Page last updated at 08:41 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 09:41 UK

False fears threaten food supplies

Dominic Dyer (Image: UKCPA)
Dominic Dyer

European policymakers are losing sight of the realities of food production, says Dominic Dyer. In this week's Green Room, the chief executive of the UK Crop Protection Agency says advances in agriculture risk being hampered by heavy-handed regulation and misplaced concerns.

Fruit on a market stall (Image: Emma Murtagh)
How will Europe secure an affordable supply of fresh fruit and vegetables if our farmers' ability to fight pests, weeds and crop disease is eroded?

There's a lot being written at present about the relative benefits of different forms of agricultural production, but one key fact often gets missed.

If farmers' yields were still as low as those of the 1950s, we would need nearly three times as much cultivated land to feed today's global population.

Many people are unaware or uninterested by how the food we eat is grown. Often incorrect perceptions and false assumptions are presented as fact as a result of a lack of familiarity with the countryside.

The truth is that if we enjoy a steady, year-round supply of fresh produce at affordable prices, it's thanks to modern agriculture and well-trained professional farmers.

Developed societies have come a long way since oxen pulled the plough. By doing so, they have drastically improved the nutrition and health of their communities.

Modern agricultural achievements are the result of technological advances, new management techniques and new chemical treatments that have made it possible to feed 6.7 billion mouths.

But soon, even this will not be enough. Experts warn that historic challenges await us. Farmers face external and uncontrollable pressures, putting into question Europe's seemingly continuous supply of fresh food.

Feeding frenzy

Not only is global demand dramatically exceeding the growth in supply, but also we have limited time in which to increase the amount of fruit, vegetables and grains produced if we want to prevent a worldwide food crisis.

Vegetables (Getty Images)
More food will need to be produced in order to fill more mouths

Boosting productivity to meet this demand is easier said than done because the world faces huge challenges, with climate change, population growth and resulting resource shortages being perhaps the greatest.

Research presented at a recent meeting hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that agricultural production would still need to increase "by 70% (nearly 100% in developing countries) by 2050 to cope with a 40% increase in world population and to raise average food consumption to 3,130 calories per person per day by 2050".

Is there a way, other than science-based innovation, for humanity to meet these challenges?

As the world's largest agricultural producer, the onus is on the EU to make a substantial contribution.

EU agricultural policies should help to foster this much needed innovation and must be careful not to undermine current research efforts in this area. Our food supply depends on it.

The trick is to balance high yields with human and environmental safety and protection of biodiversity.

Balancing act

Despite perceptions to the contrary in some quarters, modern agriculture is very good at striking this balance.

In the face of climate change, how will farmers be able to control increasing pest damage?

Despite, for example, decades of well-funded research to find a "smoking gun" of a major public health impact from pesticides, nothing has been found.

Revised EU legislation to assess and authorise pesticides will soon be in place.

The regulation, which introduces a hazard-based assessment, moves away from a well-established scientific evaluation that has been used for decades in health, environment, epidemiology and even financial sectors.

Contrary to popular perception, it is not logical to use hazard rather than risk as the yardstick.

By looking at hazard alone we are forgetting the two key factors left in the equation: risk and exposure. If there is no exposure, no matter how high or how low the potential danger is, there is no risk.

The exceedingly restrictive new evaluation criteria for pesticides demonstrate a shift away from science towards policy based on myths about pesticides that haunt public opinion.

Moreover, what precedent will it set for other legislation? The safety of a substance is not based solely upon whether or not it is in itself harmful.

Crop spraying (Image: BBC)
Future food supplies need to become more productive, experts warn

Let's take an example that's close to home: cars.

Cars are big, heavy and travel fast. Taking a purely hazard-based approach would mean banning them because inherently they endanger pedestrians.

While the motivation underpinning the regulation might be commendable, hazard-based evaluation criteria will not make our food safer.

At high concentrations most substances - including sugar and salt - are capable of causing damage, but everything needs to be understood in the context of its usage and under realistic conditions.

Looking only at the hazardous potential of substances may reduce the farmers' armoury of plant disease-fighting tools below the critical point.

That is food for thought, especially considering what lies ahead.

Reality check

While pesticides are the focal point of current media debate and criticism, many important questions regarding our food security remain unanswered.

In the face of climate change, how will farmers be able to control increasing pest damage?

How will Europe secure an affordable supply of fresh fruit and vegetables if our farmers' ability to fight pests, weeds and crop disease is eroded?

It seems obvious that innovative agricultural practices are required to increase the amount of grains, fruit and vegetables that we produce. But in which direction is EU agriculture going?

Today's regulatory vision needs to be connected to the reality of food production, and science needs to be put back at the heart of policymaking.

Dominic Dyer is chief executive of the UK Crop Protection Association

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Dominic Dyer? Is the role of farmers often overlooked? Do we need technological advances to ensure that there is enough food in the future? Or can we continue to feed ourselves as long as we waste less?

Do you agree with Dominic Dyer? -- Yes Is the role of farmers often overlooked? -- More than mearely often (without whom we would not exist to complain about such ludacies as high veg prices) Do we need technological advances to ensure that there is enough food in the future? -- Although helpful the correct planning of resourses could be of greater benefit; a more fudal system should be in place (democracy fails due to corruption, communism corrupts to monarchy and monarch is a compleate gamble as to the leader of state) after feeding the poulation of the parish then you may sell to your neighbors.. then to the rest of the county.. then country then allies then to unions etc. failing this all land should be judged according to its most efficient crop and be allocated this crop annually, this way the community in which it serves will not fear famine and a more relaxed workforce is healthier and happier. Or can we continue to feed ourselves as long as we waste less? -- possible if we all give up sex for longer than lent! Kathy and others concerned with calorie intake: it is dependant on climate, personal metabolism and daily exercise, 3000 covers the higher end of the populous but thoes doing less physical work could easily fall to "2200" and thoes mearly clinging to life itself much less again. Unfortunately the morality of humans makes it much more difficult for natural population control and ultimately selection: as our healthcare advances we lack the ability to let the ultimately inevitable happen, we allow the weaker among us to live and spead their hardship to others rather than nipping off the dieing flowers, (bring in optional euthinasia to both sick and healthy alike). in reality if we want to maintain our way of life we need to iether find another planet to leech off or kill each other in war.. (unless some1 can find a more sustainable way of creating new continents. unfortunately the majority of measures i have listed are too extreme to come about gradually, action must be taken! if there are any scientists reading: i challenge you to ...w8 no i think ill have a go b4 you have a chance to patent my idea :)
Rob, Torpoint, Cornwall, UK

