Agriculture Bill

Written Evidence submitted by Georgina Downs of the UK Pesticides Campaign (AB26)

Agriculture Bill Committee

Executive Summary

1.1 Synthetic chemical pesticides were originally developed as chemical warfare agents in the 1930s and 1940s, but then remanufactured as agricultural pesticides. These highly toxic chemicals have been used in UK farming for around 75 years and are increasingly relied upon by conventional (ie. non-organic) farmers and growers.

1.2 As highlighted in the DEFRA Consultation documentation that preceded the publication of the Agriculture Bill, agriculture now accounts for more than 70% of land use in the UK, and has a major influence on our health and environment. Considering that currently only around 3% of farmland in the UK is organic, then the vast majority of the 70% of land that is used in the UK for agriculture will be land that is regularly sprayed with chemical pesticides under the existing conventional food and farming production system.

1.3 Despite the inherent hazards for human health and the environment, synthetic chemical pesticides were used as crop sprays on these large areas of farmland for many decades without considering or accounting for the risks to the health of rural residents and communities actually living in the locality of such crop sprayed areas.

1.4 The UK Pesticides Campaign has been highlighting the gaps in the approvals process and protection system for rural residents and communities since 2001.

1.5 DEFRA’s own Chief Scientist Advisor in an article in ‘Science’ [1] last year issued a damning assessment of the regulatory approach worldwide for pesticides sprayed on crops including the lack of any real monitoring; that the impacts of "dosing whole landscapes" has been ignored; and that the assumption by regulators globally that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes "is false" and must change.

1.6 It is well established that use of harmful chemical pesticides causes substantial damage to air, water quality and safety, to biodiversity, and most importantly to the human health of nearby rural populations who are profoundly affected by the effects of the industrial scale - and under regulated - use of chemical pesticides in conventional farming systems.

1.7 It is beyond dispute that agricultural pesticides can cause a wide range of both acute and chronic adverse health impacts. This includes irreversible and permanent chronic effects, illnesses and diseases. Whilst operators generally have protection when using agricultural pesticides - such as use of personal protective equipment, respirators, and will be in filtered cabs - rural residents and communities have absolutely no protection at all.

1.8 There are many thousands of reports of acute and/or chronic health impacts from rural residents and communities across the UK. (NB. Obviously with millions of rural residents exposed in crop sprayed areas there will undoubtedly be many more unreported cases). Yet no action has been taken by Government to secure the health of rural families

1.9 Nearly 6000 people - the majority of which are affected UK residents - have signed a petition [2] calling on the Prime Minister and DEFRA Secretary to urgently secure the protection of rural residents and communities by banning all crop spraying and use of any pesticides near residents’ homes, schools, and children’s playgrounds. This must be in substantial distances, as small buffer zones simply won't protect anyone considering how far pesticides are known to travel. For example, scientific studies have found pesticides miles away from where they were originally applied and calculated health risks for rural residents and communities living within those distances.  [3] The petition has also been signed by a number of prominent figures including Hillsborough QC Michael Mansfield, Stanley Johnson, Jonathon Porritt, Gordon Roddick, DEFRA non-executive board member Ben Goldsmith, Caroline Lucas MP, amongst others.

1.10 A number of recent major international reports have detailed the damage to human health from existing industrial and chemical-intensive conventional farming systems:

Ø The United Nations report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food [4] in March 2017 that found that chronic exposure to agricultural pesticides has been associated with several diseases and conditions including cancer, developmental disorders, and sterility, and that those living near crop fields are particularly vulnerable to exposure from these chemicals;

Ø The IPES-FOOD report [5] that outlines the unacceptable harm caused by the current chemical farming systems; exposes just some of the astronomical health costs externalized by the current system; and finds an urgent and "overwhelming case for action." The report found that many of the severest health conditions afflicting populations around the world – from respiratory diseases to a range of cancers – are linked to industrial food and farming practices, including chemical-intensive agriculture;

Ø The Lancet Commission on pollution and health report [6] on the global deaths and chronic diseases from outdoor air pollution, and which included from the use of pesticides. In fact the lead author was reported as saying that his biggest concern is the impact of the hundreds of industrial chemicals and pesticides already widely dispersed around the world.

1.11 Considering the widespread damage to human health and the environment then the strategic aim must be to move away from chemical pesticides to a more health and environmentally sound strategy for crop protection utilising non-chemical farming methods. Therefore any future approach to agricultural policy should incorporate that aim. That does require a significant change in the basis of policy and regulation.

