Last week a report commissioned by three farming bodies claimed the EU’s move to ban the use of some pesticides could damage the nations food security. Yet others have welcomed the bans with open arms claiming it will benefit the pollinators of our crops. Conservationists and farmers are often at loggerheads as many conservation measures can impact negatively on the industrialised nature of our agriculture. With farmers claiming the bans would cause substantial losses for the industry and sharp increases in food prices, what is the real cost of banning pesticides?
Under the rules a range of crops could be affected, from potatoes to wheat to apples. It is predicted their yields could decline by up to 50%. The report also warns of a £1.7bn drop in overall farming income which is not only bad for the farmer. It impacts us; the consumers. as the predicted lower yields of crops will push up food prices as supermarkets look to import in dwindling supplies.
Our current state of consumerism dictates that we demand supermarkets have endless supplies of every basic food imaginable at a reasonable price. As a nation we currently import just under 50% of our food, and farmers fear that the ban in pesticides may push this percentage up. This could not only damage our economy but may also effectively void the pesticide ban as we would import a large proportion of food from areas in which the banned substances are used.
However another large threat to our agriculture is the mass decline facing our pollinators over recent years. Colony Collapse Disorder is something that beekeepers dread. There is no known definite cause for it, however apparently healthy hives depleted from their adult workers. The workers just disappear leaving behind the queen, the brood and plentiful food stores.
One of the potential causes of CCD is the prevalent use of chemicals in modern agriculture. It is unclear exactly what effect many pesticides have on bees, yet it is thought many will weaken their immune systems allowing other threats such as varroa to harm hives. Neonicotinoid are some of the most potent with a large body of scientific evidence showing that they may directly affect a wide range of organisms including pollinators. Although a ban is already in place for three of them, there seems to have been no knock on economic impact from it. France banned the chemicals from being used on sunflower and maize crops in 2004, and in 2007 they had their highest yield of these crops in over a decade.
The economic impact of losing our pollinators would be devastating. One example of where this has already happened is in the apple and pear orchards of South West China. After the disappearance of their bees due to excessive pesticide use, farmers were forced to self pollinate their trees with pots of pollen and paintbrushes. It is no easy task, and a much more laborious task for humans compared to honeybees. If honeybees were to disappear in the US it is estimated it would cost $90 billion a year to employ low-wage labourers to hand pollinate the crops normally fertilised by honeybees.
Perhaps what is needed is a complete refresh in consumer attitudes. It is almost inevitable that the cheaper food has had a detrimental affect upon the environment, with pesticides thought of being a “necessary evil” to obtain them. One of the chemicals being outlawed is to prevent scab in apples, which farmers fear will mean their apples are less aesthetically pleasing to consumers. It may be possible that our desire for perfect looking food may be part of the issue. If consumers created a demand for food farmed without the use of chemicals it may be that the agriculture industry loses less income and the pollinators key to our food security are healthier.
For More Information:
Move to ban pesticides “a threat to UK food security”
EU pesticide bans “could hit UK crops”
Neonicotinoid pesticides are a huge risk – so ban is welcome says EEA
Threat to UK food security
Decline of bees forces China’s apple farmers to pollinate by hand
Benjamin, A., McCallum, B. (2008). A World Without Bees. Great Britain: Guardian Books.
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