This year marks the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the book credited with launching the modern environmentalist movement. Carson famously warned man-made chemicals, particularly pesticides, were a significant threat to human health.
In a new study, Angela Logomasini, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, argues history has proven Rachel Carson wrong. Agrochemicals have not caused the "sinister" ills Carson predicted. In fact, it is her anti-chemical legacy that now poses a global risk both to food supply and the environment.
- The incidence of pesticide-related health problems is low. When the Centers for Disease Control investigated the health effects of widespread spraying to control mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus during 1999-2002, they found only two cases of definite health impacts and 25 probable cases.
- Agrochemicals help defend against the spread of disease. DDT, which many governments banned after the publication of Silent Spring, had been used to control the spread of malaria, which now kills more than 1 million people annually. In Burkina Faso, applications of pesticides to livestock now help prevent transmission of trypanosomiasis-a potentially fatal disease spread by tsetse flies.
- Agrochemicals enable farmers to grow more crops per acre for longer periods, increasing global food supply. Russian farmers have increased marketable yields on apple orchards by as much as 90 percent after beginning pesticide applications. In Zimbabwe, farmers were able to grow tomatoes during rainy seasons by using fungicides.
- The use of pesticides actually has had environmental benefits. Because pesticides allow farmers to grow more per acre, less land is needed by the agricultural industry to supply the global market. The rate of deforestation is now declining, and reforestation has begun in several countries.
Despite the benefits of agrochemicals and the dearth of evidence to support their health claims, environmental activists continue Rachel Carson's legacy of anti-chemical misinformation. "As a result," Logomasini writes, "regulatory trends around the world have supplanted wise management with heavy regulations and product bans."
The world population continues to grow. For a variety of reasons, including bad weather and changing trade policies, the rate of food production has declined. Now is the time to employ all the tools of modern farming to ensure a growing food supply. Unfortunately, Logomasini says, policy trends are moving the opposite way: "The cost and risks associated with bureaucratic regulations alone dampens the market for innovative new products, diminishes the supply of pest control options for farmers, and reduces their efficiency. The result is lower food production, higher food prices and fewer environmental benefits."