Pesticides: toxicity & alternatives

With the rise of industrial chemistry and the desire to ensure food security in the wake of the Second World War, pesticides have for many years been the preferred method of pest control for producers. In recent years, their toxicity, which is harmful to human health and the environment, has been pointed out by scientists and frightens consumers. But crop losses caused by insects, fungi and weeds remain considerable, making it difficult for most farmers to give up pesticides.

So why and how can we say “no” to pesticides?

 

Phytosanitary products do not have everything to please

The toxicity of these chemicals is now established. As part of the family of endocrine disruptors, the WHO has also classified many pesticides, even authorized ones, as carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic. This is frightening not only to consumers who may ingest residues, but also to farmers who handle and inhale them as soon as they are applied. Water used as a drinking water resource is frequently contaminated. While insecticides lead to the disappearance of honeybees and wild bees, the decline of insects, birds, bats, or flowers, herbicides contribute to soil infertility and erosion, and all pesticides pollute the atmosphere.

In France, ANSES has identified 32 substances in the air that require further investigation. France and Belgium are the only countries in Europe to engage in campaigns to measure pesticides in ambient air. Through the BeeOmonitoring set up by BeeOdiversity, 15 of these substances were found in pollen analyses in 2020. Some of these substances, such as captan which is a broad-spectrum fungicide, were found with concentrations exceeding the maximum residue limits allowed by the European Union.

 

A burning issue in EU’s laws

To find your way around, the EU pesticide database lists approved or banned active ingredients, and the European Commission sets maximum limits for pesticide residues in food to protect human and animal health. The European Green Deal also defines sustainable agriculture as one of the central topics, and the “farm to table” strategy includes measures to reduce their use by 50% by 2030, a target that will be difficult to meet unless action is taken now!

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Efficient alternatives do exist for all tastes!

Fortunately, the highlighting of the toxicity of pesticides has led to the development of integrated agriculture. Many alternatives, if properly used and combined, are just as effective in controlling crop pests and do not put the producer in financial difficulty. Biological control, for example, uses the natural enemies of pests as auxiliaries to control insect pests. Cultivation techniques such as crop rotations or crop combinations, residue management, varietal selection, trap crops, make crops less susceptible to pests. There are also a variety of physical techniques: weeding, tillage, thermal, mechanical and electromagnetic radiation shocks. The use of natural chemical substances that are more targeted and less toxic to the environment is also emerging.

To each crop can be associated a bouquet of technical solutions that replaces the systematic use of pesticides. BeeOdiversity puts its expertise at the service of farmers by advising them on the implementation of alternatives to the use of pesticides and by accompanying them towards a more sustainable agriculture.

For more information on alternatives to chemical control and BeeOdiversity’s actions to preserve biodiversity, please contact us.

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