The effects of agro-chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems

22 Sep

Richard Bruce has drawn attention to news of an article published in the journal Science, which records the findings of Prof Ian Boyd, a chief scientific adviser to the UK government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his colleague Alice Milner, who also works there on secondment. They find:

“The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false. The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems. This can and should be changed.”

Spraying pesticides near homes and gardens: the Ecologist, Georgina Downes’ February article.

The scientists’ article also criticises the widespread use of pesticides as preventive treatments, rather than only when needed.

The UK government has repeatedly opposed increased European restrictions on widely used insecticides that are linked to serious harm in bees, but a partial ban was backed by other nations and introduced in 2013. However, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, said in July that changes to pesticide regulation were being considered: “Certainly, it is the case that anyone who has seen the [recent] scientific evidence must inevitably contemplate the need for further restrictions on their use.” After Brexit, he said: “Informed by rigorous scientific analysis, we can develop global gold-standard policies on pesticides and chemicals.”

A March UN report which denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world was severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides

It accused them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.

Research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types

Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, led research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Plants, which analysed the pesticide use, productivity and profitability of almost 1,000 farms of all types across France. By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths would actually produce more. The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production.

Prof. Goulson said: “While we have a system where farmers are advised by agronomists, most of whom work on commission for agrochemical companies, then inevitably pesticides will be massively overused. Even the few independent agronomists struggle to get independent information and advice to pass on to farmers . . . The UK has no systematic monitoring of pesticide residues in the environment and gives no consideration to safe pesticide limits at landscape scales; the lack of any limit on the total amount of pesticides used and the virtual absence of monitoring has meant that it can take years for the impacts to become apparent. This can and should be changed”.

Alice Milner concludes: “We want to start a discussion about how we can introduce a global monitoring programme for pesticides. It can take years to fully understand the environmental impact.” Many readers would welcome more urgency – to put it mildly. Richard comments, “Many readers would welcome more urgency; Richard comments: “A bit late in the day to spot the obvious, surely?”

 

 

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