Pesticide safety assessments

A thought-provoking quote from Jonathan Lundgren on the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast:

My research focuses on two general areas. One is the risk assessment of pesticides and genetically modified crops and, basically, farm management practices in general. And then the other half is working on developing sustainable systems. So, I’ve got quite a bit of experience in understanding the ecological risk assessment in the framework that we use for trying to determine whether a particular agrochemical or something is safe or not safe. I’ve advised the US EPA. I’ve been on advisory panels for the European version of the EPA, the Brazilian government, the United Nations and their conference on biodiversity. And after twenty years of studying this, I can honestly say that when you look at the side of a jug and it says that it’s safe, that is meaningless.

You can go out and you can buy something off of the shelf and it’s labeled and it’s regulated. Nobody is watching. Nobody is watching! Risk assessment is incredibly hard. And we can get closer to the mark with scientific approaches to risk assessment, but again—when you understand the complexity of the natural world . . . ! 

Right now, just for pesticides, there are a couple of hundred different pesticides whose active ingredient is registered with the EPA. And that’s where most of the safety assessments are focused—on those active ingredients. But whenever you add an adjuvant—maybe it’s a sticker or a spreader or a defoaming agent or whatever—it changes the toxicology of that active ingredient such that the risk assessment that you’re actually performing on an active ingredient really does not hold much weight anymore. And think about all of the formulated products—there are 20,000 formulated pesticides in the US, and each of those pesticides would require an independent ecological risk assessment—each of them. 

We don’t have the first inkling of what the implications of these things are, be it glyphosate, neonicotinoids, propiconazole, or the adjuvants, which are sometimes more toxic than the active ingredient in terms of its ecological effects. And we’re not just talking about the soil, right? We’re talking about human health problems. Farmers have the highest suicide rate of any career at this point in the US. And we know that pesticide use is linked with depression. The science has been done on that. I mean, are we killing ourselves?

From: Ecosystem Diversity Prevents Insect Pressure with Jonathan Lundgren