If you scoop up a shovelful of good soil, you’ll probably find more living things than humans in the world.
Tens of thousands of subterranean species of invertebrates, nematodes, bacteria, and fungus are continually purifying our water, recycling nutrients, and helping to maintain the earth’s temperature as if they were inhabitants of an underground city that never sleeps.
According to a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, a toxic soup of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides is wreaking havoc under tightly knit rows of maize, soybeans, wheat, and other monoculture crops.
The study, which is the complete examination of how pesticides influence soil health ever performed, should prompt quick and significant changes in how regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency analyze the hazards presented by the approximately 850 pesticide components permitted for use United States.
Regulators now ignore pesticides’ impact on earthworms, springtails, beetles, and hundreds of other subterranean creatures.
Our research proves that this has to change.
We looked at roughly 400 published papers that combined conducted over 2,800 tests on how pesticides affect soil organisms for our study, which was undertaken by researchers from the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and the University of Maryland. Our study included 275 specific pesticides or pesticide mixes and 275 distinct species or kinds of soil organisms.
Pesticides were shown to affect species crucial to sustaining healthy soils in just over 70% of the experiments—harms presently not recognized in the EPA’s safety assessment.
Many soil species, such as ground beetles and ground-nesting bees, are rapidly declining due to the continued expansion of pesticide-intensive agriculture and pollution. They’ve been recognized as the leading cause of soil biodiversity loss during the previous ten years.
Despite this, pesticide firms and regulators have ignored the study.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is in charge of pesticide regulation in the United States, admits that between 50 and 100 percent of all pesticides used on farms wind up in the soil. The FDA still utilizes a single test species—one that spends its whole life above ground in artificial enclosures to evaluate the risk to all soil organisms—the European honeybee—to assess pesticides’ damages to soil species.
The fact that the EPA uses a species that may never touch the soil in its entire life to symbolize the hundreds of species that live or develop underground shows how the US pesticide regulation system is set up to favor the pesticide business rather than species and ecosystems.
This means that pesticide approvals are made without respect for the potential harm pesticides may cause to soil organisms.
Furthermore, as regenerative agriculture and soil health ideas gain traction worldwide, pesticide businesses have hopped on board to greenwash their products.
Every significant pesticide business now has Web pages praising its role in soil health, frequently recommending less tilling and cover crop planting. Both of these techniques, as general concepts, are beneficial to soil health and, if implemented correctly, are excellent actions to follow.
On the other hand, Pesticide manufacturers are well aware that these methods are frequently accompanied by increasing pesticide usage. When fields aren’t tilled, pesticides are commonly used to eliminate weeds, and pesticides are frequently used to destroy cover crops before crop planting.
This “one stride forward, one step back” strategy is impeding substantial progress in soil protection. Because our regulators have shown little interest or readiness to safeguard soil organisms from pesticides, pesticide firms have effectively co-opted the “healthy soil” message thus far.
That failure’s long-term environmental impact can no longer be overlooked.
Soils are among the world’s most complex and biodiverse ecosystems, accounting for about a quarter of all biodiversity.
Protecting them should be a top concern, not a last-minute consideration.
According to our research, achieving this will necessitate addressing the world’s growing and unsustainable addiction to pesticide-intensive agriculture.
It will also necessitate that the EPA take immediate action to protect the health of our soil by addressing the well-documented harms of pesticides to our long-overlooked subterranean species.