In the UK, experts are pointing the finger at widespread and routine use of factory-made pesticides for causing declines in non-target insect numbers and impacts for other wildlife not to mention concerns over pesticide resistance and impacts on human health. Here I will set out how the pesticides used in agriculture are causing problems for wildlife and for us all.
Pesticides are a global mega-industry which has boomed over the last 50-60 years. They have helped to ensure less food is lost to pests and therefore use of land is more efficient at growing crops. They also help ensure weeds are suppressed, produce lasts longer and customers are happy with a consistent bug-free product. Of course there is strong a business case for the farming community to reduce pesticides and save costs, but around 17,000 tonnes are applied to a growing area of the UK each year – 80,000 hectares at the last count - and this is a staggering success story of farming technology. But there are downsides.
Unintended consequence #1 the actual pest.
In order to supress the insect pests of crops, powerful chemicals sometimes need to be sprayed several times during the life of the crop. In 2015 each hectare of arable land had, on average, 17.4 applications of pesticides applied to it, forming a lethal cocktail. This is often done routinely whether there is actually a pest problem or not. Like the ticking-timebomb of human antibiotic resistance though, this practice can lead to resistance in the pest itself where the formulation simply stops working and a new one must be used.