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Insect 'apocalypse' in U.S. driven by 50x increase in toxic pesticides: study (nationalgeographic.com)
797 points by whatami on Aug 11, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 323 comments

Well, we're running a giant experiment on this: the EU recently banned them. In fact they've banned several of them and the worst uses of them since 2013.

My bet: bees might do better, but the over all insectopocalypse is due to something else.

The biggest issue is that the ecological costs are not reflected in economic transactions in modern economy. We simply cannot estimate them properly, because ecological disaster is a long slowly moving process, not very visible at first, but very significant thereafter.

It's extremely difficult to tease out the ecological impact of the economy because the Earth itself has powerful climate dynamics we don't fully understand.

Slightly tangential, but I want to point out that there's a way forward without pesticides and without economic disaster: We can switch to a "horticultural" mode of civilization. The idea is that we use applied ecology to create curated ecosystems that have a high proportion of plants that are agriculturally productive. (Not to be mysterious, I'm talking about Permaculture et. al. but that term seems to upset a few people so I just say "applied ecology" now.) "Food forest" is a search term to try..

Here's a talk "Redesigning Civilization with Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway (RIP) where he talks about how we got into this mess and how we might get out.



I never thought I'd read a permaculture comment on HN. I love this community.

I was in organic farming for a while, and I get that it's economically more expensive, but the fact that this is a problem is a cultural construct - it's only a 'problem' if people choose to pay more towards disposable electronics and movies at the cinema instead of good, quality, environmentally-friendly food.

I think that big chemical agribusiness like Monsanto have bought and paid scientists, abusing the mechanism of scientific study simply to use it as a giant advertising and regulatory-compliance mechanism. They have bought out some voices in the scientific community, and consequently, fooled many more - via the social mechanism of peer pressure.

> I never thought I'd read a permaculture comment on HN

This is the article that introduced me to permaculture almost 5 years ago https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9074473. There have been others popping in now and then.

If I'm remembering correctly from my chemistry lectures, there's an upper limit on how much nitrogen can be fixed "organically", and it's nowhere near enough to support the current world population. It's not only a question of cost.

That said, I think a lower global population is desirable for many reasons.

My understanding is that organic still uses some fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Just that they come from a shorter list of approved products EDIT: Okay, permaculture is stricter, so this doesn't apply

I absolutely agree. Murray Bookchin did a lot of writing and activism about how to operate societies in an ecologically compatible way that also maximize freedom. See some of his writing on the subject here: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bookchin/libmu...

Regenerative agriculture is another means with which to restore the land without pesticides or herbicides, with the additional benefit of sequestering nitrogen.

>Regenerative agricultural practices include:

  no tillage
  diverse cover crops
  in-farm fertility (no external nutrients)
  no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers
  multiple crop rotations

In other words, Regenerative agricultural is indistinguishable from Permaculture as a cultivation method.

Another reason why I tend to use the phrase "applied ecology" rather than Permaculture.

I'm sure if we tried we could find ways to distinguish between what various people mean when they talk about "regenerative agriculture" or "Permaculture", but would it be a profitable use of our time?

So glad to see something from Toby Hemenway recommended on here. He has some other interesting presentations, such as:




I'm thrilled to see this comment upvoted, and you've said some of my own thoughts much better than I could articulate. This mode of thinking helps me re-orient my life goals around 5-year or 10-year plans based on cultivating my land.

Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in Israel does a lot of this work - they breed (and have started genetically engineering) predators and sterile males for pest insects. This was an offshoot of their older business breeding indoor pollinating bees for greenhouses.

We have a chicken tractor :) Keeps the weeds down, and you get eggs.


Maybe so, but please don't post unsubstantive comments here.

You're assuming it will be left to market dynamics. I don't think that's a given.

Governments are required to remediate market inefficiencies in my view. Sometimes we need some good old central planning. People love to shit on China (me included), but they've got some very good agricultural strategies that I believe wouldn't have ever come out of the free market.

the agriculture shills keep pushing this notion that their way of growing with chemicals is the the most productive way when I've yet to see a study that indicates that any of what they've done has increased crop yields.

Steady on my friend.

I'm an ecology nut but you have to give credit where credit is due: e.g. artificial nitrogen fertilizer really has been an incredible advance, to the point where we have literally been turning oil into people ever since it was invented. The "Green Revolution", pesticides, and even GMOs work, it has to be admitted.

Here is the rub though: For how long?

The final verdict on agriculture is yet to be determined, the story isn't finished yet.

We know ecological food production works long-term because it has, for millions upon millions of years. Every single one of your ancestors got enough to eat to reproduce at least once, going back all the way...

Farming, on the other hand, only works so far (approx 10k-12k years), and in terms of life and ecology and such, "so far" is nothing.

The evidence shows that our systems of food production are more akin to a disease or infestation than any sort of sane harmonious interaction. You can see it on satellite photos: our cities are like scabs or crusts, our farm lands are vast tracts of monocultures, our forests are riddles with clear cuts, our rivers are disappearing where they are not eroding the land, etc...

If you integrate productivity over the long-term then applied ecology beats farming despite all the arguable advances. That's the argument to use, eh?

I mostly agree with what you said but I'd like to point out a glitch in your argument about halfway through: where you say "because it has, for millions ... of years."

I'd say that's not valid, because what happened for millions of years is a far cry from what modern agriculture is (mostly) accomplishing: (a) actually establishing food security, and (b) for a freakishly large number of one particular species.

When you say "every single one of your ancestors got enough to eat" you fall victim to survivor bias; we know that many, many of our ancestors' siblings didn't get enough to eat. In fact, humanity nearly died out on one or two occasions, though I'm not sure it was for lack of nutrition.

I also feel that natural, historic ecologic agriculture isn't readily analogous to a model of agriculture that would be feasible today. Consider that part of the historic model was a pyramid of natural predation, i.e. animals that lived off the land and each other, fertilizing the "agriculture" both with their droppings and often their corpses, with humanity skimming off parts of that food chain. Again, I don't think a faithful replication of that model could effectively nourish anything near the world's current population of humans.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that a model of agriculture strongly similar to "historic ecological food production" might only work for a significantly smaller human population.

> I'd say that's not valid, because what happened for millions of years is a far cry from what modern agriculture is (mostly) accomplishing: (a) actually establishing food security, and (b) for a freakishly large number of one particular species.

What I mean in the most general sense is that the natural systems that have evolved have a record of durability of ~4500000Ky whereas agriculture in general is ~12Ky and modern agriculture is ~0.2Ky, and the current system seems to be crashing.

I don't think we can count modern agriculture as successful at food security yet. On the other hand we have good reasons to believe that "eco-mimetic" food production will prove more durable.

> I could be wrong, but I suspect that a model of agriculture strongly similar to "historic ecological food production" might only work for a significantly smaller human population.

I suspect you're right, and that the ideal population of an "M-type planet" might be no more than a few hundred thousand people.

However, leave out "historical" and I think we have options for "ecological food production" handling the ~12B expected peak concurrent population. I think something like arcologies combined with Christopher Alexander's "City Country Fingers" could be the skeleton of a workable path from the status quo to some sort of high-density ecological civilization. (Along with e.g. E.O. Wilson's Half-Earth idea.)

Personally I suspect that we evolved to be Nature's waldoes† and we are supposed to "super charge" the ecosystem, but that's getting into sci-fi stuff. Arcologies and Pattern Language are sci-fi enough for now, eh?


In contrast to other animals, we have the ability to construct projections of the future in our minds, learn from the past and communicate it to each other - but our predictive power over complex systems is weak and short term, the incentives that drive our behaviour are very short term.

Broadly speaking, we cannot see or act in a way that optimises outcomes over multiple generations, at the population scale the planet now carries. Evolution hasn't been able to optimise our reward pathways for preventing pollution or over-population, which both carry a risk of collapsing our ecosystems over time. Another significant risk that is yet to emerge is hacking evolution itself - runaway genetic engineering could have disastrous results.

While the Haber–Bosch process of extracting Nitrogen from the atmosphere into a soluble form was a revolution in farming, it was also responsible for much of today's overpopulation. Probably the most impactful invention of the 20th century, if measured by population growth. Ironically, Haber was also the inventor chemical warfare (he developed chlorine gas, mustard gas, Zyklon B).

If farmers couldn't increase yields they wouldn't buy all of that expensive chemical stuff. If you could farm without buying chemicals or reducing yields, you should go out and do it, you would put everyone else out of business and make a killing.

The article claims this at the end:

> Farms using neonics had 10 times the insect pressure and half the profits compared to those who use regenerative farming methods instead of insecticides according a 2018 study. Like agroecological farming, regenerative agricultural uses cover crops, no-till and other methods to increase on-farm biodiversity and soil health. The regenerative corn-soy operations in the study didn’t have to worry about insect problems, said co-author Jonathan Lundgren, an agroecologist and Director of the ECDYSIS Foundation.

> Farmers who are dependent on chemicals are going out of business, said Lundgren, who is also a grain farmer in South Dakota. “It’s painful to see when we have tested, scientifically sound solutions. Working with nature is a good business decision,” he says.

It links to this study as a source: https://peerj.com/articles/4428/

Quoting the abstract:

>Regenerative fields had 29% lower grain production but 78% higher profits over traditional corn production systems.

Lower yield and much more expensive for consumers is a difficult sell IMO.

There's some comments here on this study:


Thank you for this. It is absolutely frustrating to hear so many comments that isolate one factor to the exclusions of others. Profit is income minus expenses, so if you spend very very little, you can make a profit with little revenue. Revenue is a function of price per unit times yield,so if your prices are comparatively high your revenue is low because your yield is very low.

Low yield has important and detrimental environmental consequences in that far, far more land is being used to feed the same number of people. The loss of natural habitats is an important negative consequence of our need to produce food, so efficient land use is very important to protect biological diversity.

Now, land use efficiency has a number of factors to consider. The use of the crop is one, such as are we growing crops to feed animals that we eat? This is always inefficient from slightly (say, chicken) to massively (such as beef). So if you are championing permaculture to solve the ills of chemical pesticides and mineral salt fertilizers, you really should focus on eating crickets and plants, as this would have a far greater impact.

On the matter of chemical versus alternative pest controls, this is again often subject to selective comparisons. For instance, there if insects are ravaging your grapes you could spray a chemical pesticide that selectively targets insects with piercing-sucking mouthparts that will plug their feeding tube and stop damage, eventually killing the insect, or you could spray kaolin clay and create a deterrent that may suppress enough damage to protect your crop. Sounds ideal, right? The clay has no detrimental effect on insects, is completely non-toxic, etc. However the chemical insecticide is applied at say 500ml per hectare, where as the kaolin requires say 25 kg per hectare and requires two sprays to establish adequate coverage, and needs to be reapplied after every rain, while the insecticide is systemic and residual, persisting inside the tissue of the plant for a few weeks before being metabolized. That means the clay is a lot more water and fuel intensive, increasing the footprint of your operation. The 500ml of insecticide costs say $30, while the kaolin costs around $160 for the first application and $80 each time it rains. Before you assume the evil chemical giants are manipulating the market to favor of their product, remember that that clay was 25kg (as compared to 500g) -- that's a LOT more gas to transport from the quarry to your farm. So when you look at the whole picture, that ideal seemingly zero-impact alternative actually greatly increases water use, gasoline use, CO2 emissions, the amount of farmland required for a similar yield, and ultimately raises food prices.

My point is that while the way we grow our food has to change, the answers are complex. Returning to "older ways" by rejecting scientific advances will not help us unless we are also prepared to accept a vastly lower population and the human misery that would entail. If you really want to help, get involved in the doing of agriculture, either in the growing, researching, or distribution of food and help create real answers. If that is not in the cards, then look at how you can change your use of food to create the change you want to see. Stop eating meat, eat insects. Make sure you don't waste food. Stop driving to the store and get your groceries delivered (a full half of CO2 emissions comes from getting the groceries home from the store and delivery reduces that significantly).

Most importantly, do not champion solutions as a cure-all, or denounce methods as deadly mistakes without putting in the time and effort to justify your position. Until then participate, learn, push the values of lower impact and sustainability, but trust that there are many many people all through the agricultural sector that are of the same mind and working hard to advance those values.

one of running theme about growing misanto’s products was that your yields never goes up. they’ve never could honestly show that gmo products could increase yields. they kept implying it all the time but they never could prove it. gmo never ever increased crop yields. and by gmo i don’t mean cross breeding plants.

Maybe there are network effects at play which make it difficult to do what you suggest?

There's something like a network effect at play insofar as it has a "rich get richer" effect. Farming practices that get more use get more research, which means that the orthodoxy is going to be closer to its local maximum than fringe methods. That means that a fringe method could have more potential efficacy than the orthodoxy while still being worse.

Modern science has increased yield for corn by a factor of 8: https://images.app.goo.gl/QfcFrk4nvu7uw6M67. I’m only 35 and it’s doubled in my lifetime.

Take in mind that marketing techniques apply also to agriculture and that who claims such statistics taken in perfect conditions of culture is often the seller. Optimum conditions of culture aren't always scalable or economically viable

I bet that we could find good old forgotten varieties put in a vault for decades and then renamed, trademarketed, and rebranded as super new varieties much more productive for example. Only the best of the old varieties survived to out times. Much of the new super-varieties will not perdure when the layers of marketing will wear off.

There is an improvement of course, but not necessarily sustainable in time, or so high as expected.

Except you're not accounting for the nutritional density [0] per yield being reduced and also the fact that the majority of cash crop goes to feeding livestock.

[0] https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/issues-and-prioritie...

Why does he have to account for livestock? That has nothing to do with the argument he's responding to.

Your other argument isn't especially persuasive, either. Statistically, is vitamin deficiency a serious public health problem in America? Whatever "protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C" reduction there has been in corn over the last 50 years, it's extremely unlikely to have offset a factor of 8 increase in productivity.

[3> Why does he have to account for livestock? That has nothing to do with the argument he's responding to.

Actually it does. 90 million acres of corn were planted for livestock in 2018 [0] and we know that the nutritional density of corn has declined [1]. So the long term is we just keep yielding higher with lower nutritional value? The main reason we're after higher yields is livestock and mass produced "junk" food which provides what positive value? The sustainability problem aside, how does this benefit us globally and long term?

> Statistically, is vitamin deficiency a serious public health problem in America?

Is it a problem? Yes. [2] In America? Past studies [3] have shown this and I don't think it's a stretch to just look at the health epidemic here which is, generally, systemic from poor overall nutrition. [4]

Sure, the productivity factor is in our "favor", at least by the numbers. But it's very clear that there is negative impact that extends beyond just the yielded nutritional value. It flows down into additional consumption and requirements to fortify nutritionally sparse natural ingredients.

[0] https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/corn-and-other-feedgra... [1] https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/44/1... [2] https://academic.oup.com/jxb/article/55/396/353/489122 [3] https://www.cdc.gov/nutritionreport/pdf/4Page_%202nd%20Nutri... [4] https://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/10/15/too-fat-to-fi...

The claim being responded to was that there is no evidence that "growing with chemicals" has increased crop yields. Evidence was provided that crop yields have increased as the industry has switched to "growing with chemicals." The percentage of those yields ultimately going to livestock is unrelated.

What are you talking about?

Agricultural productivity has increased IMMENSELY.

In 1870, over 50% of the US workforce worked in agriculture. Today, despite exporting much of what we grow, that number is well under 2%.

I'm part of a group developing RNAi-based pesticides which are topically applied (so non-GM). They are extremely species specific; when designed properly they can avoid even close relatives of the target insect, and the by-product of the active ingredient is degraded RNA, which is harmless. The OECD had a meeting on it recently to help develop a regulatory framework - link here if interested (https://www.oecd.org/chemicalsafety/pesticides-biocides/conf...).

In my opinion, if these kinds of products are successful, they'll massively reduce a major adverse environmental impact of farming. They also offer a non-GM approach to combating viruses, and are far safer than broad-spectrum insecticides, synthetic and organic alike.

These products can only be successful if tested for several generations.

Pesticides also had a similar narrative and ended up being used in large quantities. Their effects on environment and human health are only discovered today and were unimaginable before.

It was insanely unscientific to allow massive pesticide use and it would be insanely unscientific to allow RNAi-based pesticides without testing them for decades if not more.

As dsRNA is ubiquitous in nature, I would disagree. There is no equivalence with synthetic pesticides when it comes to the active ingredient. There's no new molecular structure, no genetic modification, no new protein produced. It's chemically identical to what you consume every day. It doesn't hang around in the environment.

The status quo is we keep doing what we are currently doing for decades. The risks of doing that are far greater in my opinion.

with Roundup that story was "it only interferes with the shikimate pathway" and now we know that it is not true.

You simply cannot give any guarantee whatsoever that the dsRNA-based poison that you consider safe, really is safe or has unforeseen fatal effects.

You should read more about agriculture and look at the many success stories of farmers who produce in large scale without using poisons. Then you might understand that there is no need for poisons.

Provide me an example then. Organic pesticides that can be used on organically-certified farms are still poisons. White oil, soap spray etc. is all a poison if you're an insect.

I don't know of any modern production system that's free of poisons (if you want to refer to poisons as anything that kills an insect, which seems to be the case), but willing to be educated.

Organic, GMO, dsRNA or whatever, pesticides are overused and modern production systems are the problem. Typical modern farming kills the soil and everything on it. Pesticides just speed it up, directly and as an enabler.

As an example without soap, a friend has a garden. Call it holistic, permaculture or whatever. The same plants grow twice as big in his garden compared to neighbor's, because he tends to the plants, the soil and the garden using modern knowledge. No spraying. Lots of mulch, diversity, planning...

> The status quo is we keep doing what we are currently doing for decades. The risks of doing that are far greater in my opinion.

Still a hard no.

It's precisely this attitude that got us where we are today. 50 years ago, the response would have been 'the status quo is we're headed towards mass starvation as we become unable to feed the giant post-war population boom using traditional agricultural techniques'.

Now we're faced with the possibility of widespread ecological collapse of marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Species are going extinct at thousands to millions of times the background rate. Even if we merely survive, the loss of genetic diversity will reverberate through millions of years and likely result in heavily degraded, less productive ecosystems that will require heavy human intervention in perpetuity to continue to function. We're basically cutting a huge hole in the boat underneath us, and signing ourselves up to bail out the water ... forever.

Let's be honest: we don't know the long-term ecological consequences of what we do. We didn't know 100 years ago, we didn't know 50 years ago, and we still don't know today. We do not have the ability to determine the long -term negative boomerang effect of mass application of so-called 'targeted' intervention.

> It's chemically identical to what you consume every day.

And how do you know drastically increasing the amount has no effect over the long term? Note that snippets of dsRNA floating around are potent immune system inducers, because it's what viruses create [1]. Does it have a long term pro-inflammatory effect? So let's assume you're correct, the dsRNA degrades quickly before humans eat it.

What about the transient immune responses of all flora and fauna in the sprayed area? What effect on the soil microbiome?

> no genetic modification

Literally modifying the genomes of fauna in the environment en masse in a highly selective way, putting enormous selective pressure in particular species. Do we even have any idea what that selective pressure will do? Will targeted species undergo rapid mutation and speciate? Will the descendant species become both more aggressive and harder to target, due to there being an empty ecological niche? Do those targeted species take on critical ecosystem roles that we're not yet aware of?

Note that this isn't idle speculation - just look at the enormous rise of MDR bacterial infections in hospitals, precisely the result of applying selective pressure for just a couple of generations.

The crux of all our problems is a chronic inability to admit that we don't know, and perhaps cannot safely know, the ecological consequences of our actions. But sure, kill away. If we're lucky, we won't be around when the boomerang hits.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5924774/

Of course the future is uncertain. I don't know that if my going to work tomorrow is not going to rip a hole in the space time continuum, but I'll risk it anyway. I know that's being facetious, but the point remains. There are clear and obvious dangers with current practices. They are not sustainable. One can never say for certainty that any change may not have unintended consequences, but in this case, they are being actively identified and mitigated so a repeat of issues associated with synthetic and organic pesticide is less likely.

For me (and this is only my opinion), a highly targeted dsRNA, which is completely organic (it's not synthesised), has no synthetic modifications, is present in massive quantities in nature, is consumed every day by every person on earth if they're had fruit or vegetables, does not persist in the environment, is likely much safer than any existing pesticide, synthetic or organic.

As for selective pressure, current broad spectrum pesticides, synthetic or organic, would cause greater ecological disruption I would think. Again, my point is that this is an attempt to remove that pressure, not add to it.

Saying it's all too hard to predict, so let's do nothing, just doesn't seem sensible to me. The risks of not acting seem clear and obvious. Have a look at the talks in the OECD link I provided, and you'll see there's a pretty precautionary approach being taken. It's not a case of 'let's have a go and see if it works. What could go wrong?'

Monocultures are the problem, not your work. Your work will eventually impove current issues that we have with chemical intensive monocultures, yet it will be business as usual.


Not that we do nothing. We can ban pesticides, return back to heuristic based agriculture where mistakes are localized and inventions are robust and of limited scale.

Pesticides are mostly used for crops that humans do not eat directly. Food safety was never about beans or sweet potato or other efficient plant sources of protein and calories, it was about wheat, soybean and corn.

Their introduction, just like the introduction of GMOs is a result of a livestock agriculture lobbyists that made sure to increase yield of meat and other animal based products by promoting the use of aggressive compounds. These products are not a strategy for food safety but for luxurious and wasteful eating.

Ban all pesticides? Every single one of them, synthetic and organic alike? That would be interesting.

Pretending that biotic stresses simply don't exist is....umm..novel.

Like the article touched on, there are regenerative practices that do not require pesticides. Frankly, pesticides are a human convenience. Utterly unnecessary for survival. If we weren't focusing on mass producing food, largely unused to directly feed people, we wouldn't need to spray everything with poison to keep things easy and profitable.

Trying to find a "smarter" way to poison things is exactly the status quo and it will lead nowhere good.

I think OP is right suggesting this could be possible. But (my addition) only within scope of deconstructing the entire agriculture system as-is (and was for decades), and replacing it with something else. IMO this will be forced upon us (read: our children) anyhow. So better start early.

Most of China, India and Africa will then starve.

Actually, wheat has been the staple for peoples living near the Mediterranean for thousands of years.

Interestingly, they have raised it without pesticides for that many years too.

They have used pest control measures for that entire time. Primarily tillage which contributed heavily to the desertification of the area.

Yeah, of course there are going to be pests. They used trial and error and the errors were local.

> insanely unscientific

discovery of the pesticide's active ingredient might be in the domain of science, but massive use of unknown chemical in agriculture was a risk analysis that said, "it won't be our problem"

Can you explain how it works? Why does it degrade when a human ingests it, but kills the insects it targets?

Lots of info here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2018.0191...

(does not directly answer your Q2)

What potential risks can you think of for this approach?

The active ingredient is double-stranded RNA, which we all consume every day (from viruses in fruit and veges), so no issues for human health via ingestion pathway.

A poorly designed dsRNA that has too much homology to a gene of a related beneficial species could impact it if it took up the dsRNA. dsRNA doesn't hang around in the environment, so the beneficial organism would have to be there at the time of spraying. For these reason, frameworks are being put in place to ensure due diligence is done in the design phase.

Like any pesticide, what the active ingredient is applied with may not be terribly nice (surfactants and the like). That's a case-by-case thing, which is hard to generalize.

Saying dsRNA is safe is analogous to saying organic chemicals are safe because you eat things made of the same elements every day.

You are making an assumtpion that your dsRNA is safe. The same type of assumption was made with Roundup where Roundup "only" effected a single pathway. We now know that this assumption was wrong and that Roundup causes cancer. Making assumptions is a very dangerous game.

You're already eating dsRNA. Plants have microRNA precursors and viruses. We eat plants.

Roundup is a synthetic herbicide - that they both could be used in agriculture is when the similarity ends.

I know the difference between herbicides and microRNA but you do not seem to see the assumptions that you make.

Your logic disallows absolutely everything: I don’t know what the impact is of your existence, so the safe thing to do is to not allow you to exist.

At some point, you take calculated risks, because there is no action in life that comes without risk. Even your preferred solution of eliminating all chemicals and switching to alternative farming practices comes with substantial risk: it’s very likely it won’t scale. Millions would starve.

Please don't cross into getting personal. No comment contains everything someone sees.

What is the difference?

The difference is: the dose makes the poison.

Organisms may be able to handle everyday quantities of dsRNA, but beyond a certain concentration, you may suddenly see unexpected problems, which then cause domino effects throughout the ecosystem. These kinds of relationships are unknown unknowns, and they rarely behave linearly.

I really like the RNA-based approach, don't get me wrong, but the other commenters here are right to point out that hubris is dangerous.

As a tangential remark I just want to point out for everyone how great this response is. This question accepts and respects the questioner's knowledge and in the same time does what every other response to the original comment - questions the validity of the response but in an oh so subtle way. Nice.

I'm for anything that might eleviate this second silent spring we are seeing with pollinators/birds in the US. But how much time/money does it take to develop an RNAi-based pesticide? Also, it's specificity sounds like an intense selection pressure. How long would it take for pests to develop resistance that we see with other pesticides?

What's the name / link for the group? I'm interested in learning more about this.


Using emotive terms like 'poisoner' to tar people trying to develop safer alternatives to current products is rather disengenuous.

Which generation of chemist/scientist since the 1970s did not describe their work as developing “safer” poisons.

Which chemical company has not sold their product primarily with the “safer” headline?

Do you really believe it? Can you not just see that’s the umbrella justification under which all new generations of poison products are developed?

The safe poison is no poison.

Why are we so intent on killing things on the planet?

“Our new product the Silent Spring Spray 9000 sets safety totally aside to give the farmer total apocalypse over all six legged creatures!!!!” said no chemical company or poisons chemist since DDT.

Agriculture involves preferencing specific species over others. It's intellectually dishonest to think otherwise. Getting the balance right is what we should be striving for. I'd assume you take antibiotics - lot of death caused there. Why is that OK?

Antibiotics are used to treat a specific infection. You don't take a pill of antibiotics every morning with your coffee.[1]

Insecticides are usually applied pretty indiscriminately.

I think that's quite a difference.

[1] At least that's how they are supposed to be used. In agriculture (again agriculture, is this a pattern?) they are used indiscriminately in many parts of the world because it enables animals to be kept in insanely crowded conditions.

Exactly my point. A (properly designed) dsRNA only targets a single organism. It's not like an insecticide that kills everything, so is sprayed all the time. Other insects don't build up resistance, as it has no impact on them. If resistance builds up in the target insect, well, we're back where we started using toxic insecticides. Given the sequence is easy to change, resistance on a sequence basis at least is unlikely in the target itself.

People who give advise are advisors, people who kill are murderers, people who have kids are parents and people who produce or spray poisons are poinsoners. Using the word "poisoner" is not calling some names, it is simply using the correct word for the person that we are discussing.

It's these kinds of absolutes destroying discussion these days. They are trying to kill bugs. So that people can eat. They're succeeding, maybe too well. Calling them names won't make more food or fix the problem.

I have relations with my wife and we have children together. That makes it a true fact that I'm a motherf#@%er, yet using that label does not lead to productive discourse.

I think the correct and productive term to use is "parent", not motherf*@!#

I think the correct and productive term for someone who uses chemicals in furtherance of feeding the world is “farmer”.

Are vaccine and antibiotics producers poisoners? I guess we all are, and I can live with that.

Antibiotics are poisons for bacteria. Many life-saving medicines are poisons if you take too much of them. Should we call doctors poisoners?

False equivalence.

But how would otherwise disrupt this stale space ripe (pun?) for innovation?

> when designed properly they can avoid even close relatives of the target insect

There is no way of convincingly demonstrating this.

We’ll all soon see how critical insects are to crops.

Being cynical about human nature this technology scares me.

Specifically, is there anything that stops the technology from being used against ethnicities, say by targeting the RNA of Jews (id guess very specific due to matrilineal inheritance of Judaism)?

Are you high?

If I ever get rich enough to do so, I'm going to buy some land somewhere - perhaps old farming land that's no longer profitable, and just let it return to nature. Let the trees and bushes grow, let the insects, birds and whatever else breed there.

I'm beginning to think that's one of the best things one could do for the planet right now.

Ecosystem and habitat restoration involves more than just letting the land go fallow. If you just let it go, you could end up breeding a ton of invasive species which will choke off beneficial natives. If you’ve ever been to the Pacific Northwest, you’ll see Himalayan Blackberry everywhere, smothering all other plants and trees.

The healthy middle ground is something like the native Americans maintained - a kind of “gardened wild”. It requires active management to nudge nature towards a healthy, sustainable state. Pragmatic, spot treatments of chemicals can be useful in this scenario — it’s the endless acres of monuculutes, airdropped with chemicals, that cause the kinds of problems we’re seeing from agricultural chemicals.

If this is something anyone is interested in pursuing — buying land to “re-wild” it — check out your local natural resource conservation program.

Slightly off-topic: Nature conservation is very likely the proper term, but I really like imagining the idea of modern day druid rings to describe these sorts of efforts.

I would disagree with passively 'letting land return to nature'. If you did this in Australia (where I'm from), and likely other places too, you'd end up with a haven for invasive species, which actively damage surrounding ecosystems.

Land needs to be actively managed - if you want it in its natural state, it needs time, money, and effort.

In my (biased) opinion, the best thing we can do for the planet is to spend more on research, so we can understand and counter problems. Spending on agricultural science is falling world-wide, just when it's needed the most. That isn't good.

Also, "natural" is kind of suspect. Nature evolves on its own, even without human involvement. Returning a piece of land to its state from a hundred years ago necessarily means not leaving it in the state it would have reached without us. Treating "natural" as a near-synonym for both "past" and "good" is almost Luddite in its implications.

Well said. We say natural and mean a state sans-man, but our effects are so widespread for so long, there is no way to be confident what such a state would be.

There are organisations varying from grassroots to global where you can participate in such purchases with nominal sums, and end up with small parts of land in your name, collectively owned with other participants, or probably something in between.

Here is one (that I know about because my employer currently offers an option to use some of our open source contribution rewards for that): https://www.helsinkifoundation.org/

What happens if I need my money back?

What do you mean “my” money? When you spend it, it’s no longer yours. You have land now in this line of reasoning.

Can I sell this land to someone else if I need money? Is the use of that land for the new owner restricted or can it be repurposed for agriculture or other uses?

