The Risk-Monger

Within only ten months of the precautionary ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, farmers in the UK are reporting significant crop losses for oilseed rape (OSR) due to an infestation of cabbage stem flea beetles ravaging the British countryside. With OSR crop losses this year estimated to between 20-50%, it is known that seeds treated with neonicotinoids (banned in the EU since December, 2013) would have efficiently controlled those predators.

In what should have been a perfect growing season, some OSR crops in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire have been totally written off as the flea beetles continue to munch away and multiply. Farmers had been trying to save their crops spraying pyrethroids on their fields every couple days, but these older pyrethroids are nowhere near as effective as the banned neonics and much harsher on the environment (and bees). DEFRA in the UK has just given emergency authorisation to spray neonicotinoids on oilseed rape – a temporary measure under the conditions of the ban, not as effective as seed treated neonics and a good example of a member state recognising the stupidity of the ban. Sadly, it is likely to be too little, too late.

This is one more example of a precautionary fail, although unlike other cases where policy-makers can hide behind the blameless veil of precaution until they retire or get promoted, in this case, the idiocy has been revealed within one year of the neonic ban. Farmers groups were warning of this risk well in advance of the ban and they were scoffed at by environmental activists. One can easily read the confident (but very wrong) reports by Friends of the Earth declaring that there would be no threat at all to OSR crops from the ban and accusing the farmers groups and industry scientists of scaremongering.

Well, … no, they were not scaremongering! The farmers and industry scientists were right and in the very first year experts and government officials are acknowledging significant crop losses in the UK. Watch the BBC report which presents the crop losses in apocalyptic proportions. That DEFRA had to introduce emergency derogations on neonic sprays means the ban is flawed. Will they have to do the same next year? And the next? When will people wake up?

May this once again be a reminder to all policy-makers to never trust activist science like that manufactured for Friends of the Earth. When you start by wanting to say something to support your beliefs and then go looking to pay researchers to confirm these beliefs while disregarding the mainstream scientists, then you know your logic and evidence will be sadly tilted.

As the Risk-Monger has always predicted, rather than admitting the errors of their bias, activists up the volume of their rhetoric when facing glaring contradictions. Pesticides Action Network, in their glorious narrow mindedness (embarrassingly the only news published on EurActiv on this subject), is demanding that the EU stop the derogations on neonics, proving once again that PAN hates farmers and rural communities.

Bad news for the bees

The irony is that next season far fewer farmers will plant oilseed rape given the poor results – this is bad news for bees as OSR flowers are rich in pollen, thus offering bees fewer pollen-rich sources (leaving them weaker and more prone to the Varroa mite virus). Unless there is another derogation of the ban next year, farmers who continue to plant oilseed rape will be forced to use higher doses of pyrethroid pesticides, sprayed on leaf and soil to combat the flea beetle. As pyrethroids kill all insects, I am not sure those dedicating their lives to saving the bees (translation: anti-chemicals campaigners who saw an opportunity in 2013) had actually thought this through. The Risk-Monger is not sure anyone actually thought this ban through – in Brussels, reacting to loud-mouthed activists seems to have replaced thinking and using proper evidence in policy-making.

The most ridiculous point of all of this sorry affair is that bee populations (outside of some localised events) were never in crisis and in fact have been growing. Excessively cold winters can kill off larger numbers of bees (see a recent EU report), as can some very intensive industrial farming practices (like almond plantations in California) which left some colonies vulnerable to diseases and viruses. But otherwise, numbers are generally strong and the price of honey is not at all reflecting the crisis the bee-ons have been prognosticating.

It can be awkward when facts don't fit campaigns

Well, sadly, with the increased use of pyrethroid sprays, maybe the bees will suffer the crisis activists had been hoping for. How do you spell stupid???

Some facts about farmers

The Risk-Monger grew up on a farm and often finds himself in Brussels debating agricultural issues with enviro-activists who are far too cosmopolitan and gentrified to have ever got their hands dirty in a field (in other words, people who know nothing about farming or farmers). So forgive this short primer in common sense.

No farmer wants to use pesticides (insecticides, herbicides or fungicides) – they cost money and are risky to use. The reason they use these tools is not because they love dumping chemicals down the throat of Mother Nature – farmers live every day with nature and do what they can to preserve the quality of the land, the water and the means to grow crops (including pollinators – I wonder if activists who tell farmers that they need bees actually realise how insulting and demeaning they are?). Farmers are the ultimate risk managers, having their fields exposed to a myriad of hazards every day. Crop protection products are used to ensure crop security and to control risks. Excluding the EU, where the Common Agricultural Policy pays farmers as a form of risk mitigation, most farmers in the rest of the world bet their farms every year on the seeds they choose (and why most farmers outside the EU welcome innovative biotechnologies).

So look under the fingernails of people like activist researcher Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex (who claim farmers are wastefully using crop protection tools for no reason) – you won’t find any dirt (although a lot of compost is coming out of his mouth). See a short video Goulson did this year for Friends of the Earth where he confidently states that neonics don’t work and farmers don’t know any better (like many activists, Goulson’s superiority complex indicates he believes farmers are a motley group of uneducated hillbillies and yahoos that need educating). We need to ask ourselves: Is this the best researcher the activists could find? Seriously?

Some facts about DG Sanco and their pleasure in precaution

Who is to blame for this precautionary disaster? Not the activist NGOs – they are paid to push the envelope and want to believe the things they tell each other (even if the science says otherwise). Rather, it comes down to the activist(s) in DG Sanco who pushed for precaution on neonicotinoids within the shortest period in the history of precautionary principle abuse. There was no proper impact assessment done, no consultation, no panel of experts (EFSA was forced to neuter its scientific committee of any experts having ever worked with bees, because of industry associations … which we are told is a bad thing). Warnings were very clearly and loudly voiced in 2013, especially concerning the risk of the flea beetle on oilseed rape viability, but Commission officials disgracefully refused to listen – the anti-chemicals activists were running a much louder lobbying campaign.

For years, the Risk-Monger has been arguing on how myths about bee populations have been abused by anti-chemicals activists who deceptively pushed precaution against any factual evidence. I chuckled when the European Environment Agency proudly put a sickly looking bee on the cover of their second volume of that distasteful Late Lessons from Early Warnings. I have often stated that the beauty of precaution is that no one is ever to blame when precaution turns out to be wrong, even devastatingly wrong. Well, DG Sanco is to blame and the Risk-Monger would like to know the name of that activist in DG Sanco who bulldozed this precautionary ban through without respect for science, farmers and, now we can conclude, bees. Someone has to pay the price for this folly, and it should not be the farmers, European consumers or the environment.

Sack that Sanco activist and reverse the ban before the next planting season!

 

 

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