Pesticides, food production, public health, public health risks

Document Type



In the United States today, there are over 900 pesticides in use1 and over 400 are approved for use in food production, whether used as part of the growing process or in post-harvest handling. Although the history of pesticide use in food crops goes back centuries, the post-war period has seen an enormous growth in the varieties and amounts of pesticides used in our food system. As our reliance on pesticides has grown, pesticides have become a divisive issue. Pesticide advocates view them as essential to a secure and reliable food supply needed to feed a growing world population. Detractors, however, point out the public health risks—both known and not yet fully understood—that widespread pesticide use may entail. Meanwhile, consumer demand for products grown without the use of pesticides is increasing, while at the very same moment farmers are applying more and different pesticides to combat pesticide-resistant “superweeds.” These tensions are playing out both globally and locally in a variety of arenas, from debates over pesticide bans within international organizations and national governments, to the litigation of personal injury claims in American courts.