Sunday, 26 May 2013

Use of chemicals in Agriculture; how much is necessary.

Despite the fact that bee numbers are declining at an alarming rate, the UK government has tried to scupper the implementation of a two year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. Research by scientists over recent years has found that the exposure of bees to neonicotinoids has been having a lethal effect on pollinators.

   The obstructive efforts by the British government hasn't prevented the European Union from introducing a two-year partial ban on neonicotinoids.. For more information see "Hive Mind:Talking with the man who may save Europe's Bees" by Aaron Gertler. This is an interview with Dave Goulson, a Professor of Biological Sciences and a conservationist. (Bumblebee Conservation Trust).

The way that bee numbers are declining is an indicator( that not even governments can continue to ignore), of the effect of agricultural chemicals on the vital ecology which our food production depends upon. The temporary ban of neonicotinoids is a step in the right direction but this is only a small part of the picture. Biologists and environmentalists have also expressed deep concern over the mix of pesticides that are being used in agriculture, otherwise referred to as the 'cocktail effect'.(for more info see Although individual chemicals are put through a degree of testing, little is known about the effect of the combinations of chemicals which are used in farming.

Over use of weedkiller.
All this is an urgent problem not just in Britain. Defra insists that farmers are doing a lot to create buffer zones for forage and habitat for wildlife and bees.This is good of course, but old habits die hard in intensive agriculture; I am referring to the practice of some farmers of spraying herbicides along those public rights of way which run through crops. This is unneccesary and surely against coshh regulations.

Another practice which seems lazy and unnecessary is the use of weedkiller along field edges and underneath orchard trees. Again not all farmers do this, so I assume it is just a quick but environmentally damaging way of keeping things under control.

To be fair to farmers, the overuse of weedkiller is also a sad fact in domestic gardens. eg spraying dandelions when a trowel would be a far better solution; I expect most people have seen the advert for a certain product on television. Considering everything, this is totally crazy.Many 'weeds' provide excellent food for bees.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Hazardous orchard spraydrift.

Agricultural sprays can present a hazard for walkers, cyclists and horse riders in countryside lanes and roads.

What you can see in this video taken a few days ago, is a chemical spray being blown over a 12 ft high hedge from an orchard. This spray drift is repeated every time the sprayer approaches the road.

The reasons why some farmers ignore the regulations for chemical use on crops is a subject in itself.

Meanwhile, try and be aware that crops might recently have been sprayed when you are using footpaths through the countryside. Farmers are not obliged to provide warnings about spray.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

GM crops qualify as invasive threat to wildlife and native plants?

GM crop
Himalyan Balsam

GM crops tick all the an "Invasive Species Threat?".(see bullet points below) This is just a thought which occurred to me when reading about non native invasive plants and the threats they pose to wildlife and the habitat.

This is International Year of Biodiversity, and in the UK attention has focused on those non-native invasive plants which cause problems for wildlife and other plants.Three troublesome species in the UK are Giant Hogweed(can cause painful blistering on contact with skin),Himalyan Balsam, and Japanese Knotweed.
Conservation groups and Natural England have organized workgroups and volunteers to survey for Himalyan Balsam, and pull them up, before the weed releases its seeds.
*Giant Hogweed can be a health risk in areas of public access.
*If left out of hand the plants can lead to bank erosion and a greater risk of winter flash floods.
*These plants are a huge threat because they create vast monocultures that out-compete our native species and threaten the biodiversity of the areas they inhabit.
*"Invasive plants and animals are those which threaten native species, damaging their habitat,spreading disease or by competing with them for their "niche" in an ecosystem.
*Many invasive species are successful because they have no natural predators in their new environment." (, ,jan 22 2010)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pesticides Consultation? Farmers talk through their booms.

In early Chinese tradition the 'human organism is a microcosm of the universe.'- interconnected with our environment, and with the entire ecological system. Unfortunately that's not how our government see things. They prefer treating the natural environment as seperate, unconnected parts to be exploited by different interest groups.

One of the macro/micro relationships between humans and our planet is the earth's network of rivers,streams and lakes, and our own circulatory system of arteries, veins and capillaries.Both these systems supply vital nutrients and oxygen, but there is a problem... any toxic chemicals which are found in our rivers can also find their way into our own bloodstreams in drinking water and food.
The chemical and biological state of our UK rivers, wetlands, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters, is physically linked to the wider problem of pesticides in our soil, and air and food. In the Autumn of 2009 a report by the official pollution watchdog, the Environment Agency found that more than three quarters of our 6,114 rivers are expected to fail new European quality watchdog standards. The Farmers Guardian, (1/03/10) in an article titled "Farmers need to change approach on pesticides" lists the 'crop protection products' which have been discovered at "legislation-challenging levels" in water this winter. Slug pellet active ingredient metaldyde, and clopyralid were found, Both these chemicals are described as very soluble products which are very difficult or impossible to remove from water. Oilseed rape herbicides carbetamide, metazachlor and propyzamide were also found with above-limit peaks. To add insult to injury, the banned herbicide called isoproturon (IPU) has been found in Hertfordshire, through the Midlands to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire.Levels of chlorotoluron, used instead of IPU have also risen to high levels. Nineteen active agricultural chemicals were detected by the Environment Agency in our rivers.
In reality pesticide pollution is damaging lives, killing wildlife and destroying the environment, whilst government puts big business interests above issues of human health and environmental damage. These problems exist because of the continual insistance by government and agribusiness that there is no problem with pesticide legislation or with the pesticides which are being used. The Crop Protectin Association insists that regulations of pesticides are rigorous. The ACP together with the NFU and DEFRA have resisted the new EU pesticide rules which have banned a significant number of hazardous pesticides. Pesticide Campaigners have highlighted the dangers to public health and the health risks posed for rural residents by pesticide spraying, but again the agri groups are doing all thay can to avoid modifying their bad practice.
Georgina Downs, Pesticide Campaigner has fought since 2001 to stop rural residents being exposed to pesticides. In 2008 she won a High Court victory....
"In November 2008, years of preparation and research paid off when a High Court judge agreed with her legal case,....claiming that the government had failed to safeguard residents from pesticides.Defra has argued that its approach to the regulation and control of pesticides was "reasonable, logical and lawful," but Mr Justice Collins found it failed to comply with a European directive and demanded Defra reassess its policyto protect residents exposed to toxins." (The Independent,Martin Hickman,16/2/10). Unfortunately this isn't the end of the legal battle because.." in July 2009 the Court of Appeal overturned the earlier judgement and referred to her lack of medical of scientific background." Georgina Downs is now determined to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Reacting to the appeal victory, Hilary Benn the Environment Secretary, stressed that the protection of people's health was "our priority". But he added: "In view of the issues raised by Georgina Downs and the new European Directive we will consult this Autumn on how to give people access to farmers spray records, how to give residents prior notification of spraying activity, and what else should be included, for example, monitoring and training." These measures would be woefully inadequate, but are also virtually useless in view of the fact that the NFU want everything to be on a voluntary basis,. hence the Voluntary Initiative.

So, we are expected to place confidence in farmers who seem to have no awareness of the dangers of chemical run-off into watercourses,and who spray illegally by using banned pesticides, not to mention all the other routine breaking of pesticide safety codes.
In Britain DEFRA,(Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has launched a consultation into how the UK will meet the European Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. The consultation is addressing issues such as sprayer testing, training of operators and people testing pesticides, specific measures to protect water, aerial spraying and the promotion of integrated pest management.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Patent the Planet or Food Sovereignty.

