I can't tell you how many times I've been asked for figures on pesticide use — it must happen at least once a week. "How many pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. each year?" "Is pesticide use going up or down?" "What's the most commonly used insecticide in the U.S.?" and so on. The best I could do was point to 10-year old numbers.
But last Friday, EPA finally released updated sales and usage numbers. The agency used to produce a report summarizing national pesticide use every two years, but not long after Bush took office they stopped coming out. Now that report is back, though it only has figures through 2007.
And what does it say? Here are some highlights:
Pesticide use in agriculture is down slightly, from 948 million pounds in 2000 to 877 million pounds in 2007. But that's only about 1% per year, and still close to a billion pounds of toxic chemicals intentionally introduced into the environment and our food supply each year.
Use of organophosphates continues to decline, and this definitely is a good thing, as these are among the most acutely toxic pesticides still used. But 33 million pounds is still 33 million pounds too many, and despite the decline these neurotoxins are still detected in the bodies of most Americans (see the CDC's National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals) and commonly found on our food.
The herbicide glyphosate has more than doubled in use, from 85-90 million pounds in 2001 to 180-185 million pounds in 2007. According to a report from the Organic Center, this increase is likely a reflection of the rising popularity of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready genetically modified crops. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient of RoundUp.)
So kudos to EPA for resurrecting this series of reports. Now I can spend less time explaining this particular data gap to perfectly reasonable people and reporters, and more time working on actual use reductions.