The EU’s Perverse Pesticides Policy

Just at a time when the world’s food supply is shifting into shortage, when food prices are rocketing and agricultural commodity prices sky-high, when the costs of farming inputs like diesel are shooting up, and when policymakers are creating new demands for bio-fuels, up pops the EU Commission with a plan for a dramatic reduction in crop yields.  Yes.  You read that right.  A reduction.  The word “Perverse” might have been coined just for this initiative.
 
The Commission has given in to pressure from various alarmist green lobbies to introduce draconian bans on commonly-used pesticides and herbicides, many of which have been in use perfectly safely for decades.  After all, say the bureaucrats, there may be no evidence of harm, but there could be potential problems that we don’t know about yet.  This is the EU’s infamous Precautionary Principle.  If something could be dangerous, assume it is, and ban it.  On this basis we might well ban getting out of bed in the morning.  Or crossing the road.
 
The European parliament, true to form, took some bad proposals from the Commission and made them worse.  After all, you get cheap headlines by saying “MEPs vote to increase consumer protection”, if you don’t happen to mention the effect on food prices and availability.  Too often, MEPs revel in the exercise of power without responsibility.
 
We don’t know of any harm caused by these substances, but we know an awful lot about the harm caused by banning them.  The UK government’s prestigious Pesticide Safety Directorate (PSD) has published a damning report on the parliament’s proposals, saying they could reduce the availability of pesticides by up to 85%.  PSD concludes that if the parliament’s proposals were implemented, “conventional agriculture in the UK (and much of the EC) … would not be achievable, with major impacts on crop yields and food quality”.  There will certainly be double-digit percentage reductions in yields, with some estimates of losses up to 50%.
 
And the worst irony of all is that these measure would force production offshore, to jurisdictions with less rigorous rules and controls, and we should end up eating imported food with higher pesticide residues.  So the consequences of the EU’s plan will be less food; more expensive food; plus slugs in the lettuce and worms in the apples.  Or higher pesticide residues.  Or both.

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