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Agriculture

The trouble with King Charles’ unorthodox views on modern farming

During his long tenure as the successor to the throne, then-Prince Charles was a defender of the environment. The Prince of Wales website underlinesthe use of “his unique position to champion action for a sustainable future.”He testifies to having made changes in his own lifestyle that made him more eco-friendly: running his Aston Martin luxury car on surplus white winenot eating meat or fish two days of the week and forgoing dairy products one day a week. When the monarch was in charge of Highgrove farm in southwest England, all production was only organic farming.

King Charles didn’t discover his penchant for sustainability all by himself. After Charles met the Indian anti-globalization activist and environmental advocate Vandana Shiva, his focus shifted from raising awareness about climate change to advocacy for more extreme measures. Shiva has repeatedly come under fire for her unorthodox claims and methods, most recently when over 50 biotechnology experts wrote an open letter to the University of Missouri Kansas City regarding an upcoming lecture. The letter attacks her support for hand-weeding — a labor-intensive farming practice used in developing countries because of a lack of pesticides; banned in the state of California — her claim that fertilizers should never be allowed in agriculture, or a tweet in which she likened the use of genetically engineered crops to rape.

Shiva also regards GMOs as “patriarchal” and “anthropocentric,” a view seconded by Charles who referred to them in 2008 as a big environmental disaster. The fact that the royal takes advice that translates to his own ideas became apparent when he published his book “Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World” in 2011. In it, he bemoans that the industrialized world has turned its back on God and the harmony of things — that we divorced from the “sacred geometry” by implementing global capitalism at the expense of the environment.

One review of the book states, “He regards opposing views as cynicism or blindness. He likes to overlook complexity.”

Whether or not Charles used to run an organic farm that practiced hand-weeding ought not to matter in British politics, except that it does. The new king, despite being a constitutional monarch, is influential in all nations where he serves as a sovereign, and does have the ability to lobby for his views. 

Just last year, the British press revealed the extent to which Queen Elizabeth had been able to use opaque back channels of legislative procedure to influence laws. Publicly expressed political views are also on the table. When a Canadian radio broadcaster tricked the Queen into a prank call with a pretend Jean Chrétien, then prime minister of Canada, it became apparent to what extent the sovereign was willing to go to publicly announce her opposition to Québec’s attempt at gaining independence.

The policies that Charles supports would fundamentally change the global farming system, causing significant disruptions. Despite innovation in the field of organic agriculture, the practice yields less food than conventional methods, an average 43 percent to 72 percent less. When researchers modeled a 100 percent adoption scenario of organic practices in England and Wales, and they found that it would actually increase carbon dioxide emissions because more natural resources are required to produce the same amount of goods.

Charles’ views on farming stand in contrast with the UK Parliament’s priorities. The House of Commons is considering a bill that would allow genetic engineering in crops. Such a move would be one of the more notable breaks from EU policy, in which legislation prevents the use of modern gene-editing technology. The UK has also shied away from more radical agriculture reforms the EU is embracing: while the EU “Farm to Fork” strategy plans for a considerable reduction in farmland use, the UK government promises plans that help British farmers become more productive. The fact that the “Farm to Fork” legislative packages now face delays in Brussels over concerns of food shortages further underlines the point that Charles’ preferred model of sustainability could lead to disaster.

Whatever your views on the royal family, it’s clear that we excuse irrational policy prescriptions from Buckingham Palace. It’s high time the monarch abandon his advisers and unfounded views on modern agriculture. 

Originally published here

In the fight between rodents and humans, environmentalists choose the rats

Imagine the scene in 14th-century Europe, as the continent was suffering under the bubonic plague, if a group of aristocrats had taken the side of the rats. What seems like a blueprint for a Monty Python sketch, or a skit on SNL during the days it dared to take risks, is not far from the world we see today.

For years, environmental activists have supported a ban on rat poison, and the Environmental Protection Agency has followed suit by, for instance, banning pellet rodenticides. When activists target examples of products that deserve increased scrutiny, though, their blind spots show. The Pesticide Action Network writes in a blog post: “The fact of the matter? Rodenticides are not needed. Predators like owls, hawks and other raptors do a great job of rodent control.”

While hawks and other raptors may address a rat problem in the countryside, they don’t show up to catch rodents in Times Square. Europe has learned this lesson painfully since the European Union has restricted the use of rat poison. Some EU members, such as the Netherlands, have gone further by virtually banning all rat poison from 2023, paving the way for a significant infestation. 

