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!