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Agriculture

On pesticides, “all or nothing” approaches are unhelpful

A Belgian NGO attacks crop protection products that keep food safe and affordable

“Alternatives to sulfoxaflor exist, what are we waiting for?” titles a blog post on the website of the Belgian environmentalist NGO Nature&Progrès.

The post argues that given the available alternatives to modern insecticides, it should be reasonable to phase them out indefinitely. It claims that we are facing an insect apocalypse caused by crop protection tools – however, both statements are untrue.

The warnings of a so-called “insect apocalypse” date back to 2019, when a study titled “Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers” by Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, from the School of Life & Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, predicted a spiralling decline of insect populations worldwide.

“It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none” Bayo told The Guardian in February.

This study has since been debunked by researchers at the University of Oxford, who point out that out of the 73 studies Bayo reviewed, he highlights only those that show significant reductions in insect populations, and that he made “false statements on the lack of data for ants”.

The critiques go further. The premise of the insect apocalypse Bayo describes rests on the “red lists” – the presumably growing list of extinct species. However, the red lists contain insects that have regionally disappeared, not those that are globally extinct. In certain regions of the world, due to weather changes, certain insects displace to find more suitable living conditions. While on a case-by-case basis we can identify if human involvement, notably habitat loss, was the cause, this doesn’t mean that the insects are globally extinct.

The intellectual shortcuts in the Bayo study were striking, and not just based on an inaccurate reading of the data: three studies that he cites in support of pesticides being the only cause of insect decline do not actually say that.

Nature&Progrès goes beyond the claims made by Bayo, blaming all neonicotinoid insecticides and the neonics-alternative sulfoxaflor for insect deaths. It provides no data or link to a scientific study that underlines this argument. A hard task in any regard, namely because sulfoxaflor has not been shown to affect honeybee populations, even though this is regularly repeated.

Incidentally, Nature&Progrès dabbles in the same surface-level assumptions that lead the French National Front to demand a ban on sulfoxaflor in 2015 – an amendment rejected by the European Parliament.

Let’s not forget why European farmers use crop protection tools such as insecticides in the first place. Pests threaten crop output each year, to the extent that France has granted an exemption on its ban of neonicotinoids, as beet farmers were facing a complete wipe-out.

Meanwhile, in markets where neonic pesticides continue to be used, honeybee populations are actually steady or increasing. In short, a ban on crop protection tools threatens the livelihood of farmers, the food security of European countries, and can further increase food prices that are already affected by inflation.

Environmentalist NGOs are suggesting to move to an “agro-ecological” baseline of farming instead.

According to its original definition, agroecology is simply the study of ecological practices applied to agriculture. What started out as science, however, has morphed into a political doctrine that not only rules out modern technologies such as genetic engineering, advanced pesticides and synthetic fertilizer but explicitly extols the benefits of “peasant” and “indigenous” farming and in many cases discourages mechanization as a way of freeing the world’s poor from backbreaking agricultural labour. Add on to a hostility to international trade and intellectual property protections for innovators (“seed patents,” which are standard in all advanced crops, not just GMOs, are a frequent cause of complaint) and you can see why agroecology’s promoters so often talk about it as “transformative.”

We should remember that not all “transformations” are good. They can just as easily be bad, even catastrophic.

study by pro-agroecology activists found that applications of their principles to Europe would decrease agricultural productivity by 35% on average, which they considered a positive, as in their view Europeans eat too much anyway. It’s hard to see how a 35% drop in productivity would protect European from rising food prices, and how a complete phase-out of crop protection equipment would ensure adequate food safety.

Originally published here

Three priorities for the new European Parliament president

Tomorrow, the European Parliament will elect its new president. As the cases of Omicron spike around Europe, ensuring European solidarity in the face of the new strain will be one of the new president’s top challenges. The sudden death of David Sassoli, praised for keeping the parliament running during the crisis, leaves big shoes to fill. 

