UK science advisor: Neonicotinoid debate highlights need to reform cycle of pesticide approvals and bans

Image: Larissa Walker/Center for Food Safety

New pesticides are typically licensed for use based on the guidance written on the label of the container. This guidance is constructed from efficacy and safety testing conducted in specific circumstances, but which cannot simulate all the conditions encountered by users. As demand for a new pesticide increases, growers develop farming systems and business structures that rely on it. But as unanticipated impacts and pest resistance begin to appear, community opposition to the pesticide grows, chemical companies scramble to develop ‘less harmful’ variants, and governments struggle to balance their obligations to food production and environmental responsibility. As the evidence base against the pesticide grows, governments withdraw licences for use and growers are left to pick up the pieces.

This cyclical pattern applies the world over and is driven by two opposing mythologies. The first is that agricultural productivity will collapse without using pesticides at current levels.

Related article:  Viewpoint: Neonics don't threaten bees, ban could raise food prices, increase toxic insecticide use

The second is that banning pesticides solves the problem. But historically, banning a pesticide class has often created incentives to substitute a known problem with a set of new problems that take around 20 years to appear and be banned in turn.

We need to dampen down the wild swings between using chemicals such as neonicotinoids almost without constraint on the one hand and banning their use altogether on the other hand.

Editor’s note: Ian Boyd is chief scientific advisor to the United Kingdom’s Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Read full, original post: An inside view on pesticide policy (behind paywall)

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