Find out what the implications of Brexit really mean for UK food safety
Prior to Brexit, there was much ado about whether Europe should dictate on the curvature of a banana. Now that we’ve left the EU, Jacob Rees-Mogg claims he wants to slash UK food regulations.
“We want high standards… but other countries around the world eat very good food too... but don’t make farmers lives completely impossible by loading them with regulation."
This sounds perfectly reasonable in theory, but what does it mean in practice? What are these regulations, that are so impractical for farmers? And what will deregulation look like in the UK? Also, if, as JRG says, deregulated countries maintain good standards of quality and safety, is there proof of this? Instead of just taking someone’s say so (even if that someone has a knighthood), let’s have a look at the facts.
EU laws are overly restrictive and outdated
EU laws are by and large there to protect us. It is true that they strictly control pesticide use, and the maximum residual level that can be left on vegetables, fruits, and grains. However, even with this tight regulation, UK grain receives on average 11 pesticide applications. These include 4 fungicides, 3 herbicides, 2 growth regulators, 1 insecticide and 1 molluscicide. In fact, an insecticide is even sprayed on the grain, as it is put into storage, as a preventative measure for pests such as weevil, or to kill an infestation. As stated by Bayer, a pharmaceutical and biotech company:
“It is estimated that over 90% of farm grain stores, harbour at least one species of insect known to infest grain. The number of growers who use an insecticide to treat either the fabric of the building or the grain directly, is estimated to be around 40%”
What will happen without strict control?
Farmers are of course experts in their field (pardon the pun).They have been working and caring for the land, for many years and their intention is to make a profit, whilst simultaneously looking after nature and the environment. They should be trusted to know what is needed to harvest the healthiest crop. Why then, shouldn’t they have free rein to use whatever pesticides they need, whenever they deem fit?
With the best will in the world, this doesn’t consider the monetary and advertising influence that chemical and seed companies have. Biotech monopolies such as Bayer, Monsanto and Dupont etc, just happen to make or sell, both the genetically modified seeds, plus the pesticides too. This hardly sounds ethical, but there is of course a reason for doing so.
If we analyse history, instead of taking a measured, controlled approach to pesticide use, countries that have been deregulated for many years, increase their use exponentially. Why is that?
China has embraced three decades of farming deregulation, and they can also boast that they use the most pesticides: 13.7 kg per hectare compared to 6 kg per hectare in 1990.
In 1984 New Zealand farming was deregulated. From 1999 to 2003 total pesticide imports increased by 17%, as reported by Statistics New Zealand from Customs documentation. Fast forward to 2017, and New Zealand has a pesticide use that is 3 times higher than the world average (7.89 kg per hectare compared to 2.63 kg per hectare).A 2022 study was carried out on 501 New Zealand school children. Urine analysis showed high exposures to chlorpyrifos/triclopyr and pyrethroids.
In 1996, US farmers accepted a deregulation deal, whereby they were promised increased exports, new trade deals and no restrictions on planting decisions. The long-term reality is that farming has become centralised, with many family run farms suffering, and going out of business, at the expense of huge multinational companies.
The first 16 years following deregulation, led to a massive increase in genetically engineered crops: 94% of all soy crops, 76% corn and 96% cotton. These varieties were claimed to be resistant to weeds and pests, but you would expect this to be reflected in reduced pesticide use. In fact, in 2011 the overall pesticide use had increased by 404 million pounds and 2020 statistics show that for soybean production, herbicides are applied to 98% of planted areas, fungicides 22% and insecticides 20%.
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act
Deregulation doesn’t begin and end with pesticides and it is beyond the scope of this article to cover all concerns. However, we can briefly raise the issue of The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act. The UK government has just fast tracked a new Act through Parliament, that has removed ‘regulatory burdens’ from Genetically Engineered organisms. This Act doesn’t just cover crops, but also includes farmed animals, pets and plants and gives the go ahead for genetic modification.
The government has taken advice from a very narrow scientific advisory panel, without appropriate and accurate consideration of ethics, welfare, and environmental impact. The implications of this, is nothing short of horrific. We are all hopefully aware of the parasite problem with farmed salmon, due to filthy farming practices, where salmon are bred in overcrowded pools? Well genetic technology could potentially engineer salmon to resist worms and lice. It would not however, improve farming practices and living conditions for salmon, or therefore deal with the root cause of the parasite problem. Fish would still be forced to swim on top of each other, and as with GMO seed, it is likely that GMO animals would be subjected to increased dousing of pesticides, as they become more resistant. If we look at the situation in Argentina, they have been farming with GMO seed for 30 years. Rather than improve yields and reduce pesticide use, the opposite has evolved: pesticide use has greatly increased, due to the emergence of super weeds, that are resistant to pesticides, and soil quality is very poor, resulting in substantially decreased crop yields. Argentina is nothing short of a monocropping hell.
31st December 2023
Remember this date. It is just a few months from now. This is the date that EU laws effectively come to an end in the UK, unless a special effort is made to replace or retain them. This means that there is a very real possibility of poorly controlled pesticide use from 2024 onwards. In turn this will lead to an increase in both use and residual levels left on crops and will have long-term implications to both our health and the health of our children and grandchildren, not to mention the environment.
When you sip on your January detox smoothie, you may like to think of it instead, as a retox.