In response to those who seek to curb population growth for fear of poverty and starvation, let's look at the longer term story. From ancient times until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England in the 18th century, there was little change in living standards, both for the rich and the poor. Over the last 150 years or so, the world has been characterised by rapid growth in population and even more rapid rise in living standards. Many hundreds of millions of people have risen above poverty in the last 50 years in China, India and elsewhere. The people in the lowest quartile of incomes in 2000 had incomes around that of the second quartile in the much smaller population of 1900 - an unprecedented rate of development. So numbers and living standards have risen together, and for the vast majority of the expanded population, life is no longer "nasty, brutish and short." Living standards have been driven only in part by exploitation of natural resources, the main driver has been change, innovation and invention brought about by an inexhaustible source, human ingenuity. Economic growth depends on human capital, and the latest work in the growth theory field (Charles I Jones and Paul M Romer, "The New Kaldor Facts: ideas, institutions, population, and human capital," Version 2.0, 17/6/09) shows that the accelerating growth is accounted for by a "virtuous circle" between population and ideas. Human beings are the highest form of life on Earth, and probably the only species capable of significant spiritual development. Surely we should cherish our species rather than seek to limit it? As Dominic Dyer points out, feeding the growing population depends on understanding and use of science, not ignorance and fear.
Faustino, Brisbane, Australia

Might I suggest you read Waste:Uncovering The Global Food Scandal. There is already more than enough food grown to feed the world's malnourished but it is thrown away as waste by those of us in the more developed countries. We don't need to become more efficient at growing food just less selfish as human beings.
cas, Barnsley

Mr Dyer's thoughts on our "year-round supply of fresh produce at affordable prices" do not make explicit that much of the gain of modern agriculture is achieved by applying fossil energy to crop production. A recent BBC program (Future of Food) suggested that it takes 5 calories of oil to put one calorie of food on our plates. So our current mode of agricultural production, whilst being very good for the economy is, in the most obvious way, unsustainable. Oil and gas will one day be exhausted, the question is how much we choose to heat the planet before we question the wisdom of our current practices.
David Wooster, Plymouth

So the EU are implementing a policy of FUD. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. It saves on having to pay for all that research by just reading someone's rant.
Richard Crossley, UK

A lot of people are advocating population control, a laudible but unrealistic method of solving the approaching food crisis. How are you going to convince a family to restrict the number of children they have when they expect some of their offspring to die before reaching maturity, and those that do make it to adulthood are the means to survival of the parents into old age, as there is no welfare system to feed them, only the labour of their children and (if they survive long enough) grandchildren. Better health care reduces infant mortality, but there's a gap between the realisation that you don't need to have as many children, and an actual fall in the birthrate. Even legislation in China has only slowed the increase in population, not stopped it. Add to that, the problem of people living longer, and the pressure to produce more food is inexorable. We all have to accept responsibility for the amount of food we waste, and we have to accept that there will be some methods required that many people will consider unpleasant or against everything they stand for. If we're not to face war and famine as a normal method of population control, we will eventually have to accept GM and pesticides. What will be needed is proper research in the safest methods to prevent disasters. Another increasing problem is that of arable land being turned over to fuel production instead of food production. Brazil is one of the biggest producers and users of bio-fuel, and this is at cost to both arable farming, and rainforest destruction. I read that a lot of arable land in the US is now going over to fuel production, as there's more profit in it for the agriculture companies. What a state we're getting in!!! Land available to grow food is reaching a limit, some of that land is making Ethanol to burn in cars and trucks, the world's population is placing more demand on food and water supplies, and requires more energy, which requires more fuel (because renewable energy sources at present just don't get the job done). It almost makes me glad I probably won't live long enough to see the end result!!!!!!!
Robin, Slough, UK

Pesticides are not needed to grow healthy crops this is proven by successful techniques employed by organic farmers. Organic farming systems rely on prevention rather than cure. Techniques to avoid the use of sprays to kill insects include not growing the same or similar crops every year, the use of resistant plant varieties, and encouraging natural predators of insect pests (like wild birds, ladybirds and lacewings). Over 300 pesticides can be used on non-organic farms in the UK, many of which can be highly toxic to the environment. There is official acknowledgement of the potential long term health dangers of exposure to combinations of pesticides - the so called 'cocktail effect'. Pesticides have been proven to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, neurotoxic and reprotoxic. Some pesticides have been linked with a range of problems including cancer, decreasing male fertility, foetal abnormalities, chronic fatigue syndrome in children and Parkinson's disease. A recent report from Reading University shows that organic farming has "much to offer" and "is, perhaps, mainstream agriculture in waiting." It found that a switch to organic farming in the UK would mean energy intensive inputs to farming would fall, with fertilizer inputs cut by 95% and sprays by 98% and that as organic fruit and vegetable yields compare favourably with conventional agriculture, organic farming could, with some adjustment, supply similar volumes as at present, or even increase output if necessary. Dominic Dyer did not mention that much of the increase in world food production is needed because of an increase in meat consumption. The Soil Association advocates eating less but better quality meat and there is mounting evidence that a more sensible and environmentally responsible health message for UK consumers would be to eat less meat overall and when choosing meat to go for grass-fed beef and sheep, organic if possible, and organic chicken and pork.
Soil Association, UK

How to kill pests without killing yourself or the earth...... Americans rank their fear of pest infestations third - only after their fear of fire and natural disaster - on the list of threats to their homes that they worry about most. This is why the buSINess of pest control is so lucrative and effects so many of us. There are about 50 to 60 million insect species on earth - we have named only about 1 million and there are only about 1 thousand pest species - already over 50% of these thousand pests are already resistant to our volatile, dangerous, synthetic pesticide POISONS. We accidentally lose about 25,000 to 100,000 species of insects, plants and animals every year due to "man's footprint". But, after poisoning the entire world and contaminating every living thing for over 60 years with these dangerous and ineffective pesticide POISONS we have not even controlled much less eliminated even one pest species and every year we use/misuse more and more pesticide POISONS to try to "keep up"! Even with all of this expensive and unnecessary pollution - we lose more and more crops and lives to these thousand pests every year. We are losing the war against these thousand pests mainly because we insist on using only synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers There has been a severe "knowledge drought" - a worldwide decline in agricultural R&D, especially in production research and safe, more effective pest control since the advent of synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers. Today we are like lemmings running to the sea insisting that is the "right way". The greatest challenge facing humanity this century is the necessity for us to double our global food production with less land, less water, less nutrients, less science, frequent droughts, more and more contamination and ever-increasing pest damage. National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24,2007 was created to highlight the dangers of poisoning and how to prevent it. One study shows that about 70,000 children in the USA were involved in common household pesticide-related (acute) poisonings or exposures in 2004. At least two peer-reviewed studies have described associations between autism rates and pesticides (D'Amelio et al 2005; Roberts EM et al 2007 in EHP). It is estimated that 300,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year just in the United States - No one is checking chronic contamination. In order to try to help "stem the tide", I have just finished re-writing my IPM encyclopedia entitled: THE BEST CONTROL II, that contains over 2,800 safe and far more effective alternatives to pesticide POISONS. This latest copyrighted work is about 1,900 pages in length and is now being updated at my new website at
Stephen Tvedten, Marne, Michigan

This guy has the usual plea of agrochemical industry. While he argues that the "smoking gun" of pesticide has not been found, several proofs about the environmental and human toxicity of agrochemicals were found by independent investigators( and academic researchers (just have a look at the evidences of children malformations found in Punjab after the "green" revolution). What this guy says is unfair, and I am not afraid to say, as a scientist, that he lies in many aspects. The clue issue in feeding the world today is to first avoid wastes, as argued by famous scientists such as Prof. Rattan Lal. Consuming less meat, avoiding overconsumption and eating local production would make a lot of food available for feeding world population.
Hugues Lorent, Brussels

We need to get rid of supermarkets. They reject products that aren't the "perfect" size and shape. Loads of food is wasted. We basically really need to concentrate on not throwing away food and keeping farmers in business. So, shop local and independant.
Nickie, Sale, UK

Pleasure ground is valued much higher than agriculture, compare Glastonbury festival income figures to the average crop. Point being that people will spend money on pleasure, be that chemical or geographical, that they won't spend otherwise be it on employment or essentials. Farmers generally make too much money out of starving telecommunications addicts to go back to carrots and cabbages.
jimbolio, Westbury Wiltshire England

As so many others have picked up on already, there are clearly some vested interests at play here. To get the other side of the picture, I would recommend reading 'The Vitamin Murders' by James Fergusson - despite the name, it also investigates the use of pesticides in UK agriculture since the Second World War, describing how the need to produce enough food for the nation meant that testing pesticides for safety was (understandably) not a priority. Although some of those pesticides have now been removed from the market and safety tests have improved, the huge number of pesticides in use means that while a single pesticide may be 'safe', it is not possible to test what the 'cocktail effects' of being exposed to that plus any number of other pesticides might be. The author also undergoes tests to find out how much of different chemicals he has accumulated in his body. As for the implied claim that there is no public exposure to pesticides, this book investigates not only the pesticides that get into our food, but the effects of crop spraying and the distances that pesticides can travel. It may not be an entirely unbiased account, but more so than this article. In addition, in response to the claim that it isn't possible to produce enough food using less intensive methods to feed a growing world population, there are a number of studies which show the opposite - for example, in an article in 'The Land' last winter Simon Fairlie calculated that if Britain were to grow all of its own food organically, we would still have more than two million hectares of agricultural land to spare (though we might have to eat a little less meat). Also, data from the Waste and Resources Action Programme show that we throw away a third of the food we buy, and more than half of that could have been eaten (e.g. if it hadn't been left to go mouldy or out of date - as opposed to the rest which is things like teabags and orange peel). Making better use of our food would mean that less land is used to grow food that just ends up in the bin.
Ellie, London

I have a question : maybe somone out there can help me. I've always been told that the recommended calorie intake per day is about 2200 calories per day and that more than that is bad for health. In this article there is talk of the necessity of raising calorie intake per head to more than 3000 calories a day - a level I thought was dangerous.What's going on? Also, given that the FAO estimates that 50% of food produced worldwide is thrown away (see and associated papers) would reducing food wastage not be a more effective way of dealing with this problem than increasing food productivity? From what I've read of the FAOs reports, that certainly seems to be their point of view.
Katy, Grenoble, France

Modern agriculture depends strongly on energy, and will continue to do so. We've used finite ancient stores of energy to grow global population massively, and using up the remainder and then running out of those stores will burn the environment through either severe climate change or by the use of fearsome weapons as we fight each other for inadequate resources. We have to do two things right now: we must collaborate globally to conserve existing resources and control our number; we must also develop 'free', clean energy sources to support the current population without further impact on the climate. Doing nothing would be like jumping out of a plane and stitching your parachute together on the way down.
Richard Casselle, Hoddesdon, Herts., England

Well done for raising the question. A little publicised disaster in pig farming is underway - created by EU rules on GM. The 'environment' movement are creating a climate of fear on issues such as GM and it is costing dear in Europe. Unfortunately our media choose not to tell us that meanwhile the rest of the world is quietly moving to GM with enormous gains and non of claimed disasters.
John, England

In the past, students were employed to go through the fields and pull up the resistant weeds. This allowed pocket money for the student and a relatively weed free crop. I was shocked by the price of training in the use of pesticides, about £500 or so. Agriculture has become VERY professional and now excludes those without this expensive training. However, I do believe the training protects the population from accidental misuse of potentially harmful chemicals. There are masses of unemployed people searching for work and a constant supply of students looking for work during the summer breaks. Could we develop a Thomas Moore type utopia where young people work on the land as part of their education? I understand there are potential hazards from the crop pesticide residue but who suggests using so much of the stuff in the first place?

