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Another Downside of Biofuels
Volume 14, Number 32: 10 August 2011

In a review article published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Schiesari and Grillitsch (2011) write that "global interest in biofuels in recent years is driving a continuous expansion of agro-industrial biofuel production all over the world (FAO, 2007)," and they say that "to promote the acceptance of biofuels as a new energetic paradigm, governments and agro-industry claim that biofuels will have major environmental benefits as compared with benefits from conventional energy sources."

In challenging these claims, the two researchers note that industrialized agriculture "is one of the most important drivers of environmental degradation worldwide," reporting that it "has caused large-scale contamination of soil, water and biota, through the extensive use of agro-chemicals, including pesticides and soil amendment products such as fertilizers (Clay 2004; OECD, 2008)." And they report that "there is increasing concern that micropollution -- characterized by low-level, multi-compound exposure -- may suffice to elicit critical, potentially hazardous effects on environmental and human health (Schwarzenbach et al., 2006; Brock et al., 2009; EC 2009; OECD, 2009; US EPA, 2009)."

In the case of their specific study, Schiesari and Grillitsch reviewed "the hazards imposed by all 784 pesticides currently registered for use on biofuel crops in Brazil," and in doing so, they say they detected compounds that have been "suspended by international conventions," as well as compounds that are included in databases and lists of priority concern that are "highly toxic in acute exposure, neurotoxic, probable or known carcinogens, known groundwater contaminants, and/or of known reproductive or developmental toxicity," some of which exhibit "endocrine-disrupting effects in humans and wildlife."

The Brazilian and Austrian scientists (one of each) suggest that these chemicals will soon be employed "at increased rates, or for the first time, across large expanses of agro-industrially converted pastures and native (i.e., pristine) habitat in the cerrado (tropical savanna) and Amazonian rainforest biomes," which ecosystems will undoubtedly see great pressures exerted on the vast array of indigenous species of plants and animals that reside within them, perhaps driving many of them to extinction far before such a threat would ever materialize -- if it ever occurs at all -- as a result of the warming that is postulated to occur in response to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which phenomenon has actually been shown to help plants adapt to higher temperatures.

Do you get the idea that the "cure" for global warming may well be far worse the "disease" itself?

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Brock, T.C.M., Arts, G.H.P., Maltby, L. and Van den Brink, P.J. 2009. Aquatic risks of pesticides, ecological protection goals, and common aims in European Union Legislation. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 2: 20-46.

Clay, J. 2004. World Agriculture and the Environment. A Commodity-by-Commodity Guide to Impacts and Practices. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

EC (European Commission). 2009. EU Action on Pesticides. Fact Sheet: Plant Protection Products. European Commission, Brussels, Belgium.

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 2009. OECD Strategic Approach in Pesticide Risk Reduction. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris France.

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 2008. Environmental Outlook to 2030. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris France.

Schiesari, L. and Grillitsch, B. 2011. Pesticides meet megadiversity in the expansion of biofuel crops. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9: 215-221.

Schwarzenbach, R.P., Escher, B.I., Fenner, K., Hofstetter, T.B., Johnson, C.A., von Gunten, U. and Wehrli, B. 2006. The challenge of micropollutants in aquatic systems. Science 313: 1072-1077.

US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). 2009. Pesticides: Regulating Pesticides. Washington, DC, USA.