Pests like aphids and cutworm are a very real problem in vegetable farming. They reproduce fast and destroy crops, so have to be controlled. But how?
Choice A: Chemical control
Over 320 pesticides can be routinely used in non-organic farming. Some remain in the food we eat, despite washing and cooking.
Some have been linked to serious health conditions, including cancer. Pesticides are destroying wildlife, affecting human health and are linked to declining bee populations. We believe there’s no ‘safe’ level for a nerve toxin or hormone disruptor; not for a human, not for a bee.
Chemical control means...
75% decline in honey bee population linked to pesticide use.
Glyphosate weedkiller labelled a ‘probable carcinogen’.
Choice B: Harnessing nature
We’ve been growing organic veg since 1987 and know there’s a better way – nature already provides the solution.
More and read our Head of Pest Control job ad
Whether that’s using natural predators to control pests, growing crops in their natural season, looking after the soil, encouraging bees and other wildlife on our farms – it can be done without a barrage of sprays. Plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms. Read our Head of Pest Control job ad
Harnessing nature means...
50% more wildlife on organic farms. No system of farming is more bee friendly.
Organic farming produces food you can trust. No routine chemicals, antibiotics or GM.
Read Guy’s thoughtsMonsanto, polar bears & Donald Rumsfeld
An unholy alliance
An aphid’s view
Where are the guardians of our soil?
"A few years ago I was wandering through the fields of a non-organic farmer, who was growing lettuces for the supermarkets. I bent down to pick and taste a leaf. He stopped me and warned ‘Shouldn’t do that, boy'. His lettuces were sprayed every week for aphids.
Hang on – this is a farmer who wouldn’t eat his own food. Intuitively, anybody knows that’s crazy. Food should be fit to eat out of the field."
Guy Watson, Riverford founder
What makes Riverford veg different?
Choose organic to avoid pesticides, support wildlife and enjoy natural food. Because it’s grown naturally, we think it tastes better too.
Our Soil Association certification guarantees food you can trust. Organic is better for the environment, animal welfare, wildlife and it’s GM-free. We reckon it tastes better too.
Over 320 pesticides can be routinely used in non-organic farming. Some remain in the food we eat, despite washing and cooking. Instead of reaching for a chemical container, we look to nature for the solution.
Better for nature
Rather than using a barrage of sprays, we encourage and sometimes release the native ladybirds, lacewings and wasps that predate pests.
Organic is better for birds, bees and wildlife. We encourage wildlife to live and thrive on our farms.
Grown with love
We’re real farmers who’re mad about veg. We choose varieties for flavour and plant, tend and harvest them with care. That means superb quality for you. Read more about organic farming at Riverford
Common questions about pesticides
What is a pesticide?
Pesticides are chemicals designed to kill animal, fungal or plant pests which would otherwise damage crops or reduce crop yields, or spread disease. Some originate from natural substances, but most are artificial chemical poisons which do not occur naturally, such as organophosphates and neonicotinoids.
How do pesticides work?
It varies depending on the pesticide and the target pest. They first act by either touching the pest directly (contact pesticides), or through being absorbed by the organism and then transported throughout (systemic pesticides). Some are hormone disruptors such as Diuron, some are neurotoxins such as organophosphates and neonicotinoids. Pesticides come in many formats for different applications, such as seed dressings, solutions and powders. Some pesticides are selective, meaning that they will kill partially specific pests, but many are non-selective, eg. glyphosate, which will kill most plants, not just the weeds farmers want to target. This is not surprising given that pesticides largely work by disrupting biological pathways common to most organisms, including humans.
Why are pesticides controversial?
There are several reasons. Firstly, many pesticides don’t just kill the target pest, they have often unknown impacts on other wildlife and the environment by either direct poisoning, contaminating water courses or disrupting ecosystems. A good example of this is the large scale decline in the wild bee population, which scientists have linked to the use of neonicotinoids over the past 20 years. The pesticide is often present in the crop pollen collected by the bees, because neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides. Recent research has even detected neonicotinoids and other pesticides in the pollen of wildflowers in field margins and hedgerows.