Aside from COVID-19, the new president will also need to ensure that the European Parliament takes a pro-consumer, pro-innovation evidence-based approach to several other pressing issues. In line with the goals set out in the European Green New Deal, these, among others, include sustainability of agriculture and energy cost-efficiency. Other significant areas of attention and consideration should be digital and the sharing economy.

Agriculture and sustainability

The EU Farm to Fork strategy is an ambitious attempt to make agriculture in the EU and globally–through trade policy—sustainable. However, cutting the use of pesticides and fertilisers by 50 per cent, as proposed, will not achieve these goals. Instead, the F2F will result in high consumer prices and reduced food production. The F2F will take crucial crop protection tools away from farmers, leaving them unprepared for the next virus. The black market in pesticides, which is already flourishing in the EU, will undoubtedly seize this opportunity. 

The EU shouldn’t restrict the farmers’ freedom to use the preferred crop protection tools to avoid these unintended consequences. Alternatively, the EU should consider enabling genetic modification in the EU.

To learn more about our stance on agriculture and sustainability, check out our policy paper Sustainable Agriculture, available here.

Nuclear 

The European Union remains unjustifiably cautious about nuclear energy. Nuclear is a low-carbon source of energy and an affordable source of energy. It would enable a decarbonised electricity grid. In addition, nuclear can support decarbonised heat and hydrogen production, which can be used as an energy source for hard-to-decarbonise sectors.

The latest IEA and OECD NEA report entitled ‘Projected Costs of Generating Electricity 2020’ confirms that the long-term operation of nuclear power plants remains the cheapest source of electricity. Furthermore, nuclear is much less vulnerable to price fluctuations, a key point at a time when energy prices are escalating.

To learn more about our stance on nuclear, check out CCC’s Open Letter on Climate Change by our Managing Director Fred Roeder, available here.

Digital

In January 2021, the European Commission presented the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). DMA aims to restrict the market behaviour of big tech giants by introducing a series of ex-ante regulations. However, the current approach lacks nuance and risks hurting the competition in the EU digital market and the EU’s global competitiveness. Instead of going after the success of the high tech companies, the European Union should instead focus on making it easier for smaller European enterprises to operate. One step in that direction would, for example, be to abandon the audiovisual directive, which prevents small and medium enterprises from scaling-up.

To learn more about our stance on the EU digital policies, check out our New Consumer Agenda 2020, available here.

The future resilience of the European Union will be determined by the policy choices made today. It is pivotal that the new president of the European Parliament becomes a champion of innovation, consumer choice, and evidence-based policymaking.

Written by Maria Chaplia and Luca Bertoletti

Government regulations would threaten this beloved Christmas symbol

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, harsh government regulations are putting you in jeopardy.

With Christmas so close, many of us in Michigan have enjoyed a common holiday tradition this year: finding the perfect fresh Christmas tree to put up in our home. Unfortunately, harsh state regulations could put Michigan’s Christmas tree production in serious jeopardy.

Christmas trees are a big deal in this state, so much so that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently declared December “Michigan Christmas Tree Month.” Ranking third in the nation for the number of Christmas trees harvested, Michigan provides about 2 million trees to the national market every year, generating roughly $40 million in value.

With over 500 Christmas tree farms over 37,000 acres within the state, this industry is massively important and affects many Michigan residents.

However, growing Christmas trees is no easy feat. According to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, it takes about seven years to grow a tree to commercial height, although it can take as many as 15 years in some cases.

Additionally, it is common for tree farms to plant around 2,000 trees per acre, although only about 1,250 on average survive as infestations from pests, insects and disease are common. Fortunately, there are many innovative solutions to prevent infestations and ensure that Christmas tree farmers are able to optimize their yields.

One of the innovative solutions listed in Michigan State University’s 2021 Michigan Christmas Tree Pest Management Guide is neonicotinoids or neonics, a type of insecticide with a chemical structure similar to nicotine.

Neonics have been used extensively in agriculture because they effectively target insects and pests while being significantly less harmful to wildlife than most other insecticides.

