Crop protection products, including pesticides and fungicides, are necessary tools in agriculture and food production, says Joel Coats, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at Iowa State University.

Without these tools, we would lose more than one-half of the world’s crops, creating food waste and raising food costs.

Crop protection products also help protect food safety. For example, insect damage to corn can make the grain more susceptible to fungus that is toxic to people and farm animals, Coats says.

In addition, crop protection products help with the safe, long-term storage of important crops, such as potatoes or apples, which are susceptible to mold when taken out of refrigeration. “That’s a case where the health benefits (of fruits and vegetables) can go downhill,” he says.

All farmers use pesticides, including organic farmers. Organic farmers don’t use synthetic pesticides, but they can use natural pesticides, as allowed under the federal organic standards program.

All crop protection products must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are rigorously tested to prove their safety to human health and the environment.

Withdrawal restrictions ensure crop protection products aren’t applied immediately before harvest, which minimizes the risk of carryover to the food supply. It is a violation of federal law to use a crop protection product in a manner inconsistent with its label directions.

Here in Iowa, farmers and their employees must be licensed to apply pesticides. Education and testing on the safe use of pesticides is administered by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) in conjunction with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

The IDALS’ Pesticide Bureau is also responsible for responding to complaints and investigating potential misuse of pesticides. 

“People can trust that the federal safeguards are there to make sure (crop protection products) are safe for people working with them and for their families, communities and environment, as well as the end product to consumers,” Coats said.

Farmers are continually working to improve, learn and adopt new technology to grow healthy, safe crops while minimizing their environmental impact.

To learn more about how farmers work to ensure food quality, safety and farm animal care, visit “Real Farmers. Real Food. Real Meat.”

Return to The Iowa Dish