“Integrated pest management” is a mouthful. But the farming method, involving growing multiple crops together and playing their strengths and weaknesses off each other, could be key to using fewer chemicals to grow more food. Though it’s been discussed for decades, a set of recent experiments reported in the journal PLOS ONE puts more weight behind it: using this style of farming with moderate use of fertilizers and pesticides, the study found, is just as productive as industrial agriculture while requiring fewer chemicals. Read More
Unlike pesticide-laden conventional food, organic produce is more natural, healthier, and better for you…right? Organic food does contain less synthetic pesticides. But the natural pesticides that replace them can also have harmful effects. For example, the organic pesticide copper sulfate is more toxic than some synthetic pesticides, and it can cause genetic mutations, cancer, liver disease, and anemia. No matter what you choose to eat, both conventional and organic produce can expose you to low levels of pesticides. Before you forswear all greens, however, bear in mind that low pesticide levels aren’t the worst thing in the world.
At her Science Sushi blog on Scientific American’s network, Christie Wilcox explains that a little bit of pesticide exposure can actually be good for you.
What’s the News: Bats are an economic boon worth approximately $23 billion per year, and possibly up to $54 billion, to U.S. agriculture, a study in today’s issue of Science estimates. Their voracious appetite for insects—a colony of 150 brown bats eats about 1.3 million pesky, crop-chomping bugs each year—means that bats function as effective, and free, natural pesticides.
Add one more to the list of environmental factors that could contribute to the rise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): pesticides. A new study out in Pediatrics argues that there’s a connection between high exposure to common pesticides and increased risk for children developing ADHD.
Maryse Bouchard and colleagues looked at more than 1,100 children aged between 8 and 15. All of them had been sampled by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2000 and 2004, and 119 had been diagnosed with ADHD. Bouchard’s team studied their urine samples for chemicals called dialkyl phosphates, which result from the breakdown of organophosphate pesticides used to protect fruits and vegetables.
For a 10-fold increase in one class of those compounds, the odds of ADHD increased by more than half. And for the most common breakdown product, called dimethyl triophosphate, the odds of ADHD almost doubled in kids with above-average levels compared to those without detectable levels [Reuters].
Is the Roundup Ready revolution coming to a close? In the early 1990s, agribusiness giant Monsanto introduced its line of genetically modified crops that could tolerate the pesticide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray it far and wide without worrying about damaging their product.
Now, reports are bubbling up about the increased resistance some weeds are showing to Roundup, which could be the source of great worry, as 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of corn currently grown in the United States are the Roundup Ready varieties.
[F]armers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said [The New York Times].
And for the environmentally-minded, here’s something else to consider:
That threatens to reverse one of the agricultural advances bolstered by the Roundup revolution: minimum-till farming. By combining Roundup and Roundup Ready crops, farmers did not have to plow under the weeds to control them. That reduced erosion, the runoff of chemicals into waterways and the use of fuel for tractors [The New York Times].
For an in-depth take, and a historical reminder of how weeds have always evolved to thwart our means of killing them, check out DISCOVER blogger Carl Zimmer’s post.
The Loom: How To Make a Superweed
80beats: Biotech Potato Wins European Approval; May Signal a Larger Shift on GM Crops
80beats: India Says No to Genetically Modified Eggplants
80beats: GM Corn and Organ Failure: Lots of Sensationalism, Few Facts
80beats: Bee Killer Still at Large; New Evidence Makes Pesticides a Prime Suspect
DISCOVER: “Frankenfoods” That Could Feed the World
Image: flickr / Peter Blanchard
This spring, many beekeepers across America opened their hives and found ruin within. At a time when they should have been buzzing with activity, the hives were half-empty, with most adult bees having flown off to die. A new federal survey indicates that 2010 has been the worst year so far for bee deaths. Another study suggests that pesticides might be to blame for the mass wipeout of adult honeybees.
This winter’s die-off was the continuation of a four-year trend. At any given point, beekeepers can expect to see 15 to 20 percent of their bees wiped out due to natural causes or harsh weather. But this alarming phenomenon, termed colony collapse disorder (CCD), has seen millions of bees perish in a mysterious epidemic, with some farmers losing 30 to 90 percent of their hives.
As for the cause of this epidemic, experts say their best guess is that many factors are combining to sicken bees, with the list of culprits including parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, and pesticides. Now a new study published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE strengthens the case for pesticides’ culpability.