History of pesticides
The word ‘pesticides’ encompasses a range of preparations used to target anything considered a ‘pest’. This includes various plants, insects, animals and fungi. Pesticides have been in use since ancient times. Records of sulphur dusting date back to Ancient Mesopotamia over 4,500 years ago. Since then, humanity has experimented with an evolving array of pest controls, from toxic mercury and arsenic, to extracts of pyrethrum and tobacco plants. Application of pest controls were generally still limited in their use until the 1950s when synthetic chemical pesticides started to be produced in industrial quantities. Pesticides are so effective that 3.2 million tonnes are now used every year globally. Pesticides improve crop yield and quality, save money for farmers leading to lower food prices, control invasive species, and save lives by controlling deadly insects like malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Pesticide use in cotton production
Cotton crops need a lot of pesticides, 25% of the world’s total amount. Pesticides control insects that eat plants, and invasive weeds that inhibit plant growth. Cotton plants produce the majority of the fibre worn by a population of over 7 billion people. Farmers are under intense pressure to produce as much fibre as they can for the lowest possible price. Farmers in ‘third world’ countries produce most of the fabric and clothing for an unsustainably low price. Cheap chemicals that are often banned in western countries due to their toxic effect are used to save money..
Harms of pesticides
Insecticides target the harmful insects that consume crops. These chemicals work by attacking the insect’s brain and nervous system, which can also occur in other living creatures (including humans) exposed to the same chemicals. Herbicides present a more chronic health risk, as long-term low-level exposure can lead to diseases such as cancer.
Pesticides will kill anything weak enough to succumb to their effects, but there is always a small percentage of the target species that survives. These survivors then go on to reproduce, and their offspring are more likely to be resistant to the same chemicals. Stronger pesticides are used each year to control new super-bugs and super-plants, which is not sustainable. There is a limit to how strong a pesticide can be before it harms the crop it is protecting. This is what lead to the invention of GMO crops that contain pesticide within them. However the same logic applies to GMO technology, and resistance to these crops is already happening. We must find sustainable solutions to these critical issues, as our species is already using resources beyond that which our single planet can support.
Hemp as a solution to pesticide harms
Our need for clothing is one of our primal needs, going back to pre-history when our ancestors wore animal hides. It is clear that we must find a way to product clothing that is sustainable. Sustainable clothing produces minimal to no environmental harm, and the resulting garment has a long life of usage. Hemp plants require no pesticides. They outgrow weeds and any insect damage, as well as containing a natural insect repellent. Fields of hemp can produce 6 times the fibre per acre compared to cotton, while requiring only half the amount of water. Growing hemp can also clean up soils previously used to grow other crops.
Fabric made from hemp fibre is 3 times stronger than cotton. This means clothes lasts at least 3 times longer too. Hemp has a lower impact through the entire life-cycle of the garment, which we need to keep our planet viable for future generations.
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