Will intensification of world agriculture necessarily entail a substantial increase in the use of pesticides? If so, a greater toll on world health may be exacted, unless pesticide application practices improve drastically or less toxic products come into use. Predicting future pesticide use is impossible; however, it is possible to identify some trends and opportunities.
In the developed world, although considerable use of older pesticides persists, the trend is toward using newer pesticides that are more selective, less toxic to humans and the environment, and require less application per hectare to be effective (72). A small but growing percentage of these are biopesticides, including microbial pesticides like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and biochemical pesticides such as pheromones, growth regulators, and hormones substances that ordinarily pose little danger except to the targeted pest (73). In addition, there is growing acceptance of alternative approaches to pest control such as Integrated Pest Management. (See Improving Health Through Environmental Action.)
In the developing world, pesticide sales are on a strong upswing, and many highly toxic insecticides remain popular. Over the next decade at least, a significant increase in pesticide use is likely. Pesticide sales in India rose 5 percent in volume between March 1995 and 1996 (74). Brazil (already the fourth largest pesticide consumer in the world) is experiencing similar growth, as is China, which represents by far the most dynamic market in Asia (75)(76). Even Africa, which has the lowest use rate of any region, has increased its pesticide sales in the past decade (77)(78).
One factor contributing to increasing pesticide use in the developing world is a growing local production capacity. Brazil and India have become regional pesticide exporters; China’s production capacity increased 40 percent from 1995 to 1996 (79). Most of this growth in sales and manufacture has been in older, highly toxic insecticides. The top-selling pesticide in India is monocrotophos, a highly toxic insecticide whose registration was canceled in the United States in 1988 (80)(81).
By contrast, some developing countries are paying increasing attention to human health effects in setting regulations for the use and trade of pesticides. In July 1996, regulators in Egypt banned the import and use of all pesticides classified as probable or possible carcinogens (82). In 1987, Indonesia acted similarly to ban a variety of rice pesticides in common use. In addition, several successful Integrated Pest Management programs are underway, especially in Asia and Cuba.