We're all familiar by now with the fact that GM seeds are designed to be bought new every year, and now this applies increasingly to hybrid seeds. BUT DID YOU KNOW that it is illegal in Europe to swap or sell old seed varieties(heritage seeds) that are no longer registered on any approved lists? So even if you sold at a local market, a small box of saved seeds from your garden, of an old variety of bean for example, you could be taken to court. Blimey, what is the world coming to?...basically to a handfull of multinationals.
In the 1970's Europe passed laws which required all seeds to be put on a national list...anything not on the list should not be sold. It is not commercially viable to put heritage seeds on the list because the cost of registration is so high. Many gardeners and small farmers prefer some of the old varieties because they have particular qualities of perhaps more taste,or are more robust in different soil/weather conditions,etc.
Anyway, it's a grey area, the business of 'marketing' seeds, which is the term the legislation uses. Some enterprising gardening enthusiasts see the word 'marketing' to mean 'selling', so they use a system of 'swapping'...voila! The members of Garden Organic, near Coventry exchange their saved seeds, at the Organisation's library, and this is covered by the membership fee.
Happily there are parallel counter movements around the world. Seeds and knowledge are exchanged between communities. Small farmers(who still feed the majority of people in the world) are keen to reclaim use of traditional varieties of seeds, which have largely disappeared. They might have seven or eight different criteria for selecting different seeds...what tastes better, what keeps hunger away longer, what have more nutritive and medicinal properties etc. It takes four or five years to collect traditional seeds and so local seed banks have been set up in some areas, eg the Jarkand area of India. In Rwanda there are similar collaborative approaches, bringing farmers back into the debate with scientists.
This is in stark contrast to the system of privatised plant breeding by the agro chemical companies where the scientists aren't allowed to talk to other companies' scientists.
If we want to regain any say in what we eat, and what we can grow ourselves, it's mad to hand over control of our food production to a handful of companies.

If interested in the above, listen to the audio from 'The Food Programme', available until 14th Feb, at

Friday, 15 January 2010

Biodiversity or Bust.

There are many reasons for adopting small-farm agriculture, without pesticides and without GE technology... and to pre-empt those well-worn soundbites of the pro GM lobby it's not about ...'nostalgia or a yearning for a bygone 'green and pleasant land',, it's not about a 'sentimentalised attachment to cuddly animals,and wildlife,' and it's not about an 'idealised or luddite view of pre-industrial agriculture,' or 'antipathy toward technological progress.' IT IS about NECESSITY. I am talking about stopping biodiversity loss.

2010 has been declared International Year of Biodiversity,and according to the experts there is only one generation left to turn it around.
Turn what around, and why? A recent survey compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature,shows that one fifth of all known mammals, one tenth of all known birds,and seven out of ten plants are now classed as threatened.Loss of our flora and fauna is estimated to be as high as 1,000 times the natural rate as a result of human activities.In 1992 192 countries signed up to protect biodiversity at The Rio Earth Summit. Their target aimed to substantially reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

It's totally legitimate to try and save other species because we appreciate the richness of nature for its own sake,nothing more,nothing less.... although some might say that's just a luxury of rich nations.Not any more..Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf, the general secretary of the treaty, has been unprevaricating in declaring the lack of success of all the participants in achieving their target..and adds that 'business as usual is no longer an option.'
Dr Robert Bloomfield is the coordinator for the UK International year of biodiversity, which features talks, exhibitions, public dialogues, art work and citizen science experiments encompassing both science and the arts.He explains the urgency of this project very clearly,.and failure to achieve the targets for 2020 forsees a bankrupt world in all senses..
...."The equivalent to the Stern report for biodiversity is called
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). It warns that our neglect of the natural services provided by biodiversity is an economic catastrophe of an order of magnitude greater than the global economic crisis. Year on year, the irreversible loss of natural diverse genetic resources impoverishes the world and undermines our ability to develop new crops and medicines, resist pests and diseases, and maintain the host of natural products on which humans rely.
Equally significant, are the vital natural services that the world's ecosystems provide. These include providing vital oxygen, decomposing waste, removing pollutants, providing the natural buffers that help manage drought and flood, protect soil from erosion, ensure soil fertility, and provide breeding nurseries to maintain fish ocean stocks. The list goes on, and among these immeasurable vital functions of nature is of course its ability to absorb carbon dioxide. The ability of forests, bogs and salt marches, tundra, coral and ocean plankton to sequester carbon should be our greatest ally in managing the increased emissions of fossil fuel activity – a key theme of the
climate negotiations in Copenhagen last month.
Rather than seeing biodiversity and ecological mechanisms being eroded, we need to see a massive effort towards finding a more effective sustainable relationship between human society and nature. This is not a scientific or environmental issue, it is a social question and an ethical one about what our generation leaves for those in the future."(From "Biodiversity is not just about saving exotic species from extinction." Mon 11th Jan. 2010.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

"Good Food For Everyone Forever."

In the wake of the Copenhagen Summit earlier this month it’s obviously not a good idea to wait around whilst governments go away and try to devise new realistic and equitable agreements for the next summit....or not. As for agriculture,it looks like our best hope for the future lies with lots of enterprising people getting their heads together, harnessing their expertise, and providing alternatives to the status quo.. So, (despite the Summit), I’m starting my blog for 2010 with a positive outlook. Colin Tudge, founder of the Campaign for Real Farming, ( has helped organise a conference for January 5th, entitled "THE OXFORD REAL FARMING CONFERENCE”.
The details and conference description, entitled "Good Food For Everyone Forever" are reproduced below:

"Providing the people of the world with a dependable supply of healthy nutritious foods is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity. Our current farming methods are clearly failing. They are over-dependent on fossil fuels; they damage soils and deplete scarce water resources; they degrade everyday foods; they reduce biodiversity and squander precious wildlife; they pollute our global environment. They are part of a global food system that is at the mercy of speculators and is every bit as precarious as the world banking system.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. We, the organisers of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, are convinced that the Earth’s natural resources are easily able to provide a good, healthy diet for everyone living on the planet today – and everyone likely to be living on it 50 years from now and indeed forever. All it will take is an agriculture based on principles of sound biology rather than economic dogma.
Our aim in establishing this conference – which we hope will become an annual event – is to encourage and stimulate fresh thinking on this, the greatest challenge of our time. We don’t believe high-input, industrial agriculture is capable of reform. Rather than feed people, its aim is to serve the interests of global chemical, trading and investment corporations. Far from creating a secure supply of high-quality food, today’s agribusiness can be counted on to obstruct progress.
We believe the people of this country – like the people of the world – are entitled to the best foods our land can provide. Our conference will investigate the most effective ways of achieving this. Though we are passionately committed to good science, we’re not convinced that new technologies are required to feed the world well. The key to securing good food for all is rather the careful management of the world’s natural resources by well tried and trusted methods. What’s needed is the radical re-working of the very best traditional systems.
Among the glittering prizes of a rational farming system are the host of social and environmental benefits that go along with it. As well as fine food, good agriculture will provide clear streams, teeming wildlife and thriving rural communities. It’s a measure of the failure of our present farming methods that the countryside is so depleted of these things.
Our speakers include farmers, academics, writers and business people. We are united by the desire to see the people of Britain and the world provided with better food than they are currently offered. We have no agenda other than to secure a system of agriculture that feeds the world well.
If these are aims that you share please support our conference. Join with us on this adventure. What we’re seeking is nothing less than a renaissance – for farming, for our countryside and for the world."