The Knowledge and Advice Center for Animal Pests warns in major media outlets that new infestations of rats are looming. Its director told a public radio station: “Unfortunately, people will not realize it until the rats and mice run down the street.”

“In the Lanternfly War, Some Take the Bug’s Side,” announced the New York Times in a headline last month. The Chinese insect that has made its way to the United States and infested fields since 2014 now threatenshundreds of millions in farming damages, according to the Department of Agriculture.

However, the article also gives voice to those who believe that protecting the insect, and not preventing farms and forests from being decimated, ought to be the priority. Student Catherine Bonner, 22, says the bugs “didn’t ask to be invasive, they are just living their own life” and “I would be bummed if I suddenly started existing somewhere I wasn’t supposed to exist, and everyone started killing me for it.” The New York Times adds that Bonner shares her feelings about lanternflies “only with close friends” (and a reporter of a national newspaper for her story).

Environmentalists and lanternfly enthusiasts fail to recognize the importance of the agricultural sector. One would think that the last two years have shown how supply chain disruptions and food price inflation affect all consumers alike, making families struggle to make ends meet. Toying with the thin fabric that holds our food system together is irresponsible and ignorant; it’s a luxury perspective that only some in the Western world can afford to have.

On the scale of Roman decadence similarities, it’s hard to tell where taking the side of rats and insects fits in. This phenomenon underlines a fundamental problem of the environmental movement: It does not prioritize the interest and well-being of humans. The essence of their ideals lies in elevating the lives of insects or plants over those of people. If the two interests can’t be immediately reconciled, environmentalists will choose whichever hampers the interests of consumers.

It would be hard for our ancestors to believe that anyone would have to say this, but between rodents and humans, don’t choose the rodents.

Originally published here

Biden’s Agriculture Regulations Would Weaponize EPA, Increase Prices

Congress is inept at making legislation precise – this fact has allowed consecutive administrations for decades to use federal agencies for their political goals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is among those examples. Worse than the political implications are the real-life effects that a recent regulatory decision will have on consumers.

The EPA has moved to effectively ban a herbicide commonly used in the United States, particularly in corn production. This chemical, atrazine, will be familiar to some readers because of the comical way in which conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has long claimed that it “turns the friggin’ frogs gay”. Other than the alleged goal of feminizing the entire adult male population for an objective supposedly unknown to Jones himself, atrazine does fulfil an essential function. 

As the second-most widely used herbicide in the country, the compound doesn’t only assure that fields are free of undesired weeds but it also allows for the practice of no-till farming – a technique that eliminates diesel-fueled tillage and avoids soil erosion. The less tillage performed on farmland, the less carbon dioxide emissions are being released into the atmosphere – a no-brainer for those adamant about reducing the impact that agriculture has on our carbon footprint.

Without this herbicide, farmers in the United States will face a very bleak future. 65 million acres of corn, sorghum, and sugar cane would be directly affected, with as much as 70 percent of corn in the Midwest, South and East of the U.S. If consumers thought supply chain disruptions during COVID were dire, they’re in for quite a surprise if the EPA pushes through this reevaluation. 

Why not just go organic?

In organic farming, no-till farming is immensely challenging at best, and the absence of synthetic pesticides creates significant crop losses. A study by the University of Melbourne in Australia shows that organic farming yields 43 percent to 72 percent less than conventional methods — and that achieving the same output requires 130 percent more farmland. Adding to that, a move to an all-organic farming model would increase carbon dioxide emissions by up to 70 percent.

Just as disconcerting as the effects of an atrazine ban would be on the American farm system is the way in which the EPA achieves this goal. The agency relies on external studies to support the so-called concentration equivalent level of concern (CE-LOC), which is currently set at 15 ppb (parts per billion). This number was reached after careful consideration: while high concentrations of atrazine runoff can suppress algae populations in nearby streams and waterways, the 15 ppb level assured that that would not be possible. 

According to the EPA, research supports a CE-LOC of 3.4 ppb. At this concentration level, the chemical becomes unusable for farmers, thus effectively making it illegal. The EPA’s own SAPs (Science Advisory Panel) have alerted the agency to the fact that many of the studies it bases itself on are unreliable. In plain English: the EPA relies on junk science to ban a vital agricultural tool, and its own scientists have made it aware of how unsensible that is.

