Wednesday, 14 January 2009


'Normal' politics, what a relief. The European Parliament votes for controversial compromise proposals for new laws on pesticides that represent the last stage of two years of discussion.

One part has become almost non-controversial: each EU member state should draw up plans to use less pesticides. There is good evidence that we really don't need to use the quantities we do.

But then there is the issue which arouses so much angst, the 'banning' of certain pesticides (actually the refusal to renew authorisation of some existing products when the time comes, which is rarely before 2013).

The lobbying, stimulated by pesticide manufacturers and backed by some farmers, has been intense, outrageous and ridiculous: I have had many letters claiming that the "EU" plans to ban 85% of pesticides. By this morning this had been reduced to farmers on TV this morning saying that they would be prevented from producing unblemished apples, and that potatoes and pea production could be severely damaged in damp Britain.

In fact the package we voted through today will result in the withdrawal of no more than 25 pesticides, some 4% of those on the market. These are the really nasty ones, those that pose risks to human health and the environment because they are mutagenic, carcinogenic, toxic to reproduction, or persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic - substances that, like DDT a generation ago, can lead to an accumulation of chemicals in the bodies of humans, birds and insects.

Could this make things difficult for farmers? My West Midlands colleague Liz Lynne claims it could do them "untold damage", and yes, an early run of bad weather conditions would make things tough. But there is an exemption if any crop is under special short term threat, and the new requirements will create an incentive for manufacturers to come up with safer alternatives that do the same job.

The big picture is this: we have got to stop treating our world like a giant chemistry set. Insect numbers are falling rapidly, and if insects go so does a lot else. We don't know all the reasons but it would be surprising if our excessive use of chemicals on land did not play some part.

Of course 'insects' in general are not particularly popular, so those of us who like the new legislation have pointed to the special concerns expressed in the new law for the most 'cuddly' type, the honey bees, the future of which is a matter of great concern.

If the price for a better world and a happy bee is the occasional blemished apple, well, so be it!


Andy Lee said...

I wholly commend the European Parliament vote and would add that organic fruit and veg are produced without the need for these most toxic of pesticides.

The scaremongering headlines:
"Britain's £300m carrot industry could be "wiped out" under new pesticide regulations set to be agreed by the European Union, say farmers and government advisers."

Simply don't make sense when allotment holders and organic farmers are producing plentiful amounts of Carrots and other fruit & veg.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how many of the Euro MEP's who backed this legislation actually had the scientific background needed to understand it?

This legislation is the first time where hazard has been used as a basis to ban products rather than the scientifically acceptable Risk assessment process which combines the intrinsic hazard of a compound with the use of it a fairly siomple proposition but one which makes all the difference when looking at real issues. As an example Coffee contains known carcinogens and as a result of this legislation should be banned, however in the concentrations in which they occur and how they are used they will not have an impact on people .

A more contentious example is DDT which has been shown to cause environmental problems through the food chain when distributed widely in the environment by agricultural practicises and has therefore been rightly banned in this area. When used indoors as a spray treatment for the control of malaria transmitted by mosquitoes it does not pose an environmental hazard or a hazard to human health and therefore despite years of opposition the WHO has recently returned to recommending its use in this area, under hazard based assessments this would never have happened.

Finally the truth one way or other of the statement that Andy Lee has objected to can not be debated with a proper assessment as the EU commission has not conducted a formal impact assessment as it should do on all legislation of this type.

One thing that is certain is if the world had to rely on organic produce to sustain itself it would also need a much smaller population and I for one would not like to be there during the transition period. It is not surprising theat the upperclasses, Lord Melchett ( who I understand gained his historic wealth from the polluting activities of his ancestors, there is some comment on the polluter must pay principle that In have perhaps missed) , Cameron, Prince Charles etc. are also in favour of organic farming as they have traditionally not had a lot of interest in the welfare if the majority of the people.