The Oxford Fringe

Tuesday January 5 2010
The Old Library at The University Church of St Mary The Virgin,
High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BJ

The venue is easy to find in the centre of Oxford, within walking distance of the Train and Coach stations, and well served by buses from the park and rides.
Admission to the conference will be free, with donations towards running costs welcome at the door.
Organised by the Campaign for Real Farming and the Grass Fed Food Association.
For more information, please contact Ruth West on:
The Programme For The Day
Chaired by: Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO
Speakers include: Graham Harvey, farming writer; Prof Martin Wolfe, agroecologist; George Hepburn, soil fertility specialist; Patrick Holden CBE, farmer and director of the Soil Association; Matt Dale, new dairy farmer; Tim Waygood, farmer and founder of the Agrarian Renaissance; Colin Tudge, biologist and writer; Will Edwards, pasture farmer; Dr Matt Lobley, sociologist and rural policy expert; Ben Mead, dairy and carbon farmer [tbc]
13.30 - 14.00: Registration
14.00 - 14.10: Chair’s Introduction
Sir Crispin Tickell
14.10 - 15.40: Farming That’s Designed to Feed People
15.40 - 16.00: Tea and Coffee break
16.00 - 17.30: The Absolute Importance of Grass and Grazing
17.30 - 18.00: Where Do We Go From Here?
18.00 - 19.00: Drinks [Vaults & Garden Cafe]

Monday, 16 November 2009

From mono-crops to mono-bees.

Photos-Native species of bumblebees.



Defra and the agri-chem industries are doing a few u-turns on some of their major agricultural strategies. This is since damage to UK topsoil and to the health and survival of our crop pollinators, honeybees and bumblebees has become critical.Having spent the last two years aggressively promoting huge agreages of monocrops and pesticide application, and destruction of field margins and set-aside land and hedges, this process is now having to be reversed. Environmentalists and ecologists warned that destroying natural habitat and topsoil was unsustainable, but the drive for company profits and economic growth is a short sighted affair. Anyway, in acknowledgement of the diminishing numbers of honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinators, Syngenta have have been making 'Green' noises;.....

Operation Pollinator

Geoff Coates, agribusiness manager for Syngenta UK has described its project "Operation Pollinator". which aims to see 10,000 hectares of bee-friendly wildflower and grass and pollen mixes planted across the EU. This research project (formerly called 'Operation Bumblebee'), was carried out by the company in 2005-2008, trialling the use of the mixes alongside commercially grown crops, in field margins and difficult corners etc. This news is puzzling because the project was happening whilst Syngenta et al were driving forward the destruction of field margins and set-aside land across Britain and Europe, in 2007-2009. Perhaps Syngenta hopes that 'operation Pollinator' will detract from the pesticides link with pollinator die offs? Pesticides are now generally cited as the major factor contributing to bee decline, but Defra-employed scientists at University departments and chemical companies are claiming that pesticides are a side issue, and the pesticide link is being neglected by government research departments.(see my previous post)

Factory farmed bumblebees.

But fear not, Syngenta has another money-making wheeze! Biotech companies through a subsidiary Syngenta Bioline,are part of a multi-million dollar industry breeding bees in captivity."Syngenta Bioline are dedicated to the production of premium quality bumblebees ...for use in vegetables, fruit, flowers and ornamental crops," claims the website.
On the face of it this might seem like a good idea but there are significant risks.Tom Levitt, in The Ecologist, has described the doubts which some scientists and environmentalists have about the vested interests of the agri-chemical companies in directing research:-

"Native threat"
"Pollination experts have identified three main risks. If the factory-farmed bees are better at food collecting they can out-compete local bees and establish themselves as a dominant species. They can also inter-breed and gradually dilute native gene-pools.
But most significantly, they can act as a vector for diseases by the shared use of flowers to collect pollen.

The manufacturers say the bees are used in polytunnel production systems for soft fruits and vegetables like strawberries and peppers, and as such are only ever released into an enclosed area.

However, ecologist and pollinator expert Dr Claire Carvell from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), says studies from the UK, Canada and Japan have shown that even in these circumstances bees do escape and mix with the native population........

..........Helping wild bees
Some argue that the very presence of a bee-breeding industry indicates a misguided focus away from increasing the native, wild bee population, and towards selling a product.
We don't know whether the pollination service works or whether it is just clever marketing.,' says Dr Darvill.(Director of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust)
'It may be that just looking after your hedgerows will bring you more native bees and instead of relying on a factory to produce your bees. Getting a wild pollination service from a synthetic pollinator seems very odd.'
......( From 'Agri-chemical companies are both breeding and killing bees.' Tom Levitt,13th october,2009. The Ecologist)

For anyone who doesn't know too much about bumblebees, it's well worth doing a teeny bit of your own research just to see what we'd be losing if our native bumblebees were wiped out. In 2007 the Bumblebee Conservation Trust( carried out a survey from the records kept by people in the UK. I was hooked. That summer was a good one for bumblebee numbers, and after a few months I'd seen at least ten species in about one square mile. Some of the photos I took are at top of the page.
It's mad to blithely think we can successfully swap Syngenta's 'super bees' for our evolved native bumblebees, and what sane person would want to.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Status of scientific research on honeybees.

The UK's chief drugs adviser, Professor Nutt, has hit the news headlines this morning. He was sacked for criticising government policy. More accurately, the Professor has accused the government of using the drug classification system as a tool to send out an anti-drugs message, rather than to rate drugs in terms of actual risk, which the drugs classification system is meant to do. This has stirred up a lot of angry response to the government which is perceived as sacking a scientific adviser for not following the party line.
I mention this because about two weeks ago, in his article "Plight of the honeybee stung by funding from the chemical industry,"(Oct.14th) George Monbiot brought to light what appears to be another astonishing example of the way this government seems to habitually ignore or sabotage scientific objectivity, in order to push through its own political agenda. Astonishing on the face of it, but Defra is nothing if not predictable, so when Hilary Benn reassured us that Warwick University has been allocated £1m to research into honeybee collapse disorder, it shouldn't surprise us to hear that the study has "no pesticide component in it at all"(Dr David Chandler, one of the Warwick researchers told George Monbiot.) Further enquiry also revealed that Warwick is partly financed by Syngenta, for this research.Syngenta is the chemical company that manufactures a neonicotinoid called thiamethoxam, sold as Actara which has been implicated by a study in Washington state as responsible for incidents of honeybee deaths.
George Monbiot says "I don't know whether or not Syngenta's involvement has affected the framing of the honeybee topic, but wherever scientists are financially dependent on companies, the question arises. Given how little money corporations contribute to British science (Syngenta's 10% is about average) wouldn't we be better served by keeping them out of it so that we can be sure they can't guide the way research is framed? And while we're at it how about reducing their influence over the way that public money for science is allocated?"
In my previous post I mentioned Hilary Benn's (Defra Secretary of State) statement that "UK land has been steadily degraded by 200 yrs of intensive farming and industrial pollution". Well, we've all known that for decades Mr Benn, but it hasn't deterred you, your predecessors in Defra and Maff, and allied food and farming industries from exploiting the system, to maximise your profits, has it?!
We shouldn't be lulled into believing that Defra has had a change of heart towards agricultural sustainability. The planned strategy for conserving our precious topsoil is to use chemicals more economically. That's it.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Hedge Laying in Agriculture.

