Costa Rica is one of the most naturally beautiful countries on earth. Despite its small size, it contains nearly six percent of the world’s biodiversity and over a quarter of the country’s land is dedicated to parks and reserves to protect its incredible ecosystem. However, in recent years, a dark blemish in Costa Rica’s otherwise exemplary environmental record has come into the limelight.
Although the country is in many ways a world leader in environmental conservation–it just became the first country to ban recreational hunting–it surprisingly uses more pesticides per hectare of agricultural land than any other country on earth. As of June 5th, 2015, Costa Rica used 18.2 kilograms of pesticide per hectare. To give you some perspective, Costa Rica per acre uses even more pesticides than China does, which uses 17 kilograms per hectare. American farmers, in contrast, use 2.5 kilograms of pesticides per hectare.
While using that much standard pesticide would be an environmental and health concern in and of itself, the problem is even worse than it appears. Costa Rican farmers use more toxic pesticides proven to be so harmful to humans that the chemicals have been banned even in the countries that manufacture them. Some imports of Costa Rican produce coming into the U.S. have been rejected at the border due to high residues of toxic chemicals. And, they are not just a danger to consumers.
The pesticides in Costa Rica leak into the environment and seriously harm workers. Costa Ricans living in communities near farms that use pesticides have increased rates of cancer and irresponsible pesticide use has directly killed or sterilized thousands of farm workers in the past few decades.
However, the situation is improving. In 2000 Costa Rica used an unbelievable 51.2 kg of pesticides per hectare. Since then, they have decreased their pesticide use by an impressive 64% down to 18.2 kg per hectare but still far higher than the U.S. average of 2.5 kg. Even at this decreased level, their pesticide use is still dangerous to their workers, environment, and consumers.
And though I prefer to eat organic produce, there isn’t enough organic supply to meet U.S. demand, and it’s often too pricy for my budget. So when I want fruit and vegetables that aren’t available or affordable in organic, I will make sure they don’t come from Costa Rica. At this point, I won’t even choose organic from Costa Rica because of the danger of potential cross-over or residual pesticides. I encourage you to share this information with your friends and family (an easy way is to post this blog on your Facebook page), because if the spread of knowledge about Costa Rica’s overuse of pesticides causes them to lose market share, they may act faster to reduce levels further.