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Pesticide spraying taking place just over the garden fence of a British home. Photo: UK Pesticides Campaign.
Pesticide spraying taking place just over the garden fence of a British home. Photo: UK Pesticides Campaign.
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Pesticide deregulation - the real reason for Myron Ebell's Number 10 meeting?

Georgina Downs

3rd February 2017

If it wasn't climate change, was the real purpose of the Number 10 meeting of Theresa May's advisors and President Trump's environmental transition supremo Myron Ebell to plan the post-Brexit deregulation of UK farming, including pesticides? That's how it looks, writes Georgina Downs - and we had better begin now to fight for our health, wildlife and environment.

Myron Ebell's Competitive Enterprise Institute runs a very pro chemical industry website which appears to specifically exist in order to downplay the risks and health and environmental impacts of harmful chemicals, especially pesticides.

There has been growing concern amongst environmental campaigners as to why Myron Ebell - who led Donald Trump's transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency until the inauguration and who has since returned to his job at an anti-environmentalist think tank - met with advisors to the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, at No. 10 this week. [1]

The concern expressed by environmental campaigners and various commentators regarding the meeting with the PM's advisors was largely based on Mr Ebell's well known position on climate change. However, it has been reported in the Independent and FT that a No. 10 spokesman confirmed that climate change was not discussed at the meeting. [2]

So what exactly was the meeting related to? And could discussions on pesticides in agriculture/farming have played a part in any capacity?

The No. 10 spokesman apparently declined to say what topics were mentioned or discussed during the meeting, only that Myron Ebell was there in his capacity as director of the think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

After doing a bit of digging I found out that the CEI runs a very pro chemical industry website, called SafeChemicalPolicy.org, which appears to specifically exist in order to downplay the risks and health and environmental impacts of harmful chemicals, especially pesticides.

Myron Ebell himself is reported to be a firm advocate of pesticides and does not appear to accept the well recognised dangers of these farm chemicals to either human health, bees, or the wider environment. [3]

An alarming prospect for the UK - pesticide deregulation?

With reports that a US-UK trade deal is currently being discussed between the new Trump administration and Theresa May's Government then residents and others affected as a result of exposure to toxic crop sprays near their homes, schools, children's playgrounds will be extremely alarmed that Myron Ebell was anywhere near No. 10!

Especially as this follows a reported meeting between Donald Trump and the CEOs of the pesticide producing giants Monsanto and Bayer, that took place in the days before he took office and in which Bayer has since said "was a productive meeting about the future of agriculture ... " [4]

Following that meeting I in fact tweeted the new US President to point out that he should be hearing from those poisoned by pesticides rather than the producers of these harmful chemicals. I also stressed the critical fact that there has never been any actual risk assessment for the real life exposure of residents, and included a link to one of my many articles on the issue. [5]

The fact that there has never been a risk assessment undertaken - and seemingly anywhere in the world - for rural residents living in the locality of sprayed crops is one of the biggest public health scandals of our time.

It is a requirement under EU law that prior to the approval of any pesticides, risk assessments have to be undertaken for all the relevant exposure groups - including residents - to establish that there will be no immediate or delayed harmful effect on human health. [6]

UK already suffers from severe under-regulation of agro-poisons

The fact that there has never been an actual risk assessment for the real life exposure of residents means that no pesticide should ever have been approved in the first place for spraying in the locality of residents homes, schools, children's playgrounds, nurseries etc. and indeed all pesticides used in such areas have clearly been approved unlawfully.

Over many decades the multi billion pound pesticide industry, big farming unions such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) here in the UK, as well as successive Governments, have often cited and relied on 'fake science' in an attempt to support the continued use of innumerable cocktails of these poisonous chemicals in producing food.

There are in fact approx. 2,000 pesticide products currently approved for agricultural use in the UK alone and the amount of these chemicals used on food is enough to horrify anyone who values their health.