I'm not too keen on the trend in recent years for artists to place their objects/art into landscape, it seems like a random intrusion. The exception though are the works of Richard Long and Andy Goldworthy, who introduced their 'land' or 'earth' art in the eighties.They seemed to have an involvement with the earth's own resources, and explored the natural bonds and tensions that exist in nature. Much of Goldworthy's work only survives in photographs because he used the transient materials found in landscape.I'm not quite sure why, but the subject of this post,- hedges- put me in mind of their work again.
Anyway,good bit of news - the ancient craft of keeping hedges going has been celebrated by the "National Hedge Laying Championships" in Herefordshire today.Not a subject of high profile in agriculture at the moment in comparison to GM's etc, but they are an important element of agricultural husbandry.There is a National Hedge Laying Society, great stuff! Hedges have been around for thousands of years apparently,and nowadays play an important ecological role in providing 'corridors' for wildlife to travel through the countryside. Every forty to fifty years hedges need rejuvenating from the base to start new healthy growth again, and this is where the skills of 'hedge laying' come in. The hedges shown in my photographs above are not managed in this way, and are flailed by large machines to keep them in shape.They are still pretty impressive sculptures though.
A new younger generation is needed now to learn hedge laying skills. Anyone interested?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Loss of Soil and New UK Strategy.

(image)Spreading organic fertilizer
  • Talk about U-turns! Picture the incredulity on Peter Melchett's face (Policy Director for the Soil Association) when he heard Hilary Benn's(Defra Secretary of State) proclamation about the need for a strategy to protect the soil for agriculture. "UK land has been steadily degraded by 200 yrs of intensive farming and industrial pollution, warned the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs(Defra)in a major study of soils".(Guardian,30/09/2009, John Vidal).
    It might have taken Peter Melchett a while to recover from the shock of hearing this belated statement from the government (belated by 60 years),because this is the length of time the soil association has been telling the government about the effects of intensive farming on soil. He welcomed Defra's..' recognition that introducing large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer was not sustainable in the long term,' but added that the government's proposed measures did not go nearly far enough.( from Community Newswire Reporters,Sep.24,2009)
    It appears that the government is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore the evidence which is presented to them. The real situation can no longer be disguised by assurances that intensive farming methods are the way forward to feed the world.Until a few weeks ago Defra was dismantling existing environmental measures which had served to maintain the quality of soil, and a healthy environment. It still aggressively promotes the use of systems and chemicals which degrade the soil, pollute the environment and damage health:-
    1)Defra defends farming of large monocrops which it claims produce higher yields.This system depends on high inputs of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
    2)Earlier this year when new EU rules removed around 15% of pesticides, Hilary Benn confirmed his intention to vote against the new pesticide rules when they came before the Agricultural Council for final agreement.
    3)When Georgina Downs won her High Court case against the government for its failure to protect rural residents from pesticides, Hilary Benn refused to acknowledge the evidence and took it to appeal. As Georgina Downs states,' the government adopts the improper approach of 'balancing' harm to human health against the benefits of pesticide use, in which it accepts a degree of damage to human health on the basis that it is outweighed by other benefits(eg cost/economic benefits for farmers)..'
    4)Behind the premise that more land would be needed to produce food for rising populations, set-aside land and buffer zones were ploughed up in the last two years to use for food production.Set-aside land had previously provided valuable habitat for wildlife, and helped counteract flooding and wind erosion.
    5)Planting of large acreages of monocrops require the removal of hedgerows which previously prevented wind erosion of soil and run-off after heavy rains.
    All the above practices are currently being driven forward by Defra, so it is difficult to see how they will reconcile such industrialised onslaught on the land with their recent statement that .."Soil erosion already results in the annual loss of around 2.2m tonnes of topsoil. This costs farmers £9m a year in lost production. Climate change has the potential to increase erosion rates through hotter, drier conditions that make soils more susceptible to wind erosion, coupled with intense rainfall incidents that can wash rain away."(Hilary Benn, from The Guardian,24th sept.2009)
    Professor Bob Watson (Defra's chief scientist) compiled the report on loss of soil, and to be fair to him, he has warned the government regularly about the drawbacks of intensive agriculture and the limits of GM's in a future strategy for food production across the world, not simply in the UK. In April 2008, IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge and Technology for Development) published a report after four years of research by 400 international scientists. Professor Watson provided oversight and management of this project..IAASTD described their report as follows."This Assessment is a constructive initiative and important contribution that all governments need to take forward to ensure that agricultural knowledge, science and technology fulfils its potential to meet the development and sustainability goals of the reduction of hunger and poverty, the improvement of rural livelihoods and human health, and facilitating equitable, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development." The following governments approved the executive summary of the report;Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, People’s Republic of China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gambia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Iran, Ireland, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Maldives, Republic of Moldova, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Palau, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, United Republic of Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom of Great Britain, Uruguay, Viet Nam, Zambia (58 countries)
    The report can be found at
Despite this the UK government, and the National Union of Farmers preferred to plough ahead(excuse the pun) with current agricultural practices.
This time around, with the report on soil erosion, Professor Watson is evidently treading carefully in his attempts to keep UK farmers on board.When interviewed on Radio 4 news, where it was suggested that the soil association had been warning the government for several decades about soil degradation, Professor Watson enumerated the efforts that farmers were now making to counteract soil degradation caused by intensive farming. Unfortunately he only managed to think of three rather tame and unconvincing solutions used by farmers, which he had to keep repeating.. One is to use organic manure rather than synthetic nitrogen, secondly to reduce deep ploughing, and thirdly, is a high tech solution of using GPS(global positioning satellite)-guided machinary to test for harvesting crops and testing for nutrients and soil quality. This allows farmers to use nitrogen fertilizers and chemicals more economically apparently, but I wonder if they simply apply more to where it is needed most. I think that Professor Watson is trying his best, but the government and allied food and farming industries prefer their big profits as opposed to farming sustainably.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Globalisation of non-sustainable industrial agriculture.

There has been a flurry of pro GM/industrial farming proclamations reaching the media recently, and BLIMEY, SAVE US from that agency designed to protect our health -'The Food Standards Agency'!
The FSA has recently published a study, (based on a review of other studies,and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)) saying that their research shows that organic food has 'no health benefits over conventional produce.' A lot of people were bemused by this announcement, because as Geoffrey Lean pointed out,( writing in the Telegraph 31st July) ,"the FSA has an obsession with criticising organic food,( which no one claims to be dangerous),whilst at the same time it has a mixed record on additives that cause hyperactivity, toxic dyes, illegal GM foods, and pesticides.." Despite reviewing other studies, the FSA failed to mention those studies that showed organic produce has significant nutritional advantages in fighting cancer. The report doesn't even touch on the problem of pesticide residues in conventional food.

Alongside its antipathy to organic agriculture the FSA has shown a vigorous support of GM foods. It has dismissed the controlled trials on mice, fed with GM maize, which provide scientific evidence of negative health effects, and cases of damage to health caused by GM's in India are blanked in this country. The website of describes a study conducted by eight international researchers, which calls into question the reliability of tests of the European Food Safety(EFSA) and the US FDA to assess the health risks of GMOs and pesticides. According to the Research Committee of Independent Information on Genetic Engineering(CRIIGEN) the study brings to light "a significant underestimation of the initial signs of diseases like cancer and diseases of the hormonal, immune, nervous and reproductive systems, among others." See
Despite the fact that in the UK people do not want GM's the government never tires of rejecting the wishes of the people they are meant to represent, to push ahead with GM crop trials.Early in 2009 there was a major organic food and agriculture conference which Hilary Benn was billed to speak at. Instead he chose to address the participants via telephone.
At the conference Gundula Azeez,(who was policy manager for the Soil Association for the past nine years) told Hilary Benn that he was concerned because he had heard that HB was not aware of any scientific evidence of the negative health effects of GM's, and asked why the government is still saying that it is ignorant of the science? (To read the transcript of the exchange between H.Benn and the other participants visit Hilary Benn's response was ..."that's not the view that the Food Standards Agency has taken in the past."

