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Sustainable Pesticide Use

Michigan State Researchers Call for Sustainable Pesticide Use in International Study

A new international study has identified the limits of pesticide resistance.

Researchers from 18 institutions, including Michigan State University, warn that if pesticide resistance goes beyond those limits, society will face major health and agricultural problems. Humans are at a tipping point, and improper, unsustainable use of pesticides could threaten crops everywhere.

The study, published in Nature, addresses how pesticides affect ecosystems. Researchers note that ever since the 1950’s, excessive pesticide applications have hurt ecosystems with lasting impact.

Excess pesticide causes organisms to evolve and develop rapid resistance, making pesticides ineffective, often resulting in increased use of pesticide spray to combat the lack of efficacy. This cycle to some as the "pesticide treadmill” effect.

Pesticides have not lost their chemical efficacy over the years. The pesticides have not changed, but the organisms affected by them, have. The study notes “a general depletion of susceptible [organisms].” This resistance is unlikely to be reversed easily.

Increasing pesticide resistance makes the future of food and fuel less certain. Widespread pesticide resistance would have far-reaching agricultural, as well as economic, effects.

Solution: Responsible, sustainable pesticide use
Current pesticide use is not sustainable and puts our society at risk. The million-dollar question is naturally, “What’s next?”

  • Be specific. When possible, use targeted pesticides to prevent resistance build up and harm in other organisms. This will lessen the chances of hurting an insect or organism that is a predator of your pest. Here’s an example:
    • “Before the mid-1990's, whitefly… was a serious pest of cotton in Arizona when broad-spectrum insecticides that kill natural enemies were used…Replacement of [these] insecticides…enhanced biocontrol of whitefly, thereby reducing its pest status, the need for insecticides and the risk of resistance.
  • Switch it up: relying on a single pesticide builds up organism resistance faster. Researchers say it is “critical” to use multiple control methods
  • Monitor: Watch what you are using and how it’s working. The more you understand the biocides and pesticides you use, the better you can determine how it’s working, and if organisms are developing a resistance
  • Educate yourself. The best defense is knowledge. Stay up to date on the latest in the pesticide industry and do more to help the environment. 

To learn more about this study, and read the entire article, visit https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0164-3.


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