Reading many of the comments inresponse to this article, I am struck by the lack of comprehension of the problem. We need to produce more food in the next 50 years than we have in the whole of human existence - with climate change, we may see some of our best farmland under water; and according to EU research the current water deficient agriculture in EUROPE will increase from 20% to 40$ in the next 50 years. There are some stark choices to be made - we have to produce a heck of a lot more food in a way that doesn't mean digging up more land! Dominic's attempts to look at this "inconvenient truth" are both timely and insightful
Julian, Cambridge, UK

Dominic Dyer has mentioned that we require three times more production of the present yield of the land. He has kept the growth of population and living standards of the human beings in the fixed basket and the supply of food to the growing populations in the other basket of the incessant adjustments. Still, we are trying to draw a straight line from the circle of the natural cycle. Our perceptions are justified because we always view in the span of 5 years or 10 years forgetting that the long term perspective of the climate change is coming closer and closer towards the short term perspective. The ratio of period of alarming climate change to the life of one person was very large in the earlier centuries. Now it's rapidly reducing. We need strict check and reduction in the human population figure. We are forgetting that there are different categories in the 6.7 billion figures. In countries like India, there is a large population which is below poverty line and waiting for their turn for the proper basic requirements. Tomorrow they will be developed and soon they will require proper calories, proper water for sanitation and other things which produce carbon dioxide. If we restrict population at 7 billion figures we would still observe the growth in the demand because of living standard improvements of the population converting to 'developed' status from 'deprived' status. We have adopted supine attitude at the first step itself, that to check and reduce the human numbers the second step is yet to be faced properly because huge numbers are waiting for their turn to increase the burden on the planet. I would say it's a hidden population. Now, think of the biodiversity. At present we are least worried because we are under a wrong impression that reduction in numbers of other creatures of the planet are not going to affect us that much. But soon this illusion would be vanished if we keep on moving like this. Why not we use naturally designed pesticides which fit in the natural cycle.Israel has recently promoted growth of owls for this purpose. Some herbs restrict growth of pests in their surroundings. These are small steps but contain very important and big lessons. We really need to check the growing vehicle population and to promote pedestrians and bicycles because words like 'Important' and 'Urgent' are to shifted and kept at proper place.
Sanjay Singh Thakur, Indore,India

Good stuff. Bit of logic and reason. Reading the responses it seems impossible for the organic/green brigade to not mention Dyers links to the pesticide industry. As if to brand the man is to completely destroy his arguements. Irrational fear of CHEMICALS is just that. A balanced approach to cost and benefit is required. There is no getting away from the fact that the history of modern man as been to shape nature to our needs. With science at our backs we only continue to move from crude, indiscriminate poisons to targeted, 'cleaner' solutions. It's the anti-human green arguements that we should be most worried about. Not in the pay of the pesticide industry ;)
Pete, Melbourne

For all the advocates of genetic modification - perhaps you should look a little deeper into the subject. I have read articles in which named scientist found that the pesticides inserted into the plants, along with their promoters, can jump to human gut bacteria, potentially turning ones body into a pesticide factory. Land subjected to the 'special' herbicides is rendered unsuitable for healthy organic food. Many triggered allergies are linked to these organisms. The world eco-system can be contaminated. The root systems have been found inferior. The yields wanting. Poor people forced off their land as the poisonous herbicides kills the ducks, chickens and garden; not to mention making the families seriously ill. I believe genetically modified organisms should be banned world wide. Food registered as a pesticide? Not for me thankyou. Where will the advocates of this practice get their healthy food when the whole world is contaminated?
Fern, Alberta, Canada

I find it interesting that the caloric intake the author cites is over 3000 calories/day. I had no idea that the rest of the world aspires to become as obese as us Americans! Fascinating. This issue is incredibly more complex than Mr. Dyer outlines in this article, and he fails to point out the incredible overproduction in the US... and how we're forced to produce High Fructose Corn Syrup from our crops to make it worth anything. The concern is distribution, and how to feed an overpopulated world when there is plenty of food that goes to waste every day. We're over-spraying, over-producing, depleting our soils (making it necessary to spray even more) and then letting the production go to waste, or turning it into commodities that the rest of the world does not benefit from. Our waists are getting larger here, while the rest of the world suffers.
Christine Weiss, Seattle, WA USA

Unfortunately as a country we have fallen into the EU trap, it was initially tempting/ blackmail: join us or pay import taxes disproportionate to the inconvinence of paying for the product. Now we are in a reliant loop: if we ignore the EU and go ahead with farming as normal they will impose trade embargoes, due to lack of currently active farmland the UK will starve... untill the land is back to full efficincy(which it should be now). Imposing foregn law into your own community without consultation of the populus surely destroys trust toward our government and its decision making abilities... what is it that we are paying them for?.. to represent our views and oppinions on a public floor and come to a balanced solution and if all else fails put the subject to vote. This clearly has not and will not happen as the polititions know best and will do anything to hold down what they call a job so avoid giving their questions back to us. (or simpling ignoring the public and joining the EU anyway) As for the subject of crops, i don't expect it will be to long before the taxpayer will be forking out for adverts on how to plant your own veg in a feeble campaing to relieve the pressure of food. Sorry 2 rant .. GM, chemicals,farmers & scientists 4 the win!! EU, nonsense tax, rediculous law & government vs Chuck Norris (roudhouse 2 the face)
Rob, Torpoint, Cornwall, UK

So to those who want to control population growth through starvation - I have no problem with that as long as you go first. Otherwise it is just a roundabout way of saying let the third world eat cake - also known as genocide.
Dan, Canberra, Australia

