The Green Revolution in India turned Indian agriculture into an industrial system. Amongst various factors that contributed to the success of the revolution, using pesticides played a major role. Pesticides play a major role in increasing agricultural productivity by reducing insect-borne diseases as well as protecting plants, forest, harvested wood products from pests.
An ideal pesticide should work by killing certain pests without having adverse effects on other non-targeted organisms. On the other hand, research shows that most pesticides are harmful to other organisms including humans. The continuous and rampant use of pesticides has laced the Indian food with one of the highest amounts of pesticide residue in the world. As a result, there have been resultant long term effects on human health.
How food safety is regulated?
The spectrum of human health hazards ranges from short term impacts such as headaches and nausea to chronic effects such as cancer, infertility as well as hormone secretion.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India sets the maximum residue limit that can be used by farmers on crops, foods, vegetables, and fruits. Wondering what the maximum residue limit (MRL) is?
It is defined as the highest level of pesticide residue that can be legally tolerated in or on food or feeding when pesticides are applied correctly.
According to research, the average amount of pesticide residue found in samples of cold drinks was 24 times higher than the standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).
Some of the most consumed pesticides by Indians through vegetables, fruits, and food grains are listed below and the MRL set by FSSAI-
Now when we consume these pesticides more than the set standards, the body is affected negatively. The presence of any pesticide residue necessarily indicates that it is hazardous. To consider it as fatal, the residues need to be present in quantities higher than the standards set.
How do pesticides enter the human body?
The pesticides kill pests by disrupting their nervous system. This might come as a shock to you but there are enough similarities in brain biochemistry of different animals, including us, humans. Hence, the chemicals present in these pesticides have a negative impact on humans also. The human body is impacted majorly in two ways-
- Occupational hazard- This is mostly seen in farmers and workers in agriculture where they touch and breathe in the pesticides. this makes them more prone to acute and chronic poisoning.
- Consuming foods that contain pesticides- The residue of pesticides sometimes remains in food grains, vegetables, and fruits after they have been sprayed on the crops. We are exposed to these pesticides when we eat them and in our food. Continuous eating of these food items can lead to an accumulation of these chemical compounds. This ‘bioaccumulation’ of pesticide residue has been proven to be harmful to the human body.
Effects of High Pesticide Exposure
Neuronal damage and neurological disorders-
Continuous accumulation of the chemicals in pesticides can result in the rapid and deep dysfunction of neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. There can be seizures that can result in neuronal cell death and neural loss. There have been reported cases of memory loss, lowering of concentration, problems in speech, and behavioral problems.
The most common effects that are felt by the victims are memory and cognitive effects.
Risk of cancer
The consumption of specific products such as fish, water, seafood, milk, and other dairy products has been associated with a high risk of cancer. The reason for such risk is the presence of pesticide residues in a higher amount in these food items.
One of the research highlighted that food like fish, chick, and goat contain insecticides beyond the permissible limit. Exposure to pesticides results in low fertility in the following ways-
- Low sperm count in men
- Early or late pregnancy loss
- Prolonged time-to-pregnancy
- Spontaneous abortion
- Premature birth in female
- Genetic alterations in sperm
- Imbalance in hormonal levels
Preventive measures You Can Take
Choose organic foods
You can reduce the effect of pesticide residue by eating organic foods than non-organic crops. Organic crops have high antioxidant content and a low presence of pesticides. A diet which is rich in antioxidants protect the body from chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Wash your food products
Washing reduces pesticide residue found on the food items. For domestic and commercial purposes, it is necessary to decrease the pesticide residues on food. The effectiveness of the washing depends on the chemical properties of the pesticide, the duration it has been exposed to, etc. Washing might not be fruitful if the pesticide has reached the inside of the fruits.
Avoid conventional insect and weed killers, in and around your home.
If you are fond of gardening, then avoid using pesticides completely. It is best to use cultural or biological methods to grow crops. Use natural pesticides such as an extract from the neem tree which is very useful for the prevention of residue accumulation.
Eat foods exposed to biopesticides
Biopesticides don’t have any harmful residues and are completely eco-friendly. Hence, eating foods that are sprayed with biopesticides is the safest option.
To conclude, the excessive consumption of food grains, vegetables, and fruits that has high pesticide content is hazardous to human health such as nerve damage, cancer, allergies, and infertility. There are simple tips that can reduce the level of pesticide residue on foods. In addition to this, the government plays an important role in maintaining the optimum level of soil so that there are no adverse effects on the crops grown. The present laws should be implemented strictly to lower the rampant misuse of pesticides on food crops.