This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart et les néonicotinoïdes. The World and disinformation 1” where I show the journalist misinforms (= false or misleading statements) the reader. More specifically, we show here how he neutralizes the voice of farmers to support his misleading image of NNIs and agriculture, presented in 2.I.1 and 2.I.2. All quotes are translated by me. Quotes from interviews noted between [ ] have been reworked after the interview.

Farmers told me a lot about the fact that they had less and less molecules available, less and less solutions to respond to infestations. S. Foucart’s speech, alleging that industry is developing increasingly toxic molecules, may therefore come as a surprise. In fact, S. Foucart bases this claim to a large extent on a “study” which observed that the “toxic load” (Acute Insecticide Toxicity Loading) would have been multiplied by 48 between 1990 and 2014, almost exclusively because of the NNI, which would represent 92% of the “toxic load” over this period. (Dibartolomeis et al. 2019) (53) (54) (55)

Dibartolomeis et coll. 2019: the missing scientific reach

These researchers created an indicator, the acute toxicity load of insecticides using the mass of insecticides sold in the United States and the LD50 oral toxicity to bees as a benchmark, as well as the environmental persistence of pesticides.

However, the amount of product you put in does not say anything about the amount of product that will reach an insect or an animal and almost all coated NNIs will simply degrade in the ground. On the contrary, during foliar application, the product sprinkles on all the insects present or which will subsequently come into contact with the product. We have a study that does not really have a scientific reach, but has a media impact. Note that the study was funded by the oldest environmental NGO, Friends of the Earth, that one of the authors is a scientist from the organization and that the other 4 authors were paid by the NGO … (see declaration interest)

In fact, pesticides have an improving ecotoxicological profile, because the standards are more and more demanding and the products are increasingly safe. Thus, approximately 70% of the substances authorized in 1991 are no longer authorized today. (Interview E.Pommaret) Moreover, we see it on the graph proposed by Dibartolomeis et al. (2019): organophosphates fell from around 34,000 tonnes in 1992 to around 12,000 tonnes in 2014; and N-Methy carbamate from about 8,000 tonnes to about 1,500 tonnes over the same period. However, these pesticides tend to be relatively dangerous for humans and many molecules belonging to these groups have been removed.

Interview: the industry evolution

“Agrochemicals” are developing more and more solutions to manage pests while minimizing the ecological impact. Eugenia Pommaret, Director of UIPP, for example told me about pheromones:

“[Take the example of pheromones. They can be used in integrated crop protection to perform insect counts. Thus the farmer detects the presence and quantity of insects. If the infestation threshold is reached then an intervention is triggered. Conversely, if it doesn’t pass that point, the use of insecticide is not necessary. This practice makes it possible to reduce the quantity of treatments by identifying the presence of the insect and by verifying whether the nuisance threshold is reached or not.] “

This practice would be very useful for “integrated pest management”.

“[Integrated pest management is nothing new. INRAE ​​and the technical institutes have worked a lot on this principle and this work continues.] The first examples that I have in mind are the larvae of ladybugs to control aphids or the use of trichogramma. This technique is used to control the corn borer, a caterpillar that ravages the ears of corn. In the wild, natural pests of moths, microwasps, have been observed.] They lay their eggs in moth eggs. So they will completely wipe out the corn borer at the egg stage and prevent the borer population from having adverse effects on corn. [This technique has been around for over 30 years and is widely used.] “

However, these products would also be subject to an expensive authorization process:

“[Just because it’s a natural solution doesn’t mean it’s not without risk. Authorization procedures before placing products on the market exist precisely to ensure that crop protection solutions do not present an unacceptable risk to humans or the environment under the recommended conditions of use. The authorization processes are indeed long and expensive, but this is precisely to ensure that the solutions that will be placed on the market offer the necessary guarantees of efficiency and security.]”

The director even considers that, “perhaps in the future”, we will no longer speak “of insecticides, but of insect repellents, that is to say, of substances, based on what is already done naturally, which could ward off insects […], without necessarily killing them.” Farmers are said to be using more and more biocontrol products, the share of these products having risen from less than 7% of phytosanitary sales in 2010 to more than 20% in 2020.

On this topic, Terre-Net writes :

“Product sales in 2018 break down as follows: 63% natural substances, 19% chemical mediators, 11% macro-organisms and 7% micro-organisms. In terms of targets, insecticides and fungicides are the most represented with respectively 39 and 32%. Herbicides (16%) and molluscicides (6%) follow.”

Source: Terre-Net

We can also mention decision support software, which makes it possible to optimize production and therefore to use, at constant yields, fewer pesticides, and are a growing solution.

Page bibliography:

  • DiBartolomeis, Michael, Susan Kegley, Pierre Mineau, Rosemarie Radford, and Kendra Klein. “An Assessment of Acute Insecticide Toxicity Loading (AITL) of Chemical Pesticides Used on Agricultural Land in the United States.” PLOS ONE 14, no. 8 (août 2019): e0220029.