Protecting Nature’s Pollinators

There is an ongoing debate over whether the disuse of plant protection products—pesticides that protect against influences such as weeds, diseases and insects—will have an impact on the British, and wider European economy. Such debate has yet to reach Japan’s shores.

The now infamous disappearance of bees in 2011, thought to be the result of neonicotinoid pesticides, caused the normally reticent European Parliament to ban the use of these chemicals.

Extensive research published in a report by the European Food Safety Authority urged this action, but, in spite of this, the UK opposed the ban.

Although now proven toxic to pollinators such as bees, an article in north east England newspaper The Journal on 26 October offers opinions on a new report that allegedly claims the UK agricultural industry will be harmed by banning plant protection products.

Commissioned by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the Agricultural Industries Confederation and the European Crop Protection Association, the study looked at the economic impact of the pesticides on UK agriculture, as well as the wider economy.

According to the report, the production of apples, carrots and frozen peas in the UK is under threat as a result of the loss or restricted use of active ingredients in plant protection products, which safeguard healthy growth of crops.

The implications for the control of weeds, disease and pests in key UK crops would have an economic impact on British agriculture and horticulture, with the gross value added expected to fall by £1.6bn a year.

However, if we look at the spurious language used—plant protection products rather than what the general public might say: pesticides—we can see a misleading straw man argument (an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument).

These arguments are common among associations promoting the use of chemicals that have not yet been proven to be safe. The questions to ask are who gains and at what price.

Pollinators, such as bees, perform the services that are responsible for all pollinated crops being harvestable. Thus regulators should use the cautionary principle when evaluating research and economic impact. This means that 100% of crops could be lost if bees disappear, or over 10 times that value, and yet regulators are reticent to act.

Any chemicals that are introduced into the environment need to be evaluated within it, not solely within the lab. What is more, they should be evaluated solely within the constraints of a single experimental protocol.

The laws of physics, particularly the law of entropy, clearly state that the chemical introduced will devolve into different energy states, which will interact with materials present in the environment.

Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, criticised the study, saying the “dangerously misleading report lacks any credible, independent and peer-reviewed science.

“Instead of attacking regulations in place to protect our health and wildlife, we should all focus on finding alternatives to chemicals. The evidence is overwhelming that intensive use of chemicals is harming bees and other wildlife, and the quality of our water and soils. That’s the real threat to our food security.

“Some [neonicotinoid pesticides] are currently banned because top British and European scientists found they pose a ‘high acute risk’ to bees. That’s the kind of good evidence-based science the NFU and others should be backing”, he concluded.