By 2050, the world will need to find enough food to feed 10 billion people. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, and some estimates suggest that food production will have to increase by 70% in order to meet demand. Currently, one in nine people in the world do not have enough food to eat.

There’s a big debate going on about the use pesticides across Europe at the moment. Given that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that up to 40% of global crop yields are lost each year due to pests, can food production be increased without relying on conventional farming techniques such as pesticides?

There’s an extra complication. It’s obviously not enough to feed more people. Given that we live on a planet with limited resources, it’s also important to grow food in a sustainable way. That means preserving and protecting our environment, and growing crops without degrading soil quality, biodiversity, or creating too many carbon emissions.

So, we’re opening up a debate on the question of sustainable agriculture. Is it possible without using pesticides? Can we feed a growing population without relying on conventional farming methods? Or are there safe and sustainable ways to use pesticides?


Curious to know more about sustainable agriculture and pesticides? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had comment sent in from Kevin, who believes that sustainable agriculture is not possible if pesticides are used. Is he right?

To get a reaction, we put Kevin’s comment to Céline Charveriat, Executive Director at the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). How would she respond?

For another perspective, we also took Kevin’s comment to Professor Emilio González-Sanchez, General Secretary at the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF). What would he say?

We also put Kevin’s comment to Faustine Bas-Defossez, Policy Manager for Agriculture and Bioenergy at European Environmental Bureau (EEB). What would she say to Kevin?

Finally, we approached David Cary, Executive Director at the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association (IBMA). What did he have to say?
Sustainable agriculture: With or without pesticides? Can we feed 10 billion people without using conventional farming techniques? Are tougher rules needed (as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food has argued) to ensure pesticides are used in a sustainable way? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reaction!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Editorially independent content supported by: The European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). See our FAQ for more details.
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116 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

    • Gavin Whitmore

      Farming without pesticides can result in the loss of as much as 80% of yields (crop dependent) to pests and diseases. Consider the consequences of this on farmer livelihood, food supply and the cost of food, and the threat to the environment posed by the inefficient (wasteful) use of resources such as energy, water, soil and land.

    • Beth Keune

      Organic farming uses pesticides too. The only difference is that they are ‘natural’, like copper based products. Copper can build up in the soil, but is allowed in organic farming systems because it is ‘natural’. Some people stop organic farming because their soil is so damaged by copper use.

    • Moshe Pinto

      Organic doesn’t mean free of pesticides.

  1. Nando Aidos

    We do not need all this enhanced production when we systematically trash 50% of all our crops! What a waste only to make a few agribusinesses uber-rich!

  2. nando

    We do not need all this enhanced production when we systematically trash 50% of all our crops! What a waste to make a few agribusinesses uber-rich!

    • Lukasz

      With, because without pesticides there would be much more food wastage. I agree with you that it is necessary to reduce the food wastage, but for the moment we are not very successful in doing so. Even if we manage to reduce the food wastage to zero (now its around on average 30%, depending on the region, country) we still need to deal with rising population and organic farming (which is using some pesticides) requires more water, more land and energy to produce the same quantity of food compering to conventional farming.

  3. Daniel Parvanov

    Depends on alternatives… Best is natural grown apples… If its Apples with current modern farming (some or low pesticides are used against worms) vs GMO Apples with jellyfish genes which kills worms without pesticides I prefer pesticides …

  4. Hr Tom Mosen

    our bees are dying at an alarming rate, because of pesticides..
    this is a threat to our entire food production, as there are no polinators to replace them, and thereby less crops grown..

    • Gavin Whitmore

      Tom, there’s a lot of mixed-messages around the contribution of pollinators to food production and food security. You probably know that staple crops like wheat for e.g. are pollinated by wind-action and do not require insect pollination at all. Of course, fruits and veg rely heavily on the pollination services of bees (including the honey bee) and other insects, it’s therefore vital that we protect them. Those that make a living from agriculture are acutely aware of this – they depend upon the continued pollination service that bees provide, which translates to good crop yields, and in-turn, a healthy profit. Whether your business is growing food or developing crop protection solutions (pesticides), protecting bees and other pollinating insects is very much a priority. And, did you know that honey bee numbers are actually increasing? See this report from the European Commission http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2016/EN/COM-2016-776-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF (Section 3.3, page 6).