For example, latest Government statistics show that some apples are sprayed on average 21 times per season with cocktails of pesticides involving 52 products. [7] Similarly the stats show that pears are sprayed on average 21 times per season with pesticide mixes involving 43 products. [8]

In the UK alone Government statistics show that in 2014 the total area treated with pesticides on agricultural and horticultural crops was 80,107,993 hectares, with the total weight applied being 17,757,242 kg. [9]

It is a matter of fact that there has never been any evidence of safety for residents, or children attending schools and playgrounds near sprayed crops, just successive Governments' own unfounded - and totally fake science - assertions, as well as those of the pesticide industry and big farming unions.

For example, how on earth can it be asserted the risk assessments are based on ‘sound science,' when there has never been an actual risk assessment for the real life exposure of rural residents?

Who are the guinea pigs? We are!

Millions of rural citizens have been put in a massive guinea pig-style experiment, for which many of us residents have had to suffer the serious, devastating - and in some cases fatal - consequences.

It is now beyond dispute that pesticides can cause a wide range of both acute, and chronic, adverse effects on human health. This includes irreversible chronic effects, illnesses and diseases.

High quality, peer-reviewed scientific studies and reviews have concluded that long-term exposure to pesticides can disturb the function of different systems in the body, including nervous, endocrine, immune, reproductive, renal, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. [10]

Such studies have concluded that exposure to pesticides is associated with a wide range of chronic diseases including, cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, brain (including childhood brain cancer), kidney, testicles, pancreas, oesophagus, stomach, bladder, bone, as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, soft tissue sarcoma, leukaemia, (including childhood leukaemia).

Other chronic health impacts that pesticides have been associated with in studies include, birth defects, reproductive disorders, neuro degenerative diseases (including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)), cardio-vascular diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes, chronic renal diseases, and autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematous).

The economic costs of the health conditions that pesticides can cause are massive. Obviously it goes without saying the personal and human costs to those suffering chronic diseases and damage, and the impacts on all those around them, cannot be calculated in financial terms.

Whilst operators will be in filtered cabs and/or have personal protective equipment when using pesticides, rural residents have no protection at all. There are so many horrific stories of people being poisoned from crop spraying in the locality of their homes and many involve children.

Despite this - and despite the fact the primary duty of any Government is supposed to be to protect its people, especially those most vulnerable - successive Governments' have continued to fail to act to secure the protection of rural residents from exposure to these harmful chemicals.

We must put a halt to the massive health damage caused by pesticides

Therefore irrespective as to whether Myron Ebell was at No. 10 to discuss pesticides or not, the fact that someone with his dismissive standpoint on the seriousness of such issues has his foot in the door is of great concern, especially considering that agriculture and farming has been cited as one of the key sectors regarding the current negotiations of Brexit trade deals.

There is no doubt that the widespread use of pesticides in agriculture is causing serious damage globally to the environment, wildlife, and above all, human health. This has massive economic, societal and financial implications for all parties (with the exception of the pesticides industry).

The UK Government's future laws and policies on agriculture if and when leaving the European Union must ensure that the protection of human health and the environment is the overriding priority and which must then be properly adhered to. Standards need strengthening and must not be even further weakened. There can be no compromising when it comes to public health protection.

It is an absolute no brainer that no pesticides should ever have been sprayed where people live and breathe, especially babies, children, pregnant women, people already ill and/or disabled, and the elderly.

Rural residents have been calling on the Prime Minister, Theresa May, in their thousands via an online petition to ban all crop spraying of poisonous pesticides near residents homes, schools, and playgrounds. [11]

The petition, which I originally started, has been signed and supported by Hillsborough QC Michael Mansfield, along with other high profile environmentalists including Jonathon Porritt and Gordon Roddick, as well as politicians including the Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.

There are many, many comments under the petition from other residents affected and therefore it is not possible for me to highlight them all within this article. However, a few selected examples of some of the truly harrowing experiences from other residents include the following.