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) believes that animal agriculture needs to be an integral part of the debate on feeding the growing world population - the industrial animal agriculture systems in which a large proportion of animals are raised for meat, milk and eggs worldwide also raise issues of resource use efficiency, food safety, food security, environmental pollution and climate change. Industrial animal agriculture - is inefficient in feeding people as the large share of the cereal harvest which it uses to feed the animals could be better used to feed humans, and as its products are distributed inequitably - endangers food safety, as consumption of its products may be linked to increased risks of obesity, cancers and heart disease - devastates the livelihoods of local farmers and undermines the stability of rural communities - is a source of water, air and soil pollution due to the vast quantities of manure which it generates and the large amounts of fertilisers and pesticides required to produce feed for the animals kept in intensive systems - makes a major contribution to the climate change that is threatening our future on earth, as WSPA argues in its report "Eating our Future - The environmental impact of industrial animal agriculture" ( agriculture is also extremely relevant to the debate on affordable food. WSPA argues that cheap food can be somewhat of a myth: food produced in industrial farming systems only appears cheap - its hidden costs include the burden of diet-related diseases, environmental pollution and taxpayer subsidies. The animal products that consumers buy should therefore be sourced from humane and environmentally and socially responsible systems. A Special Eurobarometer encouragingly shows 65% in the UK would pay more for humane animal products.
Helene O'Donnell, London

The EU fanaticism will reduce our crop output by 30%. The market will be self regulating. A lot of us will simply not be able to afford a normal diet after the EU's new pesticide regulation are enforced.Of course we will be the only EU country implementing them, the rest of Europe will ignore them as usual. We will the have to buy our fruit and veg from countries which can still produce cheaply using the same pesticides which will be banned here. So what will the EU have achieved? Reducing the food supply, forcing prices higher. Putting UK farmers out of business. But it's not about us is it? It's about using our money to keep overpaid Eurocrats safe in their meddling ivory towers, all awaiting the royal arrival of president Blair to rule over all of us again, with no vote of course. About time we realised how badly Blair/Brown sold us down the river, without even a vote! If Cameron really wants to save the country he must take us out of the EU.
franed, Notts Notts UK

Look at what happened in India last year. Before, the law prohibited selling salt without iodine, an absolutely necessary nutritional supplement. But one member of the congress pointed out that Ghandi, in his march to the sea, made salt without any iodine in it, and that India should follow his example. A lack of iodine leads to blindness, developmental problems, and mental illness. If your British and our American farming businesses (because even the "family farm" is a full-time business) fall into similar stupidities due to the uninformed fears of organic freaks like the Duke of Wales, we will all pay the price, and sooner rather than later.
Paddy Atherton, Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, U.S.A.

I find it astonishing that the great majority of correspondents have clearly failed to follow the logic of Dominic Dyers article. He is not issuing a plea for the use of pesticides, he is arguing for a sensible means of assessing their value. Too many people have such entrenched, even dogmatic, views on the subject that they are no longer capable of dispassionately considering evidence. Such a situation is not conducive to achieving a resolution to this difficult and complex issue.
Dr Ian Sedwell, Weymouth, UK

I'm a blue collar worker in the food industy. Most of the food that the farmers produce are thrown away. In my estimate more then two thirds of it before it even reach the shops. I don't know exactly how much shops throw away, but a very moderate estimate based on how much we deliver is that more then half of what they receive is thrown away. And we all know how much that is thrown away in home kitchens. Why is it thrown away. Most of it because people don't want to eat it, mostly because of prejudice or simply because they don't know how to cook it or even that it's edible. There isn't any demand for chicken feet and the demand for chicken liver is low, throw away. Chicken stomach, you're kidding, throw away. Tough meat take to much time to cook, throw away. Nobody eats the green on the cauliflower, throw away. Nobody eats the stock of broccoli, throw away. Throw away, throw away.... Then there is overstocking. How much do you buy that you end up throwing away? It's even worse at the producers and sellers. Everybody wants to be able to deliver on the whim of the customer. Thats why every food industry has gigantic warehouses. Most of it will be thrown away in lack of buyers. They can't risk not being able to deliver, because than their customers will start to look somewhere else to buy. No milk in the shop is a PR catastrophy. The restaurant "can't" risk to have to close early beacause there is no food. Add to that, the shop owners know that they can sell more and can demand much higher prices if they build mountains of food for their customers to look at (you don't grab the last single tomato or cucumber on the shelf, chance is you won't even find it). But most of this food is just for show, never needed by the customers and thrown away. We seriously don't need higher yields as almost all of the food produced by farmers today is thrown away. What we need is shops and factories that are allowed to not overstock, people who know how to prepare more than a few food items and shops where shelves are allowed to be almost emptied before they are refilled.
Martin, Sweden

we have a number of opportunities before us one is that we can mutate; whether by design or accidentally will remain to be seen it can be argued that our food supply is presently causing what might be called 'pre-mutation' in some, inducing diabetes, skin or stomach/digestive disorders, to say nothing of the changes induced by level of nutrition per weight/volume of stuff consumed I'm not sure what you are arguing dear author, quite frankly, but we in america tend to take one extreme side or the other and fight it out from there - still so close to the six-gun and the quick-draw we are - will time remove us from this as it has you from the crossbow? when one looks at the dearth of variety in a common supermarket of the first world and then takes an amble through a common market in any other old country of the old world - there are things there we can't identify and have to learn how to cook or eat - yes, broccoli is nutritious and doesn't produce too much gas in most of us, and yet a variety of five is not a variety of fifty - any idea of "production production production" as the answer in itself is only a Titanic and /or 9/11 mind-set, self-fulfilling prophecy sort of thing - the worst goes wrong because it is what has been aimed at, even if unintentionally, since inception while we likely should have/need for the present factory farms, almost everyone should also have a small plot to grow something and this should be as much a part of everyone's life as having a daily ritual of toilet and bathing, acquiring food and preparing food, factory farms, especially in ravenously capitalistic exploitative sort of milieu we are, seems likely to lead us only to be offered what is easier to grow rather than any other product at all - growing our nutrition should be a much more personal endeavour than for example the production of our transportation, those metal and plastic cans we pretend are not functionally precisely like a guided missile, still on wheels, but every bit as accurate if aimed, every bit as deadly if suddenly unaimed yet still in motion - this, the above unaimed but perfected and in fact boosted to speed, missile en route sans destinacion specifique, is the world the loud mouth sub-genius leaves us when his/her big ideas blow up - to differentiate between what is practically thought out and the almost thought out, this is a talent worth learning - first things? - learn to identify the just-barely thought out, and get to know its worth and cost, especially its cost - to prove on a small scale rather than say "it would work if absolutely everybody did it from morning to night until they die, but otherwise this brilliant idea i am bringing to you will not work, and you are doomed, and in fact your inaction dooms me" etc many beneficial things working on a small scale always work eventually better than one massive thing whether it chugs or races everything is everything, and the multi-purpose item diminishes the variety of life : one use suits all ???? one might not like to think deeply enough to try to see the conjunction of these many points, quickly sketched out, but go ahead, try - think of it as mental fiber : a riddle of sorts, if you like
Iolo Indeseo, Portland OR USA