Unfortunately, there have been calls to restrict neonics in Michigan that would result in severe economic harm to our Christmas tree farms. Just earlier this year, a bill was introduced to the Michigan House that contained language banning the use of neonics, claiming that the insecticide would kill bee populations.

At one time, many believed that a decline in bee populations were a result of widespread use of neonics and substitutes such as sulfoxaflor, although this has since been debunked. In reality, the supposed drop-off in honeybee colonies was a result of how beekeepers tracked the number of bees they managed. According to research from an international group of ecologists, the number of global honey bee colonies has actually increased by 85% since 1961.

If neonics were banned in Michigan, it could economically destroy the state’s Christmas tree farms and industry, leaving many farmers out in the cold after working tirelessly to make our holidays special over the years.

Instead, legislators should “branch” out from bad policy and embrace the innovative scientific solutions that will keep Christmas in Michigan merry and bright.

Originally published here

Will the US endorse this Congressional proposal to adopt Europe’s innovation-stifling ‘precautionary principle’ regulation?

A new bill supported by environmental organizations and co-sponsored by progressive lawmakers Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) would copy food rules in Europe and paste them in the United States.

The bill is called the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), and it would completely retool how America approves and licenses the use of pesticides and import a “precautionary” approach that has so far stunted innovative agriculture in Europe.

The fact that consumers, when presented with the choice between organic and conventional agriculture, choose the latter and not the former, plays no important role in the views of these activists. […]…A European model of agriculture in which farmers are significantly more subsidized than their American counterparts might be appealing to some stateside farmers, but is that really the future of agriculture that Americans want? Do Americans want a model in which farmers are forever dependent on the federal government as opposed to a market economy where the relationship is between consumers and farmers?

American agriculture is an asset too precious for lawmakers to succumb to the pressure of people who would rather see the industry disappear than use the benefits of modern agricultural technology.

Read the full article here

The U.S. Shouldn’t Follow The EU’s Green Agriculture Lead

To tackle climate change, the European Union has decided to go all organic. Europe’s green agriculture — outlined in the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy — seeks to reduce the use of pesticides by 50% percent. That looks very climate-friendly and revolutionary on paper. In reality, the F2F is extremely costly and will not help save the planet.

The U.S. should see the EU’s F2F as a lesson in how not to approach agriculture in the 21st century.

Pesticides are a critical tool for fighting pests and diseases that can decimate crops. They fall into the following categories: herbicides, which protect from the 30,000 weed species that deprive crops of space, water, sunlight, and soil nutrients; insecticides, which defend against 10,000 plant-eating species; and fungicides, which are used to prevent 50,000 plant diseases, such as mycotoxin contamination.

Limiting the use of pesticides will limit farmers’ ability to maximize food production, which will drive down food supply and drive up food prices. According to a recent study conducted by Dutch scientists, production will decline by 10 to 20%, or in some cases 30%.

Furthermore, the EU will attempt to impose this agenda on the rest of the world. Should that happen, about 185 million people will become food-insecure.

On top of that, organic agriculture is hardly climate-friendly. To name one example, a 2018 international Swedish study published in the journal Nature found that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50% larger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas.

So far, the United States has been opposing the Farm to Fork strategy, calling it “protectionist.” However, with the recent launch of an EU-U.S. transatlantic platform on agriculture, it is unclear which approach will succeed in shaping the discourse. It is crucial that the U.S. doesn’t follow the EU’s flawed green lead.

Originally published here

Europe Should Not Be the Role Model for American Agriculture

American agriculture is an asset too precious for lawmakers to succumb to the pressure of people who would rather see the industry disappear than use the benefits of modern agricultural technology. 

A new bill supported by environmental organizations and co-sponsored by progressive lawmakers Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) would copy food rules in Europe and paste them in the United States. This bill disregards the American context and the way previous agriculture regulations were decided on and would downgrade the status of the United States from an agricultural powerhouse, which would be devastating to a state like California.

