The True Costs of Pesticides -
To our pocketbook, our health, and our world

A conservative, well-documented analysis - reported in Bioscience magazine and led by Cornell entymologist David Pimentel - found that pesticides indirectly cost the U.S. at least $8 billion a year.

This includes losses from increased pest resistance; loss of natural pollinators (including bees and butterflies) and pest predators; crop, fish, and bird losses; groundwater contamination; harm to pets and livestock - and $787 million for the (more obvious) harm to public health.

The authors of this study say, "Most benefits of pesticides are based only on direct crop returns. Such assessments do not include the indirect environmental and economic costs associated with pesticides. To facilitate the development and implementation of a balanced, sound policy of pesticide use, these costs must be examined." And so they examined them, in solid scientific detail.

We have summarized this study below. For more information, see the full article:

"Environmental and Economic Costs of Pesticide Use," Bioscience, Vol. 42, No. 10, by David Pimentel et al. David Pimentel is a professor of insect ecology and agricultural sciences at Cornell University, at the New York State College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Ithica NY. Bioscience is published by The American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1992.

Note that the authors have been highly conservative with their analysis, and comment that the actual financial costs are likely much higher - not to mention less quantifiable costs, like the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and relationship costs of diseases like cancer, or the loss of natural areas to soothe our souls and inspire our deeper greatness.

Also note that these costs have very likely increased since 1992, when this study was made, and that these are just U.S. figures; the worldwide costs are also much higher!!

For those interested in more information on this subject, we also highly recommend:

"Putting a Value on Nature's 'Free' Services," WorldWatch, Jan/Feb. 199, by Janet M. Abramovitz.

This well-grounded article explores the essential role that nature plays in our survival - even measured simply in economic terms - thus demonstrating that it is very much in our self interest to preserve, not destroy, ecosystems near and far. "Contrary to conventional economic wisdom, most of the value of the world economy does not come from pulling things out of nature - it comes from the normal functioning of rivers, forests, and fields.... [t]he current economic value of the world's ecosystem services is in the neighborhood of $33 trillion per year, exceeding the global GNP of $25 trillion."

Our gratitude to these people, and so many more, who are bringing forth this information, so that we can clearly see and be aware of the true impacts of our choices. This allows us to increase the wisdom in our actions, choosing to act in ways that truly fulfill our survival, success, relationships, and our highest happiness and joy.


What are pesticides' indirect costs each year to the U.S.? Below is a summary we have made of this study's conservative assessments of these costs.
(For each item, we have indicated the impact and the study's estimate of it's cost each year in the U.S., in millions of dollars.)

1) Human health effects - $787 million/year

The study estimates that worldwide there are 1 million human pesticide poisonings each year, with about 20,000 deaths. In the U.S., 67,000 non-fatal pesticide poisonings were reported; one study estimates that this is only 73% of the actual total. Deaths are more rare in the U.S. than in other countries, where control of these toxics is even worse than here.

Costs in U.S. each year, in millions
* Hospitalization after poisonings (2,380) $6.759.
* Outpatient treatment (27,000) after poisonings $17.
* Lost work due to poisonings (4,680) $1.76.
* Treatment of pesticide-induced cancers (assumes the conservative 10,000 cases) $707.
* Fatalities (27) $54.
* Total $786.5 million.

Many of their figures are conservative, just what's been demonstrated, so it's quite likely that the resulting numbers are low, perhaps substantially. For instance, in seeking to put a value on a human life, they say that the insurance industry uses between $1.6 and $8.5 million; they chose to use the lower figure of $2 million per life. There are also a variety of health effects that they discuss but don't include in the totals, because of difficulties in calculating them.

2) Animal poisonings and contaminated products - $30 million

According to the study, "Several thousand domestic animals are poisoned by pesticides each year; meat, milk, and eggs are also contaminated." (This includes livestock and pets.) This only counts poisonings reported to vets; they feel there would be additional significant numbers that go undiagnosed and unreported. They estimate that the economic value of all livestock products in the U.S. lost to pesticide contamination to be at least $29.6 million annually.

3) Destruction of beneficial natural predators and parasites - $520 million

"Like pest populations, beneficial natural enemies are adversely affected by pesticides. (Croft 1990). For example, pests have reached outbreak levels in cotton and apple crops following the destruction of natural enemies by pesticides.... The apple pests in this category include European red mite, red-banded leafroller, San Jose scale, oystershell scale, rosy apple aphid, woolly apple aphid, white apple leafhopper, two-spotted spider mite, and apple rust mite (Croft 1990). Significant pest outbreaks also have occurred in other crops (Croft 1990, OTA 1979). Because parasitic and predacious insects [i.e., beneficial] often have complex searching and attack behaviors, sublethal insecticide dosages may alter this behavior and in this way disrupt effective biological controls.

