In certain parts of the UK, the bees may be screwed. This is because a few weeks ago now Liz Truss (our Environment Secretary), an “Expert Committee on Pesticides”, and the chief scientific advisor of DEFRA, opted to lift an EU-wide ban on Neonicotinoid pesticides across 5% of the UK oilseed rape crop area. These pesticides are highly dangerous to our very beloved – and environmentally crucial – bees. Rather understandably, this lead to sizeable outcry in the environmental community, including among other things the circulation numerous petitions, and The Rise of UglyFaceBatMan.
The Government have just responded to an official governmental petition, and I thought I should let you know what they said in their defence. In short, all over the country they’re putting into place numerous measures that will benefit and protect our incredibly important pollinators – they get that bees are important, thank you. In the area – which is only 5% and they’ve turned away requests for larger areas – where neonicotinoids are to be allowed – and it’s only temporarily and for certain seasons of Oilseed Rape – they’re doing so because of agricultural necessity. They state that they have to allow neonicotinoids “to address “a danger which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means”” (The National Farmer’s Union says it’s getting impossible to grow Oilseed Rape without Neonicotinoids. Personally I’d suggest a nice bit of GM, which can be pretty cool). So essentially it’s a calculated risk deemed necessary that shouldn’t have too wide or deep an impact. (Read their whole response here, if you’re really interested).
So we’re not happy that the Gov’ are threatening bees. DEFRA and friends aren’t happy that their Oilseed Rape harvest is threatened. But why are they in such a panic anyway? Don’t we have enough land to just work around the problem on? Well, yes and no, it seems.
Trace this back, and there’s one shocking and fundamental cause of this new necessity to use such toxic pesticides. 71% of the UK’s land area is devoted to arable crop production… but do we make the most of it?
We WASTE a colossal amount of food in this country – and as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is kicking up a big, justified fuss about, a terrifying amount of wastage occurs before we even get the chance to consider buying or eating it. As Hugh describes in a recent Viewpoint article, and in his War On Waste series, one-third of the food we produce in the UK is never eaten. 50% of food waste in the UK is domestic. Much of the rest goes in some fantastical perception of what sellers think buyers think a parsnip *should* look like. The irony is that we end up having to use such intense fertilisers and pesticides to sterilise our crops because we demand so much from it. And it is nothing less that demonically absurd that we should poison and kill our environment to demand such high yields, purely for the luxury of throwing half of it away!
So what’s the moral of this story? Don’t be so bloody picky! That’s not to say that you, reader, are picky – it’s a general address to the country that I may suggest to the Queen before her speech this christmas. We can all get very het-up and chastise people for making wrong decisions / doing their jobs, we can thrust petitions and ‘umm’ and ‘agh’ over policies and legislations and trying-to-make-the-best-of-it. But really, the best thing you can do to save the bees? Buy the wonky carrots. Take pleasure from peculiar parsnips. DON’T WASTE PERFECTLY GOOD FOOD. How do you do that? APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE. If we do that, our economy will be better off and our ecology will be better off, as we’ll actually have the efficiency of space to cater for a slightly bad batch, or to really look after our pollinators and natural pest-controllers.
As I’m writing I’ve received another petitioning email, this time for a different type of bee-killing pesticide that’s recently snuck approval. You can sign it here, as something to tide us over until we start actually appreciating what we have.
People are really starting to take action on this. Activist organisation 38degrees has just launched this petition calling UK supermarkets to stop wasting perfectly edible food, and show that rather like onions, their beauty is much more than skin deep. Please sign that petition here: