Directed by Miyuki Droz, Sylvain Lepetit, Sébastien Séga • Documentary • 2022 • 58 minutes
The insect apocalypse is here. For decades, scientists have recorded plummeting insect numbers around the world. And when insects go, so do large swathes of complex ecosystems: bird populations decline, fish vanish, and humans feel the effects. It is the worst mass extinction event in millions of years.
Shot in Europe, Japan, and the United States, INSECTICIDES: A LICENSE TO KILL makes a powerful case that neonicotinoids are to blame for this dramatic ecological collapse, which began in the 1990s — around the time they hit the market. Hailed as agricultural miracles, these insecticidal neurotoxins are applied directly to crop seeds, allowing farmers to reduce spraying. But as plants grow, the chemicals are incorporated into every single one of their cells. They also kill beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies, leech into surrounding waterways, and invade human bodies. They’ve even been found in the urine of newborns.
Multinational agrochemical companies spend millions to sow doubt about the harmfulness of neonicotinoids, but there are farmers, scientists, and activists resisting. We meet some of them in INSECTICIDES, including an entomologist and South Dakota farmer forced out of his USDA job for “asking the wrong questions”; a French beekeeper and anti-agrochemical lobbyist who recalls walking over the bodies of thousands of dead bees decimated by neonicotinoids; and an Italian agricultural engineer whose research over four decades shows no correlation between crop yields and pesticide use.
Without the cute and cuddly appeal of some species at risk, insects don’t enjoy a mass movement to save them. But, as INSECTICIDES makes clear, that doesn’t mean their disappearance is any less cause for alarm.