New Internationalist

The Pesticide Conspiracy

September 1980

This month’s books include an investigation into the potential dangers of the pest control industry, and a Chritian’s view of the causes of world hunger. Review Editor: Anuradha Vittachi

The Pesticide Conspiracy
by Robert van den Bosch
US: Doubleday & Co. Inc.
(hardback $8.95 / paperback $4.95)
UK: Prism Press
(hardback £6.95 / paperback 3.95)
Aus: Supplied by Lonely Planet Publications
(paperback $7.95)

The campaign to ban 245T and a rash of articles on ‘dumping’ of banned chemicals in the Third World have put pesticides in the spotlight. This book tackles some of the wider issues. Are pesticides the technical fix which can enable the hungry to eat? Are their adverse effects on workers and the environment an acceptable risk? The late Professor van den Bosch gives us some answers.

The message of this distinguished entomologist is that ‘bugs’ are no easy foe to be wiped out with a chemical sledgehammer. Instead they are part of a complex ecosystem and the chemical strategy can lead to a treadmill of ever greater applications of more toxic substances - a vain attempt to keep up with secondary pest outbreaks and resistant strains.

Although this book is largely focused on the US, its implications for the Third World are plain to see. With the spread of cash crop agriculture and the Green Revolution, Third World farmers, too, are getting trapped on the pesticide treadmill. In the absence of sound, independent advice and the equipment necessary for safety, many people are poisoned, often with no extra crops to show for it. While Third World people use only 20% of pesticides, they suffer half the poisonings (at least 250,000 a year).

But these numbers are dwarfed by the 1’h billion at risk from malaria - a disease on the march again due to the development of pesticide resistant mosquitoes. This resistance has ‘resulted substantially from the veritable chemical cloud’ created by agricultural spraying.

For all this, though, chemicals do have a place - as a part of ‘integrated control’, a mix of techniques pioneered by van den Bosch. Used with some success in China, integrated control can reduce costs and pesticide use and increase yields. Van den Bosch is not against pesticides per se, as one tactic in integrated control, but ‘it is the chemical control strategy that has gotten us into serious trouble with the insects, and unless we abandon this strategy, things will only get worse ‘.

It is not just a few toxic chemicals which the West and its companies are dumping on the Third World, but an entire pest control strategy from which the insects are bound to survive even if we don’t. The last sentence reads: ‘And as a final bit of irony, it will be the insects that polish the bones of the very last of us to fall.’

Dave Bull

This column was published in the September 1980 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 091

New Internationalist Magazine issue 091
Issue 091

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