Pesticide problem worsening sixty years on from iconic exposé Silent Spring

Today marks sixty years since the iconic book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, first drew attention to the harmful effects of pesticides on humans, animals, and the environment.

But all these years later, pesticides are still having a devastating impact on nature, with bird populations more than halved since 1970 and flying insects are down 60%.

Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and conservationist who decided to research the effects of pesticides after seeing their growth in popularity in the U.S.

Whilst researching she faced backlash from industry lobbyists and chemical companies who disagreed with her views, such as the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service which released a film challenging her. She called this ‘flagrant propaganda.’

In Silent Spring Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, as she linked pesticides to severe illnesses, like cancer, and harms to the environment.

macro shot photography of bee

However, pesticides are still widely used in the UK and several environmental organisations have said the country must reduce its reliance on these to protect wildlife and nature.

Helen Browning, CEO, Soil Association, said: ‘The world reveres ‘Silent Spring’ and yet sixty years on we still haven’t acted. Yes, we ban pesticide after pesticide, but always 30 years too late, after they have wrought incalculable destruction to our insects, soil fauna, birds and mammals. And then we often replace the banned substances with even more toxic brews.

‘The evidence is all there; we must rapidly change our farming, so that we work with nature rather than battle against her. Many agroecological, regenerative and organic farmers are showing the way forward, and with political will and support, they can quickly become the mainstream.

‘The countryside is still silent. Future generations deserve and need to live in a fertile, productive and naturally noisy world!’

Pesticides are so widespread that chemicals banned many years ago can be found within polar bears, despite never having been used in the Arctic.

They are also incredibly powerful, with one teaspoon of neonicotinoid, which is usually reserved for ‘emergency use’, enough to kill 1.25 billion bees. Pollinators are vital to the health and survival of global crops.

Long term exposure to pesticides has also been linked to a variety of health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, asthma, depression, ADHD and cancer, including leukaemia and breast cancer.

Thalie Martini, Executive Director, Breast Cancer UK, said: ‘Sixty years ago Rachel Carson drew attention to the effects of DDT on the bald eagle, an iconic bird in the USA. Twenty-four years later the UK government banned its use citing environmental and health concerns, which include possible effects on breast cancer. Breast Cancer UK is concerned about the effects of certain pesticides still in current use. Some may act as carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) by inducing gene mutations. Others can act as endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals that may affect hormones – including oestrogen – which may also increase breast cancer risk.’

Photo by Jenna Lee


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