1.12 Yet use of non-chemical methods does not appear to be mentioned in any capacity in the Agriculture Bill, nor is there anything on protecting residents from pesticides.

1.13 The aforementioned 2017 UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food concluded that moving away from pesticide-reliant industrial agriculture to non-chemical farming methods should now be a political priority in all countries globally.

1.14 The new post Brexit UK Agriculture Bill and policy provides a real opportunity for the UK to adopt an urgently needed non-chemical farming policy in order to no longer use toxic chemicals in the production of our food. This would then protect not only the health of rural residents and communities, as well as other members of the public, but also the environment, wildlife, pollinators, other species, and biodiversity.

1.15 T he UK Pesticides Camp aign would therefore urge the Bill Committee to amend the Agriculture Bill to reflect the health and environmental protections that are so urgently needed , including with the following crucial commitments and actions .

1.16 The two most important amendments would be for the insertion of new text in the Agriculture Bill re: 1) the urgent need to secure the protection for rural residents and communities from pesticides; and 2) the need to adopt and utilise a truly sustainable non-chemical farming system for the overall protection of human health and the environment.

1.17 Some suggested text (to be put into the appropriate format for the Bill) would be:

Ø There is an urgent need to secure the protection of rural residents and communities from the spraying of pesticides and other agrochemicals on crops. All such agrochemical applications shall therefore be prohibit ed in substantial distances in the locality of residents’ homes, schools, children’s pla ygrounds, nurseries, and hospitals.

Ø There is a need to move away from the reliance on synthetic pesticides a nd other agrochemicals to a health and environmentall y sound strategy for sustainable crop protection with the adopt ion and u tilisation of non-chemic al farming methods - such as crop rotation, physical and mechanical control, and natural predator management.

UK Pesticides Campaign

1.18 The UK Pesticides Campaign [7] was founded in 2001 and specifically exists to highlight the exposures, risks, and adverse health and environmental impacts of pesticides on rural residents and communities, as well as on other members of the public. I myself, as the Founder and Director of the campaign, have lived next to regularly sprayed crop fields for over 34 years, and I therefore have the direct experience of living in this situation.

1.19 The use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers, and other agro chemicals in the existing conventional farming system, not only poses a risk to the environment, wildlife, pollinators, other species, habitats and biodiversity, but most importantly – and often ignored – there is a risk to the health of all those living in the locality of conventionally farmed crops, as well as children attending schools/playgrounds near crop sprayed fields.

1.20 This continues to have avoidable and totally preventable adverse impacts on the health of rural residents and communities, particularly babies, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people already ill and/or disabled (and where any interactions or synergistic effects between agricultural pesticides and any medication is simply not accounted for).

1.21 The campaign was the first to identify and expose the flaws in the Government’s risk assessment policy and approach in 2001, in that there was no risk assessment undertaken for residents exposure - only a short term assessment for bystanders - prior to the approval of any pesticide, and yet it has always been a legal requirement under EU law.

1.22 Existing regulatory assessments are predictive only and based on a mere mathematical model and, as said, have never reflected the real life exposure scenario of rural residents.

1.23 Further, any reports of harmful effects are supposed to inform that the approvals system is failing. The fact is that there are harmful effects occurring, indeed thousands of truly harrowing reports from rural residents suffering devastating - even fatal - consequences on their health and lives from crop spraying.

1.24 The work of the UK Pesticides Campaign is widely recognised both nationally and internationally, [8] and has led to a considerable number of prestigious environmental awards and nominations. [9] I myself have also been a registered journalist under both the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and British Guild of Agricultural Journalists since 2006. [10]

1.25 Most recently the work of the UK Pesticides Campaign has led to recognition by an independent international political research centre in Washington DC and for which experts are described as "well-respected and recognized authorities in international governance with expertise and research activities. Through their world-leading research and analysis, IIPRC experts aim to contribute to international governance policy innovations that will lead to a better world." [11]

1.26 The reports that the UK Pesticides Campaign has received from other affected rural residents, often detail the individual’s own acute and/or chronic adverse health effects (or that of a family member(s) or other(s), or on their domesticated animals/pets etc.) as a result of exposure to agricultural pesticides from crop spraying in their locality.

