Do the benefits of pesticide use outweigh the health risks? During today's OnPoint, Allan Felsot, a professor of environmental toxicology at Washington State University, explains why he believes that despite the controversy surrounding pesticides, they play a crucial role in protecting food supply and public health. He also weighs in on pending regulations and legislation relating to pesticides.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Dr. Allan Felsot, professor of Environmental Toxicology at Washington State University. Dr. Felsot, thanks for coming on the show.
Allan Felsot: You're welcome.
Monica Trauzzi: Dr. Felsot, you're in DC to speak at an event on Capitol Hill that focuses on the impact of pesticides on our health and with population booming, there's been a big concern that we won't have enough food and pesticides have played a role in meeting those necessary requirements for humans across the world. Do you see pesticides as having a positive impact on us and do some of the risks, when compared to the benefits, do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Allan Felsot: Well, I think the studies show that overall the impacts have been positive. You have to consider that you can go back 1000 years ago and humans were using pesticides to control some vermin that were robbing them of the yields or vermin on their own body. So, humans have always tried to protect themselves and protect their yields. In terms of the risks, there's been a lot of change over many years since the 1950s with the kinds of products used. By and large, you can say in general that they're much, much safer than they used to be, plus we use much less than we did of any one particular product.
Monica Trauzzi: So, in terms of the impact on actual food supply, how do you see things working out, you know, moving forward, if we were to regulate pesticides more strongly and perhaps not to use them quite as much?
Allan Felsot: Well, I think first though we'd say that the current laws that have been mandated by Congress for quite a while now and are dynamic and they're always changing and they're probably the most precautionary of all laws that protect and regulated technology. So I think the laws are very strong. Pesticides themselves though are one part of a bigger puzzle. They help contribute to protecting yields. If you took them away studies do show that yields would drop dramatically. So they are a necessary part of the system, but as other things you do to protect yield and proper fertilization and protection of the soil, they're an important tool in the toolbox.
Monica Trauzzi: The Institute of Medicine recently found a possible link between industrial chemicals and breast cancer. So when you see research like that, how do you respond when we're seeing links between some very serious diseases and the use of these pesticides?
Allan Felsot: Well, those are epidemiological studies and they never have how much a person is exposed to and to say industrial chemicals, are we talking about things we use around the house? So I actually think that those links are extremely weak and you can't make a generalization like that.
Monica Trauzzi: So, then what are your thoughts on organic farming? Is it a waste of money to buy organic then?
Allan Felsot: Well, I think it's a personal choice. I think that organic farming has a place in the market and I think that organic farmers, I know for a fact, also use pesticides. It's a matter of choosing which poison, if you will, that you want to use. So pesticides are not taken out of the picture with organic farming. It's the type of product you use. The most important thing is that whether you're growing certified organic or not organic, that you develop a good integrated pest management decision to help you make a sound, economically important and environmentally safe decision as to when to use a crop protection agent.
Monica Trauzzi: What type of regulations do you believe should be in place for pesticides?
Allan Felsot: Well, I think you need a system that is going to be dynamic, that changes as the technology changes. And I think for many years, especially after the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996, the pesticide law that protects consumers as well as workers and the environment has become quite precautionary.
Monica Trauzzi: And so EPA has been criticized pretty heavily for their regulation of pesticides. That they've been too tough on farmers when it comes to spraying pesticides over bodies of water. How would you rate how EPA has handled the regulation of pesticides?
Allan Felsot: Well, for a long time, really, you cannot spray pesticides over water unless the product specifically says you can and there's very few products that you would use in water if you were using it in water purposely to control aquatic weeds that might choke irrigation and things like that. So, EPA is really not the problem here. I think there's a misunderstanding. The courts have made a ruling relative to the Endangered Species Act and so EPA is almost caught in the middle trying to implement a court ruling about protecting, you know, waterways that have salmon in it.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. A very different view than what we're used to hearing in town, so thank you for coming on the show.
Allan Felsot: Oh, you're welcome. You need to come out to the Pacific Northwest, we'll give you some views out there.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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