Pesticide poisoning victims in their own words

Scott Manning says in his comment under the petition to the PM, "My entire family have been made seriously ill / had to move house / had to remove our child from school / been ignored by local government / been ignored by parliament / learned to realise the HSE are a pathetic, useless organisation / learned that - so far - capitalism dictates that profits are more important than the future of civilisation, etc, etc.."

Patricia Stebbing: "I live right next to a sprayed field and have had two different cancers. I cannot understand why these farmers get off with spraying poison next to my home. My oncologists agree there is a danger but nothing is done with them by any Government."

Linda Byrne: "I live next to many farming fields. I have cervical cancer, my female dog has stomach cancer. My male dog has bowel cancer. My next door neighbour died of chest cancer. My next door neighbour died on various cancers. 4 doors away they have their 3rd case of bladder cancer. 2 doors away breast cancer. How much evidence is needed. But I don't think rural lives matter!"

Jessica Hothersall: "Having suffered chemical burns from ankle to thigh, and nearly choked to death on spray fumes at 5am through an open bedroom window, I know this stuff is toxic, and you have no right to expose my children to this poison just because big corporations want to make money! What price the rural nation's health? The pollution in the Cities is nothing compared to life in the country!"

John Elson: "I have been personally affected by this issue and am still suffering the effects of inhaling pesticides over 30 years after the event. I suffer from loss of voice, from pain in my chest and throat, and I have trouble breathing. I had to retire 12 years earlier than planned, which incurred loss of pension."

Keith Anthony Taylor: "I have been directly affected by spraying throughout my life starting as a child when crops were sprayed within a few feet as I walked to school and all day as I attended alongside fields that were sprayed. Throughout my life I have struggled with my health as a direct result."

Victoria Pearson: "I am signing because it is absolute madness that there is currently no protection for anyone living, working or going to school in these rural areas where these poisonous chemicals are sprayed on crop fields. I have witnessed crops being sprayed just metres from my Daughter's rural school and have had signs of chemical scorching on our fruit trees in our garden, from the adjacent field being sprayed. (Just metres from my Daughter's sand pit!)"

Lorraine Batchelor: "I am surrounded by farmland that is regularly sprayed and so is my son's primary school."

Brenda Marks: "Both our children have rare kidney diseases. The farmer has sprayed fields on three sides of our house for over 30 years without telling us when he will spray or what he will spray. There is no law to stop him or even to make him tell us in advance. This is WRONG!"

Patricia Denny: "My family have always lived next to fields spayed with chemicals. My husband and my son died from neurological diseases. Our neighbouring farmer and his wife both have MS. That's why I'm signing."

Nicola Chester: "I have brought my family of 3 up next to a frequently sprayed arable field. On many occasion the sprayer has come in and gone over them while they have played. It has covered washing hanging on the line and blown through our open windows at night. It also, at least three times a year kills the plants at the end of the garden and our grass path. We are long term tenants and treated as if this is nothing to do with us. We do not know what chemicals these are, year after year, only that the farmer, when mixing and pouring them into his tank wears full protective clothing, then sits in a protected cab. Once, when the spray boom went right over my children, misting them completely, and we complained - we were told it was only water. Of course it wasn't. It killed most of our garden hedge."

Emma Mould: "I live in a cottage surrounded by fields and the sprayers turn up nearly every week. I have seen yellow spray which surely cannot be good to the crop or nature and especially me. I have neighbours who have been hospitalised because the farmer sprayed right up close to their fence and know of two farm hands that both got esophical [sic] cancer after using spray tractors. Pretty disgusting on this day and age. I also see loads of dead bees!!!"

Charlotte Davis: "As a teenager I lived near crop spraying. The chemical overload I experienced at this time, led to devastating health consequences for many years. I had to defer my place at Cambridge University for 3 years as I was too unwell. I had to have lots of medical treatment and I still do. I would not wish what I experienced on anyone else. The safety tests that are currently used (short exposure by a man in a mask) in no way replicate the exposure levels experienced by people living next to fields that are regularly sprayed. Please sign this, thank you."