1.27 The acute effects reported to the campaign are the same types of acute adverse health effects that are recorded for rural residents - as well as children attending schools in the locality of crop sprayed fields - in the UK Government's very own monitoring system. They include, amongst other acute effects: chemical burns (including to the eyes and skin); rashes and blistering; throat irritation (eg. sore and painful throats); damaged vocal chords; sinus pain; respiratory irritation; difficulty swallowing and chest discomfort; coughing; breathing problems; shortness of breath; asthma attacks; headaches, dizziness, nausea; vomiting; stomach pains; flu-type illnesses; and aching joints.

1.28 Residents suffering repeated acute health effects from exposure to pesticides from crop-spraying - which can occur on a regular basis for those living near sprayed fields - have an increased risk of developing cumulative chronic long term effects. The former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in a 1975 document stated that, "The repeated use of pesticides, even in small quantities, can have cumulative effects which may not be noticed until a dangerous amount has been absorbed." This clear statement from 43 years ago shows that successive Governments’ have always been well aware of the cumulative effects of pesticides, but again no action has been taken to prevent the exposures and adverse impacts occurring for rural residents and communities .

1.29 The most common chronic long-term effects, illnesses and diseases reported to the UK Pesticides Campaign from rural residents living in the locality of crop sprayed fields include neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Motor Neurone Disease, and neurological damage, as well as various cancers, especially those of the breast and brain, leukaemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, amongst many other chronic conditions.

1.30 Regarding chronic health impacts, reputable scientific studies and reviews  [12] have concluded that long-term exposure to pesticides can disturb the function of different systems in the body, eg. nervous, endocrine, immune, reproductive, renal, cardiovascular, respiratory.

1.31 Cornell University’s teaching module ‘Toxicity of Pesticides’  clearly states, "Pesticides can: cause deformities in unborn offspring (teratogenic effects), cause cancer (carcinogenic effects), cause mutations (mutagenic effects), poison the nervous system (neurotoxicity), or block the natural defenses of the immune system (immunotoxicity)." [13]

1.32 It goes on to warn,  "Irreversible effects are permanent and cannot be changed once they have occurred. Injury to the nervous system is usually irreversible since its cells cannot divide and be replaced. Irreversible effects include birth defects, mutations, and cancer."

1.33 Despite the known chronic effects of pesticides, astonishingly to date, there is still no specific monitoring or collection of data in the existing Government monitoring system on the chronic conditions reported by rural residents, [14] which is something that I have continued to point out when detailing the serious failings of the UK monitoring system.

1.34 Further, the absence of monitoring for chronic effects is a situation that has previously been criticized in a number of official reports [15] dating back to 1987 (which is now 31 years ago) and the Government has still not yet changed its policy to rectify this situation

1.35 It is important to stress that the UK Pesticides Campaign does not just receive reports from rural residents, but also from farmers, operators, ex-farm managers and other workers exposed to pesticides. The UK Pesticides Campaign also receives reports from people who are exposed and suffer acute and/or chronic adverse effects from other pesticide sources, (ie. amenity use). However, agricultural exposure does make up the majority of the cases reported and which is not surprising considering that approx. 80% of pesticides used in this country each year are related to agricultural use.

1.36 A few examples of some of the truly harrowing experiences from other rural residents affected by the spraying of agricultural pesticides across the UK – as taken from the many thousands of cases within the petition – can be seen in one of my recent articles at: https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/19/the-double-standards-and-hypocrisy-of-the-uk-government-over-the-nerve-agent-spy-poisoning/

Further specific comments on the Agriculture Bill

1.37 On behalf of the UK Pesticides Campaign I would make the following further specific comments to the Bill Committee regarding the Agriculture Bill.

1.38 The long awaited Agriculture Bill is the UK Government’s plan on what UK farming will look like post Brexit. Despite the DEFRA Consultation that pre ceded the publication of the Agriculture Bill being called "Health and Harmony" there is no actual reference to the protection of human health or public health in the Agriculture Bill as regards to the main users of pesticides ie . farmers. In fact it seems that the only notable couple of references to the health of "people" are in relation to the f unctions of public authorities.

1.39 There is no specific mention of pesticides except in 3 places when defining persons "closely connected" with an agri-food supply chain as including those supplying pesticides. Further, there does not appear to be any specific mention of agro-chemicals or chemicals at all. There is only a vague reference in a couple of places to "preventing, reducing or protecting from environmental hazards" but with no definition of those hazards and so as said nothing specifically on either pesticides or human health and certainly nothing in relation to protecting human health from pesticides!

