The Need to Overcome Polarized Viewpoints

By Giulia Di Tommaso

The global debate around food production is far from clear cut. But for the first time in many years, a sense of urgency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing together in unprecedented numbers a wide swath of stakeholders in the agriculture and food value chains. This call to action centers on the need to transform the food system in order to achieve a common goal – producing more safe and nutritious food to feed the growing world population sustainably.

The recent crisis has significantly changed the way we all work and live. On a daily basis, we are reminded that we exist in an unpredictable, imperfect and diverse world where choices on how we grow our food and feed the world can emerge only after constructive debate and thorough discussion. It is therefore extremely heartening when farmers, consumers, businesses, NGOs and governments all choose to operate outside their silos and collaborate in concrete terms to improve food production.

As major contributors in the agriculture and food value chain, CropLife International’s member companies are responsible producers of pesticides and improved biotech seeds. Their products protect crops from pests, weeds and diseases, helping create stability in delicate supply chains that are constantly challenged and under stress. And they make farmer and consumer safety their top priority world-wide, including training growers and those who use their products, and by supporting new and safer innovations.

In turn, governments and international organizations also demonstrate their responsibility for human health and the environment by regulating these products using evidence-based risk assessments and a thorough approval process. Our members regularly collaborate with them to ensure sound science is available and integrated into our business model. They expect to be held to high standards, and aim to meet and exceed them.

But disagreements can sometimes become very obvious. Some – such as Food Watch in a recent campaign – have called on CropLife International members in Europe to stop producing and exporting products which are not authorized for use in the European Union. They have also raised concerns about food imported into the EU which has been treated with those products. These are important issues which as an industry we are open to hear and discuss.

Every part of the world has different pests and varying challenges, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is also important to note that there is not a single global regulator for crop protection products. Regulators are generally concerned with what happens in their country or region. EU regulations cover products which are used on crops grown in the region to address issues which arise there. They also cover food which is imported to be consumed in the EU. However, they do not cover situations which do not arise in the area – for example, the treatment of diseases which do not occur there, or plants which are grown in other climates.

One immediate concern we have about the call for an export ban is that it would leave some farmers elsewhere in the world – many in developing countries — without the ability to treat the crops they grow for pests and diseases which do not even exist in Europe. Not only could this increase food loss and negatively affect farmer livelihoods and rural economies locally; it would risk broader impacts on food security internationally.

The global agriculture system is complex, varied and extremely interconnected: we need to overcome stereotypes and polarization and create new ways of collaboration to find better solutions.

There is no escaping responsibility. Our members already take action to support the responsible use of their products, such as in developing countries only selling products which have a registration in an OECD member country, or a complete regulatory data package based on OECD guidelines. They also support the FAO and WHO International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management by putting in place stewardship and risk mitigation measures to enable the responsible use of crop protection products, especially in low income countries; if risks are identified that cannot be properly managed, products are withdrawn.

There should be no monopoly on virtue either. Our minds must remain open and we ask the same of individuals and groups who might disagree with us. In the current challenging environment, we need to widen the scope of our discussions and make efforts on all sides to understand those with different views. If we do this, we can better appreciate each other’s perspectives and pool our knowledge and experiences to jointly develop solutions which meet the challenges of assuring a safe and abundant world food supply within planetary boundaries. The need to do so has never been more critical than in these uncertain times.