Neonicotinoid-based insecticides used to protect plants are increasingly being blamed for environmental, food safety and health problems. An ANSES working group – which includes several INRA researchers – has published a list of alternatives to replace neonicotinoids in the scientific journal Environment International.
An array of alternative solutions to neonicotinoids
The use of neonicotinoids in agriculture is currently a controversial issue in many countries. Their unintended effects on many beneficial organisms for crops, especially pollinators and biological control agents, are clearly documented in a growing body of scientific literature. The French government has banned five of these active ingredients – clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid and thiacloprid – since 1 September 2018.
As part of an expert report by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES), a group of scientists, including researchers from INRA, conducted an in-depth assessment of available alternatives to replace these five chemical substances. For each combination of crop to be protected and pest targeted by neonicotinoids, the main alternative control methods were classified according their effectiveness, applicability, durability and ease of application. In all, 152 uses of neonicotinoids in France, covering 120 crops and 279 harmful insects, were examined for a total of 2,577 possible alternatives.
Chemical and non-chemical solutions
The results of this extensive survey show that an effective replacement for neonicotinoids was available in 96% of cases. Unfortunately, the most common alternative to neonicotinoids (89% of cases) is the use of another chemical insecticide (mainly pyrethroids). However, in 78% of cases, at least one non-chemical alternative was available to replace neonicotinoids, namely using biological control agents, semiochemicals or oils. It should be noted that there are more non-chemical alternatives when it comes to pests attacking leaves (e.g. leaf-eating caterpillars) than for insects attacking plant stems or roots.
There appear to be many other promising non-chemical methods, but they will require additional field research before farmers can use them. Some of them are still quite expensive due to a limited market and will need to be subsidised. Solutions do indeed exist, but joint efforts on the part of researchers, public authorities, cooperatives and users will be necessary to begin adopting them and enable a significant reduction in pesticide use in farming.
Hervé Jactel, François Verheggen, Denis Thiéry, Abraham J. Escobar-Gutiérrez, Emmanuel Gachet, Nicolas Desneux, Alternatives to neonicotinoids, Environment International, Volume 129, 2019, Pages 423-429, ISSN 0160-4120, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2019.04.045