1.40 Therefore there is no recognition or even any specific reference in the Agriculture Bill - nor in the statements made by its promoter Michael Gove - of the biggest contributor of damage, pollution, and contamination of the air, soil, water and overall environment in agricultural areas - as well as most crucially the damage to human health - from the continued use of pesticides and other agro-chemicals on crop fields across the UK.

1.41 This means that much of the perceived benefits of the proposed new Agriculture Bill that Michael Gove and DEFRA are advocating simply will not materialise without concrete and definitive action on the biggest problem - that being the widespread use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals in our existing farming system - and which appears to be the Government’s ‘elephant in the room’ with how reluctant DEFRA is to even mention it, let alone focus on it.

1.42 Latest Government statistics show that regarding just pesticides alone ( ie . not including chemical fertilisers and all the other agro chemicals used in conventional farming), in 2014 the total area treated with pesticides on agricultural and horticultural crops was 80,107,993 hectares, with the total weight applied 17,757,242 kg. [16]

1.43 There are approx. 2,000 pesticide products currently approved for UK agricultural use and each product formulation in itself can contain a number of active ingredients, as well as other hazardous chemicals, such as solvents, surfactants, co-formulants (and many of which can have adverse effects on human health in their own right, even before considering any potential synergistic effects in a chemical mixture).

1.44 Therefore if the Government continues to permit the release of innumerable cocktails of pesticides and other harmful chemicals over the majority of UK land then how will farming change in a post Brexit landscape? The answer is simple. It won’t.

1.45 The pollution and cont amination of our health and environment must be stopped at the highest level, which means if such harmful farming practices are no longer permitted by Government then farmers would have to adapt and find alternative methods that do not put public health and the environment at the risk of harm.

1.46 It is clear that this problem is not going to be solved by simply papering over the cracks as the whole core foundations and structure on which the current UK policy operates is inherently flawed. For example, it would not solve the deep seated and fundamental problems that exist by merely reducing the use of pesticides, as just one single exposure can lead to damage to the health of any rural residents or others exposed. Further, the pesticides reduction targets advocated by NGOs and that were previously set in France, along with a pesticides tax, have not worked - and have wasted the last 10 years - as pesticide use in France has overall increased! Those pushing for the mere reduction of pesticides also sends the wrong message as it implies that it is ok to use them but just less when no it was never ok to use highly toxic chemicals in our food production system!

1.47 Nor will the problems with pesticides be solved by Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - which I note has been advocated by DEFRA as a way forward - as IPM still uses pesticides to some degree whichever definition one goes by. Many conventional farmers insist they already adopt IPM practices - even though they are still spraying mixtures of pesticides on a regular basis, year after year, on crops across the UK. So in reality and in practice, IPM is simply a red herring as it's not going to fundamentally change anything.

1.48 The problem is also not going to be solved by merely substituting one pesticide for another. Particularly as historically once one pesticide has been withdrawn another toxic chemical will just be introduced in its place. How does that solve anything? It doesn't!

1.49 The UK Pesticides Campaign has continued to advocate that the only real solution to eliminate the adverse health and environmental impacts of agricultural pesticides is to take a preventative approach and avoid exposure altogether with the widespread adoption of truly sustainable non-chemical farming methods (such as crop rotation, physical and mechanical control, and natural predator management).

1.50 This would obviously be more in line with the objectives for sustainable food and farming, as the usage of complex chemicals designed to kill plants, insects or other forms of life, cannot be classified as sustainable. The huge external costs of pesticide use would also be eliminated if agricultural policies are fundamentally shifted towards utilizing non-chemical farming methods. Further, the fact that previous research has shown that more than 3,000 pest species have developed resistance to at least 300 types of insecticide ingredients [17] yet further supports the urgent need for a different approach.

1.51 The 2017 UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food concluded that the agro-chemical industry has continued to falsely maintain that damage will be caused to agriculture and food production if pesticides are not used. The report stated that "The assertion promoted by the agrochemical industry that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading. In principle, there is adequate food to feed the world; inequitable production and distribution systems present major blockages that prevent those in need from accessing it." In fact, rather than there not being enough food there is actually a huge amount of food wasted every year. One UK report found that as much as half of all worldwide food produced ends up as waste, which is a whopping 2 billion tonnes every year! [18]

1.52 Therefore it is concrete and definitive action that is needed to clean up UK agriculture. This is very long overdue, especially regarding the protection of human health and lives, as it is truly scandalous that it has now been over 7 decades that rural residents have not been protected from the risks that pesticides pose to us and our families, and there have been no mandatory measures in the UK specifically for the protection of rural citizens.

