Selection of pesticides with small ecological footprints is a key factor in developing sustainable agricultural systems. Policy guiding the selection of pesticides often emphasizes natural products and organic-certified pesticides to increase sustainability, because of the prevailing public opinion that natural products are uniformly safer, and thus more environmentally friendly, than synthetic chemicals.
We report the results of a study examining the environmental impact of several new synthetic and certified organic insecticides under consideration as reduced-risk insecticides for soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) control, using established and novel methodologies to directly quantify pesticide impact in terms of biocontrol services. We found that in addition to reduced efficacy against aphids compared to novel synthetic insecticides, organic approved insecticides had a similar or even greater negative impact on several natural enemy species in lab studies, were more detrimental to biological control organisms in field experiments, and had higher Environmental Impact Quotients at field use rates.
These data bring into caution the widely held assumption that organic pesticides are more environmentally benign than synthetic ones. All pesticides must be evaluated using an empirically-based risk assessment, because generalizations based on chemical origin do not hold true in all cases.