Thomas' Plant-Related Blog

On plant science. Mostly.

All natural poison

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From the BBC: Canadian researchers have said that plant essential oils can be used as pesticides.

So, you need to use higher concentrations and apply them more often, but because it’s natural, it’s alright for organic farmers to use. It doesn’t even require the same level of regulatory oversight (at least, I guess that’s what the rather confused sentence means). This is a good illustration of why I’m not altogether happy about the ‘organic’ movement.

Pesticides are, by definition, poisons. They are chemicals which kill pests, mostly insects. The aim is to find chemicals which kill those pests, but don’t affect our own health, and a key part of the regulatory approval that they need will (I strongly expect) focus on that latter criterion. So, unless the approval process itself is wrong, I can’t see how pesticides that avoid it via a loophole are a good thing.

The scientists also apparently claimed that pests would be less likely to evolve resistance to these pesticides, and that it would be safer for the farm workers spraying them. It was a presentation at a conference, so I can’t go and read up on the full details, but I don’t believe that either point is self-evident.

The idea that anything ‘natural’ is automatically a good thing is patently ridiculous. Plenty of poisons, including ricin, strychnine and curare, are natural, while opium poppies, coca, hemp and so forth furnish many of the most notable illegal drugs

Organic farming sells itself as being good for the environment (and, in some circumstances, good for human health), but cases like this give the disappointing impression that it may be little more than a more-or-less arbitrary set of rules, and a brand which persuades well-meaning consumers to part with more money.


Written by Thomas Kluyver

18 August, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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