As a serious answer for anyone reading this who might be curious, even though the the above comment is probably not asking seriously.

Most of these situations the land is placed in a thing called a 'land trust', at least that is the structure I see most often. These are generally then set out with an elected governing board, and a set of bylaws and rules about the lands. Often these rules can require a voting majority of everyone who placed in money on the land to make decisions about the land. Usually there is a minimum amount of land you personally must purchase in the larger purchase to constitutes a "share" like 1 acre.

If someone has a change of heart later down the line the trust actually is a very hard entity to get around even if you are on the board of a small 5-10 person land trust. There have been examples of such boards being flipped and sold, but more often than not what you encounter is: one of the board members is interested in selling off the land and is utterly unable to because of how the trust is structured. They can be pretty robust.

The only difference between buying land and creating your own trust and foundations like this is, the foundation ultimately controls all the board seats of land trust generally.

So, if I go bankrupt it's basically worth nothing to anybody else because nobody could sell it for money? Even if it gets taken away and somebody else owns my shares they couldn't do anything with it when the board disagrees? Even if the state takes those shares and tries to force a selloff?

The answer is there are many ways in which the trust documentation can be completed and structured. Clearly you have never heard of this type of structure since is it really common even in normal trusts. It isn't really that weird.

For example: My friend has a trust that was structured such that, he was allowed 5k for graduating high school, and 5k for graduating college, and then he was not allowed any other access to his fund. He will not be allowed any other access to his fund until he turns 40. Any other expense has to be deemed an emergency and signed off on by a board of his trust which includes only bank employees, and his trust manager, he has virtually no influence over them. There have been times that he really needed his money and they deemed that he did not, and voted against giving him access to his own funds. So in short, YES what you are being sarcastic about is how trust often work.

I suspect based on your tone you are trying to be sarcastic and snarky and don't actually care about the intricacies of trust structures. I won't answer any of your questions directly, because they are unclearly written, but will instead suggest that this information is very easy to find with a quick search.

Thanks for explaining.

You haven't understood the purpose of projects like these at all, have you?

I think what they are saying is that the land isn't really in your name if you can't sell it later.

This is exactly what your national and state parks systems do, along with all manner of other protected wilderness.

The wonderful thing about the system that's already in place is that you can contribute to it without being wealthy, just by visiting any of them for a day and paying the entrance fee. As an additional perk, you get to visit all of that protected wilderness, while other people have maintained it for you, and you get to increase the total visitation numbers which in turns helps to keep this and other protected wilderness secure for the future.

Go out and enjoy your local public lands.

+1 for parks and protected wilderness! If we want public lands to play a large part in turning around our worldwide ecological crisis, I think we need to devote more resources, money, and land to the issue. I am intrigued by endeavors, like the Half-Earth Project (https://www.half-earthproject.org/), that seek to restore ecologies on a very large scale.

Wish funds were distributed like that. I recall a certain 4th of July parade - with tanks, that was funded using visitation monies.


If you end up doing that (and are in the United States), I would encourage you to look into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

"The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat." [0]

[0] https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-...

My current favourite youtube channel is "Crime Pays But Botany Doesn't". He swears a lot. But he appears to know a lot about botany and a fair amount about geology. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3CBOpT2-NRvoc2ecFMDCsA

I thought you might enjoy this video about "kill your lawn" and native Illinois prairie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz9I2YwmV8M

This is awesome. Thanks for pointing it out, subbed.

You can't "let it return" any more. Land left alone will gravitate toward a state that's anything but natural, as the already-unnatural mix of species both within the land and in its surroundings assert themselves. Where I live, the most likely outcome is a patch of poison ivy. Other places, kudzu. Still others, a haven for invasive beetles or snakes or small carnivores. Returning land to a natural state takes work and know-how, not just passive ownership.

I call bullshit on this notion of natural and unnatural. You mean return the land to some imagined pristine prior state, which in the North American context means managed landscapes, because the NA landscape was managed in lots of ways by native inhabitants. This pristine wilderness is just an imagination of white settlers.

You are not going to rid the South of Kudzu. The only thing you can do is facilitate a ecological equilibrium in which Kudzu is now a part.

Ecosystems change. Species move. We assume a constant that is likely imaginary. I also think you are overemphasizing the harm.

> You mean return the land to some imagined pristine prior state

I'm not sure if "you" there was supposed to mean me or GP, but I had already explicitly challenged the concept of "natural" before you showed up (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20668387). Be careful of putting words in others' mouths, and especially of flinging terms like "bullshit" at others. Some might conclude that your own jeremiad better deserves that label.

> The only thing you can do is facilitate a ecological equilibrium in which Kudzu is now a part.

In the specific case of kudzu, perhaps. More generally, it's much more complex than that. "Only minor changes from how it is now" is as broken as "like it was 100 years ago" and for much the same reason. Other outcomes have proven possible, many times. Invasive species have been eliminated, once-native species reintroduced (locally of course). We might not know exactly what does and does not constitute a "natural" state after hundreds (or thousands) of years of human influence, but there's no reason to assume that the state resulting from passive neglect would be optimal in any sense. By many measures, such as species diversity or health/longevity, it's often objectively worse than alternatives.

> I also think you are overemphasizing the harm.

Interesting, since I didn't actually predict any harm. I predicted outcomes which you yourself categorize as harmful, even as you advocate for (in)action which makes them inevitable.

Land can be surprisingly cheap depending on where you look. Ag land in Ireland, at least, can be a couple grand an acre if you buy in bulk (and it's not good grazing land, but this can be great for reforesting).

World Land Trust is a good option, you can "buy" land per acre to protect it in perpetuity. I think we need to protect what we have and then look at rewilding as a second step. If we continue clearing wild areas (e.g the Amazon rainforest) more quickly then we replant, it seems like we're pissing into the wind.

There are also ecosystems around old fashioned farming. Let's say cows on pasture, flies, wagtails and swallows. Bird nesting places in willows growing in ditches. Human - nature interaction can reach a sort of equilibrium. Probably one could do something similar with modern technology. Talk to biologists.

Good thoughts, but no need to wait, Nature Conservancy:


As others have pointed out it's not enough to let the land alone, it needs at least minimal stewardship.

In Canada it's $1k/acre and sometimes even lower. But for your plan to have maximum effect you'd have to do some research what land would be best suited because of biodiversity and climate.

Where is this 1k/acre land in Canada? Is it in a place where you can do these following things? a) build a house b) buy it an acre at a time c) grow a reasonable crop d) be within reasonable distance to a city and the markets thereof

In Canada particularly, climate is an issue for growing crops. Wheat takes 100 days to mature. The growing season in the prairies is 110 days. If the climate drops 1 degree Celcius you lose 10 days off your growing season. If your growing season is delayed by cold or flooding, you don't get a crop that year. In the prairies it takes about 10 acres to sustain 1 cow year round. Throughout Canada there are all kinds of restrictions about how many houses and people you can have on your land. The concept of "starter house" and "starter farm" doesn't exist anymore. There is the nobility, and there are the serfs. We just don't call them that.

I think the OP wanted to return the land to its' natural state, not farm it or build on it

In the UK you can get a grant for doing that in certain ways. Not big money but it all helps I guess. My dad was doing this one until he had health problems https://www.gov.uk/countryside-stewardship-grants/organic-la...

Planting trees on it would even help more (if it is a climate zone where that is realistic).

I heard an Interview with the founder of the ecosia search machine yesterday, and they are looking for tree planting initiatives constantly..

For that, I'd be interested in Paulownia trees for their fast growing speed, and thus (I assume) faster CO2 reduction rate.

1) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulownia_tomentosa is also rapid to spread, which may turn out too rad for local flora or neighborhood politics thereof, while

2) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulownia_elongata seems not to spread on its own and thus may need active help for that.

You'll end up with a lot of soft wood from these relatively fast (10 years?). That should be used in some way that does not release the CO2 back.

I have no studies nor experience in biology nor gardening and all of this is only based on what I've been reading on the internet.

The most appropriate trees for an area are the local ones and with a view to Climate Change, the local species with good adaptability to climate change characteristics (need less water, can rezist temperatures variations, etc.). Pawlonia is being pushed/marketed heavily on the internet due to some superficial/mercantile characteristics (fast growth, big foliage), but besides that, in the agroforestry/agroecology academia, Paulonia is known to be just a marketing buzz, and a relatively dangerous one.

No, it would not; the parent comment is correct. Leave nature to determine what will grow best on the land, including the types of trees that take root. Only then will you end up with the optimal biodiversity and ecosystem.

If he wants to do it for nature’s sake I bravely assumed he wouldn’t plant a monoculture of unfitting trees but something that is common for the climate and the area.

Trees are good for the soil (help against erosion), the microclimate (shadow, humidity, temperature) and help in times of climate change. I assume a mixture of trees and not too narrow planting (as is sadly common in many parts of the world).

Many farm lands had trees in them before these lands were cultivated

Not if there are invasive species in the mix. It can be extremely labour intensive to prevent aliens from destroying all biodiversity in an area.

Same goal for me. In theory, no need to be rich to do this in France, non constructible areas are almost cheap... But the farmer corporations have a preemption right to buy all these lands.

Lobbying to protect national parks might be a better roi.

The (startup) company I work for is planning to do this actually. We won't be able to rewild a huge swathe of land but it is a start.

Can you share any more info on your company? I've long been interested in companies that work in this area, but I have seen few startups in the space. If not, no problem. Thanks!

We are rewilding not as the main operation, but are using some of our profits to rewild. We work in the energy sector. We began debating which good cause to give a portion of profits too, and ended up with the decision to purchase land and re-wild it. (Directly, not via an eco-charity)

That's super interesting. I had the same idea. I was thinking if there is a case in the current financial environment to just collect money from VCs, corporations etc and then buy land and make it "human-free". If you look at Chernobyl the results are very promising despite the radiation...

see for example: http://theconversation.com/chernobyl-has-become-a-refuge-for...

why would a VC put money in this? It's not like it promises any form of return on the investment.

As a charity cause, sure, but that is not something that the current financial environment encourages particularly.

> why would a VC put money in this?

Perhaps because they have much more money than they personally need and are wise? Surely there are some wise VCs out there.