Until September 2, the decision to reevaluate atrazine is able to be commented on by farmers, but even if the reactions are majoratively negative, the EPA could be able to push through the decision before the end of the year with devastating effects on farmers and consumers. As corn production will be adversely affected, the price of corn and corn-based ethanol will skyrocket, only exacerbating the existing food price inflation. Corn prices have already increased by more than 20 percent in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with 2022 on a similar trajectory. If the EPA pushes through a ban on atrazine, the Biden administration will most likely hide behind these inflation figures and blame the effects on COVID or the war in Ukraine, as it does so consistently.

The political aim of the administration to ban pesticide after pesticide is similar to the aims of the European Union, which has set out to cut pesticide use in half by 2030. When USDA assessed the effects of the planned European reforms, it found that it would increase food prices by between 20 and 53 percent, and also lead to a considerable reduction in GDP. If those are the blueprints that Joe Biden makes his decision by, then American consumers are in for a bumpy ride.

Originally published here

Biden’s EPA Wants to Make Farming Even Harder

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a move that considerably upsets farmers, is moving to essentially ban the commonly used pesticide atrazine.

The agency is adapting the so-called concentration equivalent level of concern (CE-LOC) for atrazine from 15 parts per billion (which it had set itself in 2020) to 3.4 ppb — meaning that thousands of acres of corn grown in the United States would be out of compliance.

In fact, the 3.4 number is purely symbolic since the chemical becomes ineffective for use at this level, essentially banning it without requiring the EPA to use the word “ban.”

In 2016, when the agency first attempted to introduce this policy, over 10,000 farmers submitted negative comments, as it would fundamentally endanger their bottom line.

The Trump administration had avoided a ban. However, the new administration is dead set on weaponising the EPA for its political ambitions: cutting down on pesticides, even if it is contrary to its own scientific advice.

In fact, the Science Advisory Panel (SAP) of the EPA has alerted its own administrators to the fact that most of the studies it uses to argue for a ban “have weaknesses in their design,” which “render interpreting their results and scoring them for “effects” or “no effect” difficult and subjective.”

One would think that the agency would be partial toward its own scientists, yet it appears it feels more strongly about the priorities set in Washington.

“When you look at all the details, you realize EPA is determined to eliminate the effective use of atrazine. That’s going to cause all kinds of problems, from loss of no-till acres to herbicide resistance in weeds. It will also be a big hit when input costs are already at an all-time high and a major loss for sustainable farming,” analysed Triazine Network Co-Chairman Gary Marshall of Missouri, a group of farmers arguing for the continued use of the product.

Kansas Corn Growers Association CEO Greg Krissek said: “This is clearly a case of agency overreach.”

Corn farmers would lose an estimated $3.1 billion to $4.6 billion per year, which would increase food insecurity and prices at a time when American consumers can afford it the least.

Adding to that, there are good reasons why atrazine, after glyphosate, remains the second most used herbicide in the United States. Consumers save $4.3 billion to almost $6.2 billion annually because the use of the product lowers prices for dairy products, eggs and meat.

Unbeknownst to environmental activists who support the measure, an effective ban of atrazine would harm the environment. The chemical is essential for no-till farming — a technique that eliminates diesel-fueled tillage and avoids soil erosion.

This keeps carbon dioxide emissions in the soil, and wildlife — such as birds — is less often disturbed by farmers passing over their fields. Farmers who support the continuation of atrazine could hit back at these activists with the adage: “I’m on your side, but you’re not.”

Biden’s politicization of the EPA is an unfortunate and misguided attempt to improve sustainability while inherently achieving the opposite. If the agency moves forward with its plans, it would reduce food security, increase prices, and reduce sustainable farming across the country.

The comment period for farmers continues until September 6. Let’s hope a change of mind is possible for regulators when all farmers have had their say.

Originally published here

Checking In on the Bees

The conversation over pollinator health has sparked a heated debate on using crop protection chemicals. In Europe, both neonicotinoid pesticides (marketed since the 1990s) and its competitor sulfoxaflor (registered with the EPA since 2013) have been banned over concerns the insecticides adversely affect bee health. 

“Should other politicians vote down the (National Front’s) proposals on principle, even if they share the same opinion?” wrote EU-focused media outlet Euractiv in 2015 after Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front had vigorously argued for a ban on sulfoxaflor.

