Now’s the time to write to MEPs

EU Commission plans to limit the number of pesticides available for farmers are reaching a crucial stage in Brussels.

So far the Farmers Weekly Save our Sprays Campaign has focused on getting farmers and industry stakeholders to sign our petition.

But, with the dossier now receiving its “second reading”, the time is right for farmers to start writing letters to key MEPs on the European parliament’s environment committee

But how can you write an effective letter that will make the MEP sit up and take note?

The Potato Council recently produced its own guidance in relation to the impact of the anti-pesticide proposals on the potato sector. Its advice can be applied to all sectors of the farming industry.

“Previously, many organisations have used template letter, but these are far less effective than personalised accounts of unique situations,” it says.

It therefore suggests that farmers write their own letters, adapting the following themes to their own situations:

Describe your enterprise and its place in the local community:

Explain where you farm, what you grow, who you supply and what employment you create.

Paint a picture of what the future may look like:

Say the legislation threatens your ability to control certain pests and disease, leading to lost food production. For example, without triazoles, cereals would be attacked by septoria, leading to 20-30% yield losses. If carbendazim was banned, stored grain would become contaminated with carcinogenic mycotoxins.

The UK Pesticides Safety Directorate estimates that the European parliament’s proposal (as agreed at its first reading last October) will lead to 85% of current pesticides being taken off the market. This will cause a 60% drop in cereal yields and a 50% drop in potato yields.

Choose something likely to resonate with the MEP’s constituents:

The point about the effect on food prices cannot be made too strongly or two often. ADAS has estimated that the price of grain, potatoes and brassicas will more than double. More recent research by the Cranfield School of Management suggests this will put at least 10p on a loaf of bread, 40p on a kilo of pork and 3p on a litre of milk. Report author Sean Rickard says the food price index could go up another 10%.

The impact on the environment is another point worth making. With fewer pesticides to choose from, pest resistance will develop, forcing farmers to increase the chemical loading of those few remaining products.

There may be more mechanical cultivation and weeding needed, increasing farming’s carbon footprint.

You could also question the trade aspect. Imports of food will rise, coming from countries which still use the same pesticides the EU hopes to ban. Meanwhile, global food security will be threatened.

Ask questions and make requests that command a specific response:

For example, ask why there has been no full EU-wide impact assessment into the effect of cut-off criteria on the whole food chain, including consumers. If you ask a specific question, the MEP is obliged to give you a written response.

Keep it short and to the point, using bullet points where possible:

MEPs are busy people, so long essays are less likely to be read. Using bullet points will help clarify the points you want to make. Above all, stay calm and be polite – aggressive or rude letters may be rejected.

Who to write to:

At this stage, it is best to write to UK MEPs who sit on the European parliament’s environment committee, which will be considering the dossier in October. They are:

Straight from the horse’s mouth…

Neeley Williams works in the Brussels office of Eastern counties MEP Robert Sturdy, and has to deal with hundreds of constituents’ letters.

“There is no doubt that personal letters are far more effective than template letters,” she says. “Letters should be short, sweet and to the point. Use bullet points to get your argument across. Say what it is you support, what it is you reject. But don’t go on too much about either!”

Ms Williams advises that asking a question within a letter is a good idea, as it means the MEP can’t get away with just a stock response.

She also agrees that, at this stage, it is best to focus on British MEPs on the environment committee. “It makes much more sense to target those who are actually following the dossier.”

Later on, once the environment committee has voted and the dossier goes to the full parliament in November, letter writing should be broadened to all MEPs.

Ms Williams says that it does not really matter whether letters are e-mailed or posted, or whether they go to the MEP’s Brussels office or their constituency office – or both.

But she admits that, when it comes to an MEP’s mailbox, size does matter. “If an MEP is not that involved in an issue, but then starts to get a sackfull of letters, the chances are he or she will soon want to get involved.”

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