The DEFRA Consultation that preceded the publication of the Agriculture Bill was called 'Health and Harmony', yet there was no reference to the protection of public health. I detailed the glaring omission of anything human health related shortly after the Agriculture Bill had made its first appearance before Parliament.
Neither the Agriculture Bill nor Michael Gove's accompanying statements recognised the health risks and related acute and chronic adverse health impacts for rural residents and communities from the continued use of pesticides and other agro-chemicals on crop fields across the UK.
This was staggering - albeit unsurprising given the Government’s inaction on pesticides - considering that these highly toxic agrochemicals remain the biggest contributor of damage, pollution, and contamination of the air, soil, water and overall environment in agricultural areas, as well as damaging to human health.
There is now some renewed hope on the horizon. A specific amendment to the Agriculture Bill for the protection for rural communities has recently been tabled by the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas - amendment New Clause 10 (NC10) entitled “Application of pesticides: limitation on use to protect human health.”
This vital amendment prohibits the application of any pesticide for the purpose of agriculture near (a) any building used for habitation, (b) any building or open space used for work or recreation, or (c) any public or private building where members of the public may be present including, but not limited to, schools, nurseries, and hospitals.
This is the most important health protection measure that the campaign I run, the UK Pesticides Campaign, has been calling for since the outset in 2001.
The ongoing campaign petition - which calls on the Prime Minister Theresa May and DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove, to urgently secure the protection of rural residents and communities by banning all crop spraying and use of any pesticides near residents’ homes, schools, and children’s playgrounds - has been signed by nearly 6000 people, the majority of which are affected UK residents.
The petition has also been signed by a number of prominent figures including Hillsborough QC Michael Mansfield, Stanley Johnson, Jonathon Porritt, Gordon Roddick, Ben Goldsmith, and Caroline Lucas herself, among others.
The prohibition of pesticide use in the locality of the areas listed in the NC10 amendment must cover substantial distances, as small buffer zones won’t provide adequate protection. Scientific studies (such as Lee et al 2002) have found pesticides miles away from where they were originally applied and calculated health risks for rural residents and communities living within those distances.
The existing evidence is unarguable regarding the damage agricultural pesticides are causing to both people and planet. Yet still no action has been taken by successive governments on this. This is without a doubt one of the biggest public health scandals of any time.
While operators generally have protection when using agricultural pesticides - such as use of personal protective equipment, respirators, and filtered cabs - rural residents and communities have had absolutely no protection at all for over seven decades.
There are many thousands of known cases of adverse health impacts reported by rural residents across the UK, but which the government has continued to blatantly ignore. With millions of rural residents exposed in crop sprayed areas there will undoubtedly be many more unreported cases.
The NC10 amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas is crucially important. It provides an opportunity to get parliamentary support for the protection of rural residents and communities, especially the most vulnerable groups such as babies, children, pregnant women, the elderly and those already ill and/or disabled - none of whom should ever have been exposed to cocktails of these poisons in the first place.
A tweet I sent out last week regarding the NC10 amendment has received considerable support and has had many shares so far on social media including from groups such as the Sustainable Food Trust and the Soil Association, as well as prominent figures in the food and farming sector such as Peter Kindersley, Craig Sams, Joanna Blythman, Jonathan Porritt, and others such as the BBC Environment correspondent Roger Harrabin, Livia Firth, Glynis Barber.
The Director of the CLA Christopher Price actually 'liked' an earlier tweet that also contained the information about the NC10 amendment - rather surprisingly considering the CLA's often pro-pesticides stance
If parts of the ‘industry’ even support this measure then here’s hoping that other MPs - especially those in rural constituencies - will also sign up to and support this crucial NC10 amendment for public health protection.
Now is the time for rural residents and communities to speak out as loudly as we can, contact our MPs and ask them to support the New Clause 10 (NC10) amendment entitled “Application of pesticides: limitation on use to protect human health.”
The post-Brexit UK agricultural bill and policy provides a real opportunity for the UK to clean up agriculture once and for all, and adopt a non-chemical farming policy.
Removing toxic chemicals from food production would then protect not only the health of rural residents and communities, as well as other members of the public, but also the environment, wildlife, pollinators, and other species that are being wiped out from the continued use of such toxic chemicals.
Georgina Downs is a journalist and campaigner. She runs the UK Pesticides Campaign, which specifically represents rural residents affected by pesticides sprayed in the locality of residents’ homes, as well as schools, playgrounds, among other areas.