Pesticides In Farmed Animal Feed
To meet the increasing demand for animal-based protein, farmers try to raise the heaviest animals at the least cost, which requires an enormous amount of animal feed. The main ingredients used in this feed — corn and soy — currently make up one-third of agricultural land. Of this, around 67% of soy and 36% of corn is used to feed livestock.
Because farmers need to grow enough crops to meet the dietary needs of farmed animals, they often grow only corn and soy in their fields. In order to keep their monoculture of corn and soy alive, these farmers rely on hazardous chemicals to protect their crops from insects and weeds. A staggering 49% of pesticides are applied to corn and soy crops alone. As sales of pesticides increase every year, more people worry about how these dangerous chemicals affect both humans and the ecosystem.
Currently, more than one-third of the pesticides sold around the globe are considered hazardous to humans, wild animals, or the environment. To examine the true impact of these toxins, this report examines five herbicides and two insecticides that farmers currently use in agriculture.
This herbicide is commonly applied to corn and soy crops around the world. Out of 171 million pounds of glyphosate used on U.S. crops every year, an astounding 100 million pounds are used for animal feed. Unfortunately, this pesticide is suspected of harming or killing around 93% of the plant and animal species covered by the Endangered Species Act. Animals that are directly impacted include the monarch butterfly, the Hine’s emerald dragonfly, the black-footed ferret, prairie dogs, and many amphibians. Glyphosate also has the potential to be carcinogenic to humans.
Twenty-five million pounds of atrazine are used to produce animal feed every year. Banned in 35 other countries, this herbicide is one of the most toxic pesticides used in the United States. Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that damages the health of humans, nonhuman animals, and plants. It’s estimated that this pesticide harms 56% of the species covered by the Endangered Species Act. Because it accumulates in water, species that live in aquatic environments — such as amphibians, algae, and waterbirds — are especially impacted.
Out of the 17 million pounds of dicamba applied to corn and soy in the U.S. in 2018, over 11 million pounds were used as ingredients in animal feed. When applied to fields, this herbicide has a tendency to drift and damage nearby ecosystems. Even two decades later, workers who spray the chemicals are at an increased risk of certain cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The toxic spray is known to destroy plant life, harm beneficial insects such as monarch butterflies, and cause plants to grow smaller flowers and thus fail to attract pollinators.
Every year in the U.S., nine million pounds of 2,4-D are applied to crops destined to become feed for animals. 2,4-D has a dark past of being an ingredient in Agent Orange. It is an endocrine disruptor that may potentially cause Parkinson’s disease. 2,4-D also accumulates in the bodies of animals exposed to it. As aquatic species eat insects and swim in waters exposed to the chemicals, the toxins accumulate in their bodies and cause premature death. 2,4-D also endangers insect species like ladybugs, earthworms, and termines.
Responsible for most herbicide-related deaths in the US, paraquat is extremely toxic to humans and wild animals alike. It is an endocrine disruptor which causes respiratory problems, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Despite being banned in 53 countries, this herbicide is regularly applied to corn and soy crops in the United States. 2.9 million pounds of this pesticide are applied to animal feed crops every year. Paraquat endangers birds, amphibians, insects, and fish. It also damages bird and amphibian eggs.
370,000 pounds of bifenthrin are applied to animal-feed crops each year. This insecticide is a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system of insects through skin contact. Although it’s intended for insects that eat the crops, unsuspecting bees are often exposed and damaged by bifenthrin. Because bifenthrin lasts a long time in the environment and accumulates in fishes’ bodies, it harms fishes and birds when they swim in contaminated water or eat insects in the area.
This class of pesticide is the most common insecticide applied to crops around the world. Lax regulations make it impossible to know the real amount of neonicotinoids used each year, but we know neonicotinoid use is having a terrible effect on ecosystems around the globe. Incredibly, these chemicals harm 100% of protected amphibians and 75% of all other endangered plants and animals in the United States. Neonicotinoids contaminate soils for years after they were last applied. Additionally, the toxins can be found in 24% of streams across the US and do significant harm to aquatic species. Other animals endangered include vital pollinators, earthworms, and bats.
Farmers have come to rely on pesticides to meet the unsustainable demands of our diets. By increasing consumption of plant-based foods and encouraging farmers to grow more diverse plants, we could stop this cycle. Individual change is important, but structural changes in our food system are needed as well.
The authors recommend that governments reduce subsidies for animal-based products while increasing incentives for farmers to reduce pesticide use, grow more diverse crops, and promote biodiversity. They also suggest that governments should encourage people to eat more plant-based protein, and that businesses and farmers should transition away from producing and selling animal products. Ultimately, we need to eat more plant-based proteins to protect the well-being of both humans and the ecosystem.