The UK Crop Protection Association is the trade body charged with trying to convince us that pesticides are 'good', and that we have no future without them. When are we going to see through the misnomer embodied in the phrase 'crop protection'? Plants only need 'protecting' when they're grown in biodiversity-dead monocultures which encourage completely out of balance ecological conditions that are ideal for proliferation of plant 'pests' - and rich pickings for suppliers of pesticides. To suggest that pesticides are the key to securing the future of food is as flawed and disreputable now as it has always been.
John Walker, Dolwyddelan, Wales

My experience with the Brussels and national bureaucracies in regard to plant protection sytems unfortunately makes me conclude that at the decision-level there is a regrettable lack of insight into the framework of practical agriculture. So the well-meant decisions very often lead to grave problems in practical terms. Case in point: the politically motivated new weight of the theoretical "hazard" as opposed to the real "risk" connected with application of pesticides and consequently the loss of several pesticides as compatible solutions for important "indications". Besides: it's not either green ecology or agricultural economy. What's needed are balanced compromises, which in turn require a minimum insight into the matter. So let's exchange input. For these purposes it doubtless is necessary to fall back to proven scientific principles and avoid the more or less unproven political stance and a forced dominance of only one standpoint irrepective of its practical merits.
Gerhard Lauenstein, Oldenburg, Germany

I find it ironic that there is this touting of the benefits of science in agriculture on the same day that there is also a story about the organic revolution in agriculture in Cuba that resulted from the loss of petrochemicals (they plough with oxen too). The writer of this article above also quotes some misleading numbers in terms of the caloric intake required for human well being. Quality, not quantity should really be the issue for all of us. In terms of the assertion that there has been no proof of public health impacts from pesticides it is pertinent to remember that the pharmaceutical industry - brother to agribusiness - has had a large number of horrific failures and continues to try to claim that its studies provide proof of its safety. This is the problem that surrounds the debate over GM crops - once we let that genie out of the bag (and some already argue that we have) then we face the ongoing problem of contamination of heritage varieties (which has resulted in companies like Monsanto suing farmers in N America for having hybridized rape seed in their fields even though they have never planted Monsanto's patented gm version). I would argue that it is modern agricultural methods that have destroyed the ability of the Sudan to feed itself and that moving into large scale mono cropping is highly destructive to the fertility and productivity of land and also serves to produce the very infestations of pests that the chemicals are deployed against. Unfortunately when one kills a pest with chemicals one also kills its natural predators as well. Not smart behaviour.
martin, London

There definately must be room in the policy options for "responsible agriculture" where we continue with regulating old and new pesticides to ensure that they are safe for both consumers and the environment. Whilst bold ideas to protect the environment are necessary to protect us all we must not forget the damage that food scarcity can inflict on our wolrd. A reasonable balance is required.
George, Accra, Ghana

Rob, he's not "[their] reporter". interesting polemic from the mouthpiece for the pesticide mfgrs' trade association: whilst the points about increasing need for food production are accurate and supported by lots of stats, he doesn't provide much in the line of evidence to support his argument that slathering the land with toxins is the only way to achieve this....sort of a non sequitur. he also doesn't mention the massive effects on our watersheds and the oceans caused by the liberal and indiscriminate application of agrochemicals, including his clients' products. look at the regular "dead zones" found at mouth of Missisippi River in Gulf of Mexico and other areas, largely due to ag runoff. he doesn't mention the dust bowls created by chemical agriculture practices as opposed to maintaining proper soil tilth and cover cropping, nor does he note how the developing world (about whom he and his clients are obviously so concerned), is going to afford to buy their products. a very one-sided essay from an industry apologist, indeed, a near-"infomercial".
payaso delmar, el paso, TX EUA

A refreshing and exellent appraisal by Dominic Dyer. May I add with regard to pesticides that if we used the hazard based approach sadly adopted by the EU for synthetic pesticides, we would have to ban a large number, if not all, our fruit and vegetables. Why? Simply because they contain a wide array of natural pesticides. Over 50% of the natural pesticides that have been subjected to rodent toxicology tests have been found to contain carcinogens. If we eat our five fruit and veg. each day we will consume at least 1,500mg of natural pesticides compared with 0.1mg of synthetic pesticide. Some workers say the difference is even greater than 15,000 to 1. The curious thing is that organic fruit and veg. are likely to contain even more natural pesticides because any attack by fungus or insect will have triggered the plant's defence mechanism to produce more natural pesticides. So much for organic crops containing less pesticide than a traditionally grown crop that has been sprayed and whose defence mechanism was not stimulated because it had been protected. Let us hope that a way can be found for the UK and other European countries to avoid the restrictive EU regulations regarding synthetic pesticides. These regulations are neither based on sound science nor are they logical. They will limit food production.
Victor, Tring, England

