Introduction to Pesticides
The use of pesticides is a hotly debated topic. While they can be extremely useful in terms of protecting plants from disease-carrying insects and pests, most pesticides are risky, by their very nature. To be effective, pesticides must be able to kill some living organisms, and this can pose risks to humans, pets, or the environment. Since pesticides can provide such a benefit to humans, researchers continue to look for safe, effective solutions.
Before using a pesticide, you should identify which pest you are trying to get rid of. Many pesticides are more effective for certain pests than others, and using a pesticide that is too general or for the wrong kind of insect could be a waste of your time and money. Next, you should weigh the risks and benefits of specific products. Read the product labels carefully. Pesticide labels should tell you what the ingredients are, as well as the risks and the intended outcome of using it.
Many people assume that natural pesticides, because they are "natural," are safe. However, this is not always true. Even though they are derived from plants, natural pesticides can be just as toxic as their synthetic counterparts. Pesticides should always be evaluated on an individual basis for both effectiveness and toxicity. Whether natural or synthetic, pesticides vary widely in both these respects.
One common organic pesticide is insecticidal soap. Insecticidal soap is made up of potassium or sodium salts in combination with fatty acids. Although this is one of the safest pesticides, its effectiveness is limited. In order to be effective, the insecticidal soap must directly touch the insect while it is wet. Once it is dry, it is ineffective. The fatty acids present in insecticidal soap are able to penetrate the insects' exoskeletons and cause the cells inside to collapse. This is a popular pesticide because it is one of the safest, causing no problems for humans or pets when used on garden plants and vegetables.
Neem oil is a new type of natural pesticide which is rapidly gaining popularity. The tropical neem tree produces seeds which contain an oil that has been found to negatively affect insect development and feeding. Insects which encounter neem oil do not usually show symptoms right away, and become sluggish, dying within a week. Neem has low toxicity for humans and pets and is very effective against a variety of insects, including some types of moths, beetles, and caterpillars.
Extract from the pyrethrum daisy can be used as a pesticide. This natural pesticide is not highly toxic to mammals but is effective against some types of beetles, caterpillars, and leafhoppers. Pyrethrum does not last long, and must be applied frequently.
Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis is a pesticide that is sold in powdered form and sprinkled on a plant. The targeted insect must eat the powder for it to be effective. The many kinds of Bt available are very safe for birds, humans, and mammals, but may also kill butterflies. In addition, this pesticide quickly becomes ineffective because sunlight causes it to break down.
Some organic or natural pesticides are actually more toxic to those humans and animals that are nearby when the pesticide is applied, since they break down so quickly. For example, nicotine sulfate, highly toxic to humans and pets, is absorbed through the skin, but doesn't last long on the plant. It is actually more dangerous to the human applying the pesticide than to the insects being targeted. Rotenone works in a similar way.
When using any type of pesticide, it is essential that you read the label carefully and only use the pesticide as it is recommended. In addition to being unsafe, it is actually illegal in many jurisdictions to use a pesticide for anything not specified on the label.
Written by Bronwyn Harris
Related Home Institute Articles