Current? I don't think the financial environment has ever (or can ever) encourage giving money away.

around here there are so many invasive species that aren't native that it might be a good idea to not let those grow (mainly vines)

France probably shows the way forward:

"France is the first country to ban all 5 pesticides linked to bee deaths" https://inhabitat.com/france-is-the-first-country-to-ban-all...

Unfortunately, this will just increase imports from countries that don't ban them and make life harder for local farmers. It's the blessing of free trade based on lowest common denominators.

Maybe, maybe not. France does have a history of banning imports of fruits that contain pesticides it itself bans.

If it proves successful I guess they may ban those pesticides across Europe.

afaik neonicotinoids are banned in EU and the US is trying to force them to unban it

I can see the UK bowing to this pressure after Brexit.

(I'm a beekeeper btw).

i saw a documentary about manuka honey recently. apparently it can be done in UK too?

Manuka is a tree native to New Zealand and Australia, so that seems unlikely. Do you mean similar beekeeping techniques with different flowering plants?

I just did a search for [manuka honey uk], and found there's an awful lot of woo-woo around what to me in NZ is fairly ordinary honey!

It's a big business here selling for silly money eg https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/pure-gold-pre...

Apparently it does have some antibiotic properties beyond normal honey due to containing methylglyoxal.

new zealand climate (especially in the south) is not far off UK climate as far as i can tell. i found this http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cornwall/hi/people_and_places/na...

I have always been surprised that anyone is surprised that an insecticide is responsible for the widespread deaths of insects.

I assume there is some reason (not immediately obvious to an outsider like me) why it should be surprising, but all these stories feel like “REVEALED: wet pavements caused by spraying WATER on them!”

Well, I would have assumed that the usage of insecticides decreased in the last decades. At least I never had the impression that it increased massively.

Was the lack of insects not a clue?

Climate change has recently been blamed for the insect decline, as it tends to get all the environmental news these days.

The surprise seems to be from it having effects far beyond where it's used.

So more like, "Wet driveway caused by water spray from several houses away".

The EU banned field use of neonicotinoid pesticides from the start of this year. Is there evidence yet that insect populations within the EU are recovering this year? It's too early for scientific publications to have come out, but if you live in an agricultural area of the EU, have you observed a difference?

I live in Denmark where about 60% of the land is used for agriculture. I’m also a fly fisherman and entomology is almost a natural side effect of this hobby. This summer I’ve seen the best mayfly and caddis hatches that I’ve seen in several years. This is totally anecdotal and there likely many other factors, but increased organic farming and possibly already the ban of neonics could be showing its effects.

1000 days in circulation means we'll have to wait at least 4 summers to start seeing a change, I'd wager. Also, it might depend on where there are different types of insects currently, and how successful they happen to be in reproduction and spreading over time.

Since neonics have a half-life of ~30 days when exposed to sunlight (unclear if that’s continuous exposure or what), it could be that we see some statistically significant improvements sooner than the 1000 days.

I think they hang around in the soil and waterways (where insects live) much, much longer than the UV exposed half-life.

Also, I’d imagine it will take ecosystems multiple seasons (so years) to rebound and reach equilibrium.

I'm in rural Suffolk, UK (still part of the EU). I think that there were more bees for the first part of the summer this year, our Lime trees were buzzing for a few weeks - something that used to happen 10 years ago, but had stopped happening for a few years - I'd wondered and worried about it. We've had more insects in the garden in general this year too and far more bats, but I lined the pond last autumn and it's been alive with insects all summer so that may be the reason.

Neonicotinoids are new since 1994, so they get pointed to as the cause of Honeybee collapse, because what else could it be?

Well, a lot of things can cause a decline in insect populations, including non-human mediated things like new diseases, new parasites, or new competitors.

And there are some good reasons to think that neonicotinoids are unlikely to be a serious cause after all.


What's the cost of getting this wrong? You make farming more expensive overall, which means more CO2 emissions to grow the same amount of food, if you go in for that sort of thing.

Surely the cost of not using neonicotinoids for a few years, long enough to rule out it having a detrimental effect, is pretty small compared to that of destroying all the pollinating insects that we rely on for food production?

> Well, a lot of things can cause a decline in insect populations, including non-human mediated things like new diseases, new parasites, or new competitors.

Which may affect a few species. But not insects all across the board.

> What's the cost of getting this wrong? You make farming more expensive overall...

1. Farming relies on pollinating insects. Insect die-off is a great way to make it more expensive.

2. What is the cost of dumping poison into our biosphere, without having any idea of what the short and long-term consequences are?

I’m flabbergasted as to why this comment is downvoted. They’ve simply provided some counterpoints and asked a question. That’s how discussion and debate work. Maybe they’re wrong and there are good counter-counterpoints, but if so you should provide them instead of downvoting.

I have to say I agree with their points and reiterate their question, so I’d like to see some actual responses if any can even be made.

Furthermore, positioning increased insecticide use as ameliorating climate change is just madness.

The article is about neonictinoid pesticides. Lots of comments here about roundup and other herbicides, which is almost completely unrelated. The connection between insect death and a pesticide designed to kill insects is pretty clear. The connection with a widely tested herbicide designed to kill broad leaf plants is pretty tenuous.

It is soooo painful watching non-biologists debate pesticide impact based on watching biased, nonscientific reports. In the same way it's easy to train an ML model that is garbage, but you have to an expert in ML to understand why, it's easy to make mistaken conclusions with complex systems like biology/agriculture.

I see comments below like "pesticides are bitter and that's why vegetables grown with pesticides are bitter". That's a pretty odd conclusion, given that many vegetables contain bitter compounds already...

Please try to use actual logic, data, and science, not trivially disprovable claims.

wheat and corn aren't bitter, still they have natural pesticides called lectins.

Strawberries are sweet still they have tannins which are toxic to humans.

Some green plants taste sweetish or salty, yet they contain oxalates which can damage internal tissues and organs, joints and bones.

Hi, I am unable to find any literature supporting strawberry toxicity.

(also it's not clear if you're trying to refute my point or not).

The wording is a bit tricky, so one has to pay attention. 1) they are talking specifically about neonicotinoid pesticides and 2) this is because this is one of the pesticides that are known to have a disproportionately detrimental affect on bees.

There is an aspect of farming that is not discussed much in popular articles which is that of the timing of application. I believe that this is a concrete deliverable that both saves time and money and is feasible.

Not to jump slightly off topic, but it boggles my mind how this topic (i.e., toxins) has not been included in the (cost of) healthcare "debate" in the USA. How did health of the individual - which is a function of lifestyle and environment - become completely disconnected from the cost of trying to maintain that individual as a productive member of society?

Obesity gets a free pass. Sedentary gets a free pass. Toxins in the environment gets a free pass. Etc. What are (my fellow) Americans reading, watching, and talking about if these things this simple are completely foreign to them?

A small number of people are watching large amounts of money flow into their personal checking accounts and campaign fundraisers, and they decide which health and safety issues to focus on.

There’s no surprise here is there?

We, as a society, poison pretty much everything as a standard part of the agricultural process.

The outcome -the goal - of that is of course, death of vast numbers of insects.

Mission accomplished. It’s a success story, strangely.

The only thing that seems weird to me is how society was so easily convinced that soaking all our food in poison is OK and not a problem all good thumbs up. That’s really weird.

Is it that society was convinced? Or was/is it that it is more “out of sight, out of mind”? I think for the layperson, little matters other than how much does it cost? If there is some invisible but safe-for-us chemical that increases yield and decreases cost, all the better for us, right?

I think this is one of the great things to come out of the invention of the web. We are becoming better informed and this kind of information is becoming more prevalent. It’s becoming much harder for these big corporations to hide these negative side effects (insect decline, Round-Up cancers etc) and we as a population are becoming more aware of the negative side effects of our imprint on the world.

Reminds of all those times we are told that 'customers demanded X', as if we all stood outside supermarkets with placards saying, "We demand huge strawberries that don't taste of anything". The market does what helps the market, it often isn't good for people or the planet they inhabit - that's the story of our current era and customers need to demand change on that basis.

Yeah but when faced with the choice between the tomatoes that were $8.50/kg and really nice but would go off in 2 days, vs. the tomatoes that were $4.50/kg and still nice and red and lasted a whole week but were pretty tasteless, you bought the latter, didn't you?

Customers demand things by paying money for them.

Customers in many cases don't have the information to know the potential long term damages of buying the $4.50/kg tomatoes. It's insane to put that burden on the end user as opposed to the tomato grower. How in the world is the customer supposed to know what pesticides are used and what the damages could be?

Trying to flatten all these problems into the failings of individual customer decisions completely obfuscates the actual cause of these problems. Which is generally an economic system that puts private profits above everything else.

What's extra weird is that everything got really cheap, yet most people don't have any money, and the environment is in disarray. I'd imagine history is not going to look kindly on the wealthy.

> I'd imagine history is not going to look kindly on the wealthy.

That's assuming the money is going to the wealthy, which isn't really compatible with things being cheap.

What really happened is that other things -- like housing -- got more expensive. But most of that money didn't go to Bill Gates, it went to grandma when she retired to Florida and sold her house to a millennial for four times what she paid for it in real dollars, whose huge mortgage payment is in turn now eating more than all of the money saved from having crappy tomatoes.

The Walton and Mars family net worths exceed $250 billion. If you add in Aldi and Ikea you're over $340 billion, Bezos gives you another $100 billion.

Comparing absolute numbers to nothing isn't very meaningful. You compare your $340 billion to the almost a hundred trillion dollars in US total net worth and the amount that went somewhere else is above 99%.

To get to the numbers like "1% of people own 40% of the wealth" you have to go the 1%, which is to say about three million people, and then you're including a bunch of doctors and software engineers who are clearly not in the same box as the Walton and Mars families.

If you compare 340 billion to the net worth of the median person the mind boggles.

Then you're comparing the sum total of the wealth of many of the richest families to that of one individual person.

The fact that rich people have a lot of money is not really a recent development. But it's the focus on the super rich which is missing the thread.

If housing prices go up, people at the 25th percentile lose and people at the 75th percentile gain. We see the loss for the people at the 25th percentile and recognize it as a problem, but then people are pretending like we can just take the money "back" from the Walton family even though that's not where most of it actually went.

It went to home price appreciation for a bunch of middle aged and retired sociologists and car dealership managers and dental hygienists. If you want them to give it back so the poor aren't so poor then you have to recognize that and thereby identify who it is you really have to fight over that money.

