People are often surprised to learn that highly poisonous chemicals – that were originally designed as weapons of war1 – have been allowed for many decades, under successive Government policies, to be sprayed on crop fields all over the UK. The chemical warfare in the countryside – known as ‘conventional farming’ – has resulted in thousands of residents suffering devastating, even fatal, consequences to their health and lives.
This can be seen in the truly harrowing reports from affected residents in an ongoing petition2 started by the campaigner Georgina Downs who runs the multi award winning independent UK Pesticides Campaign.3 The petition calls on the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to urgently secure the protection of rural citizens by banning all crop spraying and use of any pesticides near residents’ homes, schools, and children’s playgrounds and has attracted a number of notable signatories including Hillsborough QC Michael Mansfield, Jonathon Porritt and Gordon Roddick, amongst others.
Prominent green politicians like myself and co-leader Caroline Lucas have also signed and the Greens were in fact the one party to pledge to secure protection of rural residents in an election manifesto.4 The fact that the chemical poisoning of rural communities was ever allowed in the first place – let alone to continue for many decades with no action – is one of the biggest public health scandals of any time. It is beyond dispute that pesticides can cause a wide range of both acute, and chronic – including irreversible – adverse effects on human health.
The product data sheets produced by the pesticide companies themselves can carry various warnings such as “Very toxic by inhalation,” “Do not breathe spray; fumes; vapour,” “Risk of serious damage to eyes,” “Harmful, possible risk of irreversible effects through inhalation,” “May cause cancer by inhalation,” and even “May be fatal if inhaled.”
High quality, peer-reviewed scientific studies and reviews5 have concluded that exposure to pesticides is associated with numerous chronic diseases including various cancers, birth defects, reproductive disorders, neuro degenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), cardio-vascular diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes, autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus).
I received a dismissive response to a written question to the Government on this issue from Lord Gardiner of Kimble who is the responsible Minister within the Lords. His response6 indicated that the Government seems intent on turning a blind eye to this scandal. Yet as we have seen this year with the Grenfell Tower tragedy – in which Grenfell residents had repeatedly warned of the dangers but were effectively ignored – that the Government dismisses health and safety risks raised by those directly affected at its peril.
Therefore I am pursuing this crucial matter further with an oral question and related debate in the Lords.
It is a criminal offence to knowingly expose someone to poison so there should never have been any exemption on that in relation to agriculture.
A recent UN report7 concluded that moving away from pesticide-reliant industrial agriculture to non-chemical farming methods should now be a political priority in all countries globally.
The new post Brexit UK agricultural bill provides a real opportunity for the UK to adopt such a non-chemical farming policy in order to no longer rely on toxic chemicals in the production of our food. This would then protect not only the health of residents and other members of the public, but also the environment, wildlife, pollinators, other species, and biodiversity.
The origins of traditional farming methods did not include dependence on chemical inputs for mass production. Such poisons should never have had any place in the air we breathe, food we eat, and environment we live in.
So my oral question will also be asking the Government what steps are being taken to adopt non-chemical farming methods in the post Brexit UK agricultural bill so that poisons are no longer used to produce our food.
It is a complete paradigm shift that is needed without any further delay.
To sign the petition to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to ban all crop spraying of poisonous pesticides near residents homes, schools, and playgrounds see https://www.change.org/p/the-prime-minister-rt-hon-theresa-may-mp-ban-all-crop-spraying-of-poisonous-pesticides-near-our-homes-schools-and-playgrounds
- http://www.toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Pesticides+-+History under the heading “Synthetic Pesticides”
- For example, a review published on 15th April 2013 in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology regarding the chronic health impacts of pesticides entitled “Pesticides and Human Chronic Diseases; Evidences, Mechanisms, and Perspectives” can be seen at:- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0041008X13000549