"Fungicides also can contribute to pest outbreaks when they reduce fungal pathogens that are naturally parasitic on many insects. For example, the use of benomyl, used for plant pathogen control, reduces populations of entomopathogenic fungi. This effect results in increased survival of velvet bean caterpillars and cabbage loopers in soybeans. The increased number of insects eventually leads to reduced soybean yields (Johnson et al. 1976).

"When outbreaks of secondary pests occur because their natural enemies are destroyed by pesticides, additional and sometimes more expensive pesticide treatments have to be made in efforts to sustain crop yields. This consequence raises overall costs and contributes to pesticide-related problems. An estimated $520 million can be attributed to costs of additional pesticide applications and increased crop losses, both of which follow the destruction of natural enemies by pesticides applied to crops.

"...general observations by entomologists indicate that the impact of loss of natural enemies is severe in many parts of the world. For example, from 1980 to 1985, insecticide use in rice production in Indonesia drastically increased (Oka 1991). This usage caused the destruction of beneficial natural enemies of the brown planthopper, and the pest populations exploded. Rice yields dropped to the extent that rice had to be imported into Indonesia for the first time in many years. The estimated loss in rice in just a two-year period was $1.5 billion (FAO 1988)." Low-insecticide experts advised substantially reducing pesticide use and returning "to a treat-when-necessary program that protected the natural enemies." 57 of 64 pesticides were "withdrawn from use on rice and pest management practices ... improved. Pesticide subsidies to farmers also were eliminated. Subsequently rice yields increased to levels well above those recorded during the period of heavy pesticide use (FAO1988)."

4) Pesticide resistance in pests - $1,400 million

"... the extensive use of pesticides has often resulted in the development of pesticide resistance in insect pests, plant pathogens, and weeds. In a report of the United Nations Environment Programme, pesticide resistance was ranked as one of the top four environmental problems in the world (UNEP 1979). Approximately 504 insect and mite species (Georghiou 1990), a total of nearly 150 plant pathogen species, and about 273 weed species are now resistant to pesticides." Sometimes that leads to needing additional applications of other pesticides, but that can just compound the problem "by increasing environmental selection for resistance traits." The impact of resistance can be quite dramatic, such as Texan and Mexican communities that had to abandon 285,000 hectacres of cotton in early 1970 because of the high pesticide resistance in the tobacco budworm population on cotton.

Based on studies that have shown 10% crop losses from pesticide resistance, they estimate such losses in the U.S. come to at least $1.4 billion per year.

5) Honeybee and pollination losses - $320 million

Honeybees and wild bees are vital for fruit and vegetable crop pollination. Their direct and indirect benefits to U.S. ag production range from $10 - 33 billion each year. Most ag insecticides are toxic to bees and have a major impact on their populations. D. Mayer estimates that 20% of all losses of honeybee colonies are from pesticide exposure, plus 15% seriously weakened by pesticides or moving the colonies to avoid them. Other losses: reduced honey production; crop losses from reduced pollination; costs of bee rental; and loss of the potential yield increases if bees were on a field (but can't be because of pesticides).

(Costs in U.S. each year, in millions)
* Colony losses from pesticides $13.3.
* Honey and wax losses $25.3.
* Loss of potential honey production $27.
* Bee rental for pollination $4.
* Pollination losses of crops $200.
* Total $319.6 million

6) Crop losses - $942 million

Sometimes the pesticides intended to protect crops damage them instead &endash; like when pesticides drift onto nearby crops; when herbicides increase susceptibility to insects and disease; when insecticides and herbicides suppress growth and reduce yields; when residual herbicides prevent crop growth or rotation; and when excessive residues necessitate crop destruction. This leads to losses of both initial investment and potential profit. "Damage to crops may occur even when recommended dosages of herbicides and insecticides are applied under normal environmental conditions."

(Costs in U.S. each year, in millions)
* Crop losses $136.
* Crop applicator insurance $245.
* Crops destroyed because of excess pesticide contamination $550.
* Investigations and testing &endash; government $10; private $1.
* Total $942 million.

7) Fishery losses - $24 million

Pesticides wash into aquatic ecosystems (streams, lakes, the ocean, etc.) by water runoff, soil erosion, and drift. They can then directly kill fish, sensitive fish fry, and essential fish foods. There's also a loss when contaminated fish can't be eaten. They estimate 141 million fish are killed a year, 6-14 million from pesticides; these figures are likely low. They use the (again low) figure of $1.70 value of the fish to arrive at a conservative estimate of $24 million in fishery losses.

8) Bird losses - $2,100 million

Wild birds are also damaged by pesticides, including from: death by direct exposure; secondary poisoning from consuming contaminated prey; reduced survival, growth, and reproductive rates from exposure to sublethal doses; and habitat reduction through elimination of food sources and refuges. They estimate that 67 million birds are killed, and don't count secondary losses. They use a low value of $30 per bird, which is much lower than the amount spent in hunting, which comes out to $216 per bird felled; or the $800 spent per bird to rear and release a bird in the wild. Still, total losses come out to about $2 billion in birds destroyed each year &endash; plus the $102 million spent each year on the US Fish and Wildlife's Endangered Species program, which seeks to re-establish species, including those reduced by pesticides.

9) Groundwater and surface water contamination - $1,800 million

Estimates are that nearly one half of the groundwater and well water in the United States is or has the potential to be contaminated with pesticides. It would cost an estimated $1.3 billion annually just to monitor wellwater and groundwater for pesticide residues. Once in groundwater, pesticide residues remain for long periods of time, because the area is protected from normal degrading forces. Then there's the high cost of cleanup, If all pesticide-contaminated groundwater was cleared of pesticides before human consumption, that would cost about $500 million.

10) Government regulations to prevent damage - $200 million

In order to allow these toxins to be so widely used while providing (some) protection to public health and the environment, federal and state government programs have been established to train and register pesticide applicators ($1 million/year), register and re-register pesticides ($40 million), and monitor and control pesticide pollution. Even with these large sums being spent, costly damage still results.

>>>> TOTAL INDIRECT COSTS OF PESTICIDES/U.S. $8,123,000,000 a year
Or $8 billion!!

Who pays this cost? Of this $8 billion a year in indirect costs of pesticide use, $3 billion is paid by ag pesticide users, and society pays the rest (including through taxes, insurance costs, etc.)



The study authors say, "Our assessment of the environmental and health problems associated with pesticides is incomplete because data are scarce. What is an acceptable monetary value for a human life lost or for a cancer illness due to pesticides? Equally difficult is placing a monetary value on wild birds and other wildlife, invertebrates, microbes, food, or groundwater.

"In addition,... there are additional costs that have not been included.... A complete accounting of indirect costs should include accidental poisonings like the aldicarb/watermelon crisis; domestic animal poisonings; unrecorded losses of fish and wildlife and of crops, trees, and other plants; losses resulting from the destruction of soil invertebrates, microflora, and microfauna; true monetary costs of human pesticide poisonings; water and soil pollution; and human health effects such as cancer and sterility. If the full environmental and social costs could be measured as a whole, the total cost would be significantly greater than the estimate of $8 billion/yr. Such a complete long-term cost/benefit analysis of pesticide use would reduce the perceived profitability of pesticides."

Conversely, cutting pesticide use can offer many benefits, including:

* Cutting our individual and shared health care costs, and greatly reducing the related emotional pain, by stopping these problems at their source;

* Preserving the soil, water, air, and wildlife (bees, fish, birds) upon which all life on this planet depends - including ours;

* Reducing harm to pets and livestock - preserving their economic value, honoring our responsiblity as their stewards, and maintaining their healthy, loving, healing presence in our lives;

* Making farming easier and more effective - by reducing crop losses and preserving the pollinators and natural predators that do much of the farmer's job for him or her; and

* Supporting family farmers.

Farmers using natural methods, rather than toxic pesticides, can make return to work that's based on honoring nature and the land, serving and respecting their local communities and consumers, and helping heal, not harm, the environment upon which we all depend for our very survival.

It really isn't in our self-interest to poison ourselves with billions of pounds of toxics every year - and how did we get convinced that it was? There are viable options that have kept humanity alive for thousands of years on this planet, long before these toxic pesticides were even invented. Natural ecosystems are what creates life on this planet. Honoring them, not destroying them, is how we truly ensure our survival.

Document (c) Community Action Publication, 1999. All rights reserved.

More information on the true costs of pesticides

• Cancer is one of many diseases demonstrated to be caused and promoted by synthetic pesticides and other human-created toxics. Reducing our huge exposure to cancer-causing substances is a great way to reduce our risk of getting cancer! See our page on the ever-increasing scale of cancer costs in this country Cancer Costs.

• Pesticides are one of the major causes for the shocking rate of species extinction now happening. An estimated 300,000 have disappeared in the past 50 years, and an estimated 3,000 to 30,000 each year - about 82 a day! Once a species is gone, so too are the plants and animals that depend on it, and the ecosystem they created. Gone forever. Do we really want to unravel creation? For more information, see our Species Extinction page.



Information courtesy of:

"Information Empowering Action for a Healthier World"


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