Amendment 52

Part of Environment Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 13th September 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 5:30 pm, 13th September 2021

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I just want to say a few words about these chemicals and to talk about it from the point of view of the industry and cheap food.

In 1947, the manufacturers of DDT ran an advert in Time magazine showing smiling cartoon farm animals and a rosy-cheeked housewife who sang “DDT is good for me-e-e!”, along with the claim that DDT was the “benefactor of all humanity”. That same year, they had a British colonialist sprinkling DDT over a bowl of porridge and then eating it in a bid to persuade local people in east Africa that this chemical was harmless.

We can see, if we cut forward to today, that Silent Spring was written in 1962 and DDT became recognised as something that was harmful to animals, nature, biodiversity and, indeed, humans. Yet, today, we see a very different story. In 1990, we treated 45 million hectares with pesticides. By 2016, this had risen to 73 million hectares, although the actual area of crops had remained the same. However, we were putting many times more pesticides on to those same crops, on to a weakening soil, in our attempt to keep producing ever more cheap food to feed our population.

There are very familiar names in the industry—Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta—and it is reckoned that they make about 35% of their total global revenue by selling these sorts of pesticides around the world. Farmers get trapped into that same cycle. It is something that we have to break.

This amendment is very important to me, because I feel a great distrust of the Government at the moment, for instance over the ban of neonicotinoids. They are now banned in America and across the whole of Europe; indeed, when we were still within the European Union, we banned them as well. However, we have now let them back in and they are allowed to be used on sugar beet. This feels to me like a small open door that could get bigger. I quote Dave Goulson, from the University of Sussex, who wrote a fantastic book about the decline of insects. Mentioning neonicotinoids, he says:

“The toxicity takes your breath away—just five maize seeds treated with neonicotinoids are enough to kill a grey partridge.”

No one can spray 17,000 tonnes of poison across a landscape without doing massive damage as it spreads. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, so wisely said, we now know about DDT—and, actually, we know about this stuff too. It is no accident that it kills animals, insects and every single small thing around.

These amendments are absolutely imperative, right across so many parts of this Bill: biodiversity, habitats and human health. Also, there are other ways of doing it; there are intelligent, responsible uses of gene editing and many natural solutions to keep crops safe and ensure that we have good, healthy food that does not destroy either our planet or ourselves.