Surely the use of perennial plant crops is the way forward, they require less in the way of pesticides, help provide a more stable eco system, and use less energy as there does not need to be annual planting of crops every year.
Ruth, Chatham, UK

How can you prejudge a policy before it has even come into affect? Governments never make policies purely for the sake of it, they do so to improve the current situation. Obviously, the old system was found to be lacking so they have brought in a new one that they have gone through extensively and think will improve matters. We all agree that Science should lead but the public also need to have their fears put at rest.
Thomas Long, Maidstone, Kent

Not all pesticides leave residues. Organic farmers use pesticides. The only other way of stopping pests is to introduce an insect (to kill another insect) but this is dangerous practice - beause most insects like more than one food. GM has been around for eons - it's called "Darwin's Natural Selection". However, even with laboratory assistance, GM reacts slowly to new predators/diseases/weather patterns. I wonder if such year-on-year solutions really will impact yields under our changing climate conditions. Anyway, my main point is that food wastage is not mentioned in this article - and a reduction in wastage would surely decrease a nation's need for food. For instance, most supermarkets send slightly dinted/bruised/soiled veg back to the farmer without paying anything for it! Supermarkets should negotiate a cheaper price for such food and advertise it - so that hard hit consumers buy it. Consumers will not spend top dollar for "damaged" goods - but top dollar goods are all that supermarkets advertise! Also, the government could do more to separate out waste food in recycling bins - as they do in some parts of Germany. This would compensate the animal feed industry for lack of supply of dinted food.
David, Worcester

"The truth is that if we enjoy a steady, year-round supply of fresh produce at affordable prices, it's thanks to modern agriculture and well-trained professional farmers." Not to mention globalisation and free trade. There would be no incentive to innovate or to apply successful innovations without free markets and without the opportunities for tapping new markets to improve farmers' profits. And that's as good for the developing nations as for us. Why should food production increase if we keep voting to shackle agriculture with subsidies and overweening regulation?
Philip Walker, York, UK

And how is Mr. Dyer going to produce his pesticides and herbicides in a couple of hundred years' time when all the necessary oil and coal supplies have been exhausted?
Crowcatcher, Shropshire

While I agree with the spirit of this article and support the advancement of integrated pest management and biotechnology in the field of agriculture I would appreciate that this quote from the article be reviewed as innapropriate: "Despite, for example, decades of well-funded research to find a "smoking gun" of a major public health impact from pesticides, nothing has been found." While I do not at present have the time to cite references from primary literature I assure you, any reader, that pesticides has plenty of smoking guns when it comes to their impact on global health, two major topics include persistent organic compounds/chlorides that are in our oceans collecting in dangerous levels around our arctic ocean; DDT and other known dangerous pesticides used in poor countries because advanced and expensive ones cannot be acquired (through lack of shipping or finances). I could dig out others and provide references to anyone with genuine interest. Again, I agree with the message but take offence and recommend caution when we think that pesticides are a "magic cure".
Jonathan Dench, Ottawa, Canada

The answers are in science.......Fiction - Soylent Green, Logan's Run. Stop gouging the planet for more and more unsustainable resources, cut down the number of people. We are not viruses.
Jon, London

It is interesting just how much policitical pressure and media hype the pesticide and genetic engineering companies will use to sell their products. All the current media frenzy regarding food safety sems to me to all point to the fear that if we dont make the way we currently farm more 'efficient' by using pesticides and GM crops we will starve. considering we farm in a fundamentally inefficient way to maximise profit over output I see this point as laughable. Look at beef and dairy, hundreds of thousands of perfectly good male calves are slaughtered and disposed of monthly because they are a dairy breed and dont give perfect meat so do not make a profit… cows are fattened up on corn and meal that needs arable land to grow because it gives more meat per anamal and thus more profit... Bio fuels, that can be made from almost any type of plant matter, take up arable land because the hightest profit can be made from arable crops... Dead fish is dumped back into the sea because they are not the most profitable species.. seeing a pattern energe yet? there is a masive amount of land which is not perfect for the types of crops we grow today.. why are thes genetic engineers not coming out with varients of crops that can thrive in these conditions. Simple because the people that own this land cannot afford to pay for the seed...
steve, bath

It's obvious that population control needs to be looked at seriously because it is going to increase exponentially and not all mouths will be fed. The UK is backwards in commending parents, it won't be commendable when the poor cannot eat - and that is the UK alone. A global handout of birth control is required to sustain humanity ethically.
Abi, Birmingham

This is interesting, but obviously it is a partisan viewpoint as this is the body promoting pesticides. We should have this side by side with, for instance, the view of the Soil Association. I think the studies on this are ambivalent rather than clear-cut. Sol exhaustion and side pollution though are not in dispute, as well as the energy/carbon needed for intensive agriculture.
Arnaud, Leiden, Netherlands

in this country alone we waste up to a third of all the food we buy. this is the responsibility of consumers and the supermarkets. in a nation of growing obesity it's time we addressed our 'emotional' relationship with food. we need to examine how much (of the right foods) we actually need to live healthily, in the face of growing demand for food globally.
chit hart, London England

Hi Horace, sugar is indeed not persistent in the environment (as most modern pesticides) but salt is. It may be diluted (as pesticedes are) but it won't degrade. As the average citizen can't easily perceive the risk, there are procedures in place that ensure that this is done by the public. The question is how, and I agree with Dominic that a hazard assessment would be a move away from scienced-based evaluations to decisions based on fear and on politics. The evaluation should put any hazard into context - that's what risk assessment is about.
Heino, Harrogate, UK

