Across the world around two million tonnes of pesticides are being used annually, with approximately 85% of all pesticide usage occurring in the agricultural industry. Agriculture uses pesticides to boost productivity and output by controlling weeds, preventing insect infestations and reducing plant diseases. However, it has been predicted that the costs of pesticides now outweigh the benefits. The monumental dependency in generating and utilising agriculture-based chemicals has led to disastrous effects on the environment and human health. For example, UK water companies spent £92 million removing pesticides from the water supply between 2008 and 2009. Furthermore, there are approximately 7,446 global (human) deaths per year, resulting from unintentional acute pesticide poisoning (UAPP) and 733,921 non-fatal cases.
Moreover, the increased dependence on pesticides has led to severe inadequacies in pesticide regulatory control. Based on an FAO survey, 65% of countries lack special provisions for highly hazardous pesticides, 40% of countries have substandard pesticide products readily available to the public, 44% of countries lack legal provisions for the safe storage of pesticides, 53% lack legal provisions for safe transport and 49% lack provisions for safe disposal of all pesticides. Considering these statistics is shocking, especially given that over 1,000 different pesticides are used around the world, and it is predicted that about 3.5 million tonnes have been consumed in global agriculture in 2020.
It is estimated that the economic and environmental impacts of pesticides cost the USA over $9.6 billion. The major economic and environmental losses due to the application of pesticides in the USA were: public health, $1.1 billion year; pesticide resistance in pests, $1.5 billion; crop losses caused by pesticides, $1.4 billion; bird losses due to pesticides, $2.2 billion; and groundwater contamination, $2.0 billion.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked costs is the impact of pesticides on all pollinators from bees to wasps, beetles, flies, butterflies, birds and bats. Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on pollinators, contributing to 35% of global food production. The annual global economic benefit of pollinators in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem services is estimated at $235-577 billion, and their benefit from crop pollination alone is estimated at $100 billion worldwide. Considering the UK government’s reactive change in regulations which will permit the use of neonicotinoids, an insecticide known to be harmful to bees, understanding the societal benefits of pollinators is essential for protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide.
Using Route2’s Total Capital Accounting Framework, the costs and benefits of pesticides can be analysed and evaluated in economic terms (£) across 6 capitals (providing a more complete picture of the implications); Human (e.g. human health costs), Intellectual (e.g. Research & Development), Natural (e.g. benefits and costs on ecosystem services and food security), Manufactured (e.g. disposal and production) and Social (e.g. the wider implications of pesticides to society).