Study urges cut in pesticide use

Wednesday, May 22, 1991

A new US study shows that integrated pest management practices such as crop rotation and biological pest control could cut the country's pesticide use in half.

The study estimates that food costs would increase US$1 billion per year (less than 1%), but savings would be US$4-10 billion a year from reduced pesticide regulation, reduced health care costs from pesticide poisonings (currently 20,000 annually) and decreased damage to water supplies and fish.

The study, by Cornell University agricultural scientist David Pimentel, points out that pesticide use has become increasingly counterproductive. Since 1940, the tonnage of pesticides applied to US crops has increased 33 times and their toxicity has increased 10 times, yet crop losses to insects, fungi, and weeds have actually increased from 31% to 37%.

Pimentel argues that the main culprit is not the development of pesticide resistance, but government price supports which encourage farmers to specialise in single crops instead of rotating them to control pests. The report synthesises more than 300 previous studies and, according to Pimentel, represents the first comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of pesticide use.

Sweden reduced its use of pesticides by 50% between 1985 and 1990, and its parliament last year enacted a goal of a further 50% reduction by the mid-1990s. — PANNA Outlook/PEGASUS