Reducing Pesticide Use

A 2017 study, conducted in France by Lechenet, Dessaint, Py, Makowski and Munier-Jolain, reveals that conventional farmers could dramatically reduce pesticide use without crop or monetary losses. With food security and food production clearly in mind, the research demonstrates that chemical crop treatments could be effectively reduced to meet farmer demand for protection of human and animal health and the environment.

Achieving sustainable crop production to feed a growing population has been acknowledged as one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. For this reason, addressing global food security while reducing pesticide use continues to be a key topic for world governments, global think tanks, nonprofits and philanthropies. As the debate continues, decision-makers are asking “Can we reduce pesticide use without sacrificing crop yield and farmer income?”

Arable farmland is defined as land capable of being plowed and used as farmland to grow crops. The study demonstrates clearly that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability on arable farms. Analyzing data from 946 non-organic arable commercial farms, the authors could not find any conflict between low pesticide use and high productivity and profitability in 77 percent of the farms. As a result, the authors of the study estimate that total pesticide use could be reduced by 42 percent without any negative effects on either productivity or profitability in 59 percent of the farms surveyed.

This corresponds to an average reduction of 37 percent, 47 percent and 60 percent of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide use, respectively. The authors also suggest that these findings would produce major changes in market organization and trade balance between the country’s imports and exports.

Reducing Pesticide Use on a Global Scale

A new report presented to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in March called for a global treaty to regulate dangerous pesticides. Chronic exposure was linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, hormone disruption and developmental disorders, as well as disorders of the nervous system. Communities living near agricultural fields, indigenous communities, pregnant women and children were cited as being particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure and in need of special protection. The report also emphasized the importance of protecting children from such substances while warning that some pesticides can persist in the environment for decades, posing a threat to the entire ecological system upon which food production depends. Emphasizing that pesticides have had a “catastrophic impact” on the environment, human health and society, 200,000 deaths annually were reported due to pesticide poisoning.

Today’s pesticide industry has a market worth of approximately $50 billion annually and continues to promote pesticides as “a necessity to feed the world” without acknowledging the long-range effects of toxic, chronic pesticide exposure. The authors of the report also underscored the powerful influence that major pesticide corporations have over the government and the scientific community.

Although there are international treaties as well as strict pesticide regulations in some of the developed countries, a global treaty does not yet exist. Thirty-five percent of the world’s developing countries now have a regulatory regime for pesticides, however enforcement has been problematic. What is surprising is that pesticides now banned in the EU can still be sold in the United States and elsewhere. This includes paraquat dichloride (a widely applied weed killer), which has been banned in Europe and has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.

A 2011 study by the Parkinson’s Institute and the National Institutes of Health cited a survey of farmers and their spouses in North Carolina and Iowa, finding that those individuals studied were two and half times more likely to develop Parkinson’s as a result of using paraquat and rotenone (a plant-based insecticide and pesticide.) The report concluded by pointing to pesticide manufacturers as being responsible for widespread hazards throughout the world.

Certified Organic foods

The current Organic Standard allows non-organic ingredients in certified organic foods. This rule was approved when the required ingredients are not available in certified organic form or are not available in sufficient quantity (as certified organic) to meet industrial needs. This means that in many cases when we choose certified organic foods, despite the USDA organic label, the ingredients may be 95 percent organic and 5 percent or more may be non-organic. As a result, consumers may be ingesting harmful pesticides. You can give input to the National Organic Standards Board in favor of a 100 percent Organic Standard prior to the next board meeting. https://

Lechenet, M., Dessaint, F., Py,G., Makowski, D. and Munier-Jolain, N. (2017). Reducing pesticide use while preserving crop productivity and profitability on arable farms. Nature Plants. 1.3:17008.
NIH study finds two pesticides associated with Parkinson’s disease.
UN human rights experts call for global treaty to regulate dangerous pesticides.

Article by Simi Summer, Ph.D. Summer is an independent researcher and freelance writer.

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