Talking Policy with Mike Hambly

Sometimes you really do begin to wonder, if not despair, about the road our legislators are following, urged on by agendas of political correctness and their ever-increasing accommodation of NGO groups. The making of rules and regulations which impact farming so greatly, and rarely in a good way, seems to be so far removed from our industry, but also, worryingly, science. What credentials are legislators listening to?


It’s important, perhaps now more than ever, for the distance between the decision-makers and farming to shorten. The future of the rules and regulation, which we duly abide by as arable farmers, depends on it.


It is right that the tools, chemical inputs, which the great majority of us rely on to ensure we produce reliable, safe and consistent yields of crops to feed the growing populace are controlled and managed to ensure consumer, environmental and operator safety. However, these controls must be made in a rational manner, based on evidence and most importantly with an awareness of the potential long-term consequences and implications should their approvals be withdrawn.


European legislators are currently considering new ‘endocrine disruptor’ definitions and the consequences, initially for producers, but ultimately for consumers could be dramatic. Endocrine disruptors are natural or synthetic substances which can have a harmful effect by altering the functioning of the hormone system, potentially causing irreversible change or illness. As such some substances in plant protection products may fall into the proposed criteria. Worryingly 58 out of 87 active ingredients identified as under threat in the recent Anderson’s report could fail due to a poorly designed endocrine disruptor definition.


What is really important to understand is whether or not a substance actually causes endocrine disruption depends on two important factors:


    1. How potent it is, a measure of the substances strength and
    2. The exposure to the substance; the levels or dose to which people and the environment come into contact with it.


The NFU has already responded to the Commission’s proposed endocrine disruptor identification criteria, stressing the need for a risk-based and science-led approach to regulating endocrine disruptors which considered both the exposure to, and the potency of, the chemical. Encouragingly this view was also expressed by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) in its own assessment.


Quantifying the impact is difficult. A recent AHDB study identified 66 active substances at risk and consequential food production losses of 14.2 million tonnes per annum in the UK, with an estimated farmgate loss of more than £3 billion. Increased reliance on fewer crop protection products could accelerate development of resistance with few, if any, new products making it to the market place. Our legislators really do need to think a long game; both the production and security of our food supply in the short-, medium- and long-term must be on their radar.


As an industry it is critical we all play our part in making the case for rational, considered and evidence-based legislation. We need to make our MPs and MEPs aware of the importance of these definitions on a practical basis. We should be encouraged that the large number of farmers who wrote directly to their MEPs explaining the direct consequences of the loss of glyphosate to their business and ability to produce and compete on the market really did make a difference.


The time is coming when your representative bodies, such as the NFU, may ask you to engage with your MEP on the endocrine disruptor definition; please be ready and do your bit to protect your livelihood, our industry and the security and quality of the food we produce for customers at home and abroad.

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