ARTE documentary ‘How Chemical Giants Destroyed our Ecosystem’

In this blog post, Carolina Honert is recommending the ARTE documentary ‘How Chemical Giants Destroyed our Ecosystem’.

The ARTE documentary ‘How Chemical Giants Destroyed our Ecosystem’ (available at Arte: How chemical giants destroyed our ecosystem or in german: Insektenkiller) is a thought-provoking exploration of the detrimental effects of agricultural pesticides (with a focus on neonicotinoids) on insect populations. The film presents a comprehensive overview of the scientific evidence and expert opinions regarding the alarming decline of insects and the role of pesticides.

The award-winning documentary (Green Screen Best Scientific Documentary 2022) highlights the widespread use of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides publicly known for their harmful impact on pollinators like bees. It delves into the effects of these chemicals on bee behavior, navigation and overall colony health. Through compelling visuals and interviews with researchers and environmentalists, the documentary exposes the ecological implications of insect population decline, such as disruptions in food chains and ecosystem imbalances.

The InsectExpo project (further information: Insect Expo and EcotoxBlog – InsectExpo ), which is researching the exposure of insects to pesticides in the landscape, is also featured in the documentary. We were visited by Miyuki Droz Aramaki and Sébastien Séga for an entire day. They accompanied us with their cameras during sampling (Figure 1) to document the sampling methods used in the project to investigate the presence of pesticides in different environmental compartments in fields and adjacent uncultivated meadows.

Figure 1: Miyuki DrozAramaki and Sébastien Séga filming Carsten Brühl, Carolina Honert, UrselJäger and Mathilde Knott during sampling in the adjacent meadow. In the background – thiamethoxam-treated sugar beet field.

These samples provide valuable information on the presence of pesticides in the environment. This was an interesting (and hot!) day that gave us some insights into film making. In the interview, Carsten Brühl describes the background of the project and explains exposure and effects of pesticides and the flaw in European regulations.

The film crew accompanied us at a sugar beet field which had a special approval for the neonicotinoid thiametoxam for the year 2021. This insecticide was allowed in some regions of Germany for sugar beet fields to prevent aphid infestations, as these can act as virus vectors. Thiametoxam is highly toxic for bees and degrades very quickly to clothianidin, another neonicotinoid that is highly toxic for bees. The thiametoxam treatment was carried out by seed treatment and was not allowed to be applied at the field margins (Figure 2) to avoid damage to non-target species.

Figure 2: Sugar beet field;the field marginscontain untreated seeds, but the inside of the field was sownwith thiamethoxam-treated seeds. The beet leavesof untreated seeds are more yellow. On the left is the meadow, which is also being examined for pesticide residues as part of the InsectExpo project.

‘How Chemical Giants Destroyed our Ecosystem’ serves as a wake-up call, emphasizing the urgent need for reassessing pesticide practices and developing sustainable alternatives. The documentary underscores the interconnectedness of insect biodiversity and ecosystem health while highlighting the critical role that projects like InsectExpo play in generating scientific data, raising public awareness and informing policy decisions. The documentary had fantastic insect close ups, interesting interviews, for example with the inventor of the neonicotinoids and is also entertaining. We highly recommend you to watch it!