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Pesticides are chemicals used to kill or control pests. Pests may be animals such as rats, birds, insects, or microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi or viruses. Any organisms that harm or damage the human interest can be considered a pest. In the agricultural context they attack crops and other produce and can cause great damage, even completely destroying a crop. Obviously this can bring anything from a minor irritation to devastation to the farmer. Hence the increasing use of pesticides to protect the valuable crop.

The vast majority of worldwide use of pesticides is in the agriculture business while other uses include application in industrial areas such as factories and site protection; civic use in cities and urban areas and domestic use to protect homes and gardens against pests.

By design pesticides are toxic compounds. In most cases the more toxic they are the better, however this toxicity must be considered in conjunction with the affect to the users, the environment and the consumers. Most governments regulate the use of pesticides to ensure the interests of the consumers and other concerned parties are considered and looked after. Before a pesticide is approved for use it must undergo testing to establish its safety and efficacy and its approval is often also subject to restrictions of safe use. This approval process is supposed to ensure the rights, benefits and safety of the public are maintained, but unfortunately the process is flawed and decisions are sometimes made which are not in the best interests of the public.

The testing process, which if successful leads to approval, is flawed in several ways. Firstly the tests do not always require actual exposure, nor do they sufficiently reflect exposure to the pesticide or toxin in the real world. These tests are also unable to accurately show the affects of long-term exposure. Given that the human life-span is now seventy or eighty-plus years this question of long-term exposure is an important one. To what extent can a laboratory experiment accurately replicate a long human life? Another critical factor that is not tested for is the accumulation of different kinds of toxins in the body. While one pesticide may be 'harmless' to the human body, how will it change or react with other toxins that may be present in the body. Given that different pesticides can have chemically similar structures the possibility of compounds combining or reacting with each other is a concern. However it is not an area sufficiently explored. Another point of concern is the longevity of these compounds and whether or not they pass though the human body or are absorbed. As these toxins accumulate over many decades and combine with other chemicals can the consumer really be sure they are harmless?

The widespread use of pesticides in agriculture is a major concern that is becoming common among consumers around the world. When used in agriculture the pesticides used are often hidden and invisible to the consumer unlike in other applications which are more overt and have a much greater element of choice.

It is this concern about pesticides that is a frequent driver towards the benefits of organic foods. Organic food is produced in a way that precludes the use of artificial and chemical pesticides. Natural methods of pest control used in organic farming include crop diversification, to minimize loss if a crop is attacked; crop rotation, which minimizes the mass attacks associated with population explosions. Other methods employed by the organic food industry are growing Trap Crops which attract a pest leaving the true crop unscathed; and biological pest control using natural predators.

The consumer is then faced with a number of choices. They may trust the government, the strength of the regulatory process and the pesticide manufacturers and believe that the food treated with pesticides is indeed safe. Or they may be skeptical and undertake means to minimize the pesticides in and on the foods. Washing, soaking and boiling can all act to reduce some but certainly not all pesticide contamination. While it may seem safe to eat parts of fruits and vegetables that are not directly in contact with pesticides such as by peeling a fruit or eating roots like carrots or potatoes this is not realistic as many of the pesticides used can be absorbed into the plant through the leaves or root structure. This means that the common practice of not applying pesticides within a certain period before harvesting is of little value. It is clear that once applied to the plant there is little one can do to remove all traces of the chemicals used.

There is only really one way to ensure a pesticide free diet and that is to ensure the crops and products eaten are not treated or contaminated with pesticides. In reality this is not easily achievable unless through self-sustained living methods i.e. growing your own vegetables and rearing your own animals. Unless we are all to become farmers or have farmer friends we are sure to have some element of pesticides in our lives. Be they deliberately, and liberally, applied to our food crops or consumed inadvertently by polluted water sources or runoff we are sure to have some pesticides nearby.

This does not mean that we should give up and resign ourselves to this sorry situation. Rather we should try to limit the exposure we submit ourselves to. Some exposure is more or less unavoidable if we are to live meaningfully in modern society however there are choices we can make to limit exposure to toxins in the guise of pesticides in our foods. By choosing organic food, foods that have been produced under strictly monitored conditions and foods that meet high standards of quality we can have a positive effect on the amount of chemicals we consume. Organic foods are those that meet certain standards. To achieve organic certification, foods must be produced in a way that conforms to the standards of the certifying authority. The certificate obtained is our guarantee that we are only eating the best and most natural food available.

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