In September 2008, Lord Rooker,(who was then UK Farming Minister and is now chair of the Food Standards Agency) hit out at anti-GM protesters, claiming they were on a 'messianic mission' not based on science and that the public were being 'taken for a ride' by campaigners who behaved as if opposition to the technology was a religion.(from Western Morning News,Sept.23rd,2008)......I know, it's a jaw-dropping statement considering the reality of the situation. For an account of the real facts, eg. the effects and consequences of GM's being foisted onto farmers in India, read the accounts by Dr Vandana Shiva, scientist and environmentalist.
Through the programme of 'Navdanya', an initiative founded by Dr Shiva,( she is working to stop the deaths by suicide of farmers in Vidharbha. More than 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in India due to distortions introduced in agriculture as a result of trade liberalisation. More than 20,000 farmers have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh alone. Farmers have become locked into dependence on corporate seeds supply for growing cash crops integrated to world markets, which is leading to a collapse in farm prices due to 400 billion dollars subsidies in rich countries.Navdanya also realized that one of the crisis farmers were facing was a seed famine created by Monsanto. Navdanya's initiative was to create GMO free, patent free, debt free and suicide free villages, and seed banks to conserve biodiversity and protect indigenous seed varieties.
In 2000 Dr Vandana Shiva delivered the Reith lecture, and here are a few paragraphs taken from her speech:-
...."The rich diversity and sustainable systems of food production are being destroyed in the name of increasing food production. However, with the destruction of diversity, rich sources of nutrition disappear. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre, and from the perspective biodiversity, the so called "high yields" of industrial agriculture or industrial fisheries do not imply more production of food and nutrition.
Yields usually refers to production per unit area of a single crop. Output refers to the total production of diverse crops and products. Planting only one crop in the entire field as a monoculture will of course increase its individual yield. Planting multiple crops in a mixture will have low yields of individual crops, but will have high total output of food. Yields have been defined in such a way as to make the food production on small farms by small farmers disappear. This hides the production by millions of women farmers in the Third World - farmers like those in my native Himalaya who fought against logging in the Chipko movement, who in their terraced fields even today grow Jhangora (barnyard millet), Marsha (Amaranth), Tur (Pigeon Pea), Urad (Black gram), Gahat (horse gram), Soya Bean (Glycine Max), Bhat (Glycine Soya) - endless diversity in their fields. From the biodiversity perspective, biodiversity based productivity is higher than monoculture productivity. I call this blindness to the high productivity of diversity a "Monoculture of the Mind", which creates monocultures in our fields and in our world.
The Mayan peasants in the Chiapas are characterised as unproductive because they produce only 2 tons of corn per acre. However, the overall food output is 20 tons per acre when the diversity of their beans and squashes, their vegetables their fruit trees are taken into account.
In Java, small farmers cultivate 607 species in their home gardens. In sub-Saharan Africa, women cultivate 120 different plants. A single home garden in Thailand has 230 species, and African home gardens have more than 60 species of trees.
Rural families in the Congo eat leaves from more than 50 species of their farm trees.
A study in eastern Nigeria found that home gardens occupying only 2 per cent of a household's farmland accounted for half of the farm's total output. In Indonesia 20 per cent of household income and 40 per cent of domestic food supplies come from the home gardens managed by women.
Research done by FAO has shown that small biodiverse farms can produce thousands of times more food than large, industrial monocultures.
And diversity in addition to giving more food is the best strategy for preventing drought and desertification. What the world needs to feed a growing population sustainably is biodiversity intensification, not the chemical intensification or the intensification of genetic engineering. "

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Farmers from across the world met at Dublin Conference.

There was an interesting juxtaposition of two articles on page 29 in the Scottish newspaper 'The Press and Journal' on July 29th.Taking up most of the page with three times the column space plus a big photograph of a forage harvester, was an article about Britain's 'agricultural machinary trade body' and its assessment on the economic outlook for farming,as measured through machinary sales. On the right hand side of the page, with no photograph, was an article about a conference held in Dublin on 28th July, by the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. The juxtaposition is interesting because the BIG article on the left (agricultural machinary trade body) is about the profit margins of big business. The little article on the right, about the contribution made by women farmers at the Dublin conference, is a recognition that farming is not solely a production activity but is also a way of life and a means of combating poverty.Sustainable agricultural development, and community food security were the speakers' priorities.

The relative newspaper space given to these divergent visions symbolises the emphasis given to corporate agriculture and its mechanistic systems and hidebound, mechanistic thought processes. You would think by now that policy-makers would have given more of a warning-shot across the huge bows of the expensive oil-guzzling machines which will eventually come to be regarded as the SUV's of agriculture.

Back to the womens committee of farmers;
The view was expressed that "Securing food production would not only benefit individual nations, but allow countries in the developing world to concentrate on feeding their own people instead of chasing income through exports and often leaving themselves short of produce." The Irish Farmers Association farm family chairwoman Mary Sherry told the conference: "Food security is of major importance and must be addressed by all countries, not just developing countries. If Europe is food independent then the production burden on developing countries is reduced and countries can direct their food production to feeding their indiginous population."(From-' Food security top of the agenda'-The Press and Journal)
It is important that women farmers should be integrated into the decision making processes, and implementation of policies. Mary Sherry pointed out how in global terms women were the main producers of food, and that they also carry out the bulk of management and administrative tasks associated with farming.

Irish Agriculture minister Brendan Smith, made a point at the conference which is being loudly expressed by farmers now, that 'large supermarket chains needed to remember that their responsibility does not stop with the consumer and their shareholders – it must also extend to producers, processors and suppliers, who have invested heavily in building up the food industry. They needed an adequate return to ensure a system of sustainable production'

I think Brendan Smith didn't go far enough.The nature of food production has huge consequences and impacts on rural communities, not just those involved directly in the food production chain.. Farmers from across the world will be aware of the way that corporate agriculture has put thousands of small farmers out of work. Even in this country the introduction of corporate agriculture has seen the destruction of rural economies. Farm workers were the first to be made unemployed, then trades and businesses which used to be allied to thriving mixed farms, were put out of business.
A week or two after the Dublin Conference, Hilary Benn has recently published the new UK Food Strategy. It seems to be a mixed message. Oh dear.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Beautiful,fragile planet.

Even whilst international agreements are being made to cut down on carbon emissions, and promote sustainable energy, the UK government is clinging on with white knuckled obstinacy to industrialized agriculture.In sixty years crop yields have risen, but this has been at great cost to the environment, to ecological systems, and to human health. Going hand in hand with the free market economy and the global trade in food, thousands of farmers across the world have been pushed off the land, including UK farmers. Dairy farmers and pig farmers in the UK are amongst those who have suffered from skewed prices.

The blog post provides a balanced perspective on the subject.

On the bright side:-
There's an international social movement happening -and the common denominator is food. People are becoming concerned about where their food is sourced, how it is grown and processed and over-packaged, and the amount of energy used in production and transport.Issues of animal welfare in farming are also an important part of the debate.A spin-off to this interest is that many rural and urban communities are searching for local sources for fruit, vegetables and meat, and many people are enthusiastically starting their own gardens and allotments. Even bee-keeping, and smallholdings with livestock are becoming a keen hobby or means of livlihood. Everything that is required in the production of food,-animals, seeds, plants,and land are regarded from the perspective of sustainability, and natural systems. and democracy. Some people see this movement for 'homegrown' as a passtime for what they disparagely refer to as the 'green brigade'. On the other hand Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London believes that "Gardening is poised to move from a leisure activity with aesthetic purposes to become a vital core function of food production. Garden Organic with its 40,000 members, is well positioned to enable a new culture of exchange between gardeners and encourage people across urban and rural communities, to get growing. Rather than digging for the victory of the nation as we did during World War2, I see our focus as digging for food democracy, with every person playing their part in the future food supply."
Parallel with this community involvement in sustainable horticulture and small scale agricultural projects, the media is pushing food up the political agenda. In some countries food campaigners are intent on "taking the power back from the people who manipulate the rest of us".( I think they had the WTO in mind here.) In recent years numerous films have become popular viewing..."Food Inc."... "The End of the Line,"..."Black Gold,"..."Our Daily Bread,"..."The Real Dirt on Farmer John,"...

