Pesticides have made farmers’ lives easier and have helped produce cheap food but their long history suggests they are seldom as ‘safe’ as initially claimed. Their incredible potency is normally achieved by disrupting cellular processes that are often shared well beyond their target species. Only a tiny proportion of pesticide reaches the target and only the most foolhardy chemical enthusiast would be surprised when they produce unintended consequences in the wider environment.
History suggests that our regulatory processes repeatedly underestimate these consequences. Indeed, the majority of pesticides I used as a teenager and later studied at university have since been banned due to their unforeseen effects on us or the environment. In the 1990s neonicotinoids were introduced, largely in response to toxicity problems with previous insecticides. All seemed well for a few years until they were repeatedly associated with drastically falling numbers of bees. Short term toxicity trials suggest they reduce the workers’ ability to navigate back to the hive, possibly increasing susceptibility to disease.
Quite apart from the huge economic benefit of bees as pollinators of food crops, there is something particularly poignant and depressing about their loss. If we are stupid enough to risk destroying something so vital to our own food, what hope is there for us as custodians of this planet? Bureaucrats hide behind the term ‘evidence-based decision making’ – does that mean we must wait for irrefutable proof? Other governments, perhaps those with a little more distance between agrochemical companies and regulation, have already banned or restricted use of neonicotinoids.
We generally avoid filling your boxes with appeals, but this week you will find a ‘Keep Britain Buzzing’ pack from the Soil Association. We need to make some popular noise to counter the agrochemical industry’s lobbying; please take a look and support their campaign if you can.