My point was that Sam Walton didn't seem to exactly price in carbon when he went to market with wal-mart in the 70s. Had he, maybe the price and selection would not have resulted in that degree of wealth extraction (generation), the same could be true for Ikea tables, Amazon Prime 1 day toothbrush, Sugar and chemicals for candy, Pesticides on crops, Opioids, red meat, etc. We got exactly what we wanted, loads of new cheap stuff with loads of selection at our convenience. We also got a labor crisis, a health epidemic, climate change and massive knowledge and wealth inequality.

> Had he, maybe the price and selection would not have resulted in that degree of wealth extraction (generation)

Not really. The profit on buying for $8 and selling for $11 is about the same as on buying for $9 and selling for $12. You make a little less, because there is lower demand and you have higher initial capital costs for inventory, but it's only a marginal difference.

The reason they don't do it regardless is that if Sam Walton tries selling only the carbon-priced thing for $12 when some competitor is selling the bad thing for $11, the customer chooses the lower price. There is still a Walmart-shaped thing in the economy whether or not it's called Walmart and founded by Sam Walton, because most customers choose that over the thing that costs more.

Because they have instant personal feedback into the price and the taste but not into the long-term health effects of sugar and red meat. But if you can solve that for voters then doesn't the same solution work for customers?

I don't know how to respond to this. It makes no sense to me, so I'll agree to disagree.

What I'm saying is that you would have to convince people that red meat is bad for them before they'd be willing to pass a law against it. If they're not convinced of that then they'll just buy it from whoever sells it and it doesn't matter if one seller here or there carries it or not as long as somebody does, which somebody will as long as people want it. But if you successfully convince them that it's so bad for them that it should be illegal, wouldn't they just stop buying it at that point, even without a law or any action by retailers?

I see. I agree with that point generally. I think we're talking past each other? I'm thinking about the morality and ethics of a supply chain and how it's disclosed/understood. Where should we be working to offload the understanding of how vast humans in a societal context impact ecology?

Wait, ok, I genuinely don't understand your proposition here.

We should ignore the people with the most assets, and only pay attention to the people with the most assets?

"The people with the most assets" in aggregate are the upper middle class, lawyers and nurses and chemical engineers, not Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

But Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are part of the upper class. There's the whole "millionaires paid by billionares" type stuff.

What I'm saying is that the upper middle class (e.g. the top quartile excluding billionaires) has more money than the upper class (billionaires), because there are so many more people in it. Tens of millions rather than a couple thousand. But then they're regular people, doctors and engineers, one out of every four Americans.

The top 3 richest people (Gates, Buffet, Bezos) own more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country.

That's because the bottom 50% of the country own almost nothing. They rent and have debts. The net worth of the entire bottom quintile is negative -- if you have a dollar in your pocket you don't owe to someone then you have more wealth than the bottom 20% of the country.

Yeah and what's your point? That's a huge fucking problem.

History won't be looking kindly on anyone in this era. Wealthy or not.

It's not like before, when no one knew how things worked and were subsequently duped into doing dumb things. In this era, historians will find the information was openly published on the internet, in music, in newscasts, in movies, etc for all to see, and we still did the dumb thing.

I suspect entire books on everything from history to psychology will be written in an attempt to dissect and figure out what was going on and how this could happen?

$4.5/kg does not look cheap at all, I buy tomatoes for less than $1/kg directly from farmers 15 km outside the city or up to $1.5 from the Mega Image (Belgian chain) at the end of the street. The cheap ones have great taste, the supermarket ones are bad, I buy those only outside of the regular season when they are the only option.

puts every imaginable fruit and veggie in a store at extremely low prices

Why are people buying this food that is harming the planet??

Probably because those that produced and distributed goods and services (be it red meat, pesticides, prescription medications, airline tickets or Tupperware) did not clearly understand (or did and chose not to) and spell out the true cause and effect for the average consumer.

You can't put the burden on the grower either. If you have two growers, one who tries to internalizes all the costs of production and one who doesn't, the market will reward the latter, because the market -- the consumers -- only see the price and appearance of the tomatoes. Regulation is required so that externalizing costs is not an option for either grower. People who rail against regulations, most of them, just see it as a cost and a hassle and a totem of a hostile tribe they want to drive out of their society; but the people who are paid to rail against it are paid by interests who know well what the regulation is meant to do and know that they will be the externalizers without it. And what they're paying for is agents who will bamboozle the majority, keeping them useful, angry idiots.

It's not as simple as "regulation good" or "regulation bad" -- there are plenty of companies that lobby for regulation because they know it will exclude smaller competitors, or ward off lawsuits because they followed the regulations even if people still died, or they want them to get passed while their stooge is in the majority so they can draft the rules themselves and then claim that it was already done last year when someone else wants to do something more effective next year.

There was at one point (not sure if it's still in effect) a government regulation that you couldn't advertise that you had tested all of your beef for mad cow disease, because people would be inclined to favor beef that could make that claim and cause the market to demand a lot of expensive testing.

The problem is that in order to be effective, you need regulations that voters are paying detailed attention to. But that's almost exactly the same problem as getting consumers to pay detailed attention to what they're buying.

Here in Panama, many years ago Nestle became the main customer of tomato growers, and then through aggressive PR managed to make their canned tomato sauce into some sort of staple ingredient. There are at least three teams in this game, the farmers, the consumers and the intermediaries. One of them won.

I think this shows how there is some naivete combined with economic need that makes it easy for corporations to drive farmers against their own interests. Commoditization and systemic effects are completely ignored by people who desperately want economic certainty, no matter the precedent. In this free market, one day peppers are scarce and expensive, then the next season peppers are rotting because not enough people buy them. And land continues to steadily degrade under monoculture and animal husbandry.

When the free trade agreement with the US was signed cattle farmers thought they would be exporting meat to the US. Nature be damned. Meat is more expensive, there is meat from the US in the supermarket shelves, drought after drought makes it hard for small cattle farmers to subsist (unless they get into money laundry), and the Darien rain forest is being destroyed.

But listen to the economists. Nordhaus got the Nobel prize telling us how 3.5 degrees by 2100 is OK. Silly physicists and ecologists can't understand the magic of money.

Sure. There's regulatory capture. But this particular problem, the externalization of costs, is a classic one solved by regulation rather than the free market.

The problem where the pesticides are destroying native insect populations, sure. But not the problem where the tomatoes taste like nothing and have pesticide in them -- that's not an externality, it's an information asymmetry. And then it has the same problem in the legislature as the supermarket.

Central planning is a failure throughout history.

The problem isn't the capitalism that transitioned the US into a powerhouse that feeds the world or provides goods at discounted prices, or ensures that millennials in Minnesota can enjoy avocado dip while complaning about having to much.

This is a failure at the local level. Ever spent time in the grocery isle? Children believe their meat comes from meat packages. Not that it was a living creature at one point. As people have moved into cities, they've lost the connection to the land that provides for them, and life's interconnectedness.

Top this off with the crony capitalism that gives subsidies to farmers for tariffs, or subsides for a myriad of other reasons all of which are asinine(like ethanol or which crops yield most), and prevent groups like Monsanto from any real liability (both civil and criminal) by giving them government/EPA endorsements.. Such endorsements often take years before they recognize a mistake was made or that their data from 1977 is woefully inaccurate.

No this is a horror story of central planning gone horrifically wrong again, and no one can prosecute/sue these terrible companies out of existence because they have the EPA's blue checkmark and some politicians endorsement.

In the absence of the ability for individuals to hold companies liable for their mistakes, it is absolutely incumbent on individuals and parents to make sound choices. Depending on the government to be your saviour simply leads to more tragedy.

I stopped after you unironically started complaining about millennials and avocado dip (guacamole?)

Negative externalities are not priced in. The whole neoliberal market game is to extract benefits while pushing the burdens onto others. Vote with your wallet is only honest if all externalities would be priced in, otherwise it is just a vehicle for shifting the blame onto the hapless consumer.

Red isn’t a flavor and nice isn’t a texture though. Those $4.50 tomatoes are light red, mealy and flavorless. They’re the Red Delicious of the tomato world.

If you haven’t tried California dry farm tomatoes do yourself a favor, they’re worlds apart and worth every penny.

Also, keep your eye out for granger county TN tomatoes. Incredible.

When did I have that choice?

We did demand X though. The supermarkets had both tasteless strawberries and organic ones and we made our choice. Many supermarkets still have organic ones and we still pick the cheaper, larger, less tasty one.

Organic doesn't mean more flavor.

Tasteless strawberries are around for a few reasons

1) you can't try before you buy. bigger, redder strawberries look better, so sell better, so are grown more, and so on until that's the expectation. if varieties are cultivated for their looks, that means they're not cultivated for their taste or sugar content

2) bigger strawberries are easier/faster to pick, which means they're cheaper to pick

3) people want strawberries in winter, which means for a lot of us that means we're accustomed to buying strawberries that have been shipped thousands of miles and not picked recently.


> Organic doesn't mean more flavor.

It doesn't formally mean that, but often it means that in practice.

I think some of the success of organic food is that it can in practice be a marker for attractive features that otherwise have nothing to do with "organic". Consumers learn the association and use it, even if they don't buy into the organic philosophy.

There are much better labels than "organic" to indicate flavor. "Heirloom", "local", "in-season", "small plot", "not greenhouse grown", "small", "picked ripe", "picked today" are all labels that are more likely to indicate flavor than organic, IMO.

But the best is to find a producer or label that prioritizes flavor.

Organic produce has monopolized the premium section of supermarkets. Without organic, supermarkets would find some other way to sell higher margin produce to less price conscious consumers. That dimension would probably be taste (or locality, which I have another rant about).

Maybe they should try advertising this.

For me, "organic" is a marker for "bullshit label that's used to convince people to pay more." If they actually do taste better, I might buy the stuff.

Most supermarkets have pint baskets where you’re allowed to sample. Sometimes they have sampling and “pit” trays. So people do have a choice at least in some supermarkets.

The big issue for consumers (me inc) is shelflife. I want them to last more than 3 days in the fridge.

Seascapes and Rosas have a decent combo of shelflife and taste.

>The big issue for consumers (me inc) is shelflife. I want them to last more than 3 days in the fridge.

