‘Natural’ pesticides not as common as people believe

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The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis.

Currently, the FDA is struggling to define the word natural on food labels. . . . It may be even more difficult to define when discussing pesticides. . . the lines between natural and synthetic can get blurred quickly. Is it natural because it occurs in nature? Or does it have to be physically extracted from nature to be considered natural?

The ‘natural or not‘ distinction can distract from what is really important when discussing pesticides. If the compound is structurally the same, the naturally occurring and the synthetically produced versions will share the same properties. The properties of the compound are far more important, in my opinion, than the source of the compound. Is the pesticide safe for applicators and the environment? Does it break down quickly in the environment to non-toxic products? If so, then I’m much less worried about whether it is natural or not, regardless of how we define natural.

But there are questions related to the source of the product that can be important. In particular, which has a greater impact, synthesis in the lab? or extraction from natural sources? . . . . If we can efficiently extract a renewable resource from nature, and avoid the energy and fossil fuel requirements of synthetic production, then a naturally produced product sounds pretty good to me. But if extracting something from nature means we’ll have a greater negative impact on the environment than we would producing it in a factory, then please give me the synthetic version.

Read full, original post: How to Make a Natural Weed Killer

  • Jim Tomasko

    You are correct, ‘natural’ pesticides are in short supply. Although I have had excellent success some organic pesticides that used cinnamon, clove and a few other types of essential oils – they were highly effective against mites in particular.

    And yes, the FDA’s stand on the labeling of our food is rather confusing. In particular the food ingredient, “Natural flavor”, which is a mysterious ingredient that definitely is not natural.

  • agscienceliterate

    Another point that would be helpful to consider is if the pesticide, whether “natural” or not, negatively affects more than just the target species. If XYZ product kills innocent insect bystanders in the field who are not eating the crops, then that might not be as desirable as “unnatural” ABC product, built into the crop itself, which only kills that insect unwise enough to munch on it.
    I am referring, obliquely enough, to the use of Bt by organic farmers, and the use of Bt as built into the crop, like corn. Would love to hear more comments on this aspect of choosing a pesticide, and perhaps insecticide in particular.

  • Good4U

    The topic of this article is silly. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of “natural” pesticides which are constitutive, meaning that they are normally present as part of natural biochemistry. They are synthesized by plants themselves, and by the microorganisms which normally infest plants, and are present at uncontrolled and unregulated levels in just about every food & feed commodity. Most of them have never been studied in accordance with commonly accepted principles of toxicology. They are simply there, and we eat them, and we don’t even know the hazards, or the quantitative risks associated with our exposure to them. If truth be told, we know just about everything there is to know about every synthetic pesticide used in agriculture today, yet we know virtually nothing about the “natural” ones.

    • Farmer with a Dell

      Well said G4U, when one considers the spectrum of pesticides and toxins intrinsic to plant life it pales our synthetic arsenals by comparison. Why, the mycotoxins alone…but I digress.

      Another thing about this article — the author makes the fundamental assumption that arbitrary distinctions between “natural” and “not natural” are accepted science, in concept and in practice. Not so.

      He goes on to dream of a world where extraction of bioactive compounds from plant materials would be calculated to be more “efficient” (ie. more renewable, less taxing on the environment is his meaning) than costs associated with industrial synthesis without benefit of plant protoplasm in the methodology. Failing that, he quips, then “please give me the synthetic version”, as if our ethics are being compromised but fairly excused. I will give him license.

      The author, Andrew Kniss, may be the only specimen in captivity of an agroecologist who publicly exhibits even the slightest respect for science and real world practicality. As such, I am inclined to pamper and coddle him out of a wishful dream on my part that he might somehow favorably influence his more fanatic colleagues in agroecology (even though it is painfully obvious he is fast losing the war on that one).

      I am seldom given over to false hope, but even the FWAD can be a silly romantic dreamer on occasion. Let’s all watch together, shall we, and see what it gets me.