From website 'Hungry for Change':-
..."In 'Food Inc,' filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our governments regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nations food supply is now controlled by a handful od corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livlihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E.coli-the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans anually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults." ...

FILM- "The End of the Line" is a film based on a book by Charles Clover, about diminished fish stocks.The illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing worth up to 25 billion dollars per year, has just about emptied the oceans.
He makes the point that "Europe is one of the few places where the citizen has absolutely no right to sue the executive for not observing the law that they themselves have written."

FILM- 'Black Gold'. Coffee is Ethiopia's no.1 export commodity, but the farmers barely make a living from their crops.The big profit goes into the pockets of some of our largest corporations, boosted also by the large prices we pay for an espresso drink in the west. The film follows an Ethiopean man, Tadesse Meskela, who travels all over the world, trying to get the farmers he represents a fairer price for their coffee, and trying to find new buyers by giving out samples.

FILM- "OUR DAILY BREAD". This is a movie without voiceover, with images of the way we produce food in Europe. Big greenhouses in Holland, warehouses with thousands of chickens, abbatoirs...
FILM-" THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN"- This is the story of John Peterson, a farmer in Illinois. John Peterson runs his farm based on a direct relationship with the people he grows the food for. He started CSA, 'community supported agriculture'. He talks about the way industrial farming has pushed people off the land and destroyed the livlihoods of thousands of farmers. He believes in a more respectful relationship to the land, and to what sustains us-food.

For anyone interested in the above, a good website to visit is 'SLOWFOOD' campaigns for "good, clean and fair food......respect for the environment, human health and animal welfare....a fair wage for food producers...." they work to raise awareness about the sustainability and social justice issues surrounding the food we eat. "Slow Food UK aims to protect and preserve the traditional foods of the United Kingdom, defend biodiversity and promote food education." (quotes from slowfood website)

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Reply to a Farmer.

Previously I mentioned the blog of Matthew Naylor where I learned about the limited capacity of the peasantry to absorb knowledge and information about agricultural pesticides.

Hi Mr Naylor, I was entertained by your reply and appreciate the inclusion of my blog title on Mouth of the Wash. I look forward to exchanging ideas from across the great divide and trust that with your infinite farmer's wisdom you will further enlighten the general public...perhaps you could invite me over for one of your excellent cups of coffee and let me rifle through your spray records?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Prior notification of spraying of agri-chemicals.

Some time ago I highlighted an article by Matthew Naylor. His comments frequently feature in Farmers Weekly in addition to his own blog, and he generally seems to reflect the ethos of the NFU. For this reason I thought I'd find his views on the consultation called by the NFU to notify neighbours before farmers apply agro chemicals to their crops. It is important to note that the consultation is taking place as a direct consequence of a landmark victory by Georgina Downs against the government(Nov.2008) over pesticide spraying.The High Court ruling stated that Downs had produced "solid evidence" that people exposed to chemicals used to spray crops had suffered harm.
Peter Kendall NFU president, said "whatever the outcome of the appeal, Defra Secretary Hilary Benn had made it clear "he is going to have to do something" about government policy on Pesticides.
Mr Kendall said "we would rather look at the best ways of reassuring people, without alarming them and without creating excessive bureaucracy for farmers, than just sit and do nothing and wait for unworkable regulation to be imposed upon us."

Anyway, Defra appealed the High Court judgement and the original decision was overturned.Georgina Down's press release following the reversal of the original judgement is reproduced in my previous post.
Matthew Naylor's article should be taken seriously because (despite being a bit of patronising hogwash) it indicates how the NFU and defra attempt to mislead the public. He makes several points, all of which are flawed,- it is not until his last paragraph that he pays lip service to the premise of the Georgina Downs case...that spraying of agri-chemicals is inherently unsafe for residents close to sprayed land. The rest of his article is based on a false debate of whether or not to inform neighbours before farmers apply agro chemicals to their crops. If pesticides present no risks to neighbouring residents, why bother to notify them of spraying? In suggesting this initiative Defra is implicitly admitting that pesticide spraying is unsafe for the public.
Unfortunately there's some confusion about whether or not it breaches copyright to reproduce the relevant post of Mr Naylor's blog, so if you want to read it try 'Say it,Don't Spray it-Mouth of the Wash.' My following comments are a response to this. 

Ok Mr Naylor, do you really think that by inviting people to your office for a coffee, or to look at your records etc, that they are going to be so baffled by science or so impressed by your admin. skills that they loose all vestige of common sense, or reasoning skills?
As for your comment that people get irritated by unsolicited information in their lives- this is true if it relates to some crap advertizing trivea, NOT if it relates to the possibility of they or their children being harmed by pesticide spray/vapour/ or residues. It is not up to the NFU to decide how much information to give the public about the pesticides they are breathing on a regular basis!

One of your so-called 'safety' regulations recommends the 'oh so considerate' practice of spraying adjacent to residents property when they are away at work--, do you really imagine that they would be happy to allow their children or toddlers to come home and play around on ground next to recently sprayed land? 'Out of sight, out of mind?"
Your comment comparing our situation with Chinese factories is too fatuous and irrational to bother with.
In conclusion, we are not impressed by your assertion that you operate within the law. As Georgina Down's evidence conclusively and convincingly showed,the law and legislation on this issue is fundamentally flawed. Your cynical assumption that your .."practices are safe for the consumer, the neighbour and the operator alike. If this is not the case. then there is something wrong with the regulations"... reflects your glimmer of realization of the truth. As things stand, your claim to be professional and civilized in the way you go about business, is ludicrous.
Instead of protective legislation for rural residents, Defra is offering prior warning of spraying so that people can try to protect themselves from agri sprays by going into their homes and shutting the doors and windows. If the house,/school/ is surrounded by agricultural land this could amount to days per week.Many farmers resent any restrictions on their bad practice however hazardous this might be to others, so they would be very happy to see others freedom curtailed rather than modify their own reckless actions.
Well, as a rural resident I shall be requiring prior notification of each spraying, and access to records together with full knowledge of all chemicals used on crops adjacent to my property. If I see any breach of the safety regulations, I will not be sitting on my hands. To Mr Kendall, I would say that the public are not a lot of children to be patted on the head and told that pesticides are not harmfull, just so that farmers need not be inconvenienced by bureaucracy.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Perversion of Justice.

PRESS RELEASE sent out on 7th July 2009 at 10.45am


Award-winning environmental campaigner, Georgina Downs, who last November won a historic and landmark High Court victory against the Government over its fundamental failure to protect people in the countryside from pesticides has today issued a statement regarding the Court of Appeal Judgment that has been handed down this morning in the case Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) v Georgina Downs.

For the purposes of this press release Georgina Downs’ statement is included in full below with notes to editors to follow. (The same statement can also be found on Ms. Downs’ website under the second link).

