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Pesticides: How does organic compare to conventional?

'Green' pesticides: not much better either?

According to the Dutch Center for Agriculture and the Environment (CLM), “green” weed and pesticides, such as beneficial insects and plant extracts, generally degrade faster and cause less environmental damage than chemical pesticides. Biological active ingredients are usually composed of different active ingredients, which is why insects develop resistance to a certain substance less quickly, so the pesticide is less quickly outdated. More and more (conventional) farmers are open to alternatives to glyphosate & Co. and want to use organic substances from organic farming. There is now a large commercial market for these processes, known as biocontrol. Biological plant protection is primarily preventive and geared towards strengthening plants and beneficial organisms, e.g. in the soil; direct measures against harmful pathogens are only secondary. In greenhouses and orchards, for example, the practice of integrated pest control is already widespread: attempts are made to make life difficult for plant pests by choosing the right conditions from the outset so that pesticides are not even necessary.

Block non-hazardous biological pesticides

Unfortunately, European legislation has made it more difficult to use substances that everyone suspects are safe - such as milk, beer or green soap. Bell pepper producers have always used milk for harvesting: by dipping their hands and tools in milk, they prevent viruses from being transmitted from one plant to the next through the sap. In the Netherlands, where many of our greenhouse peppers come from, there was an agreement up until a few years ago that allowed this type of low-risk biological pest control. However, this agreement was no longer in line with the European Plant Protection Ordinance issued in 2011, which has made it much more difficult since then to permit substances with low risk or to extend existing authorizations. "It is incomprehensible why you can eat garlic and yeast extracts but not use them for crop protection in the field," says Annie Schreijer-Pierik, member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Christian Democratisch Appèl (CDA) since July 2014.

Legislation puts extensive and sustainable solutions at a disadvantage

The fingers of the agrochemical industry were unmistakably involved here. Thanks to lobbying, the legislation is influenced and used to force small competitors out of the market. Sustainable, small and medium-sized innovators are constantly blocked - they can neither afford “lobbyists” in Brussels, nor financially bridge the often lengthy application and approval procedures in the EU. It is not for nothing that 150 law firms are active in the Brussels lobby; large companies use the law to maintain the status quo. Through legislation they create an environment in which small players no longer have a chance. The consequences of this have been felt for years by small organic seed growers, and now also for all those farmers who want to use natural pesticides. The development, research and use of organic substances and processes that have been tried and tested for a long time in organic farming are thus made more difficult or even prevented. Because: nothing can be earned with natural resources, they are not protected by patents. Chemical compounds like glyphosate, on the other hand, do. Anyone who wants to approve a new agent has to pay expensive approval procedures without subsequently receiving income from usage rights - in the case of non-protected bio-active ingredients. In practice, therefore, almost exclusively only large companies such as BASF, Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta can develop new products and bring them to market; a very worrying situation from the point of view of sustainability.

Organic pesticides can also be harmful

“Green” weed and pest control agents are in the vast majority of cases safe for people and the environment, but not always. Although organic farming uses far fewer pesticides, herbicides and insecticides overall, there are also some substances that can pose risks to the ecosystem. However, one should always be aware that the arsenal from which organic farmers are legally allowed to choose is much more limited than in conventional cultivation. However, organic farming is not "clean". For example, pyrethrum, an extract from chrysanthemums: In the Middle Ages, wealthy merchants and crusaders sprinkled the dried cruciferous flowers into their hair as a powder to keep fleas and lice off their bodies. "Pyrethrum is poisonous for insects," says Hans Hummel, Professor of Organic Agriculture at the University of Giessen. “But it is safe for humans.” Organic farming gave the former home remedy a renaissance. In Kenya, pyrethrum is a major export product alongside coffee and tea. The neighboring states of Tanzania and Rwanda also grow the white-flowering plant at high altitudes. Croatian Dalmatia has also entered the trade. Harvest workers pick 20,000 tons of flowers every year. It produces around 500 tons of extract for organic farming. In Kenya alone, 200,000 families earn a few dollars from chrysanthemum production in order to be able to pay for food and school fees. A thoroughly sustainable business, it would appear. But the oil from the beautiful flowers does not have a clear ecological fingerprint. The chrysanthemums are not grown organically. Herbicides keep the fields free from weeds. So-called organophosphates protect the flowers from moths and other pests, which, although the plant produces an insecticide, tamper with the perennial flowers. A European importer puts it this way: “No pesticides are used during cultivation and harvesting.” But in between. Hummel admits that it is absurd that the production of a biopesticide, of all things, requires chemical sprays. (Source: Wissenschaft.de)

Promising: Effective microorganisms instead of chemicals

Organic farming has long known: Plants and bacteria form a community from which both benefit. The main actor is the soil: a sophisticated ecosystem and a microcosm of bacteria, viruses and molds - which, however tiny they may be, play an important role in the health of our planet and our food. A balanced biodiversity in the soil brings about all kinds of symbiotic processes that create an optimal basis of life for plants. Both in agriculture and in medicine, interest in the microbes under our feet has been growing for years - and the insight that they could play a decisive role in making our crops more resilient and less susceptible to diseases and pests. In other words: if a plant grows on depleted soil, it has little to oppose to predators etc.
Effective Microorganisms - also known by the abbreviation EM - are a special, liquid mixture of microscopic living things. Effective microorganisms are fed to the soil, for example, by spraying leaves or by regular watering, where they improve the soil and, as a result, produce healthier, more productive plants. EM are also often used in composting, where they promote the decomposition process. Agrochemical companies like Bayer also see a lucrative market here and use "optimized" bacterial strains, e.g. in seed treatment.