David Richardson: If it isn’t true, let’s say so

How do the members of the German Green Party reconcile their desire to outlaw most plant protection products with their declared concerns for the human race? They are not alone, of course. Apparently intelligent and caring people across the civilised world support the concept that scientifically proven products that have helped farmers produce food in greater quantities and at lower costs than ever before are dangerous.

Furthermore, such extremists have persuaded many otherwise moderate individuals to follow their lead. They have formed political parties, gained electoral success and achieved legitimacy. The popular media, always on the lookout for sensation and controversy to sell its wares, and devoid of scientific expertise, has joined attacks on genuine science, massaging public hostility to developments vital to their own and others well-being.

And we find ourselves, along with other EU farmers, on the brink of losing the right to use many of the products that enable us to feed our populations. Led by Greens on the EU Environment Committee a majority of the European Parliament appears ready to confirm a measure that would cut EU farm commodity production by a third. No impact assessment has been done. The science, which says the threatened products are quite safe when used according to regulations already in place, has been ignored.

So, at a time when most thinking people are becoming concerned about the lack of long-term food security Euro-politicians are preparing to take an irrational and unscientific decision that will make a growing problem worse. As the world financial crisis deepens, their actions will create food shortages and cause prices to rise. Instead of trying to help relieve world hunger, Europe will have to import from areas where people are already starving.

Then along comes Georgina Downes. A strident lady and full-time campaigner, she has finally persuaded a High Court Judge to support her allegations. If she gets her way, and it is clearly possible that she might, farmers will have to notify every neighbour of their intention so spray and leave much wider field margins. By the time all potential regulations have been observed it might rain, or the wind speed might have increased making it impossible to do the job.

Discussing all this with an old and erudite friend recently, we concluded it was time science and agriculture formed an alliance to fight back to try to retrieve the initiative in public debate to employ campaigning techniques as effective as those used by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to persuade intelligent people (and politicians) to examine the evidence rather than be led by extremists.

My friend came up with a couple of acronyms to set the ball rolling. We could, he thought, invite people to consider the claims of NGOs as FALSE – Fantastical Assertions that Lack Scientific Evidence. At the same time we could promote responsible farming practice as SAFE – Scientific Analysis of Facts and Evidence. Who will run with the idea? Somebody must.

What do you think?

  • What claims made by NGOs would you like to see refuted? Are there myths about agriculture you would like to see dispelled. Let us know by visiting our online forums