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herbicides and pesticides

Pesticides by the Numbers

We live in a chemical world, surrounded by heavy pesticide and herbicide use. What does that mean on a global level? Just take a look at the numbers.

By Emily Main

tags: PESTICIDES



Pesticides by the Numbers

A worker sprays a vineyard with pesticides. The U.S. accounts for 20 percent of worldwide pesticide use.

Pesticides kill. They're designed to be neurotoxic and zap the life out of weeds, insects, and other problematic pests that can destroy crop fields. Pesticide manufacturers claim they've brought agriculture to a whole new level, helping farmers deal with costly pests and providing them with greater yields, and therefore, higher incomes. But the science is increasingly showing that those claims hold very little water. Farmers worldwide are overusing herbicides and other pesticides, leading to pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, and easy access to the toxic chemicals has tragic consequences in the form of increased suicide rates.

Recently, two esteemed journals, Science and Nature, devoted special issues to what is known about the benefits and serious risks posed by pesticides and genetically modified (GM) crops, which have had their DNA altered to resist herbicides or to produce their own insecticides. We culled the most fascinating statistics from what these journals found so you can get a better picture of what sort of chemical world you're living in.

80
Percentage of pesticides used in the U.S. on agriculture

20
Percentage of pesticides used in the U.S. on private lawns and gardens

$9 billion
Pesticide sales in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 2012, based on research from a U.K.-based agribusiness consulting firm

$12 billion
Pesticide sales in all 47 European countries (including Russia) in 2012, based on that same research

1.96
Pounds of pesticides applied per acre of farmable land in the United States. Although application rates are lower than in other countries, we consumed 20 percent of all pesticides globally, due to the higher percentage of agricultural land here

9.2
Pounds of pesticides applied per acre of farmable land in China. According to the Science issue, farmers in developing countries often use higher amounts of pesticides due to lack of training

13.7
Pounds of pesticides applied per acre of farmable land in Columbia. There, pest pressures on the country's valuable coffee crop lead to heavy use of pesticides

10,400
The approximate number of pesticides approved by the Environmental Protection Agency via "conditional registration" since 2010, out of a total of about 16,000. Conditional registration is an incomplete, fast-track system that allows pesticide manufacturers to get products to market without fully testing all the active ingredients for safety or environmental impact


Read More: 4 Disturbing Facts about Pesticides


376 million
The number of acres of GM crops planted in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India, the top five growers of GM crops worldwide. The U.S. plants more GM crops than any other country

45 million
The number of acres of GM crops planted in the rest of the world

247 million
The number of acres worldwide planted with GM crops bred to withstand chemical herbicides. Herbicide-tolerant crops account for almost 60 percent of all land planted with GM crops

25
Number of weed species that resist glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, which is used on Roundup Ready GM seeds; that number is up from 0 in 1995, the year before GM seeds were introduced onto the market. These weeds are now found in 18 countries worldwide

3.1
Pounds of pesticides per acre that will be needed in the U.S. by 2025 as a direct result of GM crop use, according to research by David Mortensen, a plant ecologist at Pennsylvania State University, cited in Nature


Read More: Surprise! GMOs Don't Reduce Herbicide Use


~370,000
Number of annual suicides worldwide attributable to pesticide ingestion, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, according to Science's investigation, pesticide ingestion is the leading cause of suicide globally

50 milliliters, or approx. 1.7 fluid ounces
The small amount of pesticide a person needs to ingest to commit suicide. Depending on the chemical, someone consuming such a dose might suffer convulsions, lung failure, or organ damage

50
The percent by which suicides fell in Sri Lanka after government officials there banned all of the most toxic of toxic pesticides—chemicals like endosulfan, parathion, and methyl parathion. Though endosulfan, a neurotoxin, was phased out in 2010 in the U.S., parathion and methyl parathion are still allowed on some U.S. crops

21
Percentage increase in yields farmers in Asia can see simply by using less pesticide, according to internal data from pesticide manufacturer Syngenta reported in Science

935,450
Total number of acres devoted to organic farming and animal husbandry in the U.S. in 1992

4,815,959
Total number of acres devoted to organic farming and animal husbandry in 2008, the most recent information the USDA has—a 500 percent increase

Published on: September 17, 2013
Updated on: September 18, 2013



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