1.53 The origins of traditional farming methods did not include dependence on chemical inputs for mass production. Such poisons should never have had any place in the air we breathe, food we eat, and environment we live in. Therefore it is a complete paradigm shift that is needed to move away from the use of pesticides in farming/agriculture altogether. Such a move is absolutely integral to the health and existence of all those living in the British countryside , as well as other species that are being wiped out from the continued use of such toxic chemicals.

Georgina Downs FRSA, IFAJ, BGAJ. UK Pesticides Campaign.

October 2018


[1] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/357/6357/1232.full

[2] https://www.change.org/p/the-prime-minister-rt-hon-theresa-may-mp-ban-all-crop-spraying-of-poisonous-pesticides-near-our-homes-schools-and-playgrounds

[3] Eg. Lee et al, "Community Exposures to Airborne Agricultural Pesticides in California: Ranking of Inhalation Risks" (2002).

[4] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21306&LangID=E

[5] https://theecologist.org/2017/oct/17/expert-panel-identifies-unacceptable-toll-food-and-farming-systems-human-health

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/19/global-pollution-kills-millions-threatens-survival-human-societies

[7] www.pesticidescampaign.co.uk

[8] The work of the UK Pesticides Campaign has been featured in national and international media since 2002. Examples of national media coverage include: in the Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian, Observer, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Independent, Independent on Sunday, Metro; as well as on a number of BBC TV and radio programmes (including BBC News, Politics Show, Countryfile, The Food Police, Radio 4’s: Today programme, Woman’s Hour, You and Yours, PM, The World at One, Costing the Earth; BBC World Service, BBC Radio 5 Live); ITV and Channel 4 programmes (including ITV News, Channel 4 News,); and on Sky News. In relation to international media coverage, articles that have featured the work of the UK Pesticides Campaign have appeared in, amongst others, the US (including CNN), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Portugal, India, and The Beijing News in China. In addition a diverse range of magazines have also featured the work of the campaign including: Cosmopolitan, Marie Clare, Grazia, Red, Vogue, Ecologist, Counterpunch, Independent International Political Research Center, Resurgence, Private Eye, Science in Parliament, Country Living, The Big Issue, New Consumer, Easy Living, Ethical Living, Landworker , Positive Health, among others. The work of the campaign has also been featured in a number of books including " The Vitamin Murders " by James Fergusson; " Scared to Death " by Christopher Booker and Richard North; " People Power " by Jon Robins and Paul Stookes .

[9] Some of the awards and nominations can be seen at: https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Georgina_Downs.html

[10] https://www.ifaj.org/eco-award-uk-writer/

[11] http://www.iiprc.org/experts.html

[12] For example a review published on 15th April 2013 in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology regarding the chronic health impacts of pesticides entitled "Pesticides and Human Chronic Diseases; Evidences, Mechanisms, and Perspectives" can be seen at:- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0041008X13000549

[13] http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/Tutorials/core-tutorial/module04/index.aspx

[14] As the Government’s existing monitoring system currently only considers the acute effects of individual pesticides. Therefore it also does not monitor or deal with the adverse health effects of mixtures of pesticides. Yet the reality of crop spraying in the countryside is not merely related to exposure to one individual pesticide or to one single group of pesticides, as agricultural pesticides are rarely used individually but commonly sprayed in mixtures (cocktails) – quite often a mixture will consist of 4 or 5 different products.

[15] UK Agriculture Committee of the House of Commons, The Effects of Pesticides on Human Health , Second Special Report, Session 1986-87, London: HMSO 1987; the British Medical Association report, The BMA Guide to Pesticides, Chemicals and Health, BMA (Edward Arnold) 1990, 1992; the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 2005 report, Crop Spraying and the Health of Residents and Bystanders.

[16] As informed by the Government’s Pesticide Usage Survey Group

[17] Hardy, M.C., 'Resistance is not futile: it shapes insecticide discovery'. Insects, 2014. 5(1): p. 227-242

[18] The UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers 2013 report, 'Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not'.

 

Prepared 29th October 2018