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Book Broadening ‘pesticidovigilance’ with alternatives to food production without pesticides - Reply to 'Toward Pesticidovigilance', A.M. Milner, I.L. Boyd, Science 357, 6357 (2017).
Publisher Science, Washington DC
Volume (Issue) 357(6357)
Page(s) 1232 - 1234
Title of proceedings Science

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Under the denomination of ‘pesticidovigilance’, Milner and Boyd (1) present an innovative analysis that suggests the need for post-marketing approval and long-term monitoring of agricultural pesticides, similar to the surveillance of pharmaceuticals. While we agree with the authors’ analysis and their suggestions for more responsible monitoring of pesticides, we disagree with the idea that pesticides are necessary to produce food. The authors imply this in statements like ‘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,’ and ‘Society depends on pesticides in a similar way to how it relies on antibiotics’ (p. 1232). We contend this idea for two reasons. First, pesticides are toxic inherently, and not only when used at industrial scales: studies have found evidence of ecological and human health effects at sublethal doses (e.g. 2, 3). Second, a myriad of experiences from all over the world show that replacing pesticides with agroecological designs enhances ecosystem functions, including pest regulation, and thereby eliminates the need for agrochemicals (e.g. 4, 5, 6). Peasant communities, especially from the global South but also from the global North, are the backbone of food security (7). Many of them rely fully on agroecological practices, whether traditional, newly developed, or a combination of both, and do not apply pesticides. Moreover, meta-analyses of yield gaps show that pesticide-reliant agriculture is not necessarily more productive (e.g. 8, 9). More responsible pesticide monitoring should therefore also include the identification and acknowledgement of production methods that differ substantially from mainstream agricultural practices. Some of these methods are highly productive and involve fewer and less risky environmental trade-offs (10). Like the effects of pesticides at landscape scales, these alternative modes of agriculture have so far been ignored. Their promotion will certainly add to the constructive spirit of comprehensive and in-context post-marketing monitoring of pesticides, or ‘pesticidovigilance’.