Far-Reaching Dangers of Agricultural Pesticides Emphasized in New Research

Far-Reaching Dangers of Agricultural Pesticides Emphasized in New Research
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Two new research papers reveal that agricultural pesticides are even more harmful than previously feared. A group of European scientists found that neonicotinoid pesticides are “extremely harmful” to bees, even in barely-measurable amounts, while UK-based researchers refuted the claims made by regulators around the world that large-scale use of agricultural pesticides is not harmful.

The first study, performed by the European Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, analyzed 500 studies on neonicotinoids, confirming what previous research has shown: that these agricultural pesticides have an impact on several species including bees.

“Even with the latest technologies we can barely measure the concentrations at which we are finding significant effect on honey bees, for example, which is the organism which has been most intensively studied,” study author Edward Mitchell from the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland told Radio New Zealand.

The study authors also expressed worry on the effect of these agricultural pesticides on human health over the long term.

“We cannot truly test the impact of any pesticides over a long term at very low concentrations,” said Mitchell. “We’re really experimenting on ourselves over the last 15 years or so with these pesticides.”

The second article, written by professors Ian Boyd and Alice Milner of the UK’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, and published in the journal Science, notes that “the current assumption underlying pesticide regulation — that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales — is false.”

They call for change in regulation of these chemicals, contrasting this situation with the more intensive monitoring system used for pharmaceuticals around the world. They criticize both industries, however, for using their products as preventative treatments rather than using them “sparingly and only when needed,” reports The Guardian.

“Society depends on pesticides in a similar way to how it relies on antibiotics,” the authors write. “Both have been manufactured and supplied to market demand with little care taken to consider whether this is sensible.”

They also highlighted the fact that agricultural pesticides are not as necessary as the industry would have us believe. This assertion is confirmed by an April study published in Nature Plants that found that farmers could slash their pesticide use with no loss in production.

“We want to start a discussion about how we can introduce a global monitoring program for pesticides, similar to pharmaceuticals,” the paper authors told The Guardian. “It can take years to fully understand the environmental impact.”

Several countries have been moving toward a neonicotinoid ban, including France, where these agricultural pesticides are slated for removal in September 2018. The European Union imposed a moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoids in 2013 and is currently considering extending it.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.