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Imagine looking a pesticide label, and with one tool be able to know the possible effects of that compound on your health, your neighbor’s health, the atmosphere, wildlife, even bees – all from one place. A paper published in The Lancet: Planetary Health this month aims to do exactly that by taking on the enormous task classifying nearly 700 pesticides and their risk to human, animal, and even atmospheric and pollinator health. Selection of pesticides to reduce human and environmental health risks: a global guideline and minimum pesticides list, freely available from The Lancet: Planetary Health and co-authored by Katie Murray and Paul Jepson of the Oregon IPM Center, is a multi-factor health risk reference of pesticides that are registered in the US or the EU for which risk data exists. Additionally, the authors go a step further and organize the findings into a handy reference for IPM decision makers. A 27-page guide, Pesticide risk reduction: an international guideline, is included as an appendix and contains step-by-step instructions for consultants on how to use the list as part of an IPM management plan for farmers or any IPM stakeholders.
Pesticides are inherently risky to human and environmental health. The currently accepted criteria for defining highly-hazardous pesticides, or “HHPs”, are limited and do not necessarily consider bystanders, aquatic life, terrestrial wildlife and pollinators. The solution is creating a current list of pesticides that accounts for these missing criteria. From this list, pesticide users can make informed decisions about which products to use. This is critical as pesticides “have been cited as being among the most serious threats to health and the environment” by multiple international groups, according to the paper, and this kind of information has been scattered, difficult to access, or unavailable.
How do you classify 659 pesticides in a way that is useful for multiple international audiences and is applicable to any cropping system? Use multiple factors to cover any situation: acute and chronic risks to human, biomagnification, ozone depletion, risks to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife and pollinators. The pesticides were filtered into three groups: “highly-hazardous”, which are tagged for replacement or phase out, “high-risk”, which require special attention to specific environmental or health risks, and “lower-risk”, which are pesticides likely to be compatible with IPM management programs. The last classification is further divided into in compounds considered “minimum-risk” pesticides, or ones that don’t have requirements for specialized personal protective equipment nor meet any of the risk criteria.
Fall armyworm, a major crop pest in Africa, is used to illustrate the guide’s practical use. Pesticides used to manage fall armyworm are sorted into the defined risk categories, and then further divided based on known efficacy against the pest. This information can be used by a grower with other factors, such as product costs, labor, and application timing. The classification system for the most toxic pesticides was developed in years prior to the paper’s publication and has been used successfully by millions of farmers in the tropics who have to meet certification standards to market their products. Thus, pesticide health risks and environmental risks are reduced, but pesticides still play a role in IPM programs, with very few complaints to date, according to the Rainforest Alliance.
The paper is open-access and available now. A web-based electronic version of the guide is currently in development.
This article appears in Oregon IPM Insider, Vol I Iss 1: Spring 2020