The bill is called the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), and it would completely retool how America approves and licenses the use of pesticides and import a “precautionary” approach that has so far stunted innovative agriculture in Europe.

In 2019, activists sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the insecticide sulfoxaflor that helps farmers protect their crops from insects. The activist groups claimed that the substance harms pollinators, despite recent evidence showing the contrary. When used correctly, the chemical yields no major impact on honeybees, which is why the EPA has demanded that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reconsider its existing restrictions.

These activists belong to the same environmental groups that sought to ban pesticides like the neonic class of pesticides they blamed for the “bee-pocalypse.” Sulfoxaflor was once lauded as an alternative to neonic insecticides, but it now faces similar criticism.

In 2015, the Washington Post published “Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high,” an article highlighting the fact that bee populations are on the rise. And USDA numbers confirm that there is no worrying trend related to honeybees. Yet, the notion that chemical pesticides harm bees is so ingrained because it has been consistently repeated to further the goals of environmental activists. These activists aim, not to reduce pesticides by fifty percent by 2030—a goal the European Union is aiming to hit, but to achieve one hundred percent organic agriculture as soon as possible. 

The fact that consumers, when presented with the choice between organic and conventional agriculture, choose the latter and not the former, plays no important role in the views of these activists. There is no attempt to inform consumers about the facts of organic food—that it is not healthier or more nutritious than conventional food, that they do indeed use a wide array of pesticides, or that an all-organic shift would increase greenhouse-gas emissions by up to seventy percent.

Premiums on organic food products are upwards of one hundred percent, and environmental groups work closely with organic lobby groups to push for a mandated increase in organic food production. This push will only cause grocery bills to rise.

While some farmers might benefit from a shift to organic food, many others won’t. In Europe, farming representatives have criticized the push to increase organic food production from the current eight percent to twenty-five percent by 2030 because it can lead to a significant market imbalance. If consumers are presented with twenty-five percent organic but continue buying based on their existing preferences, then what happens to the excess seventeen percent? Will the government compensate farmers if prices drop because of deficient demand?

A European model of agriculture in which farmers are significantly more subsidized than their American counterparts might be appealing to some stateside farmers, but is that really the future of agriculture that Americans want? Do Americans want a model in which farmers are forever dependent on the federal government as opposed to a market economy where the relationship is between consumers and farmers?

U.S. secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack explained to the European Parliament in a virtual appearance that the differences in how Europe and the United States treat crop protection and genetic engineering are an obstacle to the two blocs trading. But civil society and legislative pressures are building, and they must be resisted.

American agriculture is an asset too precious for lawmakers to succumb to the pressure of people who would rather see the industry disappear than use the benefits of modern agricultural technology.

Of course, improvements can still be made. According to USDA, the number of pesticides used in the United States has been reduced by forty percent since 1960 and pesticide persistence has been cut in half. Innovative technologies such as smart sprayers help farmers use crop protection tools more efficiently to the benefit of their own balance sheets. Empowering farmers to innovate and consumers to be informed about farming realities and the food on their tables should be the goals for which we strive.

Originally published here

Innovation in Agriculture Will Help Combat the Climate Change

The world population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. As natural resources are limited, and in order to meet the needs of an ever-growing world population, we need to increase our food production. However, a more pressing problem is to ensure that is not done at the expense of the environment. The agricultural sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, both through direct activities and land changes. 

European policymakers are betting on organic farming and through their “Farm to Fork” strategy. They want to reach a 25 percent organic production target. Even though organic agriculture has become interchangeable with sustainable agriculture, it might not be the most viable solution for our planet and our population. Organic farming has low yields and without the use of pesticides, farmers are bound to lose 30 to 40 percent of their crops. If we were to rely on organic farming alone, we would need to set aside more land for agricultural production which can only be achieved through deforestation.

Deforestation is already a pressing issue and one of the causes of climate change. It would make zero sense to cut down trees to free up the land for farming. In 2017, researchers at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland estimated that if the world chose to fully convert to organic agriculture, we would need between 16 and 81% more land to feed the planet. Attendees at the UN’s COP26 have already promised to end deforestation by 2030, but putting more effort into the development of organic food production would be incongruous to their pledge. 

