March 5 2013

Alarmism About Pesticides Can Be Dangerous

Carrie L. Lukas

 

IWF has written before about the often overlooked benefits of innovation in agriculture (such as genetically modified foods) and the serious unintended consequences when environmentalists get it wrong.    

For example, as I wrote about in U.S. News and World Report, the decades-long ban on DDT allowed malaria to ravage Africa, killing millions of children. The UN quietly reversed that ban on DDT’s use in 2006, as scientists concluded that hysteria over the chemicals impact wasn’t born out by the evidence.  Somehow this wasn’t a scandal, but it certainly should have been.  Imagine if just about any other movement or cause that’s preferred policies resulted in a similar body count.  It would be a very big deal, yet somehow the environmentalist movement avoided any culpability with malaria and DDT.

History shouldn’t be allowed to repeat itself when it comes to new advances in pesticides that can increase crop production on existing lands and help reduce hunger and malnutrition.  In the Wall Street Journal. Richard Tren, director of Africa Fighting Malaria, writes about a proposed ban on “neonicotinoids,” a new type of pesticides, due to concerns about their impact on the bee population:

The evidence against the insecticide is weak. Banning it would be at best premature and likely to do far more harm than good…

And what about the bees? In recent years there appears to have been increased bee "die-offs" and disappearances of whole hives in the United States and EU countries. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety principally blame neonicitinoids, which have been used widely around the world for at least a decade.

But bee die-offs are not new. Bee colonies were also reported disappearing in the early part of the 20th century, long before modern insecticides. If neonicotinoids were causing die-offs, there should be more of them with the higher use of these insecticides—yet there aren't….

There are healthy bee populations in countries that use neonicotinoids, and there are reports of die-offs in countries such as Switzerland, where neonicotinoids are not used. The reality is that bee die-offs may be caused by numerous factors, such as the varroa mite, other parasites and viruses.

Tren warns that a ban on these new pesticides would encourage farmers to use older, potentially more harmful products, as well as to expand farming onto more land.  It will also mean less food and more hunger.

Of course, everyone wants the environment protected from truly damaging practices.  However, the public should be skeptical of an environmental movement and activist groups that seem to be hostile to agricultural progress of any kind, regardless of its bigger-picture impacts on Mother Earth and its benefits for mankind. 

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