Charlie Moores spoke recently with Nick Mole, Policy Officer with Pesticide Action Network UK, a charity which works to promote safe and sustainable alternatives to hazardous pesticides. They talked about the rise of pesticide use, the ‘cocktail effect’, supporting farmers with information on alternatives, and the role that cheap food plays in pesticide use, but Charlie began by suggesting to Nick that the pesticide industry perhaps epitomises the War On Wildlife more clearly than almost anything else…
“…75% of all the glyphosate ever used – since it was introduced in the 1970s – has been used in the last ten years…”
Nick Mole | Pesticide Action Network UK
Most of us know by now that biodiversity is in freefall, and insects – and the wildlife that depends on them – have been hit particularly hard. A new report, Insect Declines and Why They Matter, authored by Professor Dave Goulson for the Wildlife Trusts, suggests that global abundance of insects may have fallen by 50% or more since 1970 as a result of the destruction of nature and the heavy use of pesticides.
Every year our planet is soaked in a cocktail of billions of kilograms of pesticides – which include fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, and insecticides. Fields in the UK may get as many as twenty-five applications of pesticides every year.
The report has a particular focus on the UK. Our insects are the most studied in the world and the report says that twenty-three bee and wasp species have become extinct in the last century. It’s surely no coincidence that the number of pesticide applications has approximately doubled in the last 25 years.
Pesticides are everywhere, from farmland to city parks and even our gardens. We routinely use some of the most powerful toxins ever made – some neonicotinoid insecticides sprayed onto crops like soy cotton and corn are 10,000 times more toxic by weight than the most notorious insecticide in history, DDT.
We largely have no idea how these chemicals might interact with each other, but it’s not difficult to imagine the impact on wildlife when you hear that two small rivers in East Devon were found to contain residues of up to 24 pesticides and six veterinary drugs. That according to figures from UK monitoring data by the European Environment Agency, 88% of sites in Britain were contaminated with neonicotinoids.
And of course we’re absorbing pesticides ourselves: over a third of all the fruit and vegetables tested by the UK government in 2017 and 2018 contained residues of more than one pesticide, and roughly a quarter of all food items tested by the government (which include animal products and grains) contained pesticide cocktails.