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Take a holistic view when making pesticide policies stricter

ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

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New pesticide policies are needed for more sustainable agricultural production, but their wider implications need to be considered. Efforts to ban ubiquitous pesticides such as glyphosate and neonicotinoids are ongoing (see, for example, Nature 555, 150–151; 2018).

In Switzerland, proposals have been made to suspend subsidies for farms that use pesticides and to ban all synthetic pesticides. In Italy, the municipality Mals has banned pesticide use by farmers. Furthermore, private industries are increasingly restricting pesticides and have introduced labels for glyphosate-free products.

Stricter policies can have unintended effects, however. They may encourage changes in land use and management practices that decrease food production and quality, or increase soil erosion and greenhouse-gas emissions. Banned pesticides might even be substituted with more harmful ones.

Technologies such as sensors, drones and robots could help to monitor and control pesticide application (see A. Walter et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 6148-6150; 2017). Pesticide taxation is another, complementary possibility (R. Finger et al. Ecol. Econ. 134, 263–266; 2017).

To avoid misguided policies, trade-offs between different policy goals need to be quantified for a holistic assessment. For example, modelling approaches could assess the impact of more-stringent pesticide policies on plant protection and land use and quantify the economic consequences (T. Böcker et al. Ecol. Econ. 145, 182–193; 2018).

Nature 556, 174 (2018)

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