Tufts OpenCourseware
Authors: Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D., William Lockeretz, Ph.D.


  • Lear, L. Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. Prologue. 1997.
  • Carson, R. Silent Spring. Chapters 1 and 3. 1962.
  • Vorley, W., and Keeney, D. The greening of industry versus greenwash: introducing a case study; and Pretty, J., Vorley, W., and Keeney, D. Pesticides in world agriculture: causes, consequences and alternative courses. In: Vorley, W., and Keeney, D. (eds.) Bugs in the System. 1998.
  • Dower, R. et al. Frontiers of Sustainability, pp. 72-76. 1997.
  • Plapp, F.W. Jr. The nature, modes of action, and toxicity of insecticides. In: Pimentel, D. (ed.) CRC Handbook of Pest Management in Agriculture, 2nd ed. 1991.

Key Questions

The greening of industry versus greenwash: introducing a case study of Pesticides in world agriculture: causes, consequences and alternative courses.

  • How has the industry vision on sustainable development changed over time?
  • Does Agenda 21 sufficiently define the responsibility of the pesticide industry in our quest for sustainable development?
  • What is the basis on which the pesticide industry defines sustainable agriculture?
  • What, according to the authors, are promising leverage points for reengineering the pesticide industry?
  • Does reengineering of the pesticide industry depend on reengineering of our society?
  • How does the industry perceive other stakeholders in general, as documented by authors? Is this changing over time?
  • What is the industry viewpoint pertaining to the necessity of chemicals in agriculture?
  • What are the forces that drive pesticide usage in agriculture?
  • How does the age of the farmers influence pesticide usage?
  • How do subsidies and conservation programs influence pesticide usage?
  • How safe is the food in the US with reference to pesticide residues?
  • Despite comparatively low usage of pesticides, why are the related health hazards more widespread in the developing countries?
  • How does the expenditure by the government on IPM programs compare with the cost of regulating pesticides?
  • How does the industry influence government and public opinion?
  • What are the consequences of pesticide usage?
  • How do the proponents of pesticide industry use the “language of loss” to their advantage? How valid are these arguments?
  • Do the authors favor regulation or ecological taxes for popularizing biointensive agriculture?
  • Do you agree that pesticides are essential to feed the world and keep domestic food prices low?

Frontiers of Sustainability

  • Has the proportion of yield lost due to pest attacks declined because of the use of pesticides over time?
  • Which crops account for high pesticide use in American agriculture?
  • How does pesticide use in fruit and vegetables compare to that used on other crops?
  • Compare the amount of pesticide used by homeowners against that by farmers in the US.
  • Which group of people face the maximum risk to their health due to exposure to pesticides?
  • What are the effects of pesticides on human health?

The Nature, Modes of Action and Toxicity of Insecticides

  • What is the relationship between pesticide solubility in water and its adverse effects on human health?
  • What are the two dimensions as one considers the selective toxicity of pesticides?
  • Would you recommend an insecticide of high toxicity for an IPM program?
  • In general, is mammalian-to-insect selectivity a determining factor for using a insecticide?
  • There are two insecticides – one with a larger mammalian-to-insect selectivity ratio than the other. Which one is comparatively safer for humans?
  • Why are the pests comparatively more tolerant to pesticides than their natural enemies?
  • Do the pesticides detoxified through oxidative and nonoxidative processes affect pests and their natural enemies differently?
  • What is the general trend observed on comparing the insect-to-insect selectivity ratio of the insecticides presented (page 449)?
  • There are two insecticides – one with a larger pest-to-beneficial insects selectivity ratio than the other. Which one is comparatively safer for the beneficial insects?
  • Which of the four group of insecticides we have focused on in the readings is safest to the beneficial insects?
  • What are some of the characters of organochlorines that were responsible for their widespread use as insecticides in the yesteryears, but are now considered as being counterproductive? Why?
  • What are the important properties of the following groups of insecticides – organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates and pyrethroides?
  • Which two groups of pesticides are most widely used ?
  • Despite sharing many common properties with organophosphates, why are carbamates relatively safer to humans?
  • Which of the four groups of insecticides would you recommend for an IPM program? Why?