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The Hidden Dangers of Australia's Pesticide Habits

Known for being a country of clean, safe produce around the globe, some might be surprised to learn that Australia’s rules around pesticide usage are pretty lax. In fact, many of the chemicals banned overseas are still in active use here – here's what you need to know.

Some of these pesticides have a detrimental effect on our wildlife and environment, while others leave residues that are toxic to us humans. Let’s take a look into some of the noxious chemicals deemed acceptable for Aussies, despite their lengthy list of risks.

Which banned pesticides are still used in Australia?

One of the more controversial pesticides which are banned in the United Kingdom and European Union includes what are known as neonicotinoids. The use of these toxic substances in Australia dates back to the 90s, with fruits, veggies, seeds and canola being the most commonly treated crops.


These pesticides threaten already dwindling bee populations – including our native bee species. This environmental hazard is the very reason that these neonicotinoids have been restricted in the United States – after all, the ecosystem will fall apart without these tiny workaholics. But that’s not the only way we’re lagging when it comes to pesticide regulation – one herbicide that’s been prohibited in over 50 countries is still in active use here in the land downunder. It’s known as paraquat and it’s not only a danger to us, but to our ecosystems too:

  • Toxic to humans: If paraquat comes into contact with your mouth or stomach, it can cause significant damage which spreads throughout the body, including the lungs and kidneys.
  • Environmental damage: This herbicide is a major threat to our oceans and aquatic wildlife – fish are especially vulnerable to paraquat.

Insect nerve agents are another group of toxic substances used readily on crops, with fipronil one of the big offenders for putting our bee populations at risk. These substances can cause the following side-effects in bees:

  • Brain damage
  • Impaired pollen and nectar foraging abilities
  • Death


These side-effects don’t just hurt bees, they hurt the whole planet – including us! This is because bees play an essential role in pollinating crops and plants which are used for food. You see where we’re going with this? Without bees, our ecosystem will lose a dangerous amount of its diversity and have countless knock-on effects on the survival of all manner of species.

It’s worth noting that some researchers claim these insect nerve agents should be safe for humans at low doses, but the same cannot be said for our ecosystem and wildlife – hence the push for Australia to catch up to tens of countries leading the way.

Reducing your pesticide consumption

Studies show that eating produce with high levels of pesticides not only reduces their nutritional content, but also puts us at greater risk for diseases like cardiovascular disease. Children are at an elevated risk for pesticide toxicity with Research finding early exposure could increase the chances of childhood cancers and developmental issues. These issues combined with the numerous environmental dangers posed by pesticides give more than a few reasons to avoid these nasties in your diet. Opting for organic produce can significantly reduce the pesticides you’re exposed to – but with inflation at its highest in 20 years and grocery prices up 10% since last year, many of us are struggling to afford regular produce, let alone the organic stuff. If this is you – don’t worry! You can still enjoy your favourite fruits and veggies, just be sure to choose wisely. Take a look at this year’s dirty dozen – these are the ones you’re better off buying organic:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard greens and mustard greens
  4. Capsicum and chilli
  5. Tomatoes
  6. Celery
  7. Apples
  8. Grapes
  9. Nectarines
  10. Peaches
  11. Pears
  12. Cherries

Luckily, there are also a number of “cleaner” fruits and veggies that you don’t need to buy organic to reduce pesticide exposure:

  • Avocado
  • Onion
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet potato
  • Rockmelon
  • Pineapple
  • Corn


Tip: A 15-minute water and vinegar soak does a pretty good job of cleaning the bulk of surface pesticides off your fruits and veggies. Go for one part vinegar, two parts water.

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