‘Stricter admittance policy for pesticides required in relation to diseases such as Alzheimer’

‘Link between pesticides and neurodegenerative disease has been a key research topic in other countries for years’
Traktor in de Betuwe Farmer spraying his crop in the Betuwe. Photo Martin Bergsma / Shutterstock

WUR-professor of Soil Physics and Land Management Violette Geissen calls for the precautionary principle in admittance policies for pesticides. Only substances with no negative impact on humans and the environment should be permitted on the market.

Geissen, who coordinates the European SPRINT-project, which develops new tools to test the environmental and health impacts of pesticides, responds to the latest  RIVM-rapport (leads to Dutch content).

The RIVM recommends that more research must be done on the link between pesticides and diseases that affect the central nervous system, also known as neurodegenerative diseases. This includes illnesses such as Alzheimer, Parkinson’s and ALS. Researchers from this institute petition, including the effect of pesticides on neurodegenerative disease in the testing guidelines for chemical substances. Moreover, a proper method to screen pesticides for such effects must be developed and included in European legislation.


People who have been exposed to pesticides for long periods, crop farmers, for example, have an increased risk of diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer and ALS. Only a very small portion (1-2 % Alzheimer, 5-10% Parkinson’s and ALS) of the cases are related to genetic defects. In all other cases, the cause of the disease is unknown. Pesticides and other environmental factors play a role in the emergence and development of the diseases.

The link between pesticides and these diseases has been a key topic in other countries for many yearsp

Geissen is delighted that the RIVM has made this recommendation: ‘The link between pesticides and these diseases has been a key topic in other countries for many years.’ In France, Parkinson’s is considered an occupational illness among farmers. Geissen hopes the Netherlands will follow this example. The professor calls for an admissions policy rooted in the precautionary principle: substances may only enter the market if they have been proven to have no effect on human health and the environment.Geissen is blij dat het RIVM nu ook aanbevelingen doet: ‘Het verband tussen pesticiden en deze ziekten is in andere

Intestinal microbiome

The SPRINT project meets the EU in its demand to develop a new admissions test for pesticides. The focus lies on testing the effects of a mixture of pesticides and on including new indicators, such as intestinal flora. ‘Parkinson’s disease starts with the creation of proteins in the intestinal tract,’ Geissen states. ‘It is only after a time that the disease manifests in the brain, by which time it is already too late. We know that the herbicide glyphosate alters the intestinal microbiome. In the SPRINT- project, we are to investigate to what degree such changes influence our resilience and may be an early indicator of the disease.’

We know that the herbicide glyphosate alters the intestinal microbiome

Geissen expects SPRINT to develop new tests within the next two or three years. Currently, they are drawing up an overview of pesticides in the European environment and starting to develop tests. ‘This is an exciting time,’ Geissen states. ‘I hope we will be able to complete the puzzle.’

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