The Crop Protection Association has expressed dismay at recent comments by the Prince of Wales in which he questioned the impact of modern farming practices on the environment.
Delivering the prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture earlier this month, Prince Charles said that, while modern agriculture had made “enormous strides to feed the burgeoning world’s population”, this was at a “huge and unsustainable cost to ecosystems, through massive use of artificial fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and water”.
“As an example, we put plenty of nitrogen on the fields to make the crops grow quickly,” he said “But, nitrogen being nitrogen, it makes the weeds grow too, so out come all the herbicides. When it drains into the streams, the nitrogen also makes the algae bloom, which sucks all the oxygen out of the water, suffocating many of the other forms of life in a vital food chain.”
Prince Charles said this was “patently not durable”, solving one problem by creating countless others.
But Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, said the Prince’s comments were “out of touch” with the enormous challenge of securing the world’s future food needs. The Prince had failed to recognise the enormous progress made by the farming industry to strike a sensible balance between productivity and environmental protection.
“Everyone can agree that we need to protect natural resources and prevent the damaging, irreversible effects of practices such as deforestation,” said Mr Dyer. “But we cannot ignore the consequences of not producing enough food. Last year’s soaring grain prices and food riots were a wake up-call for the international community – food security is the most basic necessity of all.”
Modern crop protection would continue to play a crucial role, he insisted. “Use of pesticides today cannot be judged by the prejudices of 30 or 40 years ago. Significant progress has been made to research and develop safer, more environmentally benign products that are target-specific, degrade quickly and do not accumulate in the food chain.
“Responsible stewardship by the farming industry also ensures that pesticides are used safely and effectively in the farmed environment.”
Global food consumption had outstripped production in seven of the past nine years, said Mr Dyer. Every four seconds, the world had an extra 10 mouths to feed, while the FAO had recently revised the number of malnourished people around the world upwards to more than 1 billion.
“These frightening statistics are the reason society needs to re-think its attitude towards modern, science-based agriculture,” said Mr Dyer.