The answers to these problems, therefore, must be innovation.

The European Union is lagging behind on this front. Current GMO legislation, which was established back in 2001, strictly regulates the introduction of DNA from other species into animals and plants. Unfortunately, very promising gene-editing tools, such as CRISPR-Cas9, are not exempted from the regulations, even though the technique does not entail inserting foreign DNA, as is often mistakenly claimed.

Such outdated legislation prevents European scientists from participating in the gene revolution and European farmers from taking advantage of all benefits this innovative sector has to offer. CRISPR could produce climate-resilient crops with higher yields. It can also add or remove features that would make crops more adaptable, think of gluten-free wheat that would make gluten-free products just as affordable as the gluten-based ones (at the moment it is 183% more expensive)

Gene-editing allows for the creation of disease-resistant crops. CRISPR technology can be used to build resistance to all plant pathogens, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, eliminating the need to use pesticides and fertilizers.

The solution is right in front of us, and we should not allow perceived threats, especially those that are not backed by substantial evidence, to stop us from adopting technologies that can benefit farmers, consumers and our planet equally.

If you want to know more about the topic, we recommend reading our papers Sustainable Agriculture and It’s in Our Genes

Another Voice: Albany lawmakers fall for fake Beepocalypse narrative

Why is New York denying the science and doubling down on the fake Beepocalypse narrative?

We all remember the adage “Save the Bees!” that scientists and beekeepers have promoted. It animated environmental activists for a decade. There was even an Obama White House national “Honey Bee” strategy to get to the bottom of “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

At the time, we believed bee populations had been decimated by the widespread uses of insecticides and pesticides on crops, including neonicotinoids (neonics) and substitutes such as sulfoxaflor, which have unjustly come under fire.

However, as bee colonies began to grow again by 2010, many experts determined the Beepocalypse was nothing more than imagination.

As noted by the Washington Post, the supposed drop-off in honeybee colonies had less to do with what farmers were spraying on crops, and more to do with how beekeepers tracked the number of bees they managed. And those numbers have only gone up.

The latest research from an international group of ecologists shows not only that bees have been replicating at higher rates, but the number of global honey bee colonies has risen by 85% since 1961.

The largest growth of bee colonies has, surprisingly, been in Asia, where pesticide use is more lightly regulated and widespread. The scientific consensus has drifted away from neonics and other insecticides as a factor in bee declines – if they exist at all.

Why then, after this public shift in the scientific community, is New York aiming to pass a bill that doubles down on the role of pesticides on the Beepocalypse narrative?

In June, the State Senate passed the Birds and Bees Protection Act, to ban the use of neonics on any farmland and to restrict any seeds laced with the chemical. Its companion bill in the Assembly is now in committee and will get a vote soon.

When the European Food Safety Authority conducted a study on the impact of the EU’s neonics ban on the rapeseed industry alone, it determined that the ban would cost over $1 trillion dollars in lost revenue, not to mention rising food prices and increased farming in nations that do not limit greenhouse gas emissions.

While the agriculture output of New York pales in comparison to California or Midwestern states, a ban on neonics will have significant spillover effects on farmers and consumers across the country.

Whatever the Assembly decides, we must hold them accountable to the policies they plan to implement, whether that is based on science or the now-debunked Beepocalypse.

Originally published here

Policy Focus: EU’s Green Agenda: Lessons For The U.S.

What You Should Know

The Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, published by the European Commission in May 2020, is a centralized attempt to adapt European agriculture to the pressing challenges of the day. Extensively criticized by the U.S., the F2F turns a blind eye to the best interests of European farmers and consumers, and risks doing more harm than good not only at home but also abroad. The F2F serves as a lesson in how not to approach agriculture in the 21st century.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that the resilience of food systems is pivotal. Future pandemics combined with environmental challenges call for a science-based approach to food production both in the EU and worldwide. Although noble in intent, the Farm to Fork strategy’s bold push for organic farming doesn’t provide viable solutions to pressing climate problems and will only lead to higher consumer prices, more illicit trade, and more food insecurity.

