Chemical Capture: The Power and Impact of the Pesticide Industry | Civil Eats

Chemical Capture: The Power and Impact of the Pesticide Industry

How the agrichemical industry is shaping public information about the toxicity of pesticides, how they’re being used, and the policies that impact the health of all Americans.

a farm field with a

From Washington to Pennsylvania, farmers diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease have filed lawsuits against the maker of a popular herbicide, based on research that shows a potential link between the chemical and the disease. In California, researchers have connected insecticide exposure that farmworkers’ children experienced in the womb to a higher risk of behavioral problems into adolescence.

In Mead, Nebraska, one company’s handling of discarded seeds coated with the most common insecticides in the country led to water, air, and soil contamination that killed bees and other animals. Researchers are currently studying how the levels of the chemicals found in area homes might impact residents’ long-term health. At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, officials found those same insecticides are likely to harm as many as three-quarters of the country’s endangered plants and animals.

Chemical Capture: The Power and Impact of the Pesticide Industry

Read all the stories in our series:

For most Americans, the 400,000 tons of chemicals used to kill weeds, bugs, and fungus each year are invisible. But as Civil Eats’ reporting has shown over the past 15 years, the impacts of those pesticides are profound and span the entire food chain—from threatening important organisms in soil to causing illness due to acute exposure during use.

Over the past few decades, attention to those risks has grown in some ways, as evidenced by the annual popularity of Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen campaign, among others. However, as sales of organic food nearly doubled in the U.S., topping $60 billion in 2022, and attention to regenerative agriculture practices soared, pesticide use continued to increase.

In fact, in 2020, American farmers beat out every other country in the world in terms of the volume of pesticides applied, according to an analysis from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And between 1990 and 2020, the amount of pesticides used per acre increased by 33 percent.

During that same time period, a series of mergers has made the top pesticide and seed manufacturers bigger and more powerful than ever. Four companies—ChemChina (which owns Syngenta), Bayer (which absorbed Monsanto), BASF, and Corteva Agriscience (formerly Dow and DuPont)—now control more than 62.3 percent of the world’s pesticide sales. In the U.S., that number is likely much higher.

And the strategies some of those companies have employed over the years to keep products linked to serious risks on the market are increasingly well-documented in court records.

There are countless questions to be asked, studied, and debated regarding when and where pesticides are necessary or appropriate, which Civil Eats’ regular reporting will continue to explore.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

In this series, however, we will investigate whether consolidated corporate power may be contributing to the ubiquitous use of chemicals, making it difficult to sort facts from marketing or engage in rigorous cost-benefit analyses. We’ll report on how chemical companies use their influence to shape what we know about the toxicity of individual pesticides, how pesticides are used, and the federal and state policies that are intended to protect people from risks.

While the glyphosate taking up residence in Americans’ bodies and the neonicotinoids filling the country’s waterways may be invisible, the scale and urgency of the planet’s biodiversity crisis—and the ways in which research finds pesticide use contributes to it—are becoming more apparent.

Join us as we examine the potential role that pesticide companies play in all of this.

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

Lisa Held is Civil Eats’ senior staff reporter and contributing editor. Since 2015, she has reported on agriculture and the food system with an eye toward sustainability, equality, and health, and her stories have appeared in publications including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Mother Jones. In the past, she covered health and wellness and was an editor at Well+Good. She is based in Baltimore and has a master's degree from Columbia University's School of Journalism. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More from



a worker in india holds up a pile of shrimp that needs to be peeled before being shipped to the united states

The Shrimp on Your Table Has a Dark History

In this week’s Field Report, shining a light on India’s exploited shrimp workers, the spread of avian flu, and the big banks undermining climate goals.


We’re Born to Eat Wild

Despite Recent Headlines, Urban Farming Is Not a Climate Villain

Market Garden youth interns tend to small-crop production at the urban farm Rivoli Bluffs in St-Paul, Minnesota, Sept. 28, 2022. (USDA photo by Christophe Paul)

Cooking Kudzu: The Invasive Species Is on the Menu in the South

From Livestock to Lion’s Mane, the Latest From the Transfarmation Project

Craig Watts in his mushroom-growing shipping container.(Photo courtesy of Mercy for Animals)