In any case, for Europeans, the ban of each additional pesticide is a win from the political viewpoint, notably because the European Commission’s soon-to-be-released Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive aims to cut pesticide use in half by 2030. The longer the list of banned products, the more likely this aim will be achieved, even if the goal is more political than scientific, and even though it elevates precaution to a level difficult to achieve for products that farmers need.

The United States continues to use both neonics and sulfoxaflor successfully, thus escaping the downsides of a phase-out: France had to reauthorize the use of neonics in 2020 after its sugar beet industry faced collapse. In fact, the EPA calls sulfoxaflor “better for species across the board,” which is probably why the U.S sent a complaint letter to the World Trade Organization in April. Any export products treated with products banned in the European Union could face barriers to entering the market.

This outlines a distinct difference in policymaking between Europe and the United States. Europe is more willing to accept collateral damage from its biodiversity policies than the United States, despite the war in Ukraine causing significant disruptions in the continent’s food supply chain and the effects of COVID-19 have burdened households with substantial food price inflation. For consumers, the effects of a more efficient food production system are palpable: in 2020, Americans spent 5 percent of their disposable income on groceries, compared to8.7 percent in Ireland (the lowest in the EU), 10.8 percent in Germany, 12 percent in Sweden, 17 percent in Hungary and 25 percent in Romania.

However, the question remains to what extent the products — especially those like sulfoxaflor, which were pitched as the replacement for more controversial neonicotinoids — affect bees. A  study in Switzerland recently found no evidence for the claim that the product affects the fitness of bees. Researchers in Ireland equally detected no effect on bumblebees’ ability to learn through smell and taste, essential features of their pollination.

On top of that, for all the talk about “bee-killing pesticides,” strikingly few bees are dying. The data show that as of 2020, there has been a 17 percent increase in beehives, a 35 percent increase since 2000, and a 90 percent increase since 1961. The number of bee colonies in the United States has been stable for 30 years, while in Europe, where farmers use insecticides, the number has increased by 20 percent. Regional declines in bee populations are often due to a reduced demand for beeswax or honey, which makes beekeepers shrink their supply of managed bees. As honey prices increase, we will likely see the opposite effect.

The problem with pesticides and bee health claims is that you can make them up as you go along. The claim that pesticides make bees stupid leads to the study of the learning abilities of bees; the scientific community is just always running years behind the claims of environmental activists. As with every good conspiracy, it is hard by design to disprove it completely.

Meanwhile, agricultural output is likely to suffer as the crop protection catalog is reduced by the year in places like Europe. Organic food, by comparison, requires 130 percent more farmland to achieve the same yield. A method that is hard to reconcile with reducing the amount of cropland we need, most notably to protect natural areas for wild bees.

Originally published here

EPA Ignores the Pleas of Farmers on Crop Protection

The Environmental Protection Agency isn’t listening to farmers and its own scientific panel.

In a move that is causing American farmers significant distress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is effectively banning the use of the herbicide atrazine. 

The agency is lowering the so-called concentration equivalent level of concern (CE-LOC) to 3.4 ppb (parts per billion), making the substance unusable on farms across the country. The agency has thus undone an authorization dating back to 2016, going back to Obama-era rules, and reopening a political battle that implicates courts and regulators to do the strategic bidding for Washington.

Behind the definition of the concentration level of crop protection products and the associated court battles lies the fact that not even agriculture is spared by the partisan approach of lawmakers. Be it atrazine or the controversy surrounding glyphosate—environmental activists aim to phase out any herbicide, fungicide, or insecticide and push for an all-organic farming model. If the motivation for these bans were justified by a genuine concern for consumer health, they could be excused, but they appear to be associated with a manic opposition to modern farming, paired with a sinister belief in conspiracy theories.

Atrazine became popularly known through serial conspiracy peddler Alex Jones, who claimed that it was “turning the frogs gay,” while relying on one non-peer-reviewed and debunked study by a researcher named Tyrone Hayes from twenty years ago. The researcher had falsely claimed that the chemical created hermaphrodite frogs and altered their sexual orientation. Reviews by the EPA, German, and Australian regulators all found no evidence for the “gay frogs” premise. When researchers in Japan replicated Hayes’ experiment, they found no evidence either.