  5. Beth Keune

    I’d rather not get ergotism or face another potato famine. With … of course.

    • Gavin Whitmore

      Beth, these are excellent examples of serious problems that agriculture in the developed world has effectively ‘consigned to history’. Of course, they still exist, but today pesticides help manage pest and disease threats so effectively that the EU takes a plentiful supply of safe, high quality, and affordable food for granted.

  6. Tamzin Jans

    Can we seriously replace pesticides with some natural enemies of those who harm our food?

    • Gavin Whitmore

      This is an excellent question, Tamzin. In the EU, it is a requirement for farmers to protect their crops from pests with a practice known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM includes practices that promote the occurrence of natural enemies to fight pests – supporting an optimised use of pesticudes. IPM can be described as the holistic use of all available plant protection methods to discourage the development of weed, pest and disease populations and keep the use of pesticide and other interventions to levels that are economically and ecologically justified, and minimise risks to human health and the environment. IPM encourages farmers to employ a variety of tools and techniques to protect their crops; this is important for various reasons, but not least because natural enemies will in many cases not be sufficient to completely manage a pest threat. Access to a comprehensive range of cultural, physical, biological, and chemical tools, enables a farmer the means to achieve sustainable productivity. This infographic is pretty useful in outlining the basics of IPM https://issuu.com/cropprotection/docs/14538_integratedpestmanagement_v3_2

  7. Lukasz Leonard

    For all those who opted for “without” I have a question – Are you ready to pay 40% more for your food? Do you think the world is ready to pay 40% more?

    • Chris Pavlides

      For real yes. For tasteless dummy full of chem not even a penny.

    • Lukasz Leonard

      you are the lucky one then if you can afford that!

    • Ana Maria Ruiz

      No way! Is cheaper to farm the old fashion way with the new technologies! Just like is cheaper to stay healthy without chemicals!

  8. Moshe Pinto

    Escuse me for imposing but I will tell you in a few words why, what you propose is not sustainable and organic foods are only for rich people. THE PLANET IS OVER POPULATED!!!! And organics is just another business that’ll consume twice’s more water.

    • Vivien Watson Toft

      the planet s not overpopulated and many large growing ares have been organic for years.

    • Moshe Pinto

      Organics= 10x more expensive. I can’t afford it.

    • Juliana Luecke

      AND half of the production is going to waste….or more…..

  9. Jean-michel Blue

    Never ever with pesticides – how did the guys 100 years ago ? how did we 2,000 years ago ? this age is the age of the Ape Man – who lost all senses of what is right . so , what have we got left ? change , change , and change before its too late .

    • Lukasz Leonard

      Population 2k years ago was not on the level of 8 billion people.

    • Anika Gatt Seretny

      Actually we’ve been protecting crops for a lot longer than you may realise. The first recorded use of insecticides is about 4,500 years ago by Sumerians who used sulphur compounds to control insects and mites, whilst about 3,200 years ago the Chinese were using mercury and arsenic compounds for controlling body lice. Nowadays, organic and conventional farmers have access to a range of chemical pesticides that are considerably more sophisticated, targeted and more environmentally friendly than they have ever been. In a perfect world we’d not need chemicals to grow our food, and all production, including organic, could be ‘chemical free’. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality of the world we live in and since the day agriculture has begun farmers have been fighting with pests and diseases: we’re not the only ones that want to eat our food; we compete with an intimidating list of insect pests, fungi, and bacteria that are looking for a free lunch.

  10. Malcolm Light

    Seeing as the giant buildup of Atmospheric methane in the lower stratosphere (jet streams) in the northern hemisphere confirms that we are now facing a final Permian Style catastrophic Arctic methane destabilization and methane blowout global extinction event between 2021 and 2026 this discussion is pointless. You should be discussing helping the Russians depressurize the extremely dangerous sub sea methane vents in the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Arctic Shelf. See Sam Carana’s arctic-news.blogspot.com.

