Pesticides Put World Food Supply at Risk

Common chemicals as bad as DDT, researchers say

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 24, 2014 3:23 AM CDT

(Newser) – Pesticides aren't just killing off bees, they are threatening to kill a lot of people off as well by putting the world's food security at risk, a new study warns. Researchers say the evidence is now "very clear" that a common class of insecticides called neonicotinoids has contaminated the environment so heavily that creatures essential to food production, including bees and earthworms, are in grave danger. The pesticides are applied routinely, instead of in response to infestations, but researchers say there is a "striking" lack of evidence that the treatments do anything to increase crop yields. They also blame the chemicals for declines in bird populations—and for devastating water-based species like snails and dragonflies.

The researchers compare the impact of the pesticides first introduced around 20 years ago to that of DDT, which was phased out after the 1962 book Silent Spring revealed the damage it was doing to bird and insect life. "It is astonishing we have learned so little," one of the researchers tells the Guardian. "After Silent Spring revealed the unfortunate side-effects of those chemicals, there was a big backlash. But we seem to have gone back to exactly what we were doing in the 1950s. It is just history repeating itself. The pervasive nature of these chemicals mean they are found everywhere now." Pesticide manufacturers, however, say there is nothing new in the study and the researchers are selectively highlighting "worst-case scenarios," the BBC reports.

A crop dusting plane over a California field.   (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian, FILE)
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Far from protecting food production, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it. - Jean-Marc Bonmatin from France's, National Center for Scientific Research

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