September 2022

Written evidence submitted by The Pesticide Collaboration (FS0045)

The Pesticide Collaboration brings together health and environmental groups and individuals, including NGOs, academics, trade unions, farming networks and consumer groups, working together under a shared vision to reduce the harm caused by pesticides to people and the environment. This evidence focusses on the main areas relevant to pesticide inputs and their relationship with food security.


What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

As listed in the call for evidence, there are some serious, but short-term factors affecting supply chains and food prices (e.g. the war in Ukraine, labour shortages, increasing energy and fertiliser prices). However, what is not listed, are the major factors affecting long-term food security – the climate and the biodiversity crises. The impacts of these are already being felt, for example the extreme heat and drought of summer 2022. The Government’s own food security report stated “the biggest risk to the UK’s domestic production comes from climate change and other environmental pressures like soil degradation, water quality and biodiversity loss[1]”.

Addressing these twin crises is absolutely fundamental to securing the resilience of our food supply chains into the future. And nature is a vital tool for ensuring our land remains productive into the future – providing ecosystem services such as flood risk management, carbon sequestration, pollination and natural pest management. We must achieve a farming system that helps us reach net zero (including reducing our reliance on fossil fuel inputs such as pesticides) and is nature positive.


What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term? What policy interventions should the Government consider to manage these pressures?

Food prices are likely to rise further throughout 2022 and beyond, in part due to rising energy costs. However the way to address this is not to pay farmers less (as many are already struggling to make profits), and not to try and produce food more cheaply now to the detriment of future sustainability of food production. Instead, support should be given to those people financially struggling and the following policy interventions should be implemented:

-          Interventions to reduce reliance on fossil-fuel inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers. As well as contributing to climate change, the prices of them are volatile (as were seen in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine) and so provide financial uncertainty for farmers and consumers.

-          Recommit to the Agricultural Transition and the payment of public money for public goods. The schemes need to be ambitious, and must move faster in order to provide certainty to farmers, and good value for money for tax-payers.

-          Tackle the significant food wastage at all stages of the supply chain


How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect the resilience of food supply chains?; the agri-food and seafood sectors?; access to healthy, nutritious food?

Despite a very comprehensive independent review of UK food systems by Henry Dimbleby, the food strategy policy paper from the Government was completely insufficient to solve the many issues surrounding our supply chains or access to healthy, nutritious food. It did not look holistically at the issues, nor did it appear that the Government was prepared to make the scale of changes required.

Despite being one of the major issues with our current food system, the significant use of pesticides to grow food was not tackled in the food strategy. The current reliance on fossil fuel inputs does not lead to a resilient supply chain. And pesticides directly impact important biodiversity such as pollinators, as well as soil health. The current cost of organic food means that most people only have access to food treated with multiple pesticide products. Policies to drive an overall reduction in pesticide use would increase resilience (including recovery of soils, water, pollinators etc) and provide healthier food for all. A Government procurement policy of improving quality of public sector food (such as a target for procuring organic produce) would drive further innovation into nature-friendly farming, and increase access to nutritious food.


Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?

Self-sufficiency alone is not a good way of measuring food security. England has relatively high self-sufficiency already (76% of food it is possible to grow here), but a significant amount of food is wasted at all stages of the supply chain. Addressing this would immediately increase the level of self-sufficiency without needing to intensify production to the detriment of the environment.

Increasing production would also negatively impact soil, water and biodiversity – a strategy that will result in a less sustainable future for food production. It would also necessitate an increase in inputs such as pesticides and fertiliser which we rely on getting from other countries, with all the volatility and uncertainty that brings.

There are ways we could be more self-sufficient in England such as increasing domestic horticulture, but this does not need to mean setting aside more land for agriculture. We grow a lot of crops not for direct human consumption, such as biofuels and grain for livestock. A change in priority of what is grown where, and education about the associated required dietary change, would lead to more self-sufficiency without compromising on what nature and climate need.

Some food will always need to be imported, and it is vital that any trade deals to facilitate this do not undermine environmental and human health standards – including pesticide residues.


How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security? What balance should be stuck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?

The land use strategy is vital to ensure the best use of land for its multiple requirements. We are not going to achieve our net zero and species abundance targets without transformative changes to land use. However, this question is worded as if it is a binary choice between food production and environmental benefit. Without nature, there is no future of sustainable food production. Increasing inputs such as pesticides to chase increasing production, directly impacts pollinators, natural pest predators and soil and water quality – essential for food production.

The land use framework should be used to grow food in the most productive areas (food for human consumption with a reduction in land used for crops for energy and livestock feed), but no areas should be devoid of nature. By managing just 10% of farmed land for nature (such as hedges, wildflowers etc), we can reverse farmland biodiversity declines. More and more farmers are finding that their yields and profits are stable even when reducing inputs such as pesticides.

The less productive areas should be used for landscape scale ecosystem services such as flood management, tree planting and peatland restoration – all of which underpin a healthy environment, essential for food production and meeting our net zero and species abundance targets.

September 2022