On November 11 Lord Willoughby de Broke asked HMG:
whether they support the European Commission’s proposals for further regulation of the use of pesticides in the European Union, which are currently being considered by the European Parliament.As it happens, HMG is not greatly in favour of the new rules but there is precious little it can do about the matter, as the new regulations come under qualified majority voting. With the post-Amsterdam rules on that, it has become virtually impossible to create a blocking minority.
To be fair, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, responding for the government, came as close as he could to grinding his teeth with impotent fury:
My Lords, the Government generally welcome the European Commission’s proposed thematic strategy for the sustainable use of pesticides but are concerned that any strengthening of the already strict authorisations regime for pesticides should be justified, science-based and proportionate. We are particularly concerned about the possible impact of the proposed marketing regulation in the absence of a detailed impact assessment from the European Commission.Lord Willoughby then suggested a most moderate measure though it is not clear whether HMG can achieve even this:
Will the Government use their best endeavours to ask the Council of Ministers and the Commission to set up an expert working group to examine, as he says, the scientific risk-based proposals and to carry out an impact assessment in respect of agriculture, horticulture and consumers in the EU?Subsequent questions and replies made it clear that there is no scientific evidence underpinning the new regulations, which seem to respond to a purely emotional attitude. Nor is it precisely clear whether supermarkets will be able to import goods from countries that do not have the same regulations in force (anyone outside the EU). Of course, this may well become another way for the EU to control developing countries if they want to do such outrageous things as use domestic spraying for the prevention of malaria.
There was a characteristically silly question from the Lib-Dim benches:
Can he tell us whether the vote of the committee of the European Union in favour of banning certain chemicals will have an impact on human health, or will reduce the productivity of arable crops? In other words, are we going to have a second Irish potato famine without copper sulphate sprays and so on, or are there going to be increased cases of cancer among certain people in the community?Since we are talking about pesticides already in use, it is safe to say as Sir Colin Berry, Emeritus Professor of Pathology at Queen Mary College, University of London said in a press release from the International Policy Network (IPN):
The costs of implementing this legislation will be high – crop yields will fall, food prices will rise, more land will have to be farmed and fewer habitats conserved. But it is hard to imagine what the benefits will be.Lord Hunt replied a little more courteously:
The idea of chemical-free farming is absurd and dangerous.
This legislation will not improve human health – the European Parliament’s document in support of the legislation is simply an apologia for a position, not a scientific review.
My Lords, I hope that it does not come down to that choice because we do not believe that the introduction of the directive as currently proposed will have any direct impact on consumers’ health. As far as the potential impact on production is concerned, my understanding is that the withdrawal of one triazole that is crucial for protection against fungal disease of wheat could result in a loss of yield of up to 30 per cent in cereals. There are other potential losses in the horticultural area, particularly where there is nothing in the pipeline at the moment that could replace those pesticides. That is why we are continuing to press our concerns within Europe on this matter.Then there is the problem of potential prices rise if there is a decline in production and the possibility of importing becomes questionable at a time when the Commission appears to be waking up to the fact that regulation of fruit and vegetables may not be a good idea for the consumer.
Lord Sewel wanted to know why the Commission has been refusing to produce an impact assessment (as if that were something unusual – after all successive British governments have refused to produce impact assessments on our membership of the EU), to which Lord King replied in a fairly measured way:
I suspect it is a genuflection to greenness without scientific evidence.So there we are. Another far-reaching piece of legislation coming from the European Union. As it is a Directive it will go to Parliament though, possibly, only as a Statutory Instrument and, in any case, our own representatives have no right to throw it out. It will badly hurt food production in this country, it will put up prices for consumers, it will, possibly, sanction the importation of food that is grown under less stringent rules and it will, as a side-effect, prevent the production of badly needed chemical tools against devastating diseases in Africa. Success all round, I’d say.