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice this morning, Georgina Downs stated,

“I would like to start by saying that I think this may well go down in history as being the most bizarre and inaccurate Judgment to have ever come out of the Court of Appeal.

Last November I won a landmark victory in the High Court against the Government over pesticides. That High Court Judgment was very clear as the Judge, Mr. Justice Collins, said that he was in “no doubt” that the Government had been acting unlawfully in its policy and approach in relation to the use of pesticides in crop spraying, and that public health, in particular rural residents and communities exposed to pesticides from living in the locality to regularly sprayed fields, was not being protected (and this applied to both acute effects and chronic long term adverse health effects).

Mr. Justice Collins formed his judgment on the evidence that I had set forth before the High Court, in particular the detailed Witness Statements that I had produced, as he recognised that they “set out the factual basis for the arguments presented” in my case, and that they sought to “meet the contrary arguments put forward on behalf of the Government.”

Having considered my Witness Statements carefully, Mr. Justice Collins concluded that I had produced “cogent arguments and evidence,” that had been “scientifically justified.” He also concluded that I had produced “solid evidence that residents have suffered harm to their health.”

The High Court Judgment was obviously a very significant and landmark ruling for the potentially millions of residents throughout the country who, like myself, live in the locality to pesticide sprayed fields.
When granting the Government permission to appeal the High Court ruling, Mr. Justice Collins made it clear that he did not think that an appeal had a real prospect of success. This would have been based on the assumption that the Court of Appeal would form its Judgment on the very same evidence and arguments that he did.

However, today’s Judgment from the Court of Appeal which has overturned Mr. Justice Collins’ Judgment unanimously, has done so as a result of very wrongly (and possibly intentionally) substituting the cogently argued case I presented with that of another party. This means that almost the entire judgment has been formed on the wrong basis and does not in any way resemble the same case, arguments and evidence that Mr. Justice Collins based his Judgment on in the High Court.

Lord Justice Sullivan in substituting my case and arguments with those set out in a report 4 years ago by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has based the justification for doing that on the totally incorrect assumptions that all of the material set forth before the court had been considered by the Royal Commission and therefore that the Royal Commission’s views must be the high water mark of my case. Not only is this not correct, it is ridiculous considering that the 6 Witness Statements that I produced for this case (along with a vast amount of documentation that went with it, as there are a few thousand pages before the court) were all prepared after the Royal Commission’s report had been published in 2005. For example, my first witness statement was a year later in October 2006 and the 149 page second Witness Statement which is the most important in detailing the full factual arguments and evidence of my case was dated April 2008, which is over 2 and a half years after the Royal Commission report. Therefore it is of course not possible for the Royal Commission to have assessed the exact case and factual arguments and evidence that were set forth before the court if all the witness statements and accompanying materials that provided the critical basis of my case and arguments all post-dated the Royal Commission report.

I have put considerable work and effort into producing the arguments, evidence and materials for this legal case over the last 3 years and I have worked to the highest professional standard and been meticulous with accuracy and attention to detail. Therefore it is completely unacceptable to me to see my case and arguments fundamentally misrepresented in such a way, as today’s Judgment has effectively turned the case into the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution v DEFRA. Yet the Royal Commission is not a named party in this case, as it is supposed to be Georgina Downs v DEFRA, and I have taken this case at considerable personal, professional and financial costs for myself and my family. (The Government of course has continued to fight against me using many hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money!)

Last year Mr. Justice Collins went by my case and evidence that was set before him and ruled in my favour by concluding that the Government had been acting unlawfully. In fact prior to this Court of Appeal Judgment, I had actually won all 5 of the decisions that had taken place so far in this legal case since 2007. This is the first ruling out of 6 to go in the Government’s favour and it has done so in a very bizarre and questionable manner.

It also means that my actual case, arguments and evidence have not actually yet been defeated in the courts, as today’s Judgment ruled in the Government’s favour, but based on someone else’s position. Therefore this Judgment is a complete whitewash as by substituting my case for someone else’s it just says every single thing that the Government would have wanted it to say. In fact there is not even a hint anywhere in the Judgment of any criticism of the Government at all. The Court of Appeal has basically passed it back to the Government to deal with and yet it is the Government I am challenging! The Government could not have wished for a better result than if it wrote the Judgment itself! It was clear to a number of those who attended the hearing in May that the Judges came in with a pre-formed view, but why did they come in with a pre-formed view? Aside from the Government, the chemical industry and the farming unions who I am sure will be hanging off every word, I really don’t think anyone’s going to take this judgment seriously as it is just bizarre.

Obviously by not forming the Court of Appeal Judgment on the basis of my case, it means that a considerable amount of evidence that was set forth has inexplicably been ignored in the Judgment. The most important of this is that, whilst the Judges have considered whether the Government’s model is ‘suitable’ and therefore lawful for the short-term exposure of a bystander, it has completely failed to consider whether there was a suitable model for the long-term exposure of residents. Yet this has been the long-standing charge of my case, that the Government’s bystander model does not and cannot address residents, and therefore that the Government’s approach does not comply with the European Directive, as rightly concluded by Mr. Justice Collins in the High Court ruling. It is of course important to point out that Judicial Review is about points of law and not the facts or the merits (although as said in this case the Court of Appeal has based its decisions on the legal points using the wrong facts and evidence in any event). Therefore the fact clearly remains that there has never been any assessment for the long-term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide sprayed fields, which as I have continued to maintain is an absolute scandal considering that crop-spraying has been a predominant feature of agriculture for over 50 years.

The High Court Judgment last year rightly recognised that this case is based on the risk of harm to rural residents, not upon proving that such harm has already occurred. It is therefore not incumbent upon me, in relation to my challenge under the EC Directive, to prove causation. So far as the Directive is concerned, my arguments would arise irrespective of whether I had personally suffered adverse health effects, because I (and other residents) would still have been (and continue to be) exposed to the risk of harm.

DEFRA itself has previously stated that, “If there is scientific evidence that use of a pesticide may harm human health, that is considered unacceptable.”

However, in the Court of Appeal Judgment Lord Justice Sullivan has completely shifted the goalposts in relation to this issue, as he says that not only does there need to be actual harm, (which there does not, as it is supposed to be based on the risk of harm or even less if going by the Government’s statement of “may harm”), but he says that harm to an individual’s health cannot be confirmed definitively until there is consensus across the scientific community. This is a very serious misinterpretation indeed. Evidence is the word Mr. Justice Collins recognised was the right one in the High Court Judgment, as to say effectively that no diagnosis can be confirmed and thus action taken until there is scientific consensus is not only incorrect, it is an impossibility considering the diversity of scientific positions between Government scientists who want to maintain a certain position on the issue and various independent scientists who want to act on the existing scientific and medical evidence. Therefore again this is another area where this Judgment is simply bizarre and very legally flawed in view of the overriding public safety duty as required by the European Directive regarding the protection of human health.

It is important for me to point out that the draft Judgment contained a number of very serious and important factual errors in relation to my own personal health situation, which were completely unacceptable. However, considering I have only just received the final Judgment I will need to consider the content of this version carefully before issuing any further comment regarding my own personal situation.

We now have a situation where there has been 2 completely opposing judgments, as the High Court Judgment only 8 months ago was unequivocal in its conclusions of the Government’s failure to protect public health and now a Court of Appeal Judgment has put the main focus, quite frankly, on the protection of the Government and the industry position, with no real concern whatsoever for human health shown at all.

It is outrageous and complacent the position the Court of Appeal has taken in this judgement, as it basically says it is okay for people to suffer certain adverse health effects from exposure to pesticides and has effectively just given a green light to the Government to continue to carry on poisoning people in this country, which is extraordinary. This is a serious public health issue of significant public importance, so of course I will be applying to appeal to the House of Lords in relation to trying to overturn this very legally flawed judgment and to uphold the original one from the High Court.