Are you married and if so, do both of you work full time jobs? My hunch is that this is directly related to two-income households

Shelflife has always been a big hurdle to cooking for me, and I’m a bachelor.

I suppose there are certain tricks to it, but one of the big things I do to make this much less of a problem is to make meals using only one or two at most short-life items.

The rest of the meal comes from things that will happily sit for weeks on end in the cupboard without going off. Things like: Pasta, onions, tomato pureé, garlic, stock cubes, kidney beans, lentils, rice, bacon, etc.

This does mean that often the one fresh thing I use is the meat in any given dish.

This is analogous to how people used to cook as well, keeping a large store of long-life ingredients and merely supplimenting them with whatever was fresh.

In a similar boat, and I find that meat and veggies I buy from the CSA have longer fridge life because they were butchered/picked closer to selling time

I want my strawberries to survive till nightfall. Because strawberries.. yum!

Why is a long lasting bad thing better than a short lasting good thing? Why not buy frozen berries, dehydrated berries, or just cardboard, if shelf life is the priority?

I just want to share an anecdotal story with regards to "tasteless" produce from super markets.

I used to absolutely despise eating salad, I never knew why but I always just thought it was boring and I'd rather eat anything else; However, my girlfriend and I wanted to buy produce that wasn't wrapped in plastic so we started to shop at a local market held each week.

There we meet a Tongan farmer who grew everything using traditional methods, the biggest difference he said was that he used absolutely minimal irrigation (unless absolutely required due to drought at planting) and he also said that what made vegetables bitter was pesticides and it turned people off them (so I'm assuming he dind't use them). He said that the lack of pesticides and excessive water is what made his stuff taste so great, and his groups had to be a little tougher to survive so he believed they were healthier crops.

Anyway the guy was legit and he and his wife often held weekends where you could visit his farm and see everything, it was real deal.

The main point I wanted to make was that, while we were being produce from this guy, I noticed that I actually loved eating the salads, like became quite addicted to them, he even sold the flowers from all the vegetables and told us the best nutrients are found in the flours, they were delicious. Ever since we moved away and no longer had access to this guys produce, I went off them immediately again. I really dislike standard supermarket produce.

With all respect, that's a load of magical thinking and placebo effect.

Maybe but not clearly so.

The produce I grow in my garden does in fact taste much better than the produce in the supermarket. There are good reasons for this. I grow heirloom varieties that were bred for taste and not shelf life. Watermelons and tomatoes in particular really do taste much better when they are under water stress. A watermelon that has been given too much water looks fabulous and has almost no sugar. I pick them when they’re ripe not a week before that.

IDK whether pesticides make produce bitter. But the rest of the post checks out.

Poisons are typically bitter, so that point doesn't seem unreasonable. That being said, the poisons the plants produce themselves to fend off insects are also bitter, so maybe the Tongan farmer was doing something not mention to reduce insect depredations without externally applied insecticides.

I have lived in situations where there was a good farmer's market nearby where I could buy produce directly from small local farmers, and I have had the same thing happen to me. I began looking forwards to eating a salad, then stopped when I no longer had easy access to the good stuff.

The various things that happen to produce destined for a shelf halfway across the country are really just not appetizing.

I will never forget the first green beans I ate from a farmers market picked the day before at the height of bean season. Wow, so sweet, so yummy. I grew up eating canned green beans. Ugh, what a travesty that is.

I don't think so because it wasn't actually me who cared about the produce, it was my partners idea to change suppliers. I just went a long with it and thought nothing of it.It wasn't until I realized I was enjoying salad that I started asking questions and I found out he was using different methods and not just reselling other farmers produce.

I must admit I noticed right away the the produce was far more visually appealing then what I was used to, more saturated colors, I put it down to it being washed more thoroughly.

I think it's also important to note that once I stopped receiving the better produce, I tried very hard to continue liking salads, I just couldn't do it.

On a side note, I'd like to say is, it's a shame people miss out on eating the flowers of plants, they're really delicious and a visually impressive addition to salads.

Organic only means that the grower can't use synthetic pesticides, so Organic Foods are not pesticide free. The Government has allowed various Organic Pesticides that growers can use. I still choose Organic for most of my food whether that makes a difference or not.

Getting back to the Original story, the Pesticides used in Organic Farming still kill insects.

Here is a link with more information.


Many organic pesticides are synthetic. The organic label in the US doesn't mean much.

I pay a premium for tasty, often seasonal fruit like strawberries and peaches because the difference in taste is night and day.

One tastes better than candy. The other will teach kids not to eat fruit.

A tip: Use your nose to sniff and distinguish between what’s ripe and tasty and what’s merely visually appealing.

I think you've touched on an important point here: Not only do we demand perfect looking produce, we demand it out of season, and we demand it to be shipped in from all over the world on a daily basis.

The reason we use pesticides is because farmers need to increase yields to meet demand. But what if we didn't demand asparagus in winter. What if we didn't demand apples in spring? What if people in northern climates didn't eat pineapple or coconut or bananas regularly? What if we bought food from the store that had bruises or imperfections?

Same, I often don’t bother buying alcohol or chocolate and spend that money on better quality produce, a good piece of fruit is better than any other desert in my opinion.

Why don't we care that fruit that is "better than candy" was genetically engineered over centuries to be full of unhealthy amounts of sugar?

Modern grocery fruits are not naturally healthy.

The fiber, the general high water content, pectin, and vitamins make ripe fruit a superior choice.

More than one time I bought organic and there wasn't a big difference. Fruit quality and taste is so random that in the end I buy the cheapest

This is in fact among the best signals, because ripe fruit is a perishable commodity that floods the market in season.

When I'm casing a supermarket looking for fruit I tend to start with price and then check the goods.

This is the same reason that popular non-fast food restaurants have better tasting food in general.

The flow allows you to have more fresh produce.

I only buy organic when it’s not in some ghetto due to pricing.

Organic doesn’t mean pesticide free. The pesticides used are “natural” instead of man made. Organic also means manure based fertilizer which means risk of food borne diseases like Ecoli 157h and salmonella.

This is a huge pet peeve of mine specifically with Organic Strawberries. Somehow this company called "Driscoll's" has started showing up nationwide for berries. Straw, Blue, Black, Rasp, etc... It must be a conglomerate at this point. But some people at various Whole Foods corporate and other outlets have just started bowing down to them. The offer the most tasteless organic strawberries in the world.

Except, they don’t actually give you a way to judge taste. With apples people learn of better tasting variety, but strawberries are unlabeled.

aren't they? here in France there are a few labelled varieties (not as many labels as apples, though)

At least in the US it looks like this: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-fresh-fruits-berries-...

You don’t actually know anything about the strawberries in the bottom left other than their organic.

In France they show the country of origin (region when it is from France) and the variety. Sometimes they state if it is organic.

Generally, the French fruits are more expensive but tastier. But when it is the high season of the fruit, like july/august for melon, then the french one are also cheaper.

I don't do this, but I do notice that in super markets lots of people do try the fruit before they it. So there are ways of making sure you get good fruit.

It'd be more accurate to say 'commoditization favoring economies of scale for the sake of anti-competitive oligopolization demands X.' It then takes some PR money to make people 'demand' all the crap.

Addded: the mindless commoditization is abetted by subsidies, including the subsidy of not having to price in negative externalities.

> I think this is one of the great things to come out of the invention of the web. We are becoming better informed and this kind of information is becoming more prevalent. It’s becoming much harder for these big corporations to hide these negative side effects

We are at the end of that era. The big corporations are slowly closing down that unintended loophole in which the internet was a tool for free movement of knowledge. Google now filters and shapes results into their idea of what is OK rather than exactly what you are searching for [1]. The FBI just called conspiracy theorists a domestic threat [2] and open forums are under attack [3]. Not long ago you were a nutjob for claiming Monsanto and Roundup were anything other than gifts from God. We will be going back to that world soon enough.

[1] http://autocompleteaudit.com/autocomplete/Bill%20clinton

[2] https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.businessinsider.com/fbi-doc...

[3] https://www.reddit.com/r/conspiracy/comments/clxdjk/conspira...

"The FBI assesses anti-government, identity based, and fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity," the document said. "The FBI further assesses in some cases these conspiracy theories very likely encourage the targeting of specific people, places, and organizations, thereby increasing the likelihood of violence against these targets."

Gee, what a bunch of authoritarian whack jobs.

I agree with your sentiment except for its defeatist facet. Let's not act like we are defeated and helpless. We can help shape the web and the internet into the shape we want and we are not helpless.

People were fighting Monsanto back in the late 90s. If anything I think they have improved their public image, poor though it still is.

Now they are Bayer, and Monsanto doesn't exist anymore.

The same people are still poisoning us, though.

you are neglecting the negative effects of spraying billions of tons of Roundup on the planet before the public knows for sure that it is a dangerous poison. Same with neonics, we sprayed too much and the insect populations shrunk too much and will not revive quickly since the poison is still in plants and soil.

The obvious thing is that industries work for profit and have no sympathy with insects or the health of individuals and that we are unable to regulate industries in a proper way.

For me the example of what you cite is the wonder product 'Scotchgard'.

You could put it on your shoes from new and they would stay looking new, you could spray it on furniture and it would survive spills from coffee/tea/wine. You could coat your whole house with Scotchgard and be blissfully unaware that it was a bio-hazard.

Plus who thought negatively of the 3M corporation?

3M was a brand that you trusted, it was a sign of quality and familiar through 'Scotchtape™' and 'Post-It™' notes. Their reflective products were literally brilliant and life saving. Smart people used Scotchgard. Stupid people that didn't care about their belongings didn't.

But now we know that perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS - the magic ingredient) is not what you want in your blood. Pretty much stands to reason when you think about it, but nobody in the 1980's thought that carpets laced with the stuff would lead to people being poisoned with it.

The same chemical was used in bulk by the military for fire-fighting kit and other uses, plus the factories making things like shoes, carpets and everything else led to a pollution problem. So now, along with Strontium-90 we all have a little bit of perfluorooctane sulfonate in our bodies. Lovely.

Since the chemicals are not 'food' or 'medicines' there is no regulation on what is a safe level to have in the water supply.

But we now know that from the early 1970's the people at 3M knew there was a problem. But they kept quiet and just marketed more and more variations of the product. I only learned recently that PFOS was evil. I had also stopped using it without thinking about it. Partly due to other products such as Gore-Tex™ coming along there is way as a consumer that you realise the old product has been phased out. You just pay the premium for the new and improved water repellent to not even know the old one was 'evil'.

