Adopting EU pesticide policies will devastate agriculture

Kenya Defense Forces in charge of desert locust ground team Major Mark Odondo starts the Vehicle mount sprayers machine loaded with pesticides to control desert locusts in Meru county on February 17, 2021.[David Gichuru,standard]

It is hard to remember any decision that posed harm to Kenya as much as the recommendation before Parliament that it adopts the European Union’s (EU) policies on agricultural inputs and phases them out. It would be most disastrous and could cost us 20 per cent of our entire GDP, and countless lives.

There is nothing about the recommendation by Parliamentary Health Committee to indicate it has examined the policies it wants to be introduced, or understood them, or assessed the impact on Kenya. The team has not even mentioned why the rest of the world has sought WTO intervention to overturn the very same policies, or why the African Union has so far rejected them.

The committee has, instead, recommended that Kenya sets aside the risk assessment methods used globally and the standards set by the World Health Organisation and the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation to ban any product that is banned in the EU.

What the committee does not appear to know is that Europe has abandoned science-based assessments, and these bans are not about food safety issues, but part of a comprehensive EU strategy to slash pesticide use by a further 50 per cent and fertiliser by 20 per cent.

Indeed, WTO petition No 382 has seen 45 countries including Kenya asking the EU to provide any evidence of any food safety issue in these moves. In seven years of demands, the EU has never provided that evidence. For in its political drive to be ‘green’, the EU has adopted two changes that mean it has abandoned inputs without scientific cause. The first is the ‘precautionary principle’, which means that it is banning products with no evidence they are unsafe, just in case they might be, despite nine years of more than 100 rounds of tests showing they are not.

Then, Europe has also abandoned the risk assessment methods developed by the world’s food safety regulators and moved to something called hazard assessment. Risk assessment measures any risk from a product and looks at exposure. But hazard assessment only looks at anything that can be dangerous in a product. So, water would fail a hazard assessment: It can scald and cause death by drowning. Bleach would also fail, as drinking it can kill you. But it happens to eliminate thousands of germs stopping human diseases and saving a myriad lives – because we don’t drink it, we clean with it. In fact, almost every medicine and every chemical and substance known to man presents some kind of hazard, if wrongly used.

So, Europe has been steadily eliminating pest control products with these new methods.

However, that has also played to a rising problem in our own Kenyan governance, where health experts are claiming agricultural policy as their domain without agricultural knowledge or even the will to consult the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture – which surely would have mentioned that the EU policies were being disputed in every international organisation.

The EU policy needs examining before we adopt it. If we do so we lose most of our controls on malarial mosquitoes, 80 per cent of our tomatoes, which account for 1/8th of all our vegetable production, as well as around 70 per cent of our maize, nearly all our wheat, most of our potatoes, and over half our coffee production.

Mr Okisegere is CEO Fresh Produce Consortium Kenya