Ironically Lord Justice Sullivan who has written the lead Judgment today, only a few months ago in March criticized the Government for not having initiated any action as a result of the High Court ruling. He stated that whilst the Government’s “Plan A” was to appeal and hope that the Judgment went in their favour, the Government clearly had no “Plan B” in relation to its response if its appeal fails. He therefore ordered that the Government should get on with its review. The Government’s review subsequently started and it has been reported that DEFRA has clearly indicated that irrespective of the outcome of its appeal that changes would be made to its policy. Therefore if changes will be made to the policy anyway, which was the whole aim of my campaign, to change Government policy on pesticides, then the campaign objective would be met, irrespective of the outcome of the legal case.
The one thing that the Government will know from all this is that I am not afraid to take them on on any level, that I will take them on in the highest courts in the land, and aside from going to the House of Lords, I will take another Judicial Review challenge from scratch on any other decisions that come out in relation to pesticides. I am on the Government’s case and will be on their case until the necessary changes are made to protect public health, as the evidence in my Witness Statements shows quite clearly that the Government has knowingly failed to act, has continued to shift the goalposts, cherry picked the science to suit the desired outcome, and has misled the public, especially rural residents over the safety of agricultural pesticides sprayed on crop fields throughout the country. The Government’s response to this issue has been of the utmost complacency, is completely irresponsible and is definitely not “evidence-based policy-making.” The unarguable evidence contained in my Witness Statements that led to the landmark High Court victory last year, but the majority of which the Court of Appeal has completely ignored in today’s Judgment, will be published on my website in due course, as for various reasons it cannot be released at this time. I will be making a further statement to accompany its publication shortly.”

Notes to Editors:-

The Judgment in the Court of Appeal case Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) v Georgina Downs was handed down at 10am on 7th July 2009. The Court of Appeal hearing took place between 18th and 20th May 2009. The Court of Appeal Judges were Lord Justice Sullivan, Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Keene.

Georgina Downs made a statement outside the Royal Courts of Justice following the hand down this morning. This press release contains the statement in full, but it is also available on her website under the second link at: Ms. Downs will now be applying to appeal to the House of Lords against the Court of Appeal Judgment.

DEFRA’s appeal was against the High Court Judgment of Mr. Justice Collins in the landmark Judicial Review case Georgina Downs v Secretary of State for DEFRA that was handed down on 14th November 2008. Ms. Downs’ case was the first known legal case of its kind to reach the High Court to directly challenge the Government’s pesticide policy and approach regarding crop-spraying in rural areas and Ms. Downs won the case.

The High Court Judgment of 14th November 2008 is available at:- Georgina Downs made a statement outside the High Court following the hand down on 14th November 2008. The statement in full and the accompanying press release dated 14th November 2008 are available on her website at:

An oral hearing regarding the Government’s application for a “stay” of the High Court Judgment and subsequent Order took place on 4th March 2009. Lord Justice Sullivan refused the Government’s application for a “stay” and ordered that the Government should get on with its review following the High Court ruling in November 2008 and as a result this review is currently underway.

Ms. Downs has spent much of the last 3 years working on the legal case and after re-reading approx. 3500 pages of documentation in the High Court she submitted a 149 page second Witness Statement which provided the critical evidence for her original Judicial Review victory. Ms. Downs produced 6 Witness Statements in total, the majority of the contents of which the Court of Appeal has inexplicably completely ignored in today’s Judgment, as the Court of Appeal has very bizarrely substituted Ms. Downs’ case, arguments and evidence with the conclusions of a report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 4 years ago in 2005. The critical evidence contained in Ms. Downs’ Witness Statements has not yet been published, but is due to be in due course. Ms. Downs will make a further statement to accompany their publication.

Ms. Downs was represented by Michael Fordham QC and Emma Dixon, barristers at Blackstone Chambers. Michael Fordham was recently named as Public Law and Human Rights Silk of the Year at the Chambers & Partners Bar Awards 2008, see

Georgina Downs runs the UK Pesticides Campaign ( to highlight the risks and adverse health and environmental effects of pesticides, especially on rural residents and communities. Ms. Downs has lived next to regularly sprayed fields for over 25 years and has spent the last 8 years campaigning for a change in the regulations and legislation governing crop spraying. She was the first to identify serious fundamental flaws regarding the so-called “bystander risk assessment”. The ‘bystander’ model assumes there will only be occasional, short-term exposure to the spray cloud at the time of the application only, (ie. immediate spraydrift) for five minutes (or less), from a single pass of a sprayer, based on a person standing 8 metres from the spray boom (and based on dermal and inhalation routes of exposure only). It also assumes exposure will only be to one individual pesticide at any time. Ms. Downs has continued to argue that the bystander model does not and cannot address residents who are repeatedly exposed from various exposure factors and routes to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals, throughout every year, and in many cases, like her own situation, for decades. The various exposure factors include long term exposure to pesticides in the air, exposure to vapours, which can occur days, weeks, even months after application, exposure to mixtures, precipitation, reactivation, pesticides transported from outdoor applications and redistributed into an indoor air environment, as well as long-range transportation, as studies have shown pesticides found miles away from where they were originally applied.

The evidence set out in Ms. Downs’ second Witness Statement shows that the Government, its main advisors, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, and the regulators, formerly the Pesticides Safety Directorate now the Chemicals Regulation Directorate, have clearly continued to allow acute effects, (including both local irritant effects, as well as systemic effects such as headaches, nausea, aching limbs, pain, dizziness etc.) to occur in residents (and bystanders), without taking any action to protect residents health. It should be noted that when acute effects are repeated again and again, as they are for people living near sprayed fields, then it can increase the risk of long-term cumulative effects resulting in chronic long-term illnesses and diseases.

There have been a number of recent and important European Commission statements that clearly acknowledged the chronic long term impacts of pesticides, including for those living in the locality to sprayed fields. For example, the EC stated that, “Long term exposure to pesticides can lead to serious disturbances to the immune system, sexual disorders, cancers, sterility, birth defects, damage to the nervous system and genetic damage.”(Source:

· In January this year Ms. Downs met with the key policy advisor to Gordon Brown at Number 10 and has recently met with the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Hilary Benn, to call on the Government to introduce mandatory measures to protect rural residents. These measures include the call for an immediate ban on crop-spraying near homes, schools, playgrounds, workplaces and other public areas; for direct public access to information on the chemicals sprayed on crops; and for a new legal obligation to give rural residents prior notification before any pesticide spraying in their locality

In 2008 Georgina Downs won the first ever Inspirational Eco Woman of the Year Award, in the Daily Mail’s Inspirational Women of the Year awards. Ms. Downs also won the prestigious Andrew Lees Memorial Award at the 2006 British Environment and Media Awards (BEMAs) and the Heroine Award at Cosmopolitan magazine’s inaugural Fun Fearless Female Awards in November 2006. She was also invited to attend the 2008 “Women of the Year Lunch” where each woman is individually nominated by a member of the Women of the Year Nominating Council and is considered a “Woman of the Year” because of their special contribution to society or the workplace. Ms. Downs was also recently elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) as a result of her campaigning efforts.

**Please note that this case is Georgina Downs v DEFRA and does not involve any other group or organization. Due to legal confidentiality regarding the specific arguments involved in this case the only contact for enquiries about the actual evidence and arguments presented in this case is Georgina Downs.

Contact: Georgina Downs
UK Pesticides Campaign

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