Researching pesticides

More research into the link between pesticide exposure and ill health is needed before the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution Bystanders report recommendations are taken forward.

That was the conclusion from a number of delegates at a special discussion session at this year’s British Crop Production Council conference looking at the validity of the report’s findings.

While some felt the report highlighted important health implications of exposure to spray drift, others believed it may have overlooked alternative causes of ill health among those surveyed.

“We tried to identify what people thought the problem was,” said the commission’s secretary, Tom Eddy. “There is a plausible link between passive pesticide exposure and ill health, but there is an urgent need for further research to find the size, nature and mechanisms of the link.”

The University of Edinburgh’s Joyce Tait said while she agreed with many of the report’s recommendations, some of the evidence used, based on interviews with concerned members of the public, could have been influenced by individual perceptions.

“The RCEP report noted these value-based concerns, but decided not to give particular attention to them.

“We’re in danger of moving down a slippery slope where if a small vocal minority feel strongly about a particular issue then we should take various kinds of action.”

Independent campaigner Georgina Downs welcomed the findings, but said the report did not address all the pesticide exposure factors, which include spray vapour in the air, fumes and exposure to mixtures of chemicals.

“The principal aim of the regulatory system is to protect human health.

The Royal Commission did find existing regulations and monitoring is inadequate.”

To avoid unnecessary public concern growers have got to take more responsibility for showing why pesticides are used, added Essex farmer, Guy Smith.

“This issue is increasingly more about perception rather than science – we need to find local solutions.

A bit of courtesy [before or during spraying] can really help change things.”

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