But the execs at 3M knew all along. Like the execs at Philip Morris. Or at Exxon. Or at Monsanto.

Critical to Gore-tex is the DWR coating, which is still made of PFCs (basically Scotchgard). Sometimes they use shorter chain molecules like C6 (vs. C8), which have a shorter biological half-life, but the harmful effects are the same.

I think this "Roundup is a dangerous poison" was a propaganda meme that came out of the need to demonize US agribusiness in Europe. It's a kind of social activism protectionism. I would not be at all surprised to learn it was sustained by funding from ag interests in Europe.

OF course Roundup is not a dangerous poison. This is simply a lie that is repeated over and over by the dishonest and the gullible.

I base my opinion on three court cases in the USA where evidence was borught to court that Monsanto knew many years ago about the cancer causing risks. on what do you base "this is simply a lie" ?

Court cases are not good ways to determine science. In a particularly egregious case in the 1980s, for example, a jury returned a verdict for a defendant in which it was claimed that a head injury in a car accident led to lung cancer.

Scientifically, there is no good evidence that Roundup causes cancer.


Please don’t cite snopes, it’s the worst possible citation you can give.

Here’s a better citation: IARC (the World Health Organization’s cancer research division) conducted a review with 20 international experts of all the publicly available research on glyphosate and found that it does indeed likely cause cancer: https://www.iarc.fr/featured-news/media-centre-iarc-news-gly...

court cases like that don't mean anything, they're super biased by what lawyers make up as a narrative.

Whether roundup is safe or not is not clear to me, but the decision of 12 unwilling laymen with no access to independent research tools is certainly not credible.

I did not say anything about the capability of the jury but was talking about the evidence that was brought to court.

Poe's Law is strong with this one. I can't tell if you're serious or if this is advanced snarkasm.

Totally serious. The anti-Roundup fervor is of a kind with anti-GMO fervor. The goal of it is to provide a pretext to exclude cheaper US agricultural products from Europe.

I don’t trust the research that was done on roundup. Supposedly it degrades within six months.

The reality is that it doesn’t. We know this because the city of Davis, CA does public composting. Yard trimmings are scooped up, taken to the city compost yard, and over a year or som it becomes compost. Residents can pick up a quantity of free compost every year.

Around ‘97-‘98 the city compost started killing many kinds of plants.

The cause turned out to be glyphosphate. Despite Monsanto’s research, the reality was that glyphosate persists far longer than six months.

Hmmm.... wouldn’t farmers have figured this one out pretty quickly? Spray their fields then plant a month after? Sure, some of them use around-Up resistant seeds, but not all.

The recommendation when using glyphosate to kill existing plants before reseeding is to wait a week after application before reseeding. I’ve done this seeding grasses, grains, and root vegetables. It works just fine.

Wasn’t there a city worker suing Monsanto over this?

American farmers suing a German company (Bayer) over their cancers is about protecting the European economy?

I haven't researched this in any great depth but I did just run across the following:



Doesn't sound completely cut-and-dried to me.

Tell this to my husband's brother, who has probably-terminal cancer of a type that's got a strong statistical link to the chemicals he worked with as a lawncare professional.

"Chemicals", not Roundup.

Guilt by association?

Pretty sure that's one of the ones he worked with.

There's also that class-action suit for Roundup users who are also cancer-havers that I keep seeing ads for lately...

Considering the amount of pesticide that homeowners spray in their own yards, I'd say most of society was pretty much convinced.

If it helps the place where I’ve seen nature taking back was Chernobyl. Looks like radioactivity is far less toxic than humans.

> If there is some invisible but safe-for-us chemical that increases yield

In fact increased yield is also kind of good for the environment because this way agriculture needs less space. (Speaking of deforestation because of agriculture...) But still, insecticides, fungicides etc. have been used far too carelessly in the past and of course it takes years or sometimes decades to see the effects...

There's certainly a trade-off. However, grocery stores in the US discard massive amounts of produce, and then still more is wasted when consumers bring it home and don't use it. It feels like we would have plenty of room to reduce yields, ship less food around, and still get everybody fed. (that's a hypothesis, not a conclusion)

I'm too lazy to get the reference but at least for Germany or EU both numbers you mention (consumer throwaway rate + supermarket throwaway rate) were double digit. So yeah, your conclusion is pretty much justified ;)

It's a mix of both. If you want to eat tomatoes in the middle of winter agriculture will have to use a lot of pesticides. If society didn't have ridiculous expectations my guess is that the industry would use more sustainable methods of growing food.

Everyone wants to eat tomatoes in the middle of winter! I also want ice cream that tastes great but has no calories. If some company makes an ice cream like that but we find out 10 years later it's leading to the extinction of many insect species on the planet. Is it really my fault for buying the ice cream? Not the producers fault for using chemicals with such huge downsides?

Of course you're fucking responsible. We all are in some way. And that's the thing. We need to start acting more responsibly instead of expecting someone else to solve our problems. We can't live in a world where we consume meat three times a week. Demand drives the market and what the market does is deforesting huge areas to grow grass to feed the cows which in turn add tons of methane to the atmosphere. Companies won't change unless we change our habits.

And no, not everyone wants to eat tomatoes in the middle of winter. People who are more knowledgeable about food production never eat fruits and vegetables out of their seasons.

How can people be responsible for knowledge they don't have? Not everyone can know everything about all of the food they eat, which is by design in some cases.

I do think we all share some blame. We live in a democracy (no matter how flawed) and we bear some of the burden of the decisions of society as a whole.

The answer to these problems however isn't just saying "everyone stop eating tomatoes in the winter." You know full well that tomatoes grown in the summer are grown using the same shit, they can just source them from somewhere a little bit further north.

Why is it that I can go to the grocery store and see two different types of tomatoes: one type is cheaper and is killing the planet and the other is more expensive but safe for the environment? I have the means and the knowledge to buy the more expensive one but we can't expect that someone living paycheck to paycheck is going to be willing or even able to do the same. They aren't the ones to blame here.

I do agree that we can't expect someone else to solve this problem for us. We need collective action to demand significant regulation and change to the economic system. Scolding individual people for making rational economic decisions when they have a boot on their neck isn't going to fix anything.

> We are becoming better informed

'Distracted' is probable a more accurate median adjective for this phrase.

With Google you don't have confirmation bias, just confirmation.

That would be true if not for massive disinformation campaigns by corporate interests. Apparently most of us can't be bothered to dig into the source / motivations behind any media story, be it TV news, newspapers, Facebook feeds, Twitter posts, or blogs, etc.

Men and women went to great lengths to make sure no one ever got a straight answer regarding glyphosate. Y'know they use it to kill wheat before harvesting? Makes it lighter so the harvester can save a few piastres. Whole wheat bread can actually be a lot less clean than white bread, because the glyphosate is not washed off of the outer layer of the grain, which is discarded in the production of white bread.

Is it safe to eat glyphosate? Well Patrick Moore says that a person could drink a glass of the stuff and be fine. He also said "no I won't drink it. I'm not an idiot."

In Hawaii I notice absurd amounts of pesticide use. Look at any place where humans gather: if it has plants, it has pesticide. Golf course, soccer field, planter, sidewalk turf.

The application of herbicides before harvest is about more than making things easier for the harvester:


Well, that's a problem with many aspects involving "wilderness", not just insects. The usual train of thought seems to be that yes, natural landscapes are occasionally pretty, but as a farmer it would be irrational to have them on your land. Problem of course, if there is someone for every patch of land who says "not here", then in the end, there is no room for it to go at all.

As another person said, its more about being "out of sight, out of mind". But the biggest component is cost and availability. Large scale farming (unsustainable over the long term) with a single crop per season and minimal rotation allowed for huge crop yields over the short term which drove prices down. At this point the majority of consumers do not want to pay more than they've become accustomed to paying for any fruits or vegetables.

Sustainable farming costs more in the short term. Over the long term it is the only reasonable way to farm.

The book "Lentil Underground" by Liz Carlisle was a great read on this topic.

The outcome is also better lives, less sickness, healthy crops etc. yes there are drawbacks but the goal isnt just good or bad its good and bad, the discussion we can have is whether is more good than bad or vice versa.

> The only thing that seems weird to me is how society was so easily convinced that soaking all our food in poison is OK and not a problem all good thumbs up. That’s really weird.

It's probably more a "tragedy of the commons" type of thing.

If X is detrimental to society but necessary for big players to make more money, then you can bet X will happen. Especially if society doesn't find out immediately about the bad aspects.

> That’s really weird.

From what I can gather (anecdotally) is most of them would rather trust the system, or blame the system, than confront the fact they are undermining their children's future. Stormy Daniel's is a concern. The shite passing for food on the kitchen table is not nearly as important.

I'm not joking when I say, we are in The Matrix - just batteries for the machine.

> The only thing that seems weird to me is how society was so easily convinced that soaking all our food in poison is OK and not a problem all good thumbs up. That’s really weird.

Not really. The alternative was having all our food eaten by insects and not having enough left over for ourselves. It's kind of a no-brainer in the short run.

well because evolution has made it so that what kills insects only manages to give us a really bad headache (and potentially cancer way down the line, but everything gives us cancer so that is okay)

Not juat agriculture, every lawn and apartment complex.

If all people started growing their own food it would be far worse. I believe thats how people were convinced

>"that's really weird"

Not really, given that our use of pesticides allows us to feed billions of people worldwide at low cost. Rates of hunger in the developed world are almost non-existent and globally hunger rates are as low as they've ever been and continue to plummet.

Pesticide treated food is safe and healthy too, so we're feeding the world with safe and healthy food. This is a great thing.

It's not surprising at all that people would say all good. There would need to be some catastrophic side effects of pesticide use for people to even think about questioning it.

So far all problems related to pesticides have been far, far outweighed by them giving us the ability to feed billions.

Thereby causing global climate disruption, likely ultimately causing billions to starve.

Nice work.

We'll be fine. We already have the tool to save the climate (nuclear), just need to actually use it.

It would take far too long to get enough nuke capacity online to do any good, and would steal capital from more cost-effective measures. Nuke power was never justifiable on a cost basis, and is much less so now than ever before.

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