Tamzin Pinkerton: "I'm signing because I feel sure pesticide spraying was the cause of my daughter's leukaemia, and most likely many of the other cases of leukaemia in the local area - a cluster way above the national average for leukaemia incidence. The law needs to change to help protect rural residents from the proven damaging effects of these chemicals."

Another lady: "I am sprayed with Cocktails of pesticides by my neighbour, a fruit farmer, around 20 times per year. As a toxicologist I know that these agents are not meant to be used anywhere near residences and yet my home is covered with these chemicals every time he sprays. I have been to HSE, Environmental agency and Dow and they all agree with me but there is no legislation in the UK to protect innocent neighbours."

Daphne Dear: "Humans and wildlife alike are suffering the ill effects of these filthy, foul smelling chemical pesticides which are used to spray crops. People's lives are being made a misery by the illnesses they suffer as result of crop spraying. No wonder our National Health Service is stretched to the limit. Crop spraying anywhere near homes, schools etc. should be banned should be immediately."

Sian Withers: "Spraying crops is insane and does damage to the human body. Chemicals cause many of the diseases of the western world including cancer. It's crazy to spray poison into our food chain. STOP!"

Chris Jakins: "We have farmers spraying near our home and school. The fumes cause headaches, dizziness and burn the throat. It not just the environment, there is a real human cost to intensive farming that we will be paying back for many years."

Barbara Robinson: "I have been directly affected for 40 years living 8 feet from the sprayed field."

Jackie Scoones: "I have had to move twice in the last 10 years because I was made ill by pesticide spraying. The public has no protection whatsoever from being poisoned this way and it needs to stop now, before further people lose their health or die."

Ben Waters: "My neighbour sprays so close we can sometimes feel the drops on our face and there is nothing we can do, my children are at risk from this!!!!"

Iain Lee: "I'm signing this petition because the toxicity of these sprays has now been proven beyond doubt. Peoples lives have and are being ruined due to the lack of proper testing and scrutiny, and also to the uncontrolled power of the corporations who manufacture and distribute the products."

Theresa May, it's time for you to stand up for us!

The Prime Minister needs to now hear the evidence of the residents issue directly herself to see the enormity of this appalling public health scandal that has destroyed countless human lives and which will affect many more if the necessary action to protect residents is still not taken.

The UK Government simply cannot continue to cover up this issue. Residents have clearly told Theresa May in the petition that enough is enough. This chemical warfare in the countryside has to stop for the protection of rural citizens both now and for future generations.

 


 

Georgina Downs is a multi-award winning journalist and campaigner. She has lived next to regularly sprayed crop fields for more than 31 years and runs the UK Pesticides Campaign.

This article was originally published on the UK Pesticides Campaign website.

Georgina's petition to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to ban all crop spraying of poisonous pesticides near residents homes, schools, and playgrounds is available for anyone to sign.

References

1. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/donald-trump-myron-ebell-theresa-may-climate-change-global-warming-environment-a7555371.html

2. Ibid. An article in the Financial Times also stated the same.

3. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/11/trump-epa-pesticides

4. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-monsanto-m-a-bayer-trump-idUSKBN14W17O

5. https://twitter.com/GeorginaDowns43/status/820037766276857856

6. Eg. Article 4 of EU Regulation 1107/2009 which can be seen at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32009R1107

7. https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/pusstats/surveys/documents/orchards2014.pdf

8. Ibid.

9. As informed by the Government's Pesticide Usage Survey Group

10. For example, a review published on 15th April 2013 in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology regarding the chronic health impacts of pesticides entitled "Pesticides and Human Chronic Diseases; Evidences, Mechanisms, and Perspectives" can be seen at:- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0041008X13000549

11. The petition can be seen at: https://www.change.org/p/the-prime-minister-rt-hon-theresa-may-mp-ban-all-crop-spraying-of-poisonous-pesticides-near-our-homes-schools-and-playgrounds

 

 

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