Wake up and smell the chemicals

Insecticides cause bird populations to drop and poison the water. Meanwhile, the insecticide industry faces no restrictions whatsoever. Politicians need to wake up and smell the chemicals, says Cor Verdaasdonk.

Scientific proof at last! This from Radboud University in Nijmegen: the population of insect eating birds goes down where insecticides are used.

Well, of course it does. You may have noticed that the dawn chorus that cheered your morning walk through the forest, along farmland and fields is dying out and that fewer birds are visiting the bird table in your garden.

It’s a sad state of affairs and it doesn’t stop with the birds. Less instantly appealing species in our eco system are suffering too: the use of neonicotinoids also harms organisms in the soil and water.

So how bad is this? We know that in many places in the Netherlands the levels of imidacloprid in the water far exceed the norm. That didn’t stop the last junior minister from abolishing testing water for these chemicals. The reason? They are being used on land, not in water!

In a letter, the Association of Regional Water Authorities warned that scrapping the test would have serious consequences. So why did junior minister Sharon Dijksma ignore a motion to ban neonicotinoids (of which imidacloprid is one) as recently as April?


This is a demonstration of the power of the pesticide manufacturers. The spurious demand for a level playing field is poisoning our surface water. It is a well-known and proven fact that these chemicals are harmful to insect life in water and remain present for long periods of time.

It is unlikely you will be lying down on your tummy at the water’s edge every day but you, too, will notice changes, just as you noticed the declining birdsong.

It’s not rocket science. Without water, insects, frogs, fish and water birds will starve. Their numbers will go down drastically. And what about the interests tied in with fish stocks? Unfortunately none of this is of any importance to politicians and manufacturers.


The consequences of contamination of the soil by pesticides are well-documented. The use of midacloprid on golf courses has been allowed since 2010. The chemicals remain present for two years which means that all insects in the soil are being poisoned through chronic exposure.

Bayer thinks this is great news: ‘We have put an end to one of the worst nightmares. Since 2010 the cockchafer grub population has been declining!’ A bald patch in the grass is a nightmare? Has anyone ever stopped to consider the other side of the story?

Recent investigation has shown that imidacloprid affects bacteria in the soil. It is also highly toxic for earthworms. This poses a threat to the degradation of organic matter which is vital for healthy soil which in turn is vital for healthy agriculture and healthy produce.

A well-developed system of soil organisms stores nutrients, improves soil structure and lessens the effects of draught and flooding.

Innovative agriculture

How often do you spot a swarm of birds looking for food behind a ploughing tractor or starlings grubbing for food in a field these days? Thirty years ago these were common sights! Where are the nocturnal butterflies and daddy-long-legs that used to swarm around lampposts?

Isn’t it high time we had a truly innovative agriculture? Where fungal and insect populations don’t explode but have their place and function? Where we don’t use chemicals because there are other ways of doing things? Why doesn’t the insecticide industry focus its innovative powers on that?

Chemicals are not the answer and are only making a bad case much worse.
Cor Verdaasdonk is director of environmental organisation Brabantse Milieufederatie.

This article was published earlier in Trouw.


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