«Pesticides are becoming increasingly toxic»
This is the opposite of the truth. Over the last few decades, pesticides have become safer and safer. New active ingredients are subjected to extremely stringent approval processes. The governing principle is that they must not harm people or the environment if used properly. Developments reflect this: the data available demonstrates that, over the last twenty years, pesticides have become not only safer but also more environmentally friendly.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
The key points in brief
- Fewer and fewer pesticides with potential associated risks are being approved and sold.
- The acute toxicity of pesticides has diminished. At the same time, the quantities of active ingredients required to produce the same level of protection are also down.
- The statement that pesticides are becoming increasingly toxic does not reflect the facts.
Opponents of pesticides are happy to give the impression that «pesticides are becoming increasingly toxic». But this is misleading. A range of data proves that enormous progress has been made since the 1960s. The quantities of active ingredients used per hectare has decreased by 90 percent since 1962. Back then, a farmer would have had to apply 10 kilograms of an active ingredient per hectare, while now this is reduced to less than 1 kilogram.
Increasingly safe products
At the same time, newly developed active ingredients have become increasingly safe. This is reflected in statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO). They split pesticides into four safety categories: Class 1: Extremely hazardous; Class 2: Moderately hazardous; Class 3, Slightly hazardous, Class U: Not hazardous. As of 2000, Class 1 agents can no longer be approved. Half of all new pesticides approved are Class U. Acute toxicity has decreased by 40 percent since the 1960s.
The risks are falling
This development is also reflected in the Department for Agriculture’s pesticide sales statistics. These show that the sale of high-risk pesticides for conventional agriculture has fallen 35 percent over the last ten years. The proportion of high-risk pesticides among the total amount sold is eleven percent. At 34 percent, the most widespread ingredient by some margin is copper, which is also used in organic farming. The risks of using pesticides in conventional farming have been dropping steadily for years. The trend is moving in the right direction.
The reduced use of plant protection products is causing much smaller wheat and rapeseed harvests. A study carried out by Swiss Agricultural Research reveals that such crop failures can only be offset by state subsidies. This is neither sustainable nor resource-efficient.
The economic interdependence of the world has increased greatly over the past years and decades. Due to the brisk trade activity between the continents, invasive plant and animal species are also spreading faster and faster. This can lead to serious problems for native vegetation and agriculture. According to the FOEN, the canton of Ticino is particularly affected.
Invasive pests and plant diseases are among the greatest challenges for biodiversity and agriculture. They often enter Switzerland via travel and imported goods and cause great damage to cultivated and wild plants. Since 2020, the import of plants from non-EU countries is prohibited. However, introduced pests are a worldwide problem.
The Japanese beetle was first discovered in Switzerland in 2017 in Ticino. Now it has made it to the northern side of the Alps. After being found in Basel-Stadt and Solothurn, a larger population of the beetles has been found in Kloten for the first time. They are controlled with traps, but also pesticides.