Synthetic pesticides, including herbicides and insecticides, are designed to kill insects, weeds, fungi or other pests, to protect crops, increase food production and reduce the risk of famine. However, the human health and environmental risks associated with particular chemical compounds have been well documented, perhaps most famously in Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring. Carson’s research highlighted the severe negative impact on insects, birds, fish and humans of the chemical DDT, which was widely applied as an insecticide.
In more recent times, neonicotinoids have been widely linked to colony collapse disorder in honeybees. Pesticides also pose a direct risk to soil biodiversity by harming soil invertebrates and destroying organisms that perform key functions such as nutrient cycling, soil structure maintenance, carbon transformation, and the regulation of pests and diseases.
A reduction in biodiversity above and below ground makes ecosystems less resilient and less effective at providing ecosystem services. The use of synthetic pesticides also reduces the potential for natural pest control and drives a cycle of further pesticide development and application, as pests develop resistance over time.
Our biodiversity engagement with food and beverage companies includes a focus on the risks associated with pesticides. We expect companies to oversee how pesticides are used within their agricultural supply chain. This may include mapping their exposure and setting expectations for suppliers to limit pesticide use, starting with eliminating the most hazardous pesticides. We also expect companies to support and encourage their agricultural supply chains to transition to regenerative agriculture.
Read the full article in our Q2 2023 Public Engagement Report.