Eliminating pesticides from farming isn't realistic—or desirable

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EXCERPT: . . . Despite their differences, a common view shared by supporters of both organic agriculture and genetic engineering is that pesticide usage is inherently bad. It’s seen as a necessary evil, with a goal of sustainable agriculture being to minimize and ultimately eliminate pesticide usage.

UK environmentalist, Mark Lynas, who I admire a great deal, stated in a recent talk, “let’s get serious about getting crop protection chemicals out of farming.” He’s not unique in equating sustainability with ‘pesticide free.’

But when you search deeper, the rationale for a goal of elimination seems vague and weak.

Yes, there are and will always be risks with pesticide usage, risks that are larger where reasonable precautions are not taken to minimize human exposure (too common, I’m told, in many developing countries). [...] Alternatives to pesticides also have notable downsides for both health and ecology. [...] Everything we do in agriculture involves a balance among competing needs for food productivity, environmental integrity, and the ability of farmers to earn a living.

A reduction in pesticide usage in agriculture makes sense where effective alternative controls are available at affordable cost, and where the health and environmental risks of the alternatives are less than that of the chemicals they replace. But reduction is not the same as elimination.

A recent Bloomberg news article about some entrepreneurs developing robotic weeders is telling: “After months of research [with robots on non-chemical weed control] they faced a disappointing truth: There was no way around herbicides….Their challenge became applying the chemicals with precision.”

[...] It would not be possible to feed 7.6 billion people today without pesticides – let alone the 9-10 billion expected by 2050 [...] let’s stop assuming that complete pesticide elimination is a laudable and realistic goal – for it is neither.

MORE: https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2018/...desirable/

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