While the UK was initially likely to adopt legislation that was already in place across the EU after Brexit, over time, it offered the opportunity to adapt rules to fit domestic needs, said Professor Lin Field, head of chemistry and crop protection at Rothamsted Research, speaking at the Crop Protection Association’s 2017 annual convention in London last month.
She used the example of neonicotinoid pesticides to illustrate her argument. These have been accused in some quarters of causing a decline in bee populations.
But, while Rothamsted was of the opinion that more research was required to ascertain their true impact, the EU was currently considering the extension of restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids, she said.
‘We all have to be in this together’
“We have the opportunity to think much more carefully and develop our own science-based, risk-based strategies and we all have to be in this together,” said Field.
“It does depend on the crop protection world and the other lobby groups. And it has to involve scientists.”
But she cautioned that most scientists were quite reluctant to get involved with these debates.
She expressed concern about the lack of understanding among the general public about the need for crop protection and their misplaced belief that pesticides in use today were toxic to non-targets.
‘Make decisions based on scientific evidence’
“We should make decisions based on scientific evidence and real risk, not on gut instinct, emotion and hazards that may or may not be there.”
However, she added: “We have not done a very good job of explaining the positives.”
Field reported that scientists at Rothamsted were moving to a more holistic view of crop protection and were working on a big programme of “non-chemical” interventions as well as those involving chemicals.
“But they are all rather a long way off and most are at the experimental stage and still require quite a lot of investment in research before they go on the market,” said Field. “So, for the foreseeable future we are going to rely on chemicals to some extent.”