Burden of Proof: Paterson and the Bees

honey beeUK Environment Minister Owen Paterson has defied 71% of the British public, 2.5 million petition signatures and 405,000 letters to EU Ministers – all to derail a ban  on bee-harming pesticides.

Why? Because according to Mr Paterson, there’s not enough scientific proof that neonicotinoids harm bees.  At a time when UK & US honey bee populations have declined 50% over the past 25 years, this  begs the question – why is the burden of proof with those who want to follow a precautionary principle, rather than with those who stand to make a profit from applying toxic chemicals in our collective environment.

I won’t go into the detailed story line – Damian Carrington has done a great job of reporting it all here. But in short – it seems that independent science has repeatedly shown there to be a link between neonicotinoids and a drop in honey bee numbers, a species vital to our food security, and of course, inherently valuable in its own right.

Yet despite this, the UK government wanted to carry out their own trials – and these haven’t been able to conclude before last Friday’s EU vote took place. As a result – Mr Paterson has been citing lack of conclusivity in these particular experiments as a reason not to proceed with the moratorium. It is not surprising that the pesticide manufacturers are relieved.

At first glance – it may seem to make sense that we shouldn’t proceed in making such a decision without the full gauntlet of evidence to support it. After all – this would be a momentous change for industries involved; industries providing hundreds of jobs at a time of recession. Furthermore, the decision may impact how much food we can produce in the immediate short-term.  Perhaps this was the reasoning of the nine member states who opposed the ban.

But 13 states were in favour. Why the difference of opinion?

Well – let’s conduct a thought experiment. Let’s use the metaphor of the health industry. To licence a drug, the burden of proof is with the pharmaceutical corporations to prove that the medication they wish to sell, causes no harm. This seems fair, logical and the only course of action prudent to protect our public health.

Imagine if this were in fact the other way round – that it was up to governments, independently funded science and concerned members of the public to demonstrate that a certain drug caused harm,  before it was taken off the shelves. That it was only AFTER our eyes started bleeding and our veins pulsing and our hair falling out, that civil society could begin mounting a case that such medications should be removed from the shops.

A horrific idea.Yet one we embrace willingly when the chemicals sold are affecting the health of our collective environment and food – something that influences are own health more quickly than most medicine or money.

Fortunately – we still have a chance to correct this wrong. If the European Commission (the EU’s administrative arm) decides to appeal the Member States’ Ministers’ vote – we could have a second shot at saving our bees. I urge you to write to your EU Ministers and put this and all the other arguments found across t’interweb to them .

Our environment is our collective commons. Our responsibility and power to care for it should not be undermined by our democratically elected leaders and those corporations with more resources than most citizens to protect their interests. I hope our European leaders’ are more respectful of public opinion than Mr Paterson.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s