Cut Pesticide Use In Half, Urges SFU Biologist

November 28, 1997

The use of chemical pesticides in North America can and should be reduced by at least 50 per cent, says a Simon Fraser University biologist.

Mark Winston is the author of the new book, Nature Wars: People vs. Pests, a persuasive indictment of our ongoing - and futile - chemical battle to rid ourselves of the animals and plants that we consider pests. But more than that, the book questions our fundamental values about the natural world, and the human compulsion to dominate and destroy, rather than accommodate and manage.

The extent of the chemical warfare against pests is "staggering," says Winston. In 1993, for example, 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides were used worldwide. In the U.S. alone, that translates to four pounds of pesticides for every man, woman and child.

When Winston, a member of SFU's centre for pest management, began researching the book, he expected to find a rapidly diminishing use of chemical pesticides in favor of more environmentally friendly methods. He was in for a surprise.

"Most biologically based methods remain at the fringes of pest management," he reports. "Chemical pesticides still dominate - in our cities and homes, our fields and forests, our parks and lawns."

At what cost? He cites one million cases of human pesticide poisoning worldwide every year. Add to that the hidden toll from chronic pesticide exposure, which has been linked to immune dysfunction, infertility, and various forms of cancer and birth defects.

And there's more. Chemical pesticides kill millions of non-target species - such as birds, fish and beneficial insect predators and parasites - and wreak havoc with natural food chains. They also lead to the evolution of more virulent, chemical-resistant pests.

Yet the chemical bombardment continues. And who is winning this "modern war against nature"? Not us, says Winston.

"In spite of a vast increase in the amount of pesticide used over the last 30-40 years, the amount of crop lost to pests has increased from 31 to 37 per cent. The more we use, the more we lose."

Nature Wars, which is aimed at the general public and pest management professionals, uses case studies - such as the 1992 gypsy moth spray program in Vancouver and the ongoing coddling moth controversy in the Okanagan - to illustrate the complex political, economic, biological and social factors behind pest control decisions.

Winston calls for a more enlightened approach to pests, one based on management rather than eradication. He proposes a new pest management ethic that favors biologically based alternatives - such as pheromones, insect-killing bacteria, and bioengineering - with chemical pesticides used only as a last resort.

"Chemicals have a place in pest control, but I think we can reduce pesticide use by 50 per cent without a great deal of effort," he says.

More than anything, concludes Winston, it's our intolerant attitude toward pests - and nature in general - that must change.

We use as many chemicals as we do because the "pestaphobic" public demands it, he states. "Each time we turn away a head of lettuce because we see an insect on it, or an apple with an external blemish, we are encouraging the use of more pesticides."

Each of us has choices to make, he says. Does a single cockroach scuttling across your kitchen floor really demand that your house be bathed in insecticide? Do those dandelions on your lawn really have to be doused with herbicide? Does the blemish on that orange make it any less edible?

"I'm hoping that one of the things this book does is jolt people into thinking twice the next time they pick up a spray can or go to the grocery store," says Winston. "If the book achieves even that much, I'll consider it successful."
-end-


Simon Fraser University

Related Pesticides Articles from Brightsurf:

More plant diversity, less pesticides
Increasing plant diversity enhances the natural control of insect herbivory in grasslands.

In pursuit of alternative pesticides
Controlling crop pests is a key element of agriculture worldwide, but the environmental impact of insecticides is a growing concern.

Two pesticides approved for use in US harmful to bees
A previously banned insecticide, which was approved for agricultural use last year in the United States, is harmful for bees and other beneficial insects that are crucial for agriculture, and a second pesticide in widespread use also harms these insects.

Dingoes have gotten bigger over the last 80 years - and pesticides might be to blame
The average size of a dingo is increasing, but only in areas where poison-baits are used, a collaborative study led by UNSW Sydney shows.

Pesticides can protect crops from hydrophobic pollutants
Researchers have revealed that commercial pesticides can be applied to crops in the Cucurbitaceae family to decrease their accumulation of hydrophobic pollutants, thereby improving crop safety.

Honeybee lives shortened after exposure to two widely used pesticides
The lives of honeybees are shortened -- with evidence of physiological stress -- when they are exposed to the suggested application rates of two commercially available and widely used pesticides.

Pesticides increase the risk of schistosomiasis, a tropical disease
Schistosomiasis is a severe infectious disease caused by parasitic worms.

A proposal to change environmental risk assessment for pesticides
Despite regulatory frameworks designed to prevent environmental damage, pesticide use is still linked to declines in insects, birds and aquatic species, an outcome that raises questions about the efficacy of current regulatory procedures.

SDHI pesticides are toxic for human cells
French scientists led by a CNRS researcher have just revealed that eight succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor pesticide molecules do not just inhibit the SDH activity of fungi, but can also block that of earthworms, bees, and human cells in varying proportions.

Pesticides deliver a one-two punch to honey bees
A new paper in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that adjuvants, chemicals commonly added to pesticides, amplify toxicity affecting mortality rates, flight intensity, colony intensity, and pupae development in honey bees.

Read More: Pesticides News and Pesticides Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.