Last week, we attended the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. There was a buzz in the air, with many people predicting  that this will be the last conference season before a general election, where Labour are currently expected to form the next government. 

With this in mind, The Pesticide Collaboration ran a panel session as part of the fringe, called ‘Health, Environment and Social Justice: Everything The Next Government Needs To Know About Pesticides’. 

We wanted to highlight the fact that pesticides sit at the nexus of human health, environmental protection and social justice – rather than just being a farming issue. These are issues that are often treated in siloes: but it’s crucial that the government views them through an intersectional lens and understands that they are all inextricably linked. 

Daniel Zeichner MP – Shadow Minister for Farming, Food and Fisheries, spoke at the panel. We were very grateful for his attendance, as he was in high demand at many of the conference’s fringe sessions. He made a clear commitment that a Labour government would end the repeated ‘emergency’ authorisations of bee-killing neonicotinoids on sugar beet crops, and would also build on the government’s Environmental Land Management Scheme to ensure that farmers have increased financial incentive to work with nature. 

Also on the panel was Jon Burke – former Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste, Environment and Public Realm at the London Borough of Hackney. Jon spoke about his experience of introducing the UK’s first ‘no spray zone’, and the importance of eliminating the majority of spraying in the borough to boost insect populations and also save the council money. He explained how he first stopped the spraying of herbicides in the highest footfall areas, which covered 100km of walkways, saving £10,000. After two and a half years, Hackney Council had eliminated the amount of glyphosate used by the borough by around 80 percent, and there are now 80 local authorities in the UK that have either stopped the use of pesticides in urban areas or have taken significant steps towards doing so. 

Josie Cohen from PAN UK spoke in detail about their joint work with Sustain and Dr Emily Lydgate from Sussex University on pesticides and trade, and the potential impact of international trade on the environment, human health and the future of UK farming. While far from perfect, UK pesticide standards are some of the strongest in the world in terms of protecting human health and the environment. In the context of trade, agribusiness in trading partner countries potentially have much to gain from weakening the UK’s approach to setting safety limits for the amount of a chemical that is allowed to appear in food and which pesticides the UK approves for use domestically. This is particularly true for countries that are major agricultural exporters. It is vital therefore that pesticide standards are maintained in any international trade deals, for the sake of our health, environment, and to protect UK farmers.

It was also fantastic to put many faces to names and attend the panel sessions of lots of Pesticide Collaboration members, including Wildlife & Countryside Link, the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, The Nature-Friendly Farming Network, Unchecked and Sustain. 

We were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm and willingness to listen and learn shown by Labour’s new shadow DEFRA team, and hope that they will meet with us in the next few weeks as their manifesto starts to take shape.