What Chemicals Are Used to Grow Food?

Today, growing food is no longer the simple, all intrinsic process that it used to be. While the process may only need sufficient watering, little sunshine, and keeping away rodents, attempting to achieve considerable produce while avoiding insects, diseases, and other variables can be nerve-wracking. 

To make the food system as reliable as possible, farmers have adapted industrial-grade chemicals. So, what’s the essence of chemicals while growing food? Are the rules governing chemical usage in food production? 

When growing food, more than a billion pounds of chemicals are used to prevent the detrimental effects of weeds and pests, increase production, minimize food waste, and ensure there is enough food supply.

For better plant growth, there should be a constant supply of nutrients. Although nutrients such as carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen are inherently available in the soil, others such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium must be supplemented by adding chemicals. 

Chemical being sprayed on vegetables in a garden

What Chemicals are Used to Grow Vegetables?

Vegetables need numerous different chemicals for them to thrive. For instance, potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus are fundamental macronutrients in the growth of vegetables. 

Vegetables that are sufficiently supplied with these macronutrients thrive faster since they have sufficient key building blocks.

Fertilizers 

Fertilizing veggies is crucial to achieving maximum yields and the best quality products. Since there are several options, it is imperative to undertake a soil test to examine the specific type needed for the vegetables. 

However, the best fertilizers for vegetables are nitrogen and phosphorus. 

Most fertilizers are highly rich in potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. For exceptional results, vegetables should be supplemented with fertilizers every year. There are two types of fertilizers, inorganic(synthetic) and organic fertilizers

Organic Fertilizer

Organic fertilizers are intrinsic existing mineral sources that comprise a minimal amount of plant crucial nutrients. Organic fertilizers do not have adverse effects on the environment since their contents are inherently derived from plants and animals.

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Inorganic fertilizers are made up of minerals and synthetic chemicals. Some of these fertilizers comprise nutrients absorbed instantly by the vegetables, while others contain nutrients with a controlled release.

However, caution should be taken not to apply excess fertilizers. Excess fertilizer can be lost to the environment via volatilization, percolation into groundwater, release from soil to air, and runoff into surface water. 

However, you can minimize the loss by embracing best management practices (BMPs) that surge nutrients accessibility and promote plant ability to absorb nutrients. 

Pesticides 

Crop producers use pesticides, including insecticides, rodenticides, herbicides, fungicides, and antimicrobials, to minimize yield losses to pests. Also, these vegetables may need a long growing season, surging their requirement for pesticides. 

The most prevalent pesticides used to grow vegetables are the organophosphate (OP) pesticides malathion, chlorpyrifos. Pyrethroids and carbamates. 

Pesticides come in three categories, namely:

  1. Synthetic pesticides: They are human-made. They entail substances that are more like natural substances. They can be used in plants as a spray, a seed treatment, and others. 
  2. Natural pesticides applied to plants: These pesticides are naturally occurring. They include copper-based pesticides and pesticides found intrinsically in the soil and are highly toxic.  
  3. Natural, internal pesticides: These pesticides are produced by the plants from the inside. Their primary use is to shield the plants from diseases and pests that want to consume their tissues. 

Why are Chemicals Used in Food?

Chemicals are vital when it comes to food production and preservation. They help extend the shelf life of foods and make foods more delectable. 

However, since some chemicals can pose health risks to foods, EFSA offers scientific advice in the form of risk evaluation and other technical help on chemicals in food. 

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Before chemicals can be used on foods, EFSA undertakes rigorous evaluation to assess which substances can be added and at which levels. Some of the chemicals used in food include:

  • Monosodium Glutamate
  • Artificial food coloring
  • Sodium Nitrite
  • Guar Gum
  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Carrageenan
  • Sodium Benzoate

How are Chemicals Applied to Crops?

The chemical should be applied as close as possible to ensure you attain optimal coverage. Always ensure you mix the prescribed proportion. 

Using more than the recommended chemical amounts may leave toxic residues on your fruits and vegetables. Avoid applying chemicals under the scorching sun to prevent the vaporization of the active ingredients. 

Caution should be taken when spraying since chemicals can penetrate the body via inhalation, ingestion, or absorption by the skin and the eyes. It is essential to wear personal protective equipment to curb direct contact with the chemicals. 

Natural Chemicals in Food

A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables offers maximum nutrition and dietary variety. An overwhelming majority of people prefer buying organic produce to curb the intake of pesticides residues. 

Food containing natural chemicals is usually grown without applying synthetic chemicals or pesticides. 

However, these natural foods are not entirely chemical-free since crop producers may apply natural pesticides to these crops. Such foods are usually produced under the NOP standards. 

Eating food containing natural chemicals minimizes the susceptibility to being attacked by disease-causing pesticides such as respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, and cancer. 

Chemicals in Food and Their Effects

The effects of chemicals on food depending on their levels and the mode of application. Most of these chemicals seen in food adhere to the best industry practices. 

Using chemicals such as pesticides can significantly increase crop yield and ensure optimal productivity. Since these chemicals are toxic as they are meant to destroy agricultural pests, most of them can have adverse health effects if taken by humans excessively. 

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First, these chemicals can be disastrous to the nervous system. You are highly susceptible to suffering from diseases such as cancer, liver, kidney, and lung damage while using the harmful chemicals. 

Other chemicals can lead to weight loss and appetite, irritability, lack of sleep, behavioral disorder, and skin problems. 

Harmful Chemicals in Vegetables

Vegetables are rich in nutrients and form a fundamental food commodity in human consumption. Today, almost all types of vegetables are sprayed with chemicals. Some of the most prevalent chemicals used while growing vegetables include calcium carbide, ethephon, and oxytocin. 

Most of these chemicals are health hazardous and therefore not fit for application during vegetable growth. Some of these chemicals are used for artificial enlarging the vegetables’ size. Other chemicals, such as calcium carbide, are highly carcinogenic and prohibited under PFA rules. 

Although pesticides are used to keep away diseases and destructive insects, they can have disastrous impacts on the nervous system. 

Pesticide residues and crop contaminants such as aflatoxins, patulin, ochratoxin, heavy metals, and intrinsically found toxic substances are the primary contaminants present in fruits and vegetables. 

Chemicals Sprayed on Fruits and Vegetables

Organophosphates are the most prevalent applied group of insecticides. In most cases, they are used in the production of fruits such as apples, peaches, nectarines, and others. 

Most conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are sprayed with chemicals such as Sodium Orthophenylphenate (SOPP), Thiabendazole (TBZ), Sodium Hypochlorite, Maleic Hydrazide, and Sulfuryl Fluoride. 

What Chemicals Do Farmers Use on Their Crops?

The commonly used chemicals used on crops include fuels, solvents, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, and veterinary chemicals. 

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