Mailbag: Ban All Agricultural Pesticides?

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It is time for another entry in the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact info on the about page.

There is a culture of fear and hate around agricultural pesticides. This is to some degree understandable, because pesticides have some risks. Large, chronic exposure can cause severe harm, thousands of people die from acute exposure to high doses and pesticides can kill non-target organisms and pollute groundwater.

However, there are also beneficial aspects with pesticides. If we let pests run amok, we would lose 50%-80% of the crop harvest and pesticides play a partial role in preventing such devastating crop loss. They can also reduce labor required to manage weeds and contribute to suppressing insect vectors for diseases (at least for a certain time until resistance develops). Extreme anti-pesticide activists also actively oppose replacing more dangerous pesticides with safer pesticides and using genetic modification to reduce pesticide use.

In response to the article linked above, Jaidev sent in the following remark:

Ban all agricultural pesticidesi in India because huge corruption is there to give undue favour to pesticides industry…

It is important to fight government corruption and ensure that the health of people are protected, yet this is a very confused claim for several reasons.

If there is a huge corruption with regards to pesticides used in agriculture in India, what makes Jaidev think that any attempts to put forward a blanket ban would be successful? Would the corrupted officials not easily shut down this effort? How would a ban on agricultural pesticides solve the problem of government corruption?

It is also not clear if the severe consequences of such a blanket ban on farmers would be worth any political benefit to the system. If you, let’s say, cut harvests in half, that would have massive harmful consequences for farmers and their families. It would devastate the entire industry, force thousands upon thousands of farmers out of their farms and livelihoods. How far are extreme anti-pesticide activists willing to go to achieve their political ideology?

If there is a problem with government corruption and collusion with the pesticide industry in India, it could be useful to target the corruption itself. This can be done by pushing for independent corruption investigations and monitoring, integrity standards for both governments and businesses, punish corrupted officials, and expose them in the mass media and ultimately voted out of office if they could not be convicted.

Another beneficial approach would be to push for the expansion of genetically modified crops that reduce the use of pesticides. That would make both the government and farmers less dependent on pesticide corporations and also have many environmental benefits.

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Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

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