  11. Jorge Amat Claro

    With knowledge of pests AND the animals that prey upon said pests, why poisoning an environment from which resources are obtained?

    • Gavin Whitmore

      Jorge, I can perhaps offer a similar answer to that given to Tamzin, above. Despite efforts to promote their populations at field-level, the numbers of natural enemies of pests will in many cases not be sufficient to completely manage a pest threat. This being that case, it is important to ensure that farmers have access to a comprehensive range of tools, including means to make safe and sustainable use of pesticides. This enables a farmer to produce crops efficiently, and therefore achieve sustainable productivity. In the EU, it is a requirement for farmers to protect their crops from pests with a practice known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM includes practices that promote the occurrence of natural enemies to fight pests – which contributes towards an optimised use of pesticides. IPM can be described as the holistic use of all available plant protection methods to discourage the development of weed, pest and disease populations and keep the use of pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically and ecologically justified, and minimise risks to human health and the environment. This infographic covers the basics of IPM https://issuu.com/cropprotection/docs/14538_integratedpestmanagement_v3_2

  12. Lorna Carmichael

    Susan Sanjuan Might be interesting for F. I wish the local fruit farmers here could refrain from spraying so much pesticide. If they’re near the lane when I’m leaving for work my car gets sprayed too.

  13. Lorna Carmichael

    Susan Sanjuan Might be interesting for F. I wish the local fruit farmers here could refrain from spraying so much pesticide. If they’re near the lane when I’m leaving for work my car gets sprayed too.

    • Gavin Whitmore

      No need to shout, Luc. Your statement reminds me of the dogma of anti-pesticide campaigners; it tells people what they should think, without the courtesy of evidence or explanation. Sustainable agriculture is made possible with the use of pesticides and other agricultural innovations; here’s some food for thought: Sustainability is the product of balance between social, economic and environmental factors. This sustainable balance must also be achieved in agricultural production – i.e. we need to produce sufficient safe healthy food, at a fair price for the consumer and farmer, whilst contributing to maintain/improve environmental conditions. This is, of course, a huge challenge for farmers. Removing farmer access to pesticides and other tools that improve production efficiency, and food quality, risks failure to deliver towards social and economic objectives. Likewise, resource-inefficient agriculture is a serious threat to the environment. Imagine, for example, the environmental consequences of expanding agricultural land to compensate for the avoidable loss (of sometimes as much as 80%) of crops to pests and diseases.

  14. Rolf Shenton

    Is sustainable agriculture possible with pesticides? Every time you spray poison to kill one pest, you kill off the predators. Pest is smaller or has shorter lifecycle and so recovers quicker. Problem just gets worse. Create habitat for predators and you solve problem permanently. Unlearning the indoctrination is the hardest

    • Gavin Whitmore

      Sustainable agriculture is not possible where crops are not sufficiently protected from pests. Pest predators are important, Rolf; in fact, in the EU it is required, through a practice known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that farmers promote the occurrence of natural enemies to fight pests. However, even though farmers work to promote natural pest populations at field-level, the numbers of natural enemies of pests will in many cases not be sufficient to completely manage a pest threat. This being that case, it is important to ensure that farmers have access to a comprehensive range of tools, including pesticides.

  15. Maia Alexandrova

    Pesticides are poisoning the soil and water and causing numerous diseases, including cancer. During WW2 the same substances were used for the production of chemical weapons, but after the war the manufacturing companies did not want to stop their activity and go bankrupt, so they decided to use the dangerous chemicals in agriculture instead, claiming that they were beneficial for the crops, but hiding the harmful effects on human health and the environment. Killing the bees is another disastrous consequence of pesticides which has the potential of depriving humanity of food in the near future due to lack of pollination of fruit and vegetable plants. The contribution of pesticides is ONLY negative.