Alongside the environmental impact are the sociological issues surrounding pesticide use. According to the World Health Organisation, unintentional pesticide poisonings kill an estimated 355,000 people globally every year, many of whom are children. This is often in deprived rural communities in developing countries, where poor agrochemical regulation and training coupled with low literacy levels mean the risks are not fully understood by those handling the chemicals. Many workers, even children, apply them to crops barefoot, and without masks.
Many chemical pesticides are also linked to birth defects and diseases; glyphosate, widely used in arable farming and by home consumers (often sold as ‘Round-Up’) was designated a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organisation in 2015.
In addition to this is the unknown cumulative and so-called “cocktail effect” of pesticides. The risk that pesticides pose to health and the environment is only assessed on individual formulations when in reality most people or environments are exposed to a multitude of substances, rather than one single chemical formulation.
Are there pesticides in non-organic food?
Yes, frequently. It varies year to year but pesticides have been found on one in three non-organic foods tested, and multiple residues of up to seven different pesticides are not uncommon. In contrast, pesticides are rarely found in organic food. In the UK, an official monitoring programme checks pesticide levels in the food and drink supply. However, we believe that there is no ‘safe level’ for nerve toxins and other chemical poisons; neither for a human and nor for a bee.
Can pesticides be removed from food by washing or peeling?
Possibly; it depends on the pesticide that was used on the crop. According to the FSA, washing, peeling fruit and removing the outer leaves of vegetables may reduce the residues of certain pesticides. However, if it is a systemic pesticide that has been used, then the chemical is within the physical makeup of the produce, so it is impossible to remove by washing or peeling. Pesticides cannot be removed from many foods however; for example, you cannot wash or peel bread.
Who makes and owns pesticides?
As of October 2016, just four multi-billion pound global corporations account for three-quarters of the global agrochemical market. These are Bayer/Monsanto, Dupont/Dow, Syngenta and BASF.
Are pesticides allowed in organic farming?
Over 320 pesticides can be routinely used in non-organic farming. Organic farmers are permitted to use just 15 pesticides, derived from natural ingredients including citronella and clove oil, but only under very restricted circumstances. No herbicides (weed killers) are allowed in organic farming. In reality the vast majority of organic farmers have no need even for the pesticides that are permitted, and when they are used the amounts are small. Around 90% of Soil Association certified farmers use no pesticides at all, and research suggests that if all farming was organic, pesticide use would drop by 98%.
Are pesticides used on all non-organic crops?
No, but there is no way of knowing this due to the disjointed nature of the food supply chain. Unless you can talk direct to the farmer, organic certification is the only guarantee that no artificial pesticides have been used on your food.
Why is Riverford campaigning about pesticides?
Globally, agriculture is being led in a direction dictated by the priorities of the agrochemical industry rather than humanity, the environment or farmers. We believe that pesticides are not necessary, and that it is possible to farm successfully without a barrage of chemicals that are causing significant environmental and sociological damage. It is not easy but with research and investment it is possible, and certainly preferable.
The multinationals who own the pesticide patents do not have social responsibility or protecting the environment among their top priorities. With large budget, sophisticated marketing techniques aimed at farmers worldwide coupled with political lobbying, they perpetuate the myth that agrochemicals are crucial to success in farming, and so are positioning themselves to control the food chain. These same companies have a similar strategy around GM technology and GM seeds; between them they own nearly two-thirds of the commercial seed market and are continuing to buy up independent seed suppliers.
While their marketing in the EU and other first world countries is relatively well regulated, this is not the case in developing countries where farmers are told they need the chemicals and GM seeds in order to succeed, and are encouraged to emulate intensive, high input western farming methods. These farmers cannot afford the high cost of the inputs and often get into debt. Suicide levels are high among poor rural farmers. According to the WHO, 30% of suicides worldwide are due to pesticide self-poisoning.
At Riverford we believe that organic farming is the best way to produce food. It reduces environmental pollution and the release of greenhouse gases from food production by severely restricting the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Instead, organic farmers rely on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a mixture of crops. As a result, organic farms have on average 50% more wildlife and 30% more species. Livestock is reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics or wormers, animal feed is GM-free and poultry is always free-range. No system of farming does more to protect natural resources like fresh water and healthy soils.