Since before 2000 BC, humans have utilized pesticides to protect their crops. The first known pesticide use in food was elemental sulfur dusting used in ancient Sumer about 4,500 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. By the 15th century, toxic chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead were being applied to crops to kill pests. Until the 1950s, arsenic-based pesticides were dominant. Paul Müller discovered that DDT was a very effective insecticide. Herbicides became common in the 1960s, led by triazine and other nitrogen-based compounds.
During the 1940s manufacturers began to produce large amounts of synthetic pesticides for use on food and their use became widespread. Some sources consider the 1940s and 1950s to have been the start of the “pesticide era.” 2.5 million short tons of industrial pesticides are now used each year.
Environmental Effects of Pesticides in Food
Pesticide use in food raises a number of environmental concerns. Over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species. The air, water and soil in the treated area are all at risk. Pesticide drift occurs when pesticides suspended in the air as particles are carried by wind to