    A handful of chemical giants control the pesticide market in the world – Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, Dow, BASF and DuPont. They rule over a market of $50 billion and have taken good care of crushing any opposition to their criminal activity – all in the name of profits. Their representatives are in governments and in agencies controlling public health, working tirelessly for the private interests of those companies and lobbying for favourable laws. Most of all – they are hiding information from the public in order to keep us ignorant and farmers hooked on buying their products, fooled with the lie that pesticides are essential and indispensable for farming and that we can’t ever imagine our future without them. The situation is pretty bad, so whatever the costs of growing and buying organic produce, it is still better than the quiet poisoning of the world population, polluting soil and water or making bees extinct. Life IS possible without agricultural chemicals, but with them it may soon become impossible!

  16. Christofer Catilan

    Yes, it is possible but we are far too MANY living in Europe and that is the problem, that is the real hinder. Europe’s dense population depends on our modern intensive farming and even people need some space. All communications/transport facilities must as well correspond to the demands of modern living. Transportations are a vector which is rendering agricultural areas more vulnerable for infestations. We’ve put ourselves in a difficult position where we are forced to poison us indirectly by intensive farming and by pollution as a side effect of our activities. We do not live close to producers and that inevitably requires transports over long distances to urban areas.

  17. Josepha Guillaume

    Not like we haven’t been doing that for 10,000 years before but okay. You know how it is not possible? Without bees! You know government, I can’t work out whether you are really this stupid, or just psychopaths

    • Lukasz Leonard

      Not like we have 8 billion (and raising) people to feed but okay.

    • Josepha Guillaume

      Lukasz Leonard still, there are many more sustainable methods then poison. Also intensive meat industrie takes away from food resources for people and last, still enormous amounts of food are destroyed in the EU to keep prices up, let alone what supermarkets and other large businesses throw away each day. We humans have lost the ability to be efficient and think long term. And we better wise back up, fast

  18. Raymond Martin

    Need to ditch pesticides period…..the world insect population has drastically decreased…This year I have seen very few lady bugs..and that my friends is an extremely alarming trend….

  19. European Conservation Agriculture Federation - www.ecaf.org

    We eat better than ever. We live longer than ever. And it is thanks to/WITH science. In Europe, we have the best researchers, universities, and public agencies that take care of the safety of the active ingredients applied in agriculture. I recommend leaving beliefs behind, and rely on science.

    • Maia Alexandrova

      Science has proven that pesticides cause cancer, autism and many other diseases, as well as decrease bee population. Who tries to suppress science? It is the companies that manufacture these poisonous substances because they know that they will go out of business, if people knew the truth about how damaging pesticides are to human health and the environment. The harmful effects of agricultural chemicals are not a belief. They are a proven fact by independent scientific studies.

    • EU Reform- Proactive

      Those 9 mio people who die of hunger each year globally won’t argue about pesticides or sustainable agriculture. Only those who have a choice, can & will.

      It is said the world produces enough food to feed everyone. In balance, poverty, conflicts, climate change, too many children born in the “wrong places” and ancient patriarchal societies are more toxic than pesticides.

      But- something has to limit the uncontrolled spread of humans.

    • Maia Alexandrova

      EU Reform- Proactive, you are so cruel and heartless! So let’s just spray poison over the culturally conservative and backward societies and kill them in order to reduce the world population… Are you really thinking? Those societies need free contraceptives and education about family planning, not death by chemical substances, or even worse – lifelong diseases, leading to an even greater misery in life than before. The companies producing pesticides pay certain corrupt scientists to lie and deny the conclusions of independent scientific studies in order to cast doubt over their veracity, because it threatens their profits. This means suppressing science. Besides, when bees die, we will all follow them after a long and exhausting hunger – the same one that pesticides were supposed to prevent.

    • EU Reform- Proactive

      Count your blessings Maia not to be a statistic of one of the “9 mio”- but being very privileged being educated, living where you live and having a voice (although sentimental at times).

      In balance, global food security (“for all”) should not depend on the whim of personal overreactions or personal pestiphobia- while industrialized agriculture goes hand in hand with corporatism, has its drawbacks & deserves due criticism. What are immediate realist choices on a global scale than?

      Those who abhor pesticides (& who doesn’t?) can, may & do cultivate their own “organic” veggies etc -or- are very selective what to buy at the markets. A PRIVILEGE these “9 mio” never had!

      In your nativity, you would rather condemn many more millions to die from hunger, limiting global food supply by only using pesticide free, limited or low yield grown agri products- will you? Cruel or what?

    • Maia Alexandrova

      I am sure those 9 million people would not like to have deformed children and watch them suffer all life or die at an early age. They would not want to get cancer either. People do not die from starvation because of lack of pesticides – this is what the manufacturers of chemicals want you to believe. They die because of wars and climate change which disturbs the normal weather cycles and brings droughts, floods and other disasters that destroy crops. If there is enough will, natural ways for protection from pests can be found and used, but this will mean pesticide companies will go out of business – billions of profits are at stake. This is why it is not done. If food is more expensive, we will buy less, appreciate it more and not waste so much, but preserve our health and environment for many years to come. I am sure that people around the world who are locked in extreme poverty also want to be healthy and don’t want to be forced to eat, drink and breathe harmful toxic substances. Pesticide manufacturers are masters of manipulation and sadly, so far they have been successful – millions believe their lies.

      There cannot be sustainable agriculture, if the soil and water are being poisoned more and more and bees are being killed in mass numbers. This will only lead to our food and water becoming increasingly toxic and crops failing due to lack of pollination. More starving people, more diseases. May be then you will realise that pesticides are not there to save us, but to kill us.

    • EU Reform- Proactive

      It’s OK Maia, believe what YOU wish.

      On a lighter note: you would make the perfect Ruler of this world to probably eliminate the entire human population with your policies- returning to green subsistence farming- as the “Queen of the Greens”! Enjoy it!

  20. Lu Chan

    You need pesticides, otherwise all our crops will be affected. It is good to see that we have a romantic population pointing out how great it was in the past, but they forget that people used to die of famine.

    • Maia Alexandrova

      This is what the chemical giants – the companies producing pesticides – want you to believe. It all sounds very nice, until you learn about the details they don’t want you to know – their products kill, cause birth defects in babies, autism and other diseases of the nervous system. It is scientifically proven. In addition, people still die of hunger and pesticides have not saved them. Have you asked yourself why the cases of cancer are increasing every year? Do you really think it is just because of bad luck? Don’t be so naive!

  21. Antony

    On balance, the answer has to be With Pesticides. Human needs -including that most basic need for food- must be put first. No one in the 21st century should be under the realistic threat of dying from hunger.

  22. Elena

    Question: can people live without medicine today? Answer: NO!
    Question: do you need a doctor to prescribe you certain medicine? Answer: YES!
    Question: Can we have agriculture without pesticides today? Answer: NO!
    Question: Should certain pesticides prescribed by specialist and used acording to the registration. Answer: YES!
    Such subjects should be discussed based on scientific arguments. Public opinion can be easy manipulated and we have a lot of evidence even here.
    For or against, we all leave on Earth, we need to eat, to breath and to leave the planet clean for the future. We need sustainable agriculture!

  23. Sorin

    Indeed we can live without food?No
    Who may be guarantee safe productions only by using non-chemical methods?
    Can we to protect the crops without pesticides? No, we must protect the crops only when we use the pesticide very professional in a sustainable agriculture!

  24. Nufarm Polska

    All people wish to eat crops harvested from fields and orchards non-treated by pesticides. Many of them believe, that chemical pest/disease management and weed control has only harmful impact on the human health and there’s no justification of their use. So does the crops obtained from non-chemical production are the best? The answer is not so clear as seems to be.
    We would like to explain that usage of chemical in agriculture is not just a caprice, but in many cases is a necessity. Before the first synthetic fungicides (dithiocarbamates, in 1934 year) was invented many people had suffered from biological (myco)toxins present in cereal’s grains. Consumption of food containing mycotoxins can cause for example seriously heart and liver diseases and various types of cancers. The potato blight, caused by Phytophtora infestans was a major culprit in the 1840s European, the 1845 Irish, and the 1846 Highland potato famines.
    Conditions, that must be fulfilled to legalization of agrochemicals are very strict. Each active substance must be examined for:
    -the ingredients of the pesticide;
    -the particular site or crop where it is to be used;
    -the amount, frequency, and timing of its use;
    -storage and disposal practices,
    – potential harm to humans, wildlife, fish, and plants, including endangered species and non-target organisms.
    -contamination of surface water or ground water from leaching, runoff, and spray drift.
    Of course, among the substances registered to use in agricultural production there are a few, which are highly toxic, but all they are safe in term of using them according to their labels. To sum up, applying agrochemicals in accordance with Integrated Pest Management rules can give more benefits than damages.

  25. Claire Skentelbery

    Any chemical application to control pests is a pesticide – whether conventional or organic. Get the basics right and debate an accurate statement accurately.

  26. Yorgis Ali Toufexis

    Fukuoka already answered this:
    Industrially bred cultivars (varieties) are weak and sensitive, they can’t survive and grow without heavy applications of chemicals that kill Life and the Earth.
    Conversely, native cultivars are much stronger, especially when we combine plant species that protect each other, and know how to space and time them.
    The essence is SAY NO TO MONOCULTURE !!!

  27. Richard Hayden

    Sustainable pestacide free agriculture has been around for the past 10,000 years… What a rediculous question.

  28. Elizabeth McLaughlin

    Yes, sustainable agriculture is not only possible without pesticides but preferable. Crop rotation, replace hedgerows, allow nature to balance itself. Stop paying for poisons to put on our food, plough in muck and green mulch, re-learn the old ways to keep crops healthy.

    • Anika Gatt Seretny

      Old ways might not be able to sustain a growing population. The FAO is already saying that food production has to increase by 60% by 2050. Pesticides will make important contribution towards this ambitious target. The reality of agriculture and the challenges of sustainable food production mean that we need to balance what is ‘possible’, with what is ‘preferable’. Indeed, there’s nothing wrong per se with organic production practices (such as those you mention), but alone they will not ‘feed the world’ – we need to strive for sustainability, and this will require a range of agricultural practices, and a diversity of tools and technologies.

  29. Martin Snijder

    bio gif. plantaardig gif og chemo gif .het is blijft gif wat men gebruikt.geen twijfel over mogelijk

  30. Michael Jones

    Without pesticides, I prefer food that´s not laced with poison.

  31. Ivan Burrows

    Pesticides are expensive so do you really think farmers would waste their money using them if they were not needed ?

  32. Tiromanzino May

    With or without. But the same regulations for internal products have to be implemented in imported products from outside the EU.

  33. Daniel Meternă

    Are you joking around? But Europe “kill” every single farmer who don’t obey the big farms rules. How much hypocrisy are you capable?

  34. Lonzo Bildelberg

    just state the percentage of crops you are willing to lose each year and you’ll have your answers

  35. Daniel Parvanov

    I prefer pesticides in minimal possible amount that apples with genes from jelly fish that do not need them…

  36. Bug did buggy wang wang

    I think that with the economical situation within the potato farms that in 59 years the world will no longer be circle shaped nostril

  37. Luigi Monteferrante

    Feed them first, and provide water to the one billion people without drinking water, then we can worry about the “quality” of the food, no?

    • Henri Sprimont

      Maybe the sustainability of the food production has a direct impact on the drinking water ? Just maybe…

    • Luigi Monteferrante

      But that’s not why they’re not getting food and water, while “we” have so much waste.

  38. Zap Van Der Berg

    In 10 years we could make great advancements, in 20-30 years, with centralized planning and hard work, it can be done

  39. Kirstie Mamoyo Rogers

    we have the skills to do it, permaculture, food forrests, aquaponics. Governments don’t like self sufficient subjects though so it’s not likely to be promoted. Can’t take the money out of the pockets of big supermarkets etc. That would upset the plan.

  40. Alex N Bu

    only if the people leave in the coutryside … and we go back to our natural way of life !! but maybe more enlightened

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