Ethan Hague, Campus Carrier staff writer

Recently, as concerns over pollution caused by traditional pesticides have become more urgent, the use of biopesticides and natural control agents against agricultural and forest pests has been suggested as an alternative. Rather than being synthetically derived in a lab, biopesticides are found in nature, chemicals that an organism’s natural predator already uses. A common method involves directly introducing pests’ natural enemies into infested areas, which then prey on or parasitize the pests. Biocontrol agents are adapted to counter the pests’ defenses more efficiently than synthetic pesticides and are generally not very dangerous for humans or non-target species. 

            However, before we jump on the proverbial bandwagon and implement these agents into large-scale agriculture, I would argue that we need to be very cautious. While any one of these agents may well prove so effective that it sparks the next agricultural revolution, it could just as easily go the route of the countless ecological “Pandora’s Boxes” of history. From releasing invasive species “en masse” in new territorities to tinkering with deadly viruses in labs, humans have made bad decisions with serious consequences for the environment, mostly because they did not understand exactly how it worked. 

            But we still don’t know everything about how the environment works, and it is probably impossible to do so. Deciding to modify the environment is always a very risky endeavor, just like attempting to fix a machine without knowing what each part is and what it does. 

            Remember too, that even so-called “pest” species have a place and are integral to environmental health, no matter how much people dislike them. While this should not be a reason to stop protecting forests and crops, we should realize that we do not always need the “perfect” or most effective strain. This thought process encourages taking more risks and sidestepping important questions. Rather, we should attempt to find out what the best approach is in each individual situation. A lot of times, ecological disasters happen not because we did not react fast enough to problems, but because we came up with a wrong or ineffective solution for them. 

            What we do know from science should be enough reason to proceed more thoughtfully. One downside of using these agents, or any control tactic for that matter, as a “cure-all” for every invasive pest is the problem of resistance. There is also the danger that the “good” bacteria and fungi used as biocontrol agents could evolve to attack non-target species and get out of hand. Humans might be at risk if the pathogens switch hosts, the same situation we had at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. If humans were not directly at risk, though, an outbreak would probably receive less attention from scientists and the public, even though it could be equally detrimental for us by causing ecological collapse. 

            We have undoubtedly become more environmentally conscious, but we should be careful to not go overboard. I do believe these biocontrol agents can potentially be a viable alternative to traditional pesticides, and are certainly better in some ways, but have their own set of dangers and misuses that we must navigate first. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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