listed seven tips to reducing risk of cancer, the first tip was to
abstain from tobacco and the second was to eat a healthy diet,
which was described as lots of fruits and vegetables, a limited
amount of fat, and avoiding too much alcohol. Avoiding foods
produced using pesticides was not even on the list.
Now that we recognize this trade-off between pesticide
harms and benefits, we turn to the regulation of pesticides in
Western democracies, focusing mostly on the US regulatory
system. While the legal framework for regulating pesticides
differs in western Europe, the methods, challenges, and goals
are very similar. Much of what is said about the EPA can be
extrapolated to the European Union and the United Kingdom.
How Are Pesticides Regulated?
It is not unusual to hear about salespeople in the early days of
synthetic pesticides (1940s) who would drink the chemical to
prove its safety. One always suspects the salesmen were play-
ing a ruse, but it is a testimony to how safe people once con-
sidered pesticides. The pesticide DDT was called a “savior of
mankind” during World War II, as it was the first war where
more people died from wounds than from disease. Farmers
began using DDT on a large scale, and governments would
spray generous amounts on bodies of water to kill mosquitoes.
Rachel Carson was not so impressed though, as she began
to document the cumulative effect of DDT in animals. In 1962,
she published her scathing indictment of DDT in her topic
Silent Spring . This topic launched an environmental move-
ment that continues today. Her topic is widely credited with
convincing President Richard Nixon to establish by executive
order the Environmental Protection Agency eight years later.
The EPA acknowledges in its official history that it was Silent
Spring that prompted the federal government to address the
threat of pesticides, along with other environmental problems.
Pesticides have been used since ancient times. In The
Odyssey , Homer has Ulysses bellow to his nurse, “Bring