Use of Organophosphate Insecticides in the US

In the vast agricultural empire of the United States, there is a war being waged between the
quickly growing number of mouths to feed and the demand from the public to be humane, ethical, and
environmentally friendly all at the same time. A war, one might call it, but a war consisting of many tiny
battles, all riddled with compromises on everyone’s behalf. ‘Compromise’ is an ugly word at times, but
with a planet quickly filling with people, the alternative options sacrifice cost, quality, and availability.
When a consumer is pressed between having food to eat or saving an arbitrary species of insect, what are
they expected to choose?

However, the compromise people speak of less often is the one in which we as humans are on the
same side as the environment, when we are the species at risk. In fact, oftentimes we are. One such
example can be found in the very food we eat, produced on large-scale farms whose focus is efficiency.

One such infamous yet common example are organophosphates, a group of synthetic compounds
composed of variable mixtures of phosphorus, carbon & hydrogen which have been used in agriculture
since the 1930s and whose use took off in the 1960s when they were promoted as a safer alternative to
organochlorines. Now, while they are commonly used as pesticides, they are also an ingredient in head
lice treatments, pet shampoos, and other household products.

While it is true that the runoff of organophosphates harms the environment and endangers many
species, its danger to humans when determining the ‘compromise’ of this supposed efficiency is equally
concerning. Organophosphates having previously been used as agents of chemical warfare(eg. Sarin gas),
it is important to consider the ways in which they interact with the human body, disrupting
neurotransmitter transmission and precipitating learning disabilities and lowered IQ in children exposed
to even a low level in food residues.

Terbufos, one of the most popular organophosphates in the agricultural industry, has been linked
to leukaemia & non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and methamidophos, another popular organophosphate, has
been ranked second in the percentage of cases displaying signs of life-threatening symptoms. Most of all,
despite increasing the efficiency of food production, it has been said that there is “no evidence of a safe
level of organophosphate pesticide for children”. If so, once again, the question remains what the
supposed compromise is really worth.

In August 2006, the EPA completed cumulative risk assessments and risk management decisions
for organophosphate pesticides, but today, they still make up approximately 50% of killing agents in
chemical pesticides despite strong evidence from EPA scientists and scientific advisors supporting a ban.
Thus, while ‘compromise’ is an ugly word, it can be said that at times it is not the right one.
Additionally, it can be said that the war against organophosphates can hardly be called as much if it is
humans themselves who are now in danger.


Bibliography:

Biddle, Jennifer. 2020. “Organophosphates: Ban Entire Pesticide Class to Protect
Children’s Health Say Scientists.” Environmental Health Sciences Center. June 5, 2020.
https://environmentalhealth.ucdavis.edu/organophosphate-pesticide-ban-say-scientists.
“Experts Call for EPA Ban on Organophosphate Pesticides.” 2018. Cornucopia Institute.
November 5, 2018. https://www.cornucopia.org/2018/11/experts-call-for-epa-ban-on-
organophosphate-pesticides/.
“Organophosphates.” n.d. Politics.co.uk. Accessed January 15, 2021.
https://www.politics.co.uk/reference/organophosphates/.
Soltaninejad, Kambiz, and Shahin Shadnia. 2013. “History of the Use and Epidemiology
of Organophosphorus Poisoning.” Basic and Clinical Toxicology of Organophosphorus
Compounds, December, 25–43. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4471-5625-3_2.
US EPA, OCSPP. 2013. “Groups of Pesticides in Registration Review.” US EPA. August
29, 2013. https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-reevaluation/groups-pesticides-registration-review.

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