As an American, I can attest firsthand to the damage industrialized food production has on health, economy, and culture. Only a handful of large corporations control most of the food production here, in forms of monoculture and controlled animal feeding operations. These practices are largely responsible for flooding the American market with fast and convenience foods. Individual farmers find it difficult to get ahead; often they borrow many times what they are able to earn with their crops. Companies like Monsanto even legally attack the farmers who unknowingly grow the GM seed that cross-pollinates with their crops by accident. American families rarely eat together, instead opting for a "meal replacement" (the industry's own term)eaten on the go. It is my understanding that Europeans cherish their culture of food, from local cuisines to the sense of community sharing meals fosters. Not to mention the so-called French paradox of good health while eating supposedly unhealthy foods. So I don't understand why EU citizens could support this viewpoint of deregulation for more GM foods and pesticides. Is it in the name of global hunger? Surely it makes more sense to allow a village the tools to farm for themselves rather than shipping in corn or soy and devastating their local economy. Mr. Dyer represents the UK Crop Protection Association which appears to be nothing more than a lobby for large chemical companies like Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, and an entity frighteningly called Chemtura. Of course their interests lie in selling more chemicals. Perhaps one should take Mr. Dyer's statements with a grain of salt. Or rather, by his own equivalence, a pinch of pesticide.
Sarah, Cincinnati, OH, USA

To have high-yield agriculture, dealing with infections and pests is absolutely crucial. There are basically two options - either pesticides, or genetic modification of the plants towards resistance. I personally lean towards GM, but banning *both* GM and most pesticides is not exactly sound planning.
T M, Bremen, Germany

All animals are reliant on the food chain, if there is not enough food some of them die. Unfortunatly the earth can only provide enough food, water etc for a certain number of people and animals. Maybe its time people statred thinking more about having large numbers of children, this would stop a lot of the problems we are currently facing.
Dave, Leicester, UK

By all means keep science at the heart of policymaking, but make it REAL disinterested science, not the kind of so-called "science" that carefully chooses its evidence to support the point of view of a particular interested party. Who are the UK Crop Protection Association? Do they perchance represent the pesticide industry?
Dan, Brighton

I feel that it is not more food we need but a restraint on our population growth. I understand that any government wants more tax payers in the world, but how sustainable is it? And will any of these future generations feel the need to work?- Sorry, thats another topic… This poor planet cannot keep producing everything forever, when will anyone ask the big questions? When will we kerb OUR population? Instead of driving every other living thing to the brink… When will chemicals be at such a high level in our soil and water that we terminate any future growth? When is anyone going to take responsability for the devistation we are still causing? Where is all this needed land to cultivate more food coming from? We and we alone are destroying our only planet.
Kat, Kent, England

An excellent article, there are many myths surrounding modern farming, pesticides etc and these need to be cleared away. One thing not mentioned was genetic modified crops, these will be also immensely important in the future.
pete mimms, mannheim Germany

This vision will see even more demand on agricultural land. The price of land must surely rise?
Mark, Buckingham, UK

It is not surprising that Dominic Dyer is critical of the new approach to pesticide regulation. A quick check at the Crop Protection Association's website confirms what I suspected - the members are agrochemical companies. This week's Green Room article is little more than a statement of vested interest to protect the business of these companies.
Tony, Macclesfield, UK

To: Mr. Dominic Dyer How much did the pesticide/chemical companies pay you to advocate their cause?
Irshad Tirmizi, USA

Reducing meat consumption would help.
Dave, Fareham, England

As a farmer I'm 100% with the article. Did someone (Confuscius possibly) say- "A person with a full stomach may have Many Problems but a person with an empty stomach has only One Problem"
Pete Da Peasant, Cumbria

The link between intensive farming and environmental damage is not always immediately apparent. There are 2 recent examples; (1) The overgrowth of toxic algae on the beaches of Brittanny and Cornwall - an ecological imbalance which is said to be caused by effluent runoff from poultry and pig farms. This is harming the local fishing industries, not to mention any other effects on wildlife and the local economy. (2) The deaths of 20% of Britain's bee population last year, which some people attribute to damage to their immune systems from crop pesticides. If we lose the bees then there IS no more agriculture. As the old adage has it, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." We all need to eat, but the developed world has been enjoying cheap food for decades. When the environmental "bill" is presented we won't be able to get out of it by offering to do the washing up! I am not advocating a return to horse-drawn ploughs and hand-milking, but the land is not a sponge for chemical fertiliser and animals are not mere meat factories. If we continue to treat them both this way we will pay dearly in the end.
Lorna, Vesoul, France

The over-riding problem that faces us all, and will lead the entire planet into disaster if it is not solved, is that of continued, unsustainable population growth. This can be solved now, by government intervention, or will happen by itself in the future, by famine, war and disease. We need an end to any religious dogma that seeks to control contraception, and an end to the economic doctrine that 'growth is good'. Sustainability must become the new watchword. Any foreign aid must only be offered in exchange for the implementation of population-limiting measures. China, one of the longest-standing civilisations on the planet, has had the wisdom to take decisive action by limiting families to one child. All other administrations on the planet need to do the same - and soon.
John E, Southampton

As an apparent advocate of modern technology, it is suprising to me that Dominic Dyer seems hellbent on clinging on to existing but damaging chemicals. I am surprised he is not promoting intensified research into alternative chemicals and farming techniques, which would not only benefit the health of the farmer workers and consumers but also improve the public opinion of the sector he represents.
Emma, London, UK

Unless we control the expansion of the world's population it is obvious we will need more food. To make it more difficult to grow food is ridiculous. We need to get the green hand-wringers to be realistic about this - otherwise even more people will starve. Mind you, this would control the population - but is that a good way of doing it?
Dave, Falkirk

We are all stewards to our lands and those who use it to provide food should be looked after and helped to increase production by all safe means possible. Our whole approach to food needs to change as with so many other areas of life the biggest of which is more people = more resources need kind simple if we take time to look at it.
Chris, Durham UK

Well done! Many good ideas have been put in the article. I agree that science needs to be put back at the heart of policymaking.
kuralay, Astana Kazakhstan

GM - bring it on - ASAP
Horace Knight, Thirsk UK

I find it striking that your reporter makes the comparison of pesticides to sugar and table salt. Neither are persistent in the environment, and the amounts necessary for ill are readily perceivable by the human eye arming the average citizen with the ability to self regulate their intake. Where as pesticides are harmful at every stage of their industrial life cycle and have the ability to build up in soils and ground water. We must find a more sensical way.
Rob, Johnson Creek, Wisconsin USA

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific