Currently many NGO’s, conservation bodies, agro-ecological farmers and individuals are responding to Defra’s consultation, ‘The Revised National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (Plant Protection Products)’ at: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/pesticides-future-strategy/sustainable-use-of-pesticides-national-action-plan/ So why is this important and why should we not be using pesticides anyway?
Lobbying from agrochemical companies is likely already in full swing, trying to water-down what is currently in the draft plan, to protect their profits (Soil Association).
The current regulatory system is not fit for purpose. It has led to massive devastation of our soils, wildlife, waterways and seas. We need a huge national pesticide reduction target both by amount and toxicity. The soil association is calling for phase-outs of the use of pesticides in certain areas such as near schools and playgrounds, and of pesticides that are particularly concerning for wildlife, endangered plants, and human health. There are some great examples of pesticide free towns that show the first part of this is more than possible.
Soil biome based metrics are an essential part of monitoring life in the soil. A healthy soil leads to a healthy plant and healthy animals and humans. Healthy, resilient soil reduces any need for pesticides; terrain free from pesticides benefits wildlife and promotes natural predators, who can then provide natural controls.
We must also remember that fungi are a key component in any healthy soil which helps move nutrients and water around the soil. They are also important in stable carbon capture. The use of fungicides will destroy these beneficial components of the soil. True biodiversity accounting must be part of any future pesticide assessment for sustainability.
In 2018 Cox apples were, on average, sprayed with 14 fungicide, 6 insecticide, 3 growth regulator, 2 herbicide and 2 sulphur spray rounds. Captan is sprayed on average 4.16 times on 93% of the non organic crop. This is classified as a B2 Carcinogen with reproductive effects, birth developmental effects, toxicity to birds and aquatic organisms.
The nutrient densities of our food are declining and can lead to malnutrition. Low nutrient density reduces our bodies resilience to viral infection. The current covid pandemic acute cases focuses on communities with a nutrient poor diet. Thus assessing how pesticides affect nutrient density is important in seeing their effects on human and animal health.
Measuring biodiversity is key. We need to support healthy crops and food which would fail without supporting all the pollinating insects: bees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies etc. Many studies have shown how insect populations are declining and the direct affect on bees of chemicals such as neonicitinoids.
The sustainability concept seeks to balance how present and future generations of humans meet their needs. But because nature is viewed only as a resource, sustainability fails to recognize that humans and other living beings depend on each other for their well-being. It is therefore argued that true sustainability can only be achieved if the interdependent needs of all species of current and future generations are met, and propose calling this ‘multispecies sustainability’.
We must move towards agro-ecological farming techniques. Real progress would be based on the number of farmers and other users that stop using any pesticides. This must be the long term aim as it is of the EU pesticide action.
Multispecies sustainability. Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09/12/2020.
Christoph.D.D. Rupprecht https://doi.org/10.1017/sus.2020.28
Beyond Pesticides https://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/wildlife
Dr Rod Everitt, Backsbottom Farm, Wray.