For environmental and health reasons pesticides are not used in organic farming. Pesticides may even pose a threat to global food security, as the recent mortality of bee populations shows.

Pesticides are harmful chemicals invented to control pests in crops that are grown for food, textiles and other purposes. They’re used to fend against competition from weeds, and degradation through bacteria, fungi, insects and other animals. Farmers can largely have similar effects through agricultural care, like dedicated soil treatment and mechanic weed removal, but since WW II pesticides have become predominant in pest control. This however has led to devastating by-effects for nature and environment, for instance through strongly increased mortality among birds and highly polluted surface and ground water. Although the pesticides industry has been trying for decades to make their products less harmful to nature and environment, not only local incidents remain frequently reported, but also wide-scaled adverse effects such as the worldwide collapse of bee populations become prominent. For this reason Triodos Bank strongly advocates organic farming.

Risk to food security

In the 1990s neonicotinoids were introduced – they’re currently among the most widely used insecticides in the world – but there is growing concern about their effects, and their use has already been restricted in Europe. Based on a review of 800 scientific publications, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides supports the link between neonicotinoids and the disturbing collapse of bee populations (halved in 25 years) and other pollinating insects. Between 50 and 80% of all main food crops that we eat depend on pollination by insects, so the widespread contamination could be putting global food production at risk. For instance, due to a dramatically decreased bee population in China school children are mobilised to help pollinate blossoms manually to safeguard crop yields.

Pesticides, no thanks!

Triodos Bank is very critical about pesticides. When it comes to investing, we avoid the core producers of pesticides, such as Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto. But we also screen other companies on their involvement in pesticide production. If this makes a substantial part of its business the company is excluded for investment. We incidentally make exceptions and accept some involvement, for instance when it concerns health protection or control of household pests or pests that directly threaten basic food supply. Rentokil Initial is one of these exceptions. This company also develops and applies alternatives to chemical pest control.

Alternative in organic farming

Organic farming severely restricts the use of pesticides, and nutrient-rich soil is key to growing strong, healthy crops. Wildlife can be used to help control pests and disease and soil nutrient management and crop rotation can help prevent and limit the impact of crop pests, weeds and diseases. Governments also have a role to play. In Europe there is already a two-year moratorium and pesticides can’t be used on flowering crops that are attractive to bees. But regulations should be tightened and a global phase-out plan introduced. In the end, however, consumers drive organic production by making a consious choice for organic food.

Note: The issues explored in this article are relevant for sustainable investments on the stock market. Triodos Bank believes that our socially responsible investments are a powerful means of promoting our values and working for greater sustainability, while enabling us to offer a complete range of attractive investment options to customers who choose to invest on the stock market.