It’s the Environment, Stupid!

Wildlife - Butterfly and Flowers

Wildlife – Butterfly and Flowers

The main focus of much industry and media commentary (which is often influenced by industry money) is on the apparent minimal direct impact on human health from the use of pesticides and from the likely low probability of causing a human health issue, especially cancer. The main weight of evidence does indicate that the contribution to such human health issues is small (in most cases) and within what most people would accept as reasonable risk: Some would disagree, and we shouldn’t forget that this is a value – judgement decision based on whatever scientific evidence is presented.

Agriculturalists frequently bang on about the need to use pesticides to ensure adequate food production, but it’s not production but distribution and consumption which are the problem. However, that’s not the angle of this article.

A bigger issue by far is the detrimental impact the industrial use of pesticides have had on insects and the wildlife that we find in the environment. The turf industry focus tries to steer away from this much bigger problem, or rather catastrophe, they have played on the environment.

Turf industry representatives typically regurgitate the words of the chemical industry: They have little ability to think for themselves (harsh I know, but they have quietly and compliantly contributed to this catastrophe).

A few examples that we have often heard commentary along the lines of are:

  • “Without pesticides then amenity or playing surfaces will be poor”? or
  • “You can’t manage good quality sports surfaces without pesticides? or
  • “Without Glyphosate in controlling weeds then the local council tax bill will have to increase significantly?”.

Many workers do very well at creating excellent playing by using good working practices, and by good I mean by having an insightful understanding of how best to get the most from grass plants to produce a hard wearing sward, without destroying the soil ecosystem and negatively impacting on the wider environment.

The Glyphosate (and other pesticide) issue/s is scaremongering by industry bodies who should know better (but money talks and they receive funds in various forms by chemical manufacturers and suppliers). What the bodies typically say is that without being able to use Glyphosate to control weeds then council tax bills will increase by a significant amount: this is being disingenuous.

They also focus on the angle of Glyphosate not being a significant contributor to cancer, which I am still inclined to go along with for the time being, yet ignore the wildlife / environmental perspective.

However, recent media stories about some pesticide manufacturers allegedly covering up and not releasing some contradictory research does need investigating further. Glyphosate is “Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects” (source ‘MONSANTO Europe S.A./N.V. Safety Data Sheet Commercial Product’, accessed 28th April 2019) and it is this environmental impact, along with other similar statements in many other pesticides which is the real problem and not that of the direct impact on human health (in my judgement). Industry bodies just ignore these statements and the impact pesticides have on the environment.

The percentage of a council tax which is spent on services which might use pesticides such as street cleansing or parks maintenance is extremely small compared with education or social service costs; and not all of this is on the use of pesticides. Without pesticide use then maintenance costs would realistically increase, but not to the inferred extent some in the industry spout on about. I, and many, would be quite happy to pay extra to which would actually be a small amount extra to have  pesticide free areas. I already pay extra (my choice) for the provision of green energy from my supplier.

Here’s a picture showing the actual values that have been apportioned to different services within Nottingham City Council. Those services which might use pesticides – parks and street cleansing – are not exactly awash with apportioned costs.

Council Tax: apportionment split per service

Council Tax: apportionment split per service

Chemical use on turf comes in many forms: A new gimmick (well, that’s my take anyway) which has recently come onto the market to presumably meet the vanity of some of us humans is a product called Ryder. It is a concentrated green pigment used for applying to turfgrass surfaces; it also contains a chemical (1,2-benzisothiazol-3(2H)-one) which is classed as being ‘Very toxic to aquatic life’. My initial reaction was that this was an April fool, but alas no. Does the industry really need such products; clearly some people think so, but how does this really sit with the concept of sustainability, especially the impact we have on the wider environment? Certainly there’s room here for more open industry discussion of what is meant by sustainability within the context of turf management.

We really need to look at managing our outdoor spaces effectively without an abundance of pesticides, ideally without any at all. However, with the money that circulates into the coffers of many industry bodies there is just too much of a conflict of interest for them in supporting environmental issues in contrast to actively supporting the chemical industry.

The youth of today are already rebelling over climate change and the unfair disparity between their generation and much older generations; it won’t be long before the pesticide industry is damned as well by them. The youth will be the bulk of voters in the not too distant future and they will hopefully exact their revenge on all of those who have caused such environmental degradation.

Chris Gray, 28th April 2019