It wasn’t just fringe conspiracy theorists who used Hayes’ paper to claim that dark forces were attempting to kill masculinity by poisoning the drinking water—environmental groups also used the misleading conclusions. Beyond Pesticides, a group arguing for atrazine to be banned, writes: “EPA has long known about triazine’s threats to wildlife, including its ability to chemically castrate male frogs. However, the agency has consistently defended the chemical and sat by while independent researchers like Tyrone Hayes, PhD, who conducted seminal research on atrazine’s endocrine-disrupting properties, are pilloried by chemical industry propaganda.”

For consumers, the case for farmers being able to use adequate crop protection is better than just “this won’t harm you.” In fact, there are good reasons why atrazine, after glyphosate, remains the second most used herbicide in the United States. Consumers save $4.3 to almost $6.2 billionannually because the use of the product lowers prices for dairy products, eggs, and meat. 

Atrazine is used on twenty-four million acres of corn, sorghum, and sugarcane (for the first two, the United States is the world’s largest exporter). Without it, corn farmers would lose an estimated $3.1 to $4.6 billion per year, which would increase food insecurity and prices at a time when American consumers can afford it the least. Let’s not forget that compared to Europe, Americans spend a lot less on food: in 2020, Americans spent 5 percent of their disposable income on groceries, compared to 8.7 percent in Ireland (the lowest in the EU), 10.8 percent in Germany, 12 percent in Sweden, 17 percent in Hungary, and 25 percent in Romania.

A ban would also have environmental implications. The use of herbicides reduces the need for diesel-fueled tillage and avoids soil erosion. In practice, this means that less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, and wildlife—such as birds—is less often disturbed by farmers passing over their fields. It also makes the farming system more efficient: all it takes to see that is to compare the American food model with the African, where pesticide availability is low and where farmers lose 40-100 percent of their crops. Herbicides essentially guarantee that we produce more with less and guarantee that we maintain affordable and available food.

The reasoning for the ban is based, just as with the example of Tyrone Hayes, on bad science. In fact, the Science Advisory Panel (SAP) of the EPA has alerted its own administrators to the fact that most of the studies it uses to argue for a ban “have weaknesses in their design” which “render interpreting their results and scoring them for “effects” or “no effect” difficult and subjective.” Why is the EPA not listening to its own scientists?

Farmers have also fired back at the EPA, calling its statements “untrue,” and saying that its new concentration level is “based on shaky scientific evidence derived through a process that has not been transparent.” They continue by arguing that atrazine is essential for carbon sequestration, essentially telling the EPA that its decision will lead to higher carbon dioxide emissions over time.

The EPA isn’t listening to farmers and its own scientific panel. Maybe it will reconsider once consumers feel the effect of a decision that will severely affect food prices.

Originally published here

Can Joe Biden restore food trade talks with Europe?

For the EU, former President Donald Trump’s international policy was seen as a major regression for global trade policy. When former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker signed the EU-Japan trade deal in 2018 — abolishing virtually all tariffs — Europe sold the move as being in significant contrast to the protectionism taken in the United States. That said, many EU member states prefer consumers only to buy European when it comes to food, even at the expense of major trade deals.

When Europe and the United States tripped up on the conclusion of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), it wasn’t because of the Obama administration at the time. Trade deals need to be approved by national parliaments, and the opposition of the Wallonian parliament (Southern Belgium) prevented the accord from being signed. Since then, more EU member countries have joined the protectionist club. France and Ireland have shown fierce opposition to trade between the EU and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, over the competition that would ultimately arise for their national beef producers.

One year ago, U.S Secretary of Agriculture Thomas 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. The EU seeks to halve its pesticide use by 2030, with its soon-to-be-released Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD), and it plans to continue to outlaw genetic engineering technology based on legislation going back to 2001. 

However, the ambitious agriculture reforms are now being questioned by its own member nations: Central and Eastern European countries have claimed that the goals are not feasible. French President Macron said in May that the strategy’s “objectives must be reviewed because under no circumstances can Europe afford to produce less,” and he added that a “deep food crisis” could emerge in the upcoming months.

Disagreements in Brussels have reached the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union. Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski sings a different tune than Green Deal Commissioner Frans Timmermans. Wojciechowski aims to stall the release of the pesticide reduction targets, while Timmermans slams the opponents of the reforms in the light of the war in Ukraine as opportunistic.

Unlike in the American federal system, the European Commission will need the support of a large set of member states before proceeding, making the 50 percent cut more unlikely than previously believed. On top of that, England is currently mulling legislation (already introduced to the House of Commons) that would legalize gene-editing in the food sector, in what is one of the significant regulatory breaks since Brexit. Meanwhile, the European Union, which has reportedly been reviewing its statutes on the matter, comes under pressure as one of the few remaining developed nations that do not allow new technologies in food.

The existential question for European lawmakers is to what extent EU food rules are supposed to be exported elsewhere. The bloc prides itself on high food standards — yet, simultaneously catches itself contradicting its own food safety agencies and ends up embroiled in World Trade Organization (WTO) disputes over banning specific pesticides. According to Brussels, crop protection tools that are banned in the EU should also not be imported from elsewhere. Yet, instead of addressing regulatory concerns with trade partners, Europe makes up its mind unilaterally and informs trading nations via press releases. In times when Europe is more dependent than ever on friendly nations to provide anything from wheat to animal feed, it is hard to imagine that this approach will be long-lived.

For the Biden administration, this presents an opportunity to restore food trade talks with Europe. For too long American produce has been held back from the European market over an exaggerated mistrust of U.S food standards. As it dawns on Europe that it needs reliable partners to assure strategic autonomy, Washington should reach out and seize the opportunity. Perhaps we’re in need of a TTIP 2.0, or whatever we are choosing to name trade agreements these days.

Originally published here

New EU pesticide targets could lead to unintended consequences

With the EU proposing new measures to cut the use of pesticides by 50% this could lead to a spike in illicit trade warns Maria Chaplia.

EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides recently proposed a major Sustainable Use of Pesticides law (SUR), calling for the use of pesticides as the “last resort” measure. The bill aims to set new binding pesticides targets for member states to cut their use within the EU by 50%. 

Limiting the tools of European farmers at a time when global food systems are struggling to cope with the consequences of the Russian war against Ukraine, is inhumane to say the least. It will not be long before we see another spike in illicit trade of pesticides.

Banning or overregulating products that consumers, or farmers (in the case of pesticides) need and want to use, especially during this challenging time in world history, does more harm than good

Pesticides are some of the most regulated products both in the EU and globally. If illegal pesticide producers were a single company they would be the 4th largest in the world in terms of value. In 2018, the EU Intellectual Property Office stated that €1.3 billion is lost every year due to fake pesticides. This translates to €299 million and 500 jobs lost per year in Germany, €240 million and 500 jobs each year lost in France, and €185 million and 270 jobs lost annually in Italy. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated this  trend in agriculture too, among other areas, such as alcohol. The more regulated the product is, the higher chances are that criminal networks will exploit the regulation to their benefit. For European consumers, illicit trade means trading product safety for more access to restricted goods. As the demand for illicit products such as alcohol, pesticides, and tobacco, to name a few, shifts to the black market, it seems that access is more important than safety.

Over the period 2011- 2018, the sales of pesticides remained stable at around 360 million kilograms per year in the EU. In France, for example, despite the government’s ambition to drive down the use of pesticides, demand for pesticides have risen considerably in the past years. In Poland, the sale of pesticides in 2016 increased by 12.3% compared to 2011. What this shows is that overregulating pesticides only boosts illicit trade.

A quick look at the role of pesticides in farming explains why demand for them persists. Pesticides are instrumental in helping farmers prevent and/or manage pests such as weeds, insects, and plant pathogens. Substantial increases in yields recorded over the past 80 years can be mainly attributed to the use of pesticides. 

When it comes to the illicit trade in any product, not just pesticides, increasing the customs control and penalty for counterfeiting activities seems like a straightforward solution. Neither of these can fully fix the issue which, however, does not undermine their significance as a tool to tackle illicit trade. Very few illicit trade crimes are taken to courts. For example, in Slovenia, 27.1 tons of illegal pesticides have been detected and seized since 2003, and yet not a single court case was initiated. In Belgium and Italy, the situation is not any better. The justice system should take illicit trade more seriously.

Along with increasing the punishment for illicit trade, it is also necessary to re-evaluate the vices of prohibition as a policy. Banning or overregulating products that consumers, or farmers (in the case of pesticides) need and want to use, especially during this challenging time in world history, does more harm than good. The EU’s approach to pesticides should be less rushed and more forward-looking.

Originally published here

The Truth About Organic Farming

Does shopping at upscale grocery stores make you a better consumer? Hardly. In fact, contrary to what you may already believe, organic food is not only less efficient and thus more expensive. It is also worse for the environment.

A study by the University of Melbourne in Australia shows that organic farming yields 43 percent to 72 percent less than conventional methods — and that achieving the same output requires 130 percent more farmland. For those skeptical about the results of just one study, you can find more of them hereherehere or here. The last-mentioned study underlines the point that “if all U.S. wheat production were grown organically, an additional (30.6 million acres) would be needed to match 2014 production levels.”

Organic food needs more resources than conventional farming. The effects on biodiversity are severe: insects and pollinators can access fewer natural reserves with organic agriculture. On top of that, under a 100 percent adoption scenario of organic farming, carbon-dioxide emissions would increase by up to a whopping 70 percent, as researchers in the United Kingdom have shown.

So why do some people in the United States continue to buy organic food at sometimes double the price of conventional food? One on hand, it’s performative. Shopping at sizeable organic food shops is popular and presumably the sort of thing you’re supposed to do once you have a comfortable salary in a large city. On the other hand, some consumers are misled about the alleged benefits of organic farming. Organic food is thought to be healthier (it isn’t) and to not use pesticides (it does).

Organic farming has become a talking point, more than just a beneficial placebo effect for upper-class city-dwellers. It is also political. “Democrats will invest in research and development to support climate-resilient, sustainable, low-carbon and organic agricultural methods,” the 2020 Democratic Party platform says. Yet the Democrats are doing more than just subsidization — environmentalists are undermining the catalog of pesticides available to farmers by arguing that they are dangerous. In fact, painting pesticides that have been safely used in American agriculture since the 1960s as “bee-killing” or “toxic” has been a frequent trope of activists who bemoan everything from “factory farming” to the availability of meat.

Sen. Cory Booker is happy to play a part in a New York Times opinion video in which he says “we are past the national emergency,” tying climate change with the American food system. Booker, whose home state of New Jersey produces a whopping … 0.35 percent of all the food in the United States, probably misrepresents the reality of American farming. In fact, agricultural intensification has led to peak agricultural land being reached, meaning that we make more food with less land overall, which allows our ecosystem to regrow over time. That means more forests and flowers for the aerial shots of political campaign videos.

The representation of the American food system as toxic and evil can only go so far before it becomes either comical or sad. Neither of them is a good look.

Originally published here

PAS DE CRISE ALIMENTAIRE… VRAIMENT ?

L’Union européenne semble avoir choisi de déformer la réalité de notre crise alimentaire. Comme ce ne serait pas un problème, elle fait même tout son possible pour l’aggraver…

Des commissaires qui prétendent que nous avons une récolte record et que la situation est non seulement bien, mais excellente… cela nous fait indéniablement penser à La Ferme des animaux de George Orwell.

Curieusement, nos dirigeants politiques n’augmentent même pas la production, tout en prétendant qu’il n’y a pas de crise alimentaire. Le commissaire européen à l’environnement, Virginijus Sinkevičius, a récemment déclaré à la presse que l’augmentation de la production alimentaire en Europe n’était qu’une simple « solution à court terme pour réagir à la crise ».

Alors que la Russie attaque les silos à grains ukrainiens et bloque les navires pour l’exportation, les prix mondiaux des céréales sont en hausse. En outre, la guerre entre la Russie et l’Ukraine affecte tous les produits, des huiles au miel, en passant par les engrais et les aliments pour animaux. Il en résulte une inflation des prix alimentaires qui, même selon les chiffres officiels (et nous savons à quel point les Etats savent les minimiser), dépasse les 8%.

De 3 à 25% d’inflation…

La France connaît heureusement une inflation des prix alimentaires relativement faible, de seulement 3%, parce qu’elle applique des politiques qui l’ont maintenue historiquement autonome ; mais des pays comme l’Allemagne (11%), l’Autriche (8,5%) ou les Pays-Bas (9%) n’ont pas la même configuration.

En Europe centrale et orientale, la situation est pire : étant donné qu’un grand nombre de leurs systèmes alimentaires se sont spécialisés dans des cultures spécifiques (généralement celles qui rapportent le plus de subventions aux agriculteurs), ces pays ne sont pas préparés à affronter cette tempête et se retrouvent avec des taux d’inflation de 12% en Pologne, 15%  en Roumanie, 19,5% en Hongrie et même 25% en Lituanie.

Le blocus céréalier provoqué par la Russie frappe les pays en développement encore plus durement que l’Europe continentale. L’Afrique du Nord et le Moyen-Orient sont lourdement touchés par l’absence de céréales ukrainiennes importées. L’Europe pourrait, si elle le voulait, augmenter ses propres niveaux de production et s’assurer d’aider ces pays dans le besoin avec nos exportations (tout en soulageant nos propres besoins alimentaires), et ainsi éviter que d’autres pays, comme la Chine et la Russie, renforcent leurs liens diplomatiques avec ces nations.

Non seulement la Commission européenne ne semble pas croire qu’il s’agit d’un problème, mais elle fait tout son possible pour l’aggraver. Sa stratégie « Farm to Fork » vise à réduire de 10% les terres agricoles en Europe au cours des prochaines années. Un objectif étrange, puisque les recherches montrent que les modèles comparatifs indiquent que le pic d’utilisation des terres agricoles a déjà été atteint. Cela signifie que, malgré une population croissante, l’humanité ne devrait plus augmenter ses besoins en terres à des fins agricoles.

Encore plus de dépendance

Même si c’est le cas, la production alimentaire continue de croître car les techniques agricoles modernes nous permettent de créer plus de rendement avec la même quantité, ou même un peu moins de terres. Une chute plus soudaine et significative de 10% plongerait en revanche notre système alimentaire dans un désarroi inutile, et compliquerait encore davantage nos relations avec la Russie et notre dépendance à son égard. Notre modèle agricole est une ligne délicate de l’offre et de la demande, et l’altérer comporte des risques énormes.

En outre, la Commission européenne prévoit également de réduire l’utilisation des pesticides par le biais de la directive sur l’utilisation durable des pesticides (SUD). Réduire de moitié l’utilisation des pesticides d’ici 2030, voilà qui n’est pas du goût de certains : dix pays de l’UE se sont plaints de la manière dont la Commission calcule l’objectif de réduction des pesticides. Un calcul qui sera injuste, étant donné la grande variation de l’utilisation par hectare entre les agriculteurs des différents pays de l’UE.

La Commission européenne tarde également à autoriser les nouvelles technologies d’édition de gènes pour la production alimentaire. En Angleterre, où une législation est désormais sur la table pour rendre disponible cette technologie éprouvée (déjà utilisée en Israël, aux Etats-Unis et au Canada), le gouvernement a clairement fait savoir qu’elle pouvait lutter contre l’insécurité alimentaire.

Cependant, malgré la volonté d’Emmanuel Macron de s’engager dans cette voie, l’Allemagne continue de bloquer. La ministre allemande de l’Environnement, Steffi Lemke, a en effet rejeté le projet de la Commission européenne consistant à proposer de nouvelles règles pour les cultures produites à l’aide de nouvelles techniques génomiques, telles que CRISPR-Cas9, affirmant que ce n’était pas nécessaire, affirmant même qu’elle « ne voi[t] pas la nécessité d’une nouvelle réglementation ».

Le problème des normes

L’Union européenne veut le beurre et l’argent du beurre. Elle veut à la fois prétendre que les normes alimentaires en Europe sont les plus élevées qui soient, et que ces normes alimentaires (non viables) produisent des aliments disponibles et bon marché.

Malheureusement pour la Commission, pour que cela soit vrai dans un communiqué de presse, il faut qu’elle déforme l’un des deux facteurs, et il semble qu’elle ait choisi de déformer la réalité de notre crise alimentaire.

Elle suit les recommandations d’activistes environnementaux délirants, qui préféreraient que nous revenions à une version nostalgique de « l’agriculture paysanne », qui est à la fois horriblement inefficace et malsaine pour l’environnement et les consommateurs.

En fait, l’agriculture biologique qu’ils aiment tant a besoin de plus de terres agricoles pour produire la même quantité de nourriture. Donc, en substance, réduire les terres agricoles tout en passant à l’alimentation bio signifie une chose : nous recevons tous moins à manger, même si nous dépensons plus.

Donner aux gens moins à manger en temps de crise ? Il est assez simple de prévoir comment cela se terminera.

Originally published here

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