Thursday, November 06, 2008

An exercise in applied futility

Farmers representatives were out in force yesterday, lobbying their MPs about the new pesticide legislation – currently going through the EU parliament.

Reported by The Daily Telegraph, farmers are claiming that this law - which aims to reduce the use of pesticides by 85 per cent by 2013 - could double food prices.

Needless to say, the newspaper is late off the mark, with the BBC having covered it on 17 May of this year, although we covered it even earlier, on 23 April.

Covering the BBC effort, we noted how this damaging piece of legislation had become "detached from the political process", noting that:

…because this is EU legislation, the BBC report, itself, was offered in a rather detached way – almost an account of a distant event that had no real relevance to the views. Had the pesticide directive been British government initiative, with an Act of Parliament in progress, there would no doubt have been a government statement and views offered from opposition MPs – engendering some sense of political controversy and immediacy.
As it was yesterday, that detachment was reinforced as the MPs had to admit to their visitors that there was nothing whatsoever they could do about the law, until it reached Westminster, by which time it would be too late. The farmers’ representatives were wasting their time.

However, it should be remembered that this law does not just affect the UK – or even just the EU member states. the Daily Mail points to the wider catastrophe – albeit through a UK filter – telling us that, "Imported soft fruit and flowers could disappear from Europe after EU decision to ban pesticides on health grounds."

The effect of the law will be to prevent any third country exporting to EU member states also from using any of the newly banned pesticides, but what is not picked up is the effect it will have on their domestic production – which will be dire. As we pointed out in our first piece, up to 42 percent of the global harvest is lost to pests and plant disease, with an additional 10 percent post-harvest loss, bringing the total to 52 percent – more than half the world's food supply.

Yet, heedless of the devastation they will bring, the EU parliament's environment committee voted by 39 votes to 20 to "clamp down on a whole range of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides".

Cheerleader of the process was that great self-publicist and self-centred little madam Caroline Lucas, MEP extraordinaire and leader of the Green party. Comfortably padded with her inflation-proof MEP salary, expense account and non-contributory pension, she insisted that "human health must be given better protection".

And, with an almost staggering insouciance, she had the utter gall to declare: "With today's vote, MEPs have rejected industry scaremongering, and sent a clear message that they want to see a reduction in the use of dangerous pesticides."

What made it so staggering was her assertion that: "A record level of pesticides are being found in food items sold in the EU, with almost half of all fruit, vegetables and cereals containing pesticide residues." This, one could say – kindly – really is scaremongering, as is clearly evidenced by EU studies.

These demonstrate that levels exceeding the statutory maximum residue levels (MRLs) were found most often in peppers (at six percent), grapes (at five percent), cucumber (at three percent ) and aubergines (also at three percent). But then when it comes to driving the world into poverty and starvation, what does a little thing like the truth means to Caroline Lucas? She's a greenie after all.

The pity of it all is that any farmers would be wasting their time talking to her, as much as they were talking to their MPs. Seeking rational, sensible legislation these days is an exercise in applied futility.