What are pesticides?
Pesticides, pesticides or biocides are types of chemical compounds intended to repel, attract, destroy, prevent or combat any undesirable species of plants or animals.
They are used during the stages of production, storage, transportation and distribution of foods of agricultural origin, whether food for humans or animals. Also included in pesticides are substances that are administered to farmed animals to rid them of ectoparasites (parasites that live on the outside of the animals’ bodies).
The term pesticide does not include various substances used daily in the agricultural industry, such as different fertilizers, nutrients, additives and animal medications.
Yes, desiccants, defoliating agents (substances that cause plant leaves to fall off), products that reduce the density of fruits, substances that inhibit germination, substances that are added to food during harvest are considered pesticides. , storage and transportation to slow deterioration, and products that regulate plant growth. Pesticide substances are used to combat the most frequent pests of food plant species, such as insects, fungi, bacteria, mollusks, small mammals, birds and even other plant species.
Without necessarily constituting poisons, these substances can be harmful both to humans and to other third species, which inadvertently consume them in food or its derived products.
From early times, pesticides of various types were used in the modern agricultural industry. In the 1980s, a true explosion of pesticides occurred that allowed global agricultural production to increase to revolutionary levels.
Relatively inexpensive and very effective, they were even used as a preventive measure, without waiting for signs of some type of contamination, which led to a catastrophic scenario.
The misuse of pesticides on the one hand caused significant ecological damage that led to the banning of many of them (such as DDT, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane). On the other hand, it led to the emergence of resistant pests or new distinct agricultural pests, such as certain species of mites.
Types of pesticides
There are various types of pesticides, generally designed to attack a specific type of pest, whether animal, microbial or plant. Based on this purpose, we can classify them into:
- Algaecides. They delay the growth or prevent the appearance of algae.
- Antimicrobials. They destroy plant germs and microbes, especially bacteria and viruses.
- Desiccants. They cause water loss from certain plant tissues, thus drying out plant pests.
- Defoliants. They cause certain plant species to lose their leaves, thus preventing photosynthesis.
- Insect bombs. They destroy insects. They are known in English as “foggers” because they are applied from airplanes or drones and create a kind of mist ( fog ) over the crop.
- Herbicides. They kill herbs or unwanted plant species that proliferate in crop areas, competing with agricultural species.
- Molluscicides. They cause the desiccation of slugs and other mollusks.
- Insect growth regulators. They inhibit certain steps in the reproductive circuit of insects.
- Rodenticides. They kill mice, rats and other similar rodents.
- Antifungals or fungicides. They prevent the appearance of fungi or eliminate them from fruits and plants.
- Repellents. They cover protected species and give them an unpleasant smell and taste that keeps common pests away.
- Synergistic pesticides. They enhance and maximize the effectiveness of other pesticides.
Depending on the magnitude of the damage they can cause to humans, pesticides can also be classified into:
- Low danger. They do not involve considerable harm when inhaled, ingested or when they come into contact with the skin.
- Toxic. They cause considerable damage when inhaled, ingested or come into contact with the skin.
- Harmful. They involve serious damage that can leave chronic consequences or even cause death when incorporated into the human body through the pathways described in the previous points.
- Extremely toxic. They involve very serious, acute damage that can cause death in a short time.
They can also be differentiated according to the way in which they are applied to certain crops or animals. In this sense they can be:
- Aerosol sprays
- Tablets or solid pills
Risks of pesticides
The use of these pesticide products involves certain risks. Among them, we can list the following:
- Deterioration of benign species. Due to their indiscriminate use across large areas of cultivation, pesticides can cause the death of innocuous or even benign species for the crop, causing enormous ecological damage to the environment and, sometimes, even accidentally encouraging the emergence of new pests. due to the absence of predators
- Permanent damage to the human organism. Traces of these products, which can sometimes be found in food, in the water of rivers and lakes (or water from contaminated underground reservoirs) or even inhaled directly from the air, can cause different types of damage to people. Depending on the damage caused, pesticides can be:
- Carcinogenic. They cause different types of cancer and/or leukemia.
- Neurotoxic. They cause direct damage to the brain or central nervous system.
- Teratogens. They cause deformations in fetuses and damage to growing babies, and also damage people’s reproductive systems.
- Asphyxiating. They cause damage to the respiratory system and can induce suffocation or lung failure.
- Food contamination. Given their abundant use throughout different stages of the production chain, it is possible that foods intended for human or animal consumption contain traces of varying concentrations of these toxic products.