Birth Defects & Reproductive Problems

Pesticides are not an established cause of birth defects or reproductive health disorders but studies are ongoing.

Disorders related to reproduction vary in scope and underlying causes. Pesticide exposure is not an established cause of them, such as infertility or birth defects.

Definitions

Reproductive disorders are a broad category relating to problems becoming pregnant, maintaining pregnancy and delivering a healthy child at term. The underlying causes of such disorders may be present in male or female parents. Even congenital anomalies (birth defects) represent a large group of structural and functional defects.

The term “pesticides” is also pertains to a wide group, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides – both synthetic and natural – which, by definition, are harmful to plants, insects, fungi or rodents, respectively. Today, for a pesticide to be legally sold and used across the globe, specific and stringent tests are required to evaluate the potential for it to affect the reproductive process of humans and wildlife.

Disorders related to reproduction vary in scope and underlying causes. Pesticide exposure is not an established cause of them, such as infertility or birth defects.

Reproductive Health in Society

Improving and maintaining reproductive health is a major goal globally and many programs have targeted health conditions related to mothers and children. While the causes of some reproductive disorders and birth defects are genetic or unknown, other are well understood and can be prevented. Specifically, the World Health Organization recommends actions such as vaccination against rubella virus, adequate intake of folic acid and iodine, and sufficient pre-birth care to reduce risk of many birth defects.

Classification

Regulatory bodies such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), United States Environmental Protection Agency and Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority evaluate specific pesticides for their potential impact on reproduction in humans and wildlife. In fact, tests are required with two generations of laboratory animals. These studies provide insight into the biological processes of each pesticide.

Some of this wide range of research has included pesticides as one of many suggested risk factors. A clear connection with pesticides has not been identified.

Evidence in Human Studies

There are multiple epidemiological (population) studies on infertility, female hormonal factors, miscarriages and birth defects among other reproduction-related conditions. Some of this wide range of research has included pesticides as one of many suggested risk factors. A clear connection with pesticides has not been identified. For example, some studies have shown associations working with pesticides, such as in greenhouses, that were not confirmed by other studies.1,2,3 Conclusions can only be drawn from consistent findings across multiple studies. Hence, a review by the EFSA of pesticides and reproductive health effects described the evidence as “contradictory.”4

In general, pesticides are not an established cause of reproductive health disorders or birth defects. Studies continue to be conducted in humans, animals (“in vivo”) and cellular systems (“in vitro”) to better understand factors related to reproduction.


1 Bretveld R, Zielhuis GA, Roeleveld N. Time to pregnancy among female greenhouse workers. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. 2006;32:359-367.
2 Lauria L, Settimi L, Spinelli A, Figa-Talamanca I. Exposure to pesticides and time to pregnancy among female greenhouse workers. Reprod Toxicol. 2006;22:425-430
3 Rosano A, Gemelli V, Giovannelli C, Paciotti G, Sabatucci A, Spagnolo A. [fertility changes in women working in greenhouses]. La Medicina del lavoro. 2009;100:448-454
4 Ntzani EE, Ntritsos GCM, Evangelou E, Tzoulaki I, 2013. Literature review on epidemiological studies linking exposure to pesticides and health effects. EFSA Supporting Publications 10, 159 pp.

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