Some Scientists Think Widespread Pesticide Use Might Not Be So Safe After All

Image via AP.
Image via AP.

Whoopsie! It turns out that pesticides used on an industrial scale may not be as harmless as scientists just assumed they were, which, totally, why would you even test that? BOOORRRRING. It’s like I always say: If I find something laying in the street and rubbing it directly into my open eyes doesn’t immediately cause them to fall out, it’s gotta be okay, right?


But a new article by UK-based professors Ian Boyd and Alice Milner puts forth the audacious theory that maybe researchers were wrong when they figured large-scale doses of chemicals were totally fine for the environment and the humans that live here. Apparently little research has been conducted to find out! From The Guardian:

“The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation—that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales—is false,” state the scientists in their article published in the journal Science. Boyd is chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where Milner also works on secondment, but their criticism reflects their own views.

“The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems,” the scientists said. “This can and should be changed.” They contrast this situation with pharmaceuticals, for which there is a system of rigorous global monitoring after a drug is approved in case adverse effects emerge.

Ah, fuck. I’m glad these are the sort of nuanced takes earning a place in Science. “Just throwing it out there, but I think we should start testing the potentially lethal chemicals we’re using to dust entire landscapes. Where’s my Nobel?

It also turns out that crops might be able to flourish just as effectively without being doused in pesticides, another point that’s been gaining traction lately. Which is not to say a worldwide-ban on pesticides is in order, only that there’s a need for more research and that if possible, use should be tempered. As Milner and Boyd wrote:

“When used at industrial scales, pesticides can harm the environment, but there is a trade-off between this effect and the need to produce food.


“Society depends on pesticides in a similar way to how it relies on antibiotics. Both have been manufactured and supplied to market demand with little care taken to consider whether this is sensible.”

“We don’t know how a pesticide will really impact the environment until it is too late, Keith Tyrell, the director of the Pesticide Action Network, told The Guardian. “It can take years before enough scientific evidence is collected to persuade regulators to take action, and they will be fought every step of the way by pesticide manufacturers who make millions from these products.”

Meanwhile, here in America, our current administration is actively undoing bans on pesticides actually found to be harmful, so none of this matters anyway.



Two faculty in my department are at war* over this topic.

One is published in Nature, and their science is excellent. They have been proving that pesticides are damaging pollinator populations significantly, decreasing crop yields and negatively impacting diversity etc. The other is funded by industry, has great agricultural contacts and publishes the exact opposite data, that pesticide use is ok and not damaging.

They fight over students and the ones who prioritize jobs go to industry prof, the ones who choose research go to publications prof.

*war in the very civilized and passive aggressive and barely noticeble sense