neurotoxic effects, embryonic malformations, cancer … All sorts of health issues that send shivers down your spine and put you off picking up an fallen apple…..

Ok…let’s not get over anxious! The people who are most at risk are farmers, horticulturists and all the workers who are in regular contact with pesticides. Indeed, it’s the difference in the rate of mortality between these type of workers and other professionals that has led scientists to suspect pesticides are responsible for certain types of cancers.

As for us, as mere consumers, the amount of pesticide residue that we absorb on a daily basis is still far from reaching the toxic thresholds, even though, as mentioned before, we shouldn’t ignore cumulative effects on the long term…

A new anti-fungal scandal

And it never seems to stop! Despite all the negative press from scientific communities, there’s a new type of pesticide, the succinate dehydrogenase inhibitors (SDHI) that is all the talk today. These are fungicides that destroy fungi and molds that invade our plants.

How do they work? First and foremost, it’s important to understand that thanks to the presence of mitochondria, the cells of all living beings breathe. Mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles that are capable of transforming energy in our food into the energy for our cells. Throughout this process, a set of proteins including succinate dehydrogenase, intervene.

The role of the anti-fungal is to block succinate dehydrogenase, in order to block the cellular respiration of fungi and molds and therefore kill them. The problem -which concerns us all just a little bit- is that this pesticide also harms our own cells,by disrupting their ‘breathing’ which can later lead to tumours and cancers .

A scientific group has studied the issue and has called for suspending the use of the SDHI until a real estimate of its dangers and health risks have been fully assessed. This is a piece of news which we are all waiting for…

In conclusion, what should we do?

OK, we’re never going to revolutionise the industrial world of agriculture … but even the smallest of actions can help us limit the use of pesticides.

Obviously, one of the first things to do is to wash your fruits and vegetables. No need to let them soak for hours at the risk of losing vitamins, but by putting them under running water or in vinegar for a few minutes, we’ll clean off all the chemicals.

Second step: we peel every second fruit or vegetable! Don’t forget that vitamins and minerals are mainly found under the skin and in the few millimetres just below it, so we should peel every other zucchini to limit our consumption of pesticides, while maintaining a maximum of micronutrients.

Finally, our last piece of advice, is to turn to well thought out agriculture methods or to choose 100% organic! With the good weather coming, take a little time on weekends to go picking, or go to the local farm to choose your own fruits and vegetables, all crooked of course, but surely better for your health!

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