Could We Use Sex Chemicals — Rather Than Toxic Ones — to Protect Our Food?

Can chemicals that turn bugs on replace those that kill them?

That’s what farmers who use conventional pesticides are trying to figure out. If they succeed, it will be good news for people as well as the planet.

Many pesticides are laden with toxic chemicals that pollute the air and water, are dangerous for farm workers to use, and kill animals that are not pests as well as those that are. Cancer, neurological disorders, miscarriages and birth defects are some of the human health problems associated with the herbicides and insecticides farmers apply. Shrinking populations of birds and beneficial insects like bees and butterflies have also been linked to toxic chemical use in agriculture.

Still, bugs do invade croplands. Infestations can destroy entire harvests of fruits and vegetables, taking a significant toll on a farming operation, reducing the availability of food, and increasing prices for shoppers. Organic agriculture is on the rise, but still represents less than 5% of overall food sales. According to some researchers, pheromones are safe and can be used by conventional and organic farmers alike to increase harvests and decrease pests.

What Are Pheromones?

Pheromones are the compounds female insects produce naturally to attract males. These “sex chemicals” help the males find the females so they will mate.

By spraying an abundance of pheromones into the air over orchards and vineyards, reports the CBC, farmers actually confuse male insects into thinking that females are bidding them to “come hither” from many different directions. That confuses the males to the point where they wander about aimlessly, getting everywhere except to the females. Meanwhile, the females wait … and wait … and wait.

Unable to mate, the insects don’t reproduce. Problem solved.

One reason why pheromones are so appealing is that they are highly targeted. Each insect species produces a pheromone that is unique to it. In other words, the scent that a corn borer produces will only attract other corn borers – not honeybees or praying mantises or other beneficial insects.

Pheromones have no negative impact on people, either. They won’t pollute the air or contaminate groundwater, as wide-spectrum pesticides do. They don’t leave toxic residue on food. And they’re not hazardous for farmworkers, which means that laborers do not have to avoid fields and orchards when conventional chemicals are being applied.

Not all pests can be controlled by pheromones. But for those that can, these sexy compounds reduce the use and build-up of dangerous chemicals in the environment.

Home gardeners can use pheromones, as well, by purchasing traps baited with compounds that mimic a pest’s sex appeal.

RELATED

Organic Farming vs. Industrial Agriculture: Which Method Wins?

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69 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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John B.
John B3 years ago

Interesting concept and sounds plausible. Thanks Diane for sharing.

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Ben Oscarsito
Ben O3 years ago

Worth a try...?

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sandra vito
Sandra V3 years ago

Gracias

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Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis W3 years ago

Wouldn't it be great to be able to get rid of all the toxic pesticides, Australia is very careful with their pesticides and a lot of the toxic one are no longer on the market. Thank you for sharing.

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis W3 years ago

Very interesting, thank you for sharing.

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Jan W.
Jan W3 years ago

This has been researched for years. It seems they already have the technical knowledge of how to do it. Is it the will or the profit that keeps it from being implemented more?

I have heard of many farmers who contract to big corporations that would like to use less toxins but their contracts forbid it.

Why is it so hard to wake up humans that we can't keep doing this and survive as a species?????? We are already killing off most of the other species.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

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