False perceptions plow under benefits of pesticides: toxicologist
BY STEVE SHARRATT
Society has developed such a fear of chemicals that the positive benefits of pesticides are plowed under because of a litany of false perceptions, says a leading toxicologist.
“Risks from pesticides are low,” says Dr. Angela Hofstra. “And despite a false public perception that they are a danger, the benefits are very high.”
A guest speaker at the recent International Potato Expo in Charlottetown, (Prince Edward Island) Hofstra said the perception today is that everything man-made is bad while everything natural is good.
“But everything consists of chemicals, even things that are natural,” she told a workshop full of farmers and industry reps. “But give them a chemical name and people get worried.”
She recited a situation where she was asked to intervene and provide insight when officials at a university were concerned about the exposure levels of dihydrogen oxide to workers and students.
Such incidents have occurred more often than not.
In 1997, a 14-year-old high school student in Idaho gathered 43 names out of 50 classmates to ban dihydrogen oxide. Nathan Zohner, according to Wikipedia, ended up winning first prize at the state Science Fair for his illustration of gullibility.
Dihydrogen oxide is water and the hoax only emphasizes the public lack of scientific literacy.
Hofstra said chemicals have gone from being heroes in the 1960s to today’s villains despite being greatly improved, less toxic, and undergoing the most stringent regulations possible for Health Canada approval.
One crop protectant rep at the workshop insisted he sells “agricultural medicine” and the name “pesticide” has been a bane to the industry for decades.
She said new chemicals take years to reach the marketplace after being tested to mimic worst-case scenarios on human health.
“It’s the dose that makes a huge difference to actual safety,” she explained, noting that general minimum exposure limits set by Health Canada would be equivalent to one kernel of corn from the harvest of 100 acres.
Hofstra, who works for Syngenta Canada, said over 70 per cent of Americans think pesticide residue on food can cause cancer. She also noted the Canadian Cancer Society has dropped pesticides from its main culprits of causing cancer.
Pesticides, McGuinty, Gerretsen, Ontario, Pesticide Ban, Organic