Saturday, August 30, 2014

Defang Agriculture

At the end of book XXII of Homer's "Odyssey," we read that Odysseus fumigated his house with sulphur. This was sometimes in the 1200s BCE. More than three thousand years later, in the 1950s and 1960s, my father used sulphur to protect his grape vines from disease.

Thus "pesticides" have a long history. But despite my vague knowledge of my father's rare use of sulphur in his small farm in Greece, I never thought about pesticides. They were things one used in emergencies.
All this changed dramatically when I joined the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1979. My position was with the very organization that "regulates" pesticides in America, EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.
My colleagues made it easy for me to learn quickly. They explained what they did and gave me samples of their written work. Talking to my colleagues and reading their papers opened the secret world of pesticides to me. Many modern pesticides are chemicals from chlorine and petroleum.
Pesticides received a tremendous boost from World War I when chlorine gas killed uncounted number of troops. World War II perfected neurotoxin agents, which became the feedstock for farmers' nerve-poison pesticides.

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