False knowledge is far more dangerous than ignorance

Sean Sparlingin Chemicals & Fertilisers

I don't wish to sound alarmist, but there is a sector of society who, by a combination of cynical ignorance and calculated arrogance, potentially threaten our ability to continue to produce food.

Big statement? Absolutely a big statement because it's now becoming a real possibility that we are going to lose a huge percentage of what is already a skeleton list of active ingredients vital to the safe and sustainable production of food and fodder crops - products which are guaranteed to be absolutely safe to man, beast, insects wildlife and water when used as we use them in modern agriculture.

The interference and opportunism of certain groups of people - for the sake of ambiguity let's just call them the "Pals of the Planet" - who are spreading pseudoscientific dogma, cynically skewed allegedly "factual" misinformation and of course downright untruths (lies is such a divisive word) into the wider public domain purely to cause a wave of misinformed public opinion which suit their own ends. These groups are now seriously compromising the future and safety of both food production in the UK and - perversely - the wildlife and people they claim to be selflessly doing it all for . . . those they feel at one with. Sadly, their actions are very likely to result in UK farmers ceasing the production of Oilseed rape, potatoes and cereals in particular, because the removal of key insecticides and seedbed herbicides will render their safe, saleable and profitable propagation impossible.

I want to give you a parallel view of the situation we find ourselves in.

When bugs and bacteria in our hospitals and in our domestic medical environment began to show signs of resistance to the widespread - and sometimes sadly routine - use of antibiotics a few years ago, the response of the scientific and medical world was what? They didn't just revert to old remedies, shelving the products we're currently reliant upon, of course they didn't - they began to develop stronger, more efficient treatments; they developed newer and safer treatments with lower concentrations of active ingredient and both doctors and health professionals continued to use what they already had but further developed strategies to cope with the build-up of resistance to antibiotics and from superbugs like MRSA and C Difficile. Imagine that chain of events being utterly derailed by homeopathy practitioners and similarly-minded groups, who had spotted an opportunity to undermine the use of chemically produced medicines and vaccines which are contrary to their beliefs, preferring instead to promote the questionable "safety" and "natural" properties of berries, leaves, herbs and crystals as a viable alternative to modern "dangerous" medicines.

Imagine losing 80% of the medicines we rely upon to carry on as we are - paracetamol, ibuprofen, cough sweets, anti-histamines, asthma inhalers, antibiotics, anti-depressants, haemorrhoid cream (you know who you are), all the dangerous doctor prescribed medicines for all our ailments, treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and all the other cancer treatments . . . the list goes on. Imagine the public swallowing all the hype and cobblers that only self-healing through "asking the universe for it" positive thinking, imbibing and rubbing on natural poultices and 'erbal remedies and organic potions "that have been around for hundreds and thousands of years" . . . imagine being convinced that only these were safe for us to use, were equally if not more effective and that the masses of manufactured medicines that have protected and secured the existence of our species and that have extended our life expectancy while improving the quality of our lives were a huge danger to us all. Imagine being constantly fed misinformation and made up science in the media from homeopaths, lifestyle gurus and natural gunk practitioners that these medicines we currently take are all carcinogenic and deadly to us in everyday life . . . and imagine that the regulators believe the hype and agree . . . just imagine that.

Well, that ladies and gentlemen, is the situation we now find ourselves in with regards to the plant protection products and agrochemicals we rely upon to produce safe sustainable food in modern agriculture. Substitute "Pals of the Planet" for "homeopathy practitioners" or "lifestyle guru's" and you start to understand the seriousness of our current situation. I say "our situation" because what's going on in agriculture this very minute is a very real and accurate reflection of the reality of the example above. Spurious rumours and misinformation about the side effects and the results of ingested exposure to agrochemicals are being drip-fed into the "non-farming-folk" domain with a cynicism beyond belief, and with an arrogant and ignorant disregard for the consequences of what may well happen as a result - as long as they get what they want the means justifies the end.

Paracetamol is the worlds 009
Medicines and agrochemicals are indeed dangerous things when used incorrectly, but do you really think a doctor would send you home with a deadly medicine and allow you to administer it to yourself if it weren't safe to do so in the doses recommended? Of course they wouldn't and it's exactly the same in farming - everything we do in crop production is totally safe to the consumer - above all the risk posed to consumers, wildlife, water, the environment etc is so statistically minuscule as to be utterly insignificant.

The groups demonising some of our safest molecules, like glyphosate for example, are worthy of a biblical quote - "Father forgive them for they know not what they do". Trouble is that if they achieve their aims of turning the UK into an organic farming nation, I'm not going to be magnanimous enough to forgive - neither will the food eating public who suddenly find that food shopping becomes an event only imaginable from watching old clips from Pathe news, with scenes like those showing the empty shelves of post war Russia - food no longer readily available and that there is becomes ridiculously expensive, hard to come by, pathetically small, questionably mouldy and full of naturally occurring toxins that are actually far worse than the fungicides, herbicides and insecticides the interfering ill-informed buggers got banned in the first place. These people will of course deny responsibility like the Brexit lot will when the implications of that decision become truly apparent over the coming months.

If possible and potentially even worse than that though - through their ignorant single-minded belief that they and they alone have the right to tell people what they should think, or that they can demonise anything they disagree with and which they don't understand just because it suits an idyllic perception of a bygone way of life that they see as being how we all should live our lives - the ultimate loser will be our wildlife who will end up with no oilseed rape pollen to feed upon and no fields growing other crops in certain areas of the UK to live in. Potentially the entire eastern half of the country will be "un-farmable" if blackgrass is allowed to flourish without being curtailed by glyphosate. So-called and heavily biased 'experts' who clearly believe their own cynically biased data, are being wheeled out like old testament prophets professing doom and gloom and berating the plant protection products which are vital to the future survival of the human race - if we decide we want to keep eating safe wholesome food and maintain a life expectancy in the high 80's that is. Agrochemicals which are vital to ensuring our foods are free from contaminants like ergot, mycotoxins, potentially harmful weeds, bugs, grubs etc. and therefore safe to eat.

A sea of yellow rapeseed flowers
Surely regular, guaranteed and safe, cost controlled and sustainable food production is even more vital today than it ever has been - and the dangers to human health increase logarithmically if we're driven towards not being allowed to use scientifically proven safe herbicides such as glyphosate on weeds which themselves and some of the fungal diseases they harbour are far more toxic in fractions of the doses compared to the allegedly dangerous chemicals being applied to them?

Or what of the impact of losing fungicides which are vital to keep the otherwise naturally occurring toxins and mycotoxins at bay - mother nature can be quite the bitch when she is left on her own and puts her mind to it, the fact that hundreds of thousands of people die each year from eating poisonous plants, berries, mycotoxins, phytoalexins (naturally occurring plant self-defence toxins such as patulins, hydrazines etc) and fungi holds testament to that . . . the very fact that over the last 40 years or so, to my knowledge no one has died or been hospitalised as a direct proven result of the correct use of modern pesticides speaks volumes.

It's the dose that makes the toxin, everything is dangerous in excessive quantities and agrochemicals are indeed dangerous - that's why we train for as long as doctors before we are let loose recommending and using them. But we are using tiny tiny fractions of the doses that could even be perceived to be problematic, doses which are then further diluted hundreds of times in water prior to application - you would have to eat 1250 wholemeal loaves of bread a day for a lifetime to get just 1% of the maximum residue limit (MRL) of glyphosate that's calculated to pose even a remotely tiny threat to human health . . . assuming that glyphosate had been used to desiccate the wheat crop in the first place, that wholemeal flour was used to make the bread and that glyphosate was actually dangerous to us of course - which it so clearly isn't!

The decisions about which plant protection products can be used in future years appear to be being hijacked by these fundamentalist ill-informed eco-maniacs. This cynical interfering and holier than thou clique has an obsessive "anti" attitude to anything other than that which they perceive as being acceptable and safe and once they latch onto something, they slander it until we lose it. We are now free to do as we're told in their eyes, and it doesn't matter what real dedicated independent experts say.

Also, it doesn't matter how much scientifically proven fact there is for them to look at to prove that these products are safe when used in accordance with the label as it is possible to be to the operator, the consumer and to the environment, because once they've made their minds up that's the end of that and, as far as they're concerned, only ending up with a ban will do - irrespective of whether years of technical scientific replicated trials data suggests otherwise, and irrespective of the fact that these products are all absolutely guaranteed to be safe to user and consumer when used in accordance with current practice.

Bees Pixabay
But these people don't shoulder all of the blame, because alongside them and shamelessly egging them on is a rabid sensationalist media, who willingly perpetuate the lies and misinformation by fostering these pseudo-eco-egos under eye-catching doom laden headlines. They vomit out the vitriolic anti-everything-other-than-organic-food-production and farmer-bashing, farmland-wildlife-in-peril articles with cynical ease, repeating pseudoscience, anti-farming mantras and a false transfer of fictional knowledge while all the time totally ignoring the colossal good that modern conventional farming does for the preservation and protection of our awesome wildlife.

I have always been dedicated to promoting and protecting bugs, birds and wildlife, it defines me and who I am - and without farming, the "countryside" and my nature cease to be - the British countryside is somewhere lovely to spend time but it will rapidly return to a wild, overgrown, weed infested, bramble encrusted, thistle and nettle laden UK sized paddock which does far more harm for the delicate UK ecosystem than good. But these doom mongerers persist in spinning the bad news stories with one desperately cynical aim - to sell more papers. Brilliantly twisted wordsmiths who through ill-informed and poorly researched pieces, would have the man in the street believe that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.

I do this job for a living, I eat the food I help to produce and, knowing the alternative ways of producing food, I am happy to continue to do so with alacrity. All the facts and opinions of the entire debate come down to 2 words - Risk and Hazard.

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