Sunday, 23 February 2014

A pondered précis on pesticides

Pesticides play an important role in growing crops such as this barley
Farmers nowadays have to deal with a much reduced availability of pesticides than they were once used to. Since the introduction of EU regulation 91/414 in 1993 the number of active ingredients has fallen from over 900 to around 300. A further fall to around 150 actives (as they are known) by 2020 should be anticipated, which means a reduction of around 85% in all actives over a 20 year period.

This is further compounded by the slowing down of the development of future actives, as agro-chemical companies have a reduced the pool of money needed to produce new chemistry and also baulk at the huge costs of “re-registering” older products to conform to new legislation, especially if the product is for a niche market and thus not widely used.

I expect many of you will view this as great news – less of those beastly pesticides that we know are so incredibly damaging to our environment, because we have read all about them in the newspapers – so it must be true.

But maybe, just maybe, that is a rather complacent attitude as we sit in our comfortable houses, having just eaten a large meal, discussing what we might take out of our packed freezer to defrost for the next meal.  It is so easy to criticise on a full tummy.

Yes, of course we all want to produce our food more sustainably – that is, I hope, obvious to us all. However, pesticides play a hugely important role in providing enough food to put on our plates. Without them we would need much more land to turn over to arable crops, simply to grow what we do presently. Is that the sustainability we are looking for?

Meanwhile, the hoops through which a new chemical has to jump well before it gets anywhere near to being sprayed onto a field are extraordinary, and rightly so.  If for instance you had just discovered salt and decided that it potentially could be turned into a useful pesticide, it might surprise you that it would get kicked into touch long before it got anywhere near to a field trial.

The decline of available pesticides, especially if new chemistry is not forthcoming, will undoubtedly see a growing reliance on just one or two products, risking the likelihood of resistance building up amongst insect pests, fungus and weeds. If that does happen, we could see massive declines in crop productivity across the world, at a time when we need to be producing more food to feed an ever increasing population.

If the above scenario plays out in reality, it would of course rapidly increase food prices, affect the availability of certain produce and result in a big rise in the already unacceptable human starvation figures.

A little food for thought.

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