I have grave concerns about the EU, and would vote to leave. Some people will no doubt find it odd when I say I believe the EU has failed bees and fails the environment (here is just one example) - but that's a matter for another blog. Certainly, however, I know I am not alone as a free-thinking individual, who cares about wildlife, and is concerned about decimation of habitat in the UK due to building - because of population expansion (a few eco houses and solar panels simply will not halt the need for more housing, schools & hospitals, infrastructure etc to support them), and the dire state of fish stocks! Quite a few of us believe that with correctly targeted pressure, we could do better ourselves, if the will is there to create positive change.
For now, however, I am more concerned about addressing badly informed EU-sceptic arguments to defend neonicotinoids.
I refer to a blog post and newspaper article that appeared some time ago, one by Christopher Booker for The Telegraph "Greens used EU cash to push for damaging pesticides ban (6th Dec 2014)", and one by Richard North: "Neonicotinoids And The Tyranny Of The Greens".
You can read both of these by copying and pasting this link into your browser:
there is very strong overlap between the arguments used by Booker and
North, I will address the more detailed piece by North.
Here, I address the main points, with quotes from the item in blue boxes below.
I wish to state that I have almost 10 years' experience in the pharmaceutical industry, and as such, I have a good idea about how industry works!
The pharma industry receives much criticism, but the fact is, it has done much to clean up its act. Meanwhile, I am frankly astonished at the appalling regulation of the agrochemicals industry. I would like to see the same level of rigorous regulation we get within health care, not mountains of paperwork using flawed research techniques, largely designed to hide the true effects of these toxins.
It seems to me that the same poison technologies are more or less recycled through the years, with slight tweaks. Where is the genuine innovation to provide solutions which are safer and better, and where is the incentive for industry to provide them?
Finally, when you consider the claims that agrochemical companies make within their patents and in their marketing literature, you really have to ask yourself how credible it is that these poisons are suitable for our eco-systems! How gullible are we expected to be?
Years ago, manufacturers were allowed to send toxic fumes into the air, poisoning the very air we breathe. Until, that is, we had the Clean Air Acts.
Eventually, industry adapted, and the air is cleaner as a result. The only difference I see right now, is that manufacturers are being allowed to sell their vile poison for use in or on the earth instead of the air, (some of which has a half life of 19 years!) and they are getting away with it.
Reform is long overdue!
As you read the article, note the author is very much pedalling the agrochemical industry perspective. He makes no attempt to offer any balance whatsoever.
The farmer also proposes his solution and signals that farmers need help.
The article continues:
Well cry me a river! That is one of the costs of entry to a market that is worth billions in sales!
In 2012, Syngenta’s seed care sales increased and exceeded 1.1 billion USD – that’s just one company – one year sales for seed care alone.
And yet, look at the technology, and tell me where the real innovations are?
now, the Agro industry are working not on producing a really innovative
solution, but instead they are working on next generation neonicotinoids (no
doubt they will try to call them something else) - I suspect, a very minor
tweak in the grand scheme of things.(Update 2016: found to be correct, as outline here).
And, as stated, regulation is a cost of entry to any market, and it is what regulations are for, otherwise there is no point in having them, and companies should be allowed to introduce poisons whatever the effects, and regardless of any damaging consequences.
But I and the majority of sane individuals, certainly do not want companies to be able to throw any chemical they like around the countryside!
2014/2015 cereal marketing year closes with record exports and stock
replenishment supported by a best ever production. Next harvest expected to be
also above average”. From: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/markets-and-prices/short-term-outlook/index_en.htm
Really? Reliable, corrupt-free data coming from Hungary, and nothing but corrupt nonsense from hundreds of independent, global papers coupled with corrupt ‘honey decline’ data coming from the French and corrupt ‘up to 53% colony losses data’ from England! Does that really sound plausible?
“The provisional oilseed rape harvest has shown an increase of 17% to 2.5 million tonnes for 2014. This increase in production has been a result of both an increased planted area and an increase in yield of winter sown oilseed rape by 6.3% and 20% respectively.
The reduction in the overall planted area of oilseed rape comes mainly from the fall in the planted area of spring sown oilseed rape in England from 92 thousand hectares in 2013 to 13 thousand hectares in 2014. The overall oilseed rape yield has increased by 25% to 3.7 tonnes per hectare following favourable weather conditions in 2014.“
And the Home Grown Cereal Authority (hardly a ‘cave-dwelling green lobby’ body), state that UK oil seed rape yield decreased only for a very small number of farmers, and by about 1.35%, but yes, for the tiny numbers who experienced losses, those losses were high - if you think 1.35% is substantial, that is.
They state that on a national level, the impact of flea beetle was, however, modest.
It's also worth considering oil seed rape yield prior to the ban (and the comparison with planting area over time is also interesting). You'll note that a slight decline in yield vs production, was happening already by 2011 - prior to the ban - and arguably because of the accumulated effects of pollinator loss! Since 2004, yield vs production has been declining - could that be due to the increased use in neonics, I wonder?
But in any event, in view of these small losses for 2014, we should surely ask ourselves,
how unusual were these
losses in any case?
What could those minority of farmers who experienced losses, learn from the more successful farmers?
Richard North can’t have it both ways. Either the regulatory system is fit for purpose, or it is not.
After all, does he mean to say that organo-phosphates, which are allowed by the regulatory system (and not having gone through a rigorous re-assessment) might be more dangerous than neonics?
If organophosphates were environmentally damaging pesticides, why were they approved for use in the first place, and is this not an admission that the regulatory system is fundamentally flawed?
But let's just recap on neonics:
But don't get me wrong, I'm not defending organophospates, and if they are more dangerous for bees than neonics, then I would recommend they are banned immediately. I would happily see a reassessment of these chemicals too.
But we could also start helping farmers by giving them independent information regarding pest levels, and the need (or not) to apply insecticides in the first place.
.....And this is what Richard North would be advocating, if he were a real friend to farmers, and actually knew what he was talking about, instead of simply paying attention to industry propaganda.
Farmers could save a huge amount of money if they only took action against "pests" when infestation actually warrants it, instead of "just in case".
For example, research by ADAS (again, hardly a ‘green lobby’ group!) shows that for the duration of the study, farmers unquestioningly applied insecticide for pollen beetle when levels of infestation did not justify it.
When you consider this fact, the very high cost of pesticides, and the very low levels of oil seed rape crop loss mentioned above, you really begin to wonder whether farmers are best served by agronomists (50% of whom are on commission courtesy of the agri-industry).
In healthcare pharmaceutical industry terms, this would be the equivalent of doctors being advised to prescribe medicines by sales advisors who are on commission.....and whether the patient needs the medication or not. Imagine taking medications with severe side effects, just in case you had an illness!
And we all know how we feel about such practice!
However, in the farming industry, it seems to me that nobody is reassuring farmers that the money they are spending on these toxins, is NOT necessary.
It may be true that some environmental groups receive funding from the EU, and this may selfishly colour their perceptions of the EU (afterall, they have pensions to pay). Personally, I am against charities receiving EU funding. But it is not true that all NGOs receive such funding (Greenpeace and Buglife, at the time of writing, do not).
But anyway, this whole piece by Richard North is so misinformed, and certainly does not substantiate any idea that neonics should not be banned.
And my take on the EU is that it is an anti-democratic haven for fraudsters, parasitic bureaucrats, and big corporate lobbyists, and it looks like agri-business is about the biggest lobby group of them all, not environmental NGOs!:
No, I am an EU sceptic these days and like Paterson, I would vote to leave the EU tomorrow, but Mr Paterson decided not to be well-informed on this issue.
Certainly he failed to answer the questions submitted to him by my MP and others, and failed to address and support the valid concerns of the UK EAC inquiry into this matter.
It is very important that regulation keeps pace with developments in industry, whatever the sector and whatever the cost - in the same way that healthcare pharmaceuticals must also be properly tested.
However, this comment from North focuses on the cost to industry, rather than looking at facts and figures from farming, and what is actually going on there.
Indeed, North's whole piece is so narrow in its "investigation" as stated previously, I would take every other item he has ever written, with a pinch of salt.
Oh really? Where is the evidence - since North provides none, and since already his investigation has proven to be so thin where facts are concerned?
But if it is moving, then is it going to areas where the agro-chemical industry can
escape proper regulation? Is that reassuring?
Personally, I am in favour of less toxic methods of protecting our crops. Actually, there are small companies innovating in this area, whereas poor regulation does little to encourage those with big budgets to really innovate to provide better solutions to our problems.
I have grave concerns about UK membership of the EU. Fish stocks, corruption, loss of sovereignty are all a real concern to me, and I would like to see NGOs focusing their efforts for changes that can be made in the UK.
I believe the EU has failed bees, because despite all the evidence, a full ban was not forthcoming, and no review or overhaul of the regulatory system has taken place. I also think that a UK ban on neonics would have been possible by now, because it would have been proposed by the UK Inquiry, and probably voted on – and we might just have got the ban through, along with changes to the regulatory system - because the UK has a habit of learning from this type of issue, as can be seen in the healthcare pharma industry.
However, Dutch MPs voted unanimously to ban neonics, but felt they could not go beyond the EU moratorium. I wonder if the Dutch government would have faced legal action from the Agrochemicals industry had it done so. (Update 2016: It is sometimes suggested that the French have banned neonics - this is misleading).
In the meantime, I would like farmers to be given better, independent information about ‘pest threats’ to prevent them being stitched up by agri-chemicals (a cost they must then pass on to consumers) and I would also like us to have a stronger regulatory system in Britain.
I am disappointed that Liz Truss has recently agreed to allow neonics to be
used on 5% of crops in England, I note she has felt unable to cede to the
demands of the NFU and agri-chemicals to overturn the moratorium completely, despite the pressure I'm sure she must have come up against. This is why farmers must have independent information on crop 'pest threat' and agrochemical companies should not be allowed to sell and promote pesticides based on exaggerated claims of 'danger to crops'. This is what I would like NGOs to campaign for - and not sticking plaster approaches which do nothing to create long lasting change. A simple ban is only a temporary victory for the environment and farmers alike. They could campaign for farmers to receive funding whilst making the transition.
However, I think that ensuring farmers only applied chemicals in response to real threat, would go a long way in helping them and the environment, because it would demonstrate the truth, thus freeing them from profiteering and scaremongering opportunists who would have them unnecessarily apply poisons to their land, and at great cost.
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