Glyphosate, neonicotinoids, drinking water initiative – renouncing pesticides is currently the subject of fierce discussion. For while on the one hand our nutrition system cannot function without crop protection, especially pesticides carry undisputed risks for humans and the environment.
I believe we have no option but to significantly reduce the risks to humans and the environment posed by pesticides, and that this should be our objective. However, bans and restrictions are not always effective because they can have undesirable side-effects.
For example, imposing a ban on a specific product may encourage crop-growers to turn to other, more toxic ones. Other environmental objectives could get compromised and the cost of crop protection could increase. Both the quantity and quality of food could fall while prices could rise. It is conceivable too that fruit and vegetables would increasingly be grown under netting and foil, which would change the face of our landscape.
Instead of simply banning active substances, the environmental damage caused by pesticides should be internalised when drawing up policies: for example, a steering tax could provide an incentive to replace harmful products either with less hazardous products or non-chemical strategies.
Editor’s note: Robert Finger is an agricultural economist at ETH Zurich
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