Agriculture: The Dangerous Dependence on Pesticides – Economy

Domestic apple production is impressive. Fruit growers in this country harvest more than a million tons in a good year. That is enough to cover almost 70 percent of domestic demand. This means that the degree of self-sufficiency in the Germans’ favorite fruit is higher than with hardly any other food.

But the success story has its downside: Apple cultivation is considered the cultivation culture in Germany with the most frequent use of pesticides. In 2020, conventional apple trees were treated an average of 28 times, followed by vines 17 times and hops 14 times. This emerges from the pesticide atlas published on Wednesday, which sheds light on the global use of pesticides. Behind the report are the makers of the meat atlas: the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), the Pesticide Action Network Germany and the monthly newspaper Le Monde diplomatique.

Apple cultivation is also a vivid example of the dilemma in which agriculture is stuck. On the one hand it should provide sufficient food, on the other hand it should protect biodiversity and nature. And then there are consumers who are used to flawless goods. Industrial agriculture without pesticides seems hard to imagine. However, poisonous pesticides not only destroy pests, but also indispensable beneficial organisms such as bees and other insects. Traces of agricultural pesticides can be found in beer, honey, fruit and vegetables, grass in playgrounds and even in urine and in the air. A problem that, in the opinion of the study organizers, is forcing politicians to act, also because efforts to reduce the level of use have so far hardly had any effect.

The alliance of environmentalists has clear demands of the new federal government: “The total amount of pesticides must be reduced by 50 percent and particularly dangerous pesticides banned,” says Katrin Wenz, agricultural expert at BUND and co-author of the pesticide atlas. In addition, concrete intermediate goals would have to be defined in order to monitor the success of a reduction program. “The coalition agreement is unfortunately imprecise here and does not set any clear goals,” criticized Wenz. She sees Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir and Environment Minister Steffie Lemke, both from the Greens, responsible.

The amount of pesticide alone is not very meaningful

According to the Pesticide Atlas, sales of crop protection agents have been at a relatively constant level in Germany for 25 years. In fact, according to the Federal Environment Agency, the use of problematic pesticides such as insecticides that are dangerous for bees or herbicides that pollute the groundwater rose again slightly in 2020 after previously stagnating. Between 27,000 and 35,000 tons of pesticide active ingredients are sold in this country each year.

According to the authors, the relatively constant amount used in Germany does not mean that the negative effects on the environment will remain constant. “With regard to the toxicity of pesticides, a trend towards agents that are very effective even in small doses has been observed for decades,” the report says. The sales volume alone is therefore not meaningful.

According to the report, global pesticide use has increased sharply, between 1990 and 2017 by around 80 percent. The annual amount of pesticide applied is around four million tons worldwide – a billion dollar business for manufacturers. It is estimated that pesticide sales were close to $ 85 billion in 2019. It is expected to rise to more than $ 130 billion by 2023. The main reason for this possible increase is the climate crisis: For every degree of global warming, the crop yields of rice, corn and wheat could decrease by ten to 25 percent, predict researchers at Seattle University. Extreme weather conditions such as drought affect the plants. They are then less resistant to diseases and pests, so that more pesticides are used.

This could further increase the global use of pesticides. Manufacturers benefit from this in an industry that has changed dramatically through takeovers and mergers. According to the report, four large corporations – Syngenta, Bayer, Corteva and BASF – now cover 70 percent of the pesticide market; In 1994 the four largest suppliers controlled just under a third of the market.

European agricultural corporations play an important role in global pesticide production. According to the report, the financial export volume from the EU has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Highly dangerous substances are also exported, some of which are prohibited from being used in European fields. A reduction in the dependence on chemical plant protection – as required by European pesticide legislation – has not yet taken place, criticize the makers of the pesticide atlas. You are calling on the EU Commission, among other things, to give more support to organic farming methods that do largely without pesticides.

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