I have tried to be optimistic about post-Brexit opportunities to move away from the EU’s hazard-based approach to crop regulation, but banning actives sends the wrong signals, says Adam Speed, head of communications at the CPA.
Thank goodness for Easter! The opportunity to eat my bodyweight in chocolate and switching off from the unfurling Brexit drama for a few days at least is very welcome.
Since the result of the referendum, industry has tried to remain optimistic about the opportunities which may be available once responsibility for pesticide regulation is back in the hands of the UK government.
We’ve talked of the chance to develop a genuinely science-based approach, one in which the UK can gradually diverge from the EU and align more closely with the risk-based approach practised elsewhere in the world.
It doesn’t mean a reduction in standards, or regulations being watered down. Far from it.
It just means decisions around crop protection can be based on how products are used in the real world rather than how they might theoretically pose a hazard.
But how realistic are these opportunities? Some of the recent decisions to remove actives from the toolbox were taken in Europe, such as chlorothalonil or diquat, but others, such as metaldehyde, were taken here in the UK, by UK politicians.
Do these decisions suggest politicians are willing to take UK down a different path, retaining access to important crop protection tools and even giving our farmers earlier access to the latest technology?
I’m not so sure.
It seems there’s more political capital in a precautionary approach to pesticide regulation. And why wouldn’t there be?
Most consumers are unaware of the realities of food production, the pressures faced by farmers and the role of PPPs in helping keep affordable food on the shelves.
Consumers are concerned, and who can blame them?
They are being bombarded with stories about ‘insectageddon’, health scares and pollution, sometimes based on activist-led studies and questionable data and reprinted by unquestioning journalists, with the finger of blame being pointed squarely at pesticides, even though the realities are much more complex.
We as an industry need to do much more to earn the trust of consumers and help them understand the importance of crop protection and how the regulatory system, coupled with farmers commitment to stewardship and best practice, ensures products are safe for human health and the environment.
Industry recognises transparency is fundamental to earning that trust. That’s why our member companies have made a global commitment to enable more public access to safety data related to their products.
We also recognise society expects more in terms of industry helping to meet the environmental challenges we all face.
This is why our members are looking at new innovations which will help increase productivity, whilst mitigating climate change, protecting soil and preserving biodiversity.
A few weeks back I attended a presentation in Parliament by researchers from Cambridge University.
They found agriculture could reduce its carbon emissions by 80 per cent, providing yields were maximised through innovation and land was spared for carbon sequestration.
That won’t happen without innovation in agricultural technologies, but it also won’t happen without society accepting those technologies and politicians having the political courage to legislate for them.
The opportunities of Brexit are still there, but to realise them the agricultural industry has to take the public and the politicians along with us first.
Adam can be found tweeting at @AdamMSpeed