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A call for science to guide the proper use of pesticides worldwide

Pesticides have long supported increased food production, allowing intensive cultivation of larger areas previously considered unsuitable for agriculture. But our dependence on these chemistries has harmed consumers, operatives and non-target organisms (1,2) and created resistant lineages of pests, pathogens and weeds. European countries have exercised caution with agrochemicals, on the precautionary principle that an absence of ‘proof of harm’ does not make a substance benign. On the other hand, reactionary banning of chemistries, in response to a rise in public pressure (such as the recent ‘close call’ for glyphosate) can cause other environmental problems (such as excessive ploughing and related burdens on the soil and environment). In contrast, Brazilians face a trend for ‘flexing the register’ in favor of pesticide approval, as recently demonstrated in the Chamber of Deputies, despite firm guidance from health agencies to the contrary.

As soil scientists, we would remind of the need for scientific process in pesticide evaluation. Wiping out pesticides altogether will of course cripple our ability to feed the world, but the need for sustainable production systems is clear (3). We owe it to farmers in Brazil and elsewhere, who manage our land for clean air, water, biodiversity and food, to find the most efficient methods of pest control. We urge policymakers to prioritize the scientific process, to include assessment of farmer’s welfare and ecosystem factors, and pay less attention to lobby processes when deciding whether or not to approve or reject any given pesticide. We share a need for thorough investigation to more fully unlock the potential of alternative approaches to plant protection, including novel combinations of state-of-the art biological and cultural technologies. A sensible approach would be to explore and build upon current knowledge of soil and plant-associated microbial potential, thus enabling conscious exploration of the powerful options that biodiversity provides.

  1. D. Cressey, Nature, (2017), doi:10.1038/nature.2017.22229

  2. C. Asher, Science (2018), doi: 10.1126/science.aav1173

  3. R. Finger Nature 556, 174; (2018), doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-04166-5

Fernando Dini Andreote is a Professor from the Soil Science Department at the "Luiz de Queiroz" College of Agriculture (ESALQ/USP) - Brazil

Marc Redmile-Gordon is a Senior Scientist for Soil and Climate Change at Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) - United Kingdom

Victor Pylro is a Professor from de Biology Department at the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA) - Brazil.

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