Georgina Downs has conducted a determined campaign to change Government Policy that has at last forced this matter into the public arena. In her "heavyweight" response to the Governments Consultation on Introducing No-Spray Zones around residential properties she has pulled together all the confirmed external costs of pesticide use as well as examining other areas where pesticides have been attributed with causing widespread damage.
She states that DEFRAs Consultation Document has focused on the negative implications for the farming industry and economics of production if no-spray zones were to be introduced and does not address the substantial health and environmental costs and devastating consequences that already exist from the use of chemicals in agriculture. These external costs include damage to human health (both acute and chronic) contamination of air, water, soil, biodiversity and impacts on the wider environment.
Ms. Downs states "At present members of the public subsidise intensive farming at a cost of approximately £3 billion per year, but the taxpayer then has to pay again in both financial and human terms for the damage caused to their health and the wider environment. This obviously has massive economic and financial implications for all parties, with the exception of the pesticide industry."
Ms. Downs continues to receive emails and letters from people all over the country reporting a variety of medical conditions in communities surrounded by fields that are regularly sprayed. The most common illnesses that are being reported are clusters of cancers, (especially breast cancer among rural women) leukaemia, asthma and ME. She points out that a recent European initiative has finally acknowledged that pesticides are possibly related to immunological effects, endocrine-disrupting effects, neurotoxic disorders and cancer.
Ms. Downs calculates that the total cost to the UK with regard to cancer, ME and asthma alone is in excess of £6 billion. She says "It is not known what proportion of the overall costs from damage to health and environment could be attributable to pesticides, however, even if only partly then the cost to the economy and society, as whole, would be substantial and run into billions." Ms. Downs points out that the personal and human costs to individuals suffering pesticide related ill-health cannot be calculated in financial terms.
In responding to the Consultation proposals Ms. Downs has criticised the existing regulations and monitoring system as "totally inadequate."
She says that the Consultation Document seems to have centred on the problem of immediate visible spraydrift only and not the wider issue of the long-term exposures to pesticides in the air. "This is a fundamental point in relation to the case that has been presented to the Government over the last year," she states, "as pesticide particles and droplets cannot be controlled once they have been dispersed into the surrounding air, they are airborne contaminants. Pesticides in the air can travel considerable distances resulting in widespread toxic air pollution and studies have shown pesticide particles located miles away from where they were originally applied. Therefore a small buffer zone is not going to be adequate or in anyway acceptable to protect residents and others from the high level of risk inherent in the spraying of agricultural chemicals or prevent contamination of their land."
Ms. Downs has included with her submission studies and documentation from around the world demonstrating the dangers for people living in rural areas. She has hit back at the NFU who earlier stated that there was no justification for introducing no-spray zones and says "It will be interesting to see if the NFU still say that after seeing the evidence in my submission."
This evidence will include a "hard-hitting" video of cases from all over the country of people who have suffered at the hands of agriculture chemicals and Ms. Downs invites the NFU to accompany her on her travels to see the reality for themselves.
She states that the introduction of mandatory no-spray zones within a certain distance of homes, schools, workplaces and any other places of human habitation are essential and an urgent priority.
Ms. Downs says, "These chemicals are poisons and as long as we the public are subsidising agriculture we should have some say in what it does. This is not a matter of "social acceptability" or " public perception" it is quite simply a matter of public health."