Pesticides: Natural vs. Synthetic


         Pesticides can be both synthetic as well as natural in origin.  Also known as botanical pesticides, natural pesticides are those which plants have evolved as a defense to ward off threatening organisms.  As a result, such pesticides can have a variety of different sources in the environment, depending on the species of plants from which particular pesticides originate, and the prevalence of those plants in the environment.  Aside from in nature, natural pesticides are also formulated in factories and marketed to the public for use in home gardens, farms, etc.  Consequently, sources of such pesticides are crops or plants which either naturally produce or have been sprayed with these chemicals, including much of the produce which winds up in our local markets.
            While the term “natural” may have a positive ring, it is important to realize that natural does not mean harmless.  Rather, many natural and synthetic pesticides share a common goal; that is, to kill or otherwise incapacitate.  What’s more, while synthetic pesticides are usually designed to target specific organisms, botanicals are often broad-spectrum pesticides, killing both harmless and harmful species alike.  Having said that, natural pesticides generally breakdown quickly outdoors and therefore pose less of a threat in the environment over time.
            Synthetic pesticides are often natural pesticides which have been slightly modified by chemical processes in order to increase their toxicity and stability in the environment.  As with natural pesticides, sources of synthetic pesticides include much of the produce we eat as well as any other plants or crops which have been sprayed with such chemicals.  Due to the stability of synthetic pesticides, however, these chemicals can persist in the environment for extremely long periods of time.  As a consequence, these chemicals can contaminate water bodies, sediments, and soils, as well as work their way up the food chain, thus contaminating meat products.  Sources of synthetic pesticides are therefore much more widespread than those of natural pesticides.  Of the most notable sources as it relates to meat consumption are upper predatory marine species such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and certain species of bass.

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                                                                                            -Shahir F. Masri


  1. How long does it take for synthetic pesticides to break down compared to natural pesticides?

  2. Are natural pesticides as harmful to humans as synthetic pesticides?

  3. Is there a way to help plants grow without the use of pesticides?

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