Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pesky-cides

On the face of it, writing about European pesticides legislation doesn't appear to be the most fascinating exercise. But this is a subject that is getting everyone very hot under the collar. European legislators want to remove some of the most hazardous substances from use as pesticides--because of their potential to harm people and the environment through misuse. And when they are looking at harm to people, they don't just mean consumers but also the people who apply pesticides.

Such a hazard-based approach annoys lots of people who see this as politics interfering in what was previously a scientific approach. Previously this approach was entirely risk based. A substance can be very hazardous, but in actual day-to-day use pose little risk to anyone because of the way it is used. Conceivably, something that is less toxic, may be harming more people because of the way it is applied (say just before harvest).

In any case, it seems that there is little chance of much change to this legislation when it reaches Parliament for its 2nd reading this year.

A balance of risk. Pesticides keep food edible and cheap. On the other hand they are, by definition, poisonous. Europe’s legislators thus face a dilemma. Jul 3rd 2008

Reader comments:

Random Scientist wrote:
July 03, 2008 18:26
The cost of pesticide tests will go sky high. The market will be handed over to few biggest companies, those which either have some approved pesticides or can afford tests. Did anarchic greens want to create oligopoly of big corporations? Anyway, they did it.

Fastfish wrote:
July 03, 2008 23:27
More proof that we base sustainable population calculation on an unsustainable foundation. The common tone expressed is that there is no point in considering any other option. Can the Economist provide more than a window onto Purgatory or Hell?

Aroman wrote:
July 04, 2008 04:37

I agree with Random Scientist. This "prove that this is safe" policy is the same that we have seen in chemicals (REACH) and medicine. In all cases the effect is the same: old and trusted substances are driven from the market because nobody invests to prove them safe and we are left with expensive substances that for many years will stay on patent. And the threshold for further innovation becomes nearly unsurmountable.

I don't understand why the old policy of periodically outlawing the most unsafe substances has become obsolete.