The Farm to Fork strategy assumes that organic farming is more sustainable than conventional farming and should be given every preference. To achieve that, the European Commission proposed to cut the use of pesticides in the EU by 50 percent while increasing organic farming in agricultural production from 7.5 percent to 25 percent. However, such a commitment is neither climate-friendly nor feasible.

Rather than imitate the F2F strategy, the U.S. should strive to preserve its competitive edge in food production and only see the F2F as a reminder of why politics has no place in agriculture.

Read the full report here

The UN-led gambit to curb innovation in the developing world is only blocking prosperity

Why the risk-avoiding ‘Stockholm Convention’ endorses harmful bans and stunts progress where it is needed most.

Among developed nations, one of the most significant drivers of economic growth and prosperity has been the ability of our innovators, scientists, and entrepreneurs to deliver great products to the consumers who need them.

We need only think of the advances in washing machine technology, which has freed up hours of domestic labor, plastics and silicones, which have allowed products to be produced cheaply and last longer, and more abundant use of computer chips in our appliances, which has enabled a “smart” revolution in consumer products that are saving us time and effort at home, which fueling the revolutions in artificial intelligence and medical technology.

While these innovations are beginning to also reach developing nations, however, there are existing international treaties and regulatory bodies that are making it more difficult and costly for these products to be sold or even accessed. This significantly affects the life of a consumer and their ability to provide for their families.

One such United Nations treaty is a little-known global pact known as the Stockholm Convention, which aims to regulate long-lasting or “persistent” chemical substances, and has become the unofficial world regulator for industrial and consumer products and their makeup.

Many of the substances and compounds first targeted by the convention were pesticides, industrial chemicals, and by-products that had known harmful effects to humans or to the environment. These included aldrin, chlordane, and most controversially, the malaria-killing insecticide known as DDT.

The main idea behind these restrictions, and the UN convention itself, is that these compounds take forever to break down in the environment, and eventually make their way into our bodies through food or water contamination, and could pose an eventual danger to organisms.

Unfortunately, since the convention was launched in 2001, it has gone from banning and restricting known dangerous substances to now applying cautious labels or entire injunctions on chemicals used in ordinary life and with no known or measured risk factor in humans or animal species.

Moreover, with a large international budget and limited oversight, researchers have noted how the convention’s financial implementation has often pushed developing countries to adopt restrictions or bans for the guarantee of funding alone, something that has been observed with UN-related treaties on vaping products, and may have some complications for global trade.

Now in its 20th year, the convention has repeatedly relied on the European Union’s “precautionary principle” approach when it comes to determining risk, meaning that any general hazard, no matter the risk factor, must be abandoned out of an abundance of caution. This neglects the normal scientific framework of balancing risk and exposure.

The example of the herbicide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane — known as DDT — presents one of the most glaring cases. Though it has been banned in many developed nations and blocs such as the United States and the European Union, it is still used in many developing nations to wipe out insects carrying malaria and other diseases. In these nations, including South Africa and India, the possible harm is “vastly outweighed” by its ability to save the lives of children.

The current mechanism, therefore, considers the wishes of developed nations that do not have to deal with tropical diseases like malaria and forces this standard on those that do. The scientific analysis found in the global meetings of the Stockholm Convention does not take this factor, and a host of others, into account.

With a precautionary principle like this in place, including a process led more by politics than science, one can easily see how economic growth can be thwarted in nations that do yet have consumer access to products we use on a daily basis in developed countries.

Whether it is pesticides, household chemicals, or plastics, it is clear that a global regulatory body to regulate these substances is a desired force for good. However, if an international organization enforces bad policies on middle and low-income countries, then that is a calculation that harms the potential progress and innovation in the developing world.

Originally published here

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