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What are the effects of chemical pesticides on health, and can biocontrol offer a safer alternative?

Theme: Basics of biocontrol

From consumers to farmers, synthetic pest control can pose a severe threat. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even issued warnings. And a 2020 paper published in BMC Public Health stated that 44% of farmers experience pesticide poisoning every year. This figure amounts to 385 million pesticide poisonings worldwide, including 11,000 fatalities.

The impact of chemical pesticides on health

Moreover, consumers also feel the effects of chemical pesticides on health. In 2019, The Guardian reported an alarming figure. Authorities in the US found pesticide residues in 70% of produce sold.

Regulatory authorities are taking an increasingly tough stance. The EU has rejected many types of produce containing high chemical residues. Aubergines from Thailand and beans from India to name two. Rejected produce impacts growers’ livelihoods. Now they’re looking for more acceptable alternatives.

Addressing the effect of chemical pesticides on health with natural alternatives

Biological control (also known as biocontrol or bioprotection) offers potential solutions. They lower health risks to consumers and farmers alike. Biocontrol products have low or no toxicity. They use organisms or substances sourced from nature to suppress pest and disease populations. They reduce crop pests without being harmful to human health.

We can split biocontrol into biopesticides and macrobials. Biopesticides include pheromones, micro-organisms and natural substances such as minerals and oils. Macrobials are invertebrate biocontrol agents, including predatory insects and mites.

Biocontrol and low or no toxicity

Greenhouse whitelfies (pest Trialeurodes vaporariorum) and biological control fungus on a cucumber plant leaf. Creative Commons.

Low or no toxicity to humans is a significant benefit of biocontrol. It helps to keep agricultural workers safe. Growers can also use biocontrol products close to harvest, as many have very short or no pre-harvest intervals (when pest control applications must stop before harvesting starts). This advantage is good news for growers, who need to control pests and meet regulations. And it’s good news for consumers too.

The Institute for European Environmental Policy has praised biocontrol. It commented on how biocontrol benefits the population’s general health. Are biocontrols the future of pest control?

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