Synthetic pesticides are at the heart of industrial agriculture and the agro-industry’s business model. Even though the dangers for public health, animals, and ecosystems are now well-known, the industry has succeeded in selling ever new toxic chemical compounds to farmers all over the world. While the worst such as Paraquat or Atrazin have been banned from the markets of the global North, corporations and regulatory administrations have no moral restraint from still selling them to peasants and farmers in the global South (Bollmohr & Haffmans, 2022).
Monsanto’s Glyphosate is probably the most well-known and widely sprayed active compound in herbicides world-wide. The controversy over its health risks, particularly its carcinogenicity remains unresolved with WHO IARC and independent scientists considering it to be “probably carcinogenic” (see Battaglia, 2017 and press release CSS, 2017). In the same year of the IARC findings on glyphosate, the Federal Department for the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications planned to revise the threshold of organic pesticides in water bodies, lowering the standards for two thirds of pesticides, including a 3600-fold increase for glyphosate. Subsequently, Milano & Chèvre (2019) from UNIL argued that lowering the standard of these pesticides in surface waters, could endanger drinking water quality. They recommend that the historical standard of 0.1 μg/l or lower threshold values must be enforced and suggest that the revision of water quality standards for pesticides must further consider synergistic effects of chemical mixtures and long-term impacts of pesticides and their degradation products. In 2020, the revised water protection regulation was enforced, the historical standard for organic pesticides however remained. Globally, the industry influence on scientific evaluations remains far-reaching, as the Monsato papers (Corporate Observatory Europe, 2018) have revealed with strategies at work similar to the Tobacco industry’s notorious “merchandising of doubt” (Oreskes & Conway, 2011).
Systemic insecticides, namely neonicotinoids, that are taken up by the plants and transported to all tissue are now the most widely used group of insecticides worldwide. Their toxicity at very low dosage and their high persistence in the environment make them not only effective against target organisms but very dangerous for non-target invertebrates, but also for pollinators such as bees, birds, and humans, including children (Bonmatin, Giorio, Sánchez-Bayo, & Bijleveld van Lexmond, 2021; Laubscher et al., 2022).
The untransparent approval procedures (Jaberg, 2019) as well as the sheer number of synthetic pesticides approved (Bundesamt für Lebensmittelsicherheit und Veterinärwesen BLV, 2023) make a proper risk analysis – for instance of cocktail effects – and the monitoring of compounds and their metabolites very difficult. However, a study from the Swiss EAWAG found that an alarming amount of Swiss drinking water sources is contaminated by pesticide residues (Kiefer, Müller, Singer, & Hollender, 2019). We therefore support the long-term phase out call of the Agrarallianz of all synthetic pesticides and the application of agroecological practices instead of industrial agriculture.
- Battaglia, D. (2017, November 27). «Glyphosat ist krebserregend». Retrieved 3 February 2023, from Beobachter website: https://www.beobachter.ch/umwelt/flora-fauna/unkrautvertilger-glyphosat-ist-krebserregend
- Bollmohr, S., & Haffmans, S. (2022, January 12). Pestizide im Export: Verboten und verkauft. Retrieved 2 February 2023, from Heinrich Böll Stiftung website: https://boell.org/de/2022/01/12/pestizide-im-export-verboten-und-verkauft
- Bonmatin, J.-M., Giorio, C., Sánchez-Bayo, F., & Bijleveld van Lexmond, M. (2021). An update of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA) on systemic insecticides. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 28(10), 11709–11715. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-12853-6
- Bundesamt für Lebensmittelsicherheit und Veterinärwesen BLV. (2023, February 2). Pflanzenschutzmittelverzeichnis. Retrieved 2 March 2023, from https://www.psm.admin.ch/de/produkte
- Corporate Observatory Europe. (2018, January 3). What the Monsanto Papers tell us about corporate science. Retrieved 2 February 2023, from https://corporateeurope.org/en/food-and-agriculture/2018/03/what-monsanto-papers-tell-us-about-corporate-science
- Jaberg, S. (2019, July 2). Switzerland nurtures secrecy on pesticides. Retrieved 3 February 2023, from SWI swissinfo.ch website: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/sci-tech/plant-protection_switzerland-nurtures-secrecy-on-pesticides/45070218
- Kiefer, K., Müller, A., Singer, H., & Hollender, J. (2019). New relevant pesticide transformation products in groundwater detected using target and suspect screening for agricultural and urban micropollutants with LC-HRMS. Water Research, 165, 114972. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2019.114972
- Laubscher, B., Diezi, M., Renella, R., Mitchell, E. A. D., Aebi, A., Mulot, M., & Glauser, G. (2022). Multiple neonicotinoids in children’s cerebro-spinal fluid, plasma, and urine. Environmental Health, 21(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-021-00821-z
- Milano, M., & Chèvre, N. (2019). How water quality standards for pesticides affect the classification of the chemical status of rivers. WIREs Water, 6(6), e1375. https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1375
- Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. M. (2011). Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA.