My very first blog on my new website was an open letter to Michael Gove about neonicotinoids – the controversial family of pesticides that many scientists believe has been one of the primary causes of major reductions in insect and bird populations over the past fifteen years. I suggested that Mr Gove make a move to ban the use of neoniciotinoids.
I first published my blog on 6 November but didn’t get around to actually sending the letter to Michael Gove until 8 November. On 9 November there was a surprise announcement: Michael Gove backed a total ban on neonicotinoids.
I cannot take all the credit for this decision – after all many groups have been lobbying for the ban for some time and Greenpeace has collected more than 130,000 signature in the UK calling for it. But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but think that the timing very neatly coincided with my intervention.
The reaction from the environmental lobby has been almost universally positive. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas wrote:
Great news – congrats to everyone who campaigned so hard on this https://t.co/OomXJDnqPu
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) November 10, 2017
Greenpeace UK tweeted:
CAMPAIGN WIN: Over 130,000 people signed the petition to get the UK Government to ban bee-harming pesticides.
Today @michaelgove announced that the UK will back a total ban on insect-harming pesticides in fields across Europe!
We're buzzing! – Retweet to celebrate! pic.twitter.com/Uhum1FJsOb
— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) November 9, 2017
But at the school gates that same afternoon I was talking to a friend of mine who suggested to me that the news might not be quite as positive as it at first seemed. If farmers are not using neonicotinoids, she said, then they would have to use something else and many of the alternatives are pretty horrendous as well. She also said that because the alternatives have lower efficacy then they will be used in greater quantities.
There was a similar theme in Hannah Lownsbrough’s piece in the Guardian, in which she called for Michael Gove to adopt ‘a bold stance when confronted with similar evidence about other dangerous pesticides.’
And this brilliantly demystifying document on the subject of pesticide use from the Soil Association makes the much more general point that ‘Regulation on pesticides is slowly improving but is still inadequate to fully protect the environment and human health.’
Nonetheless, I was encouraged not just by Michael Gove’s decision but for his justification in making it. He wrote that:
Environmental change on such a scale is profoundly worrying. Not least because of the critical role played by bees and other pollinators. These particular flying insects are absolutely critical to the health of the natural world. Without a healthy pollinator population we put the whole ecological balance of our world in danger.
It strikes me that someone who accepts this premiss is not only going to make a good decision on neonicotinoids but should also support more adequate legislative regulation on pesticides in general. I hope I’m right.