Don’t want to eat pesticides? Avoid tomatoes and apples, corn is relatively safe

Luc Williams

The above-mentioned millions of pesticide poisonings mainly affect people living in the Global South and working in the countryside, but the very consumption of food containing pesticides is harmful to humans, also in a broader perspective. Foundation Heinrich Bölltogether with Living Earth Coalition and Polish Ecological Club in Krakow, Municipal Club in Gliwicepublished a comprehensive report this year “Atlas of Pesticides. Facts about toxic substances in agriculture”. Researchers from various fields discussed how the use of chemical plant protection products is increasing, who makes money from it and what impact this industry has on the environment and our health.

In Poland it is better than in the European Union, but not entirely

As we can read in the chapter on the use of pesticides in Poland, data on their sales suggest that the trend is upwards. In 2000, it was recorded at a level below 10,000. tons per year. By 2021, it almost tripled, amounting to 26.9 thousand. tons per year.

Unfortunately, there are no reliable data on pesticide consumption itself. The authors of the report point out that estimating this consumption based on sales data alone is subject to a significant risk of error – it ignores the gray zone of trade in these products, but takes into account pesticides purchased “in reserve” for future use.

Taking into account the above factors, researchers estimate that the use of the active substance per hectare has increased significantly in Poland in recent years. In 1991 it was 0.37 kg/ha, in 2010 – 1.73 kg/ha, and in 2021 – 2.32 kg/ha. The EU average is even higher – in 2021 it was 3.2 kg/ha.

We are slowly catching up with our colleagues from the EU in this infamous race, and in some “competitions” we are even leaders. Goes about apples and tomatoes – more chemical plant protection products are used for their cultivation in Poland than both the national and European average. Appropriately 10.5 kg/ha and 5 kg/ha.

Bad news for people on a fruit and vegetable diet

However, there is good news. Cereals are relatively safe. I write “relatively” because, as we can read in the introduction to the “Atlas of Pesticides”, these chemical substances resemble microplastics in their ubiquity and can be found, among others, in: in human hair. And no, I’m not talking about cases of people who decided to fight baldness with them.

Returning to crops – in the case of cereals, small amounts of pesticides are used per square meter. When it comes to the volume of consumption itself, grain producers do not have much to boast about here; the use of pesticides is huge due to the very large cultivated areas. However, for an individual consumer, the news about their lower concentration may be comforting. For example – in 2020 for corn amounted to “only” 0.6 kg/ha.

The bad news concerns people on vegetable and fruit diets – it is vegetable and fruit crops that consume the most chemical plant protection products per square meter. More than the national and EU averages.

How does this affect our health? In 2016-2017, according to data from the National Health Fund, nearly 900 people were helped due to direct pesticide poisoning, of which 530 required hospitalization. However, these are only a fraction of the health problems for which chemical plant protection products are responsible.

As Grażyna Kowalska and Radosław Kowalski from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin write in a scientific article devoted to this issue (“Annales Horticulturae” No. 2/2019) – “Pesticides present in the human body cause mutagenic, teratogenic and cancerous changes. They disrupt the body’s hormonal and enzymatic metabolism and cause diseases of the respiratory, digestive and lymphatic systems, as well as skin diseases. These substances are also characterized by embryotoxic effects and may cause impairment of reproduction and fetal development.


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