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FARM BLOG: Farmers entitled to be scratchy over chemical bans

Kevin Prince says 'bringing about a greener world is a bit more complicated that we imagined'

IT’S very easy to point the finger at farming’s use of pesticides and then move to get the chemicals banned.

But scratching away at this piecemeal does not solve the problem. Neonicotinoids, a seed treatment used on oil seed rape (OSR), have been banned for a year or two now and the effect has been a diminution of the crop both in the UK and across Europe.

The shortfall is made up by importing OSR from countries where neonics are still used so it apparently makes little sense to penalise our farmers while happily replacing their produce with imports.

Food standards and imports are very much in mind as the UK negotiates trade deals and despite the apparent extra teeth granted to the Trade and Agriculture Commission by placing it on a statutory footing and giving it oversight of future trade deals it has no real bite because its recommendations can be ignored by Government.

As well as the example of OSR I’ve mentioned, there’s also the problem that chemicals banned in the western world just get exported to developing countries instead, where feeding a growing population is perhaps deemed more important than cutting
environmental pollution.

Thus DDT was banned in many countries many years ago yet found its way into the stores and soils of even more countries instead despite knowledge of its harmful effects such as causing predatory birds to lay thin-shelled eggs that were crushed in the nest before the chicks could hatch.

It’s also been widely acknowledged that the contraceptive hormones excreted by humans are having an effect on the wildlife in our rivers, but who even gave a thought to the flea treatments used on our cats and dogs? Well, now experts have and it seems these chemicals are turning out to be a bit of an ecological disaster.

What kills fleas and ticks on dogs and cats also, it turns out, kills insects and other invertebrates in our river systems, affecting the food sources of fish and birds. Research by scientists at the University of Sussex showed that 99 per cent of samples taken from English rivers, starting with the Test here in the South and rising to the Eden in Cumbria, showed significant amounts of products that are harmful to insects and already banned from use on our farms.

It’s suggested that one dose of flea treatment contains sufficient insecticide to exterminate 60 million bees. Spread that across the estimated 80 per cent of the 10 million dogs and 11 million cats in the UK treated regularly with the chemicals whether they need it or not then use of neonics on OSR seed to prevent destruction by the cabbage stem flea beetle seems a bit pointless.

Farmers this month are receiving their basic payments from the Government under a regime that’s going to change to switch from food production to environmental enhancement.

It’s a noble cause and one which will no doubt gain widespread support from the millions who walk their dogs in the countryside.

But what use might that be if the dog plunges into a stream just after being treated for fleas?

Maybe bringing about a greener world is a bit more complicated that we imagined.

Kevin Prince has wide experience of farming and rural business in Berkshire and across southern England as a director in the Adkin consultancy based near Wantage. His family also run a diversified farming operation with commercial lets, holiday cottages and 800 arable acres.

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