Pest control politics a threat to our food security

By Christopher Owuor
Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020
Locust invasion. Photo/File
In summary

Okisegere Ojepat       

One of the downsides of globalisation driven by technology is the way in which views have polarised. 

As the middle class walks away from reading newspapers and our youth cast aside programmed TV for NetFlix and their own entertainment feeds, people are exposed less and less to news, different information and differing views.

It’s a movement into silos that is affecting all aspects of our lives and soon, may take away food from our tables.

How do I mean? As a nation, we already struggle with food security. Likewise, we are classified as a water-scarce country, meaning that much of our food production rests on advanced water management.

But, now, thanks to misinformation, we are also set to lose most crop protection products that our farms and farmers use to stop damage to their crops from pests. And will deal a blow to our food security

In an unorthodox move that has bypassed the legal system based on the Pest Control Act and implemented by the Pest Control Products Board as the regulator, four NGOs have engaged an MP to petition Parliament for wholesale banning of hundreds brands of pesticides.

The NGOs are committed to organic farming, which is a good move when done in the right time and circumstances.

But the anti-pest control campaigners have thrown around the word cancer as their basis for opposition the pesticides.

Yet all these  pesticides were tested and approved. Indeed, they are being used in other countries such as the US and Australia.

The NGOs are playing upon our ignorance, telling journalists and parliamentarians who require no greater degree of proof, that cancer deaths have gone up as pesticide use has gone up.

But their master card is that these pesticides are  banned in Europe. Well, yes and no—for anyone interested in facts. 

The 262 pesticides in question have not been banned in Europe. What has changed is Europe’s pesticide regulatory regime. Reams of chemicals are now being reassessed in new ways, and reclassified.

The new system no longer bases approvals on risk assessments, looking at where and when and at what levels a pesticide might present how much risk—as it previously did.

 It now has a new approach called hazard assessment, which is based on zero risk. If there is a chance that any pesticide could cause any adverse effect used in any way at any time, it can no longer be used.

Based on a hazard assessment, no one in Kenya would be permitted to eat cassava, or use household bleach, or get into a matatu, or buy alcoholic beverages, or consume sugar, and the list goes on.

Zero risk is a decision Europe has taken in the face of many organic NGOs, and the continent can afford to do that, when it buys so much of its food from elsewhere.

Here in Kenya, we use the same risk assessment methods as the US and everywhere else in the world, except Europe.

So what those NGOs are seeking to do is to getting Parliament to overturn our Pest Control Act and all its regulations, end our pest control products, and then cheer all the way to the food queues.

What they are saying is, because cancer cases have gone up and Europe has changed its regulatory system, let’s dismantle our pest control measures, and with it a third of our food production.

It’s so ruthless as to be amoral. But that’s the point of polarisation: people lose all perspective and all sight of any counter views.

We shouldn’t let that happen. Let’s, instead, be scientific about our pest control – rather than political – and keep our food secure and safe. —The writer is the CEO, Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya 

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