Yesterday, we covered the announcement that the Competition and Markets Authority is going to launch its investigation into misleading green claims for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs). You don't need to be a tree-hugger to support the fight against greenwashing, just a concerned citizen, worried about climate change.
However, this announcement by one government agency coincides with the news that another part of government, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is authorising the "temporary" use of neonicotinoid pesticides on sugar beet seeds in order to protect the crop from a virus called yellow disease, which is spread by aphids. And this is "temporary" in the sense that it is the third year in a row that this authorisation has been granted. It is unclear how many years have to pass before "temporary" becomes "indefinite", before achieving "permanence".
The problem is that neonicotinoid pesticides don't just kill aphids, they also kill bees. And they can contaminate the water supply and other plants, with the potential to be fatal for bees even in vanishingly small quantities. This is why the European Court of Justice has just decided that EU member states can no longer provide exemptions to the overall ban on the use of neonicotinoids. But of course, now that we have taken back control of our laws, we are no longer bound by that decision, and can exercise our freedom to kill our British Bees to our hearts' content. To be fair, Defra's decision appears to be consistent with advice from the Health & Safety Executive and their own Chief Scientific Advisor, although even he is quoted as saying "There is clear and abundant evidence that these neonicotinoids are harmful to species other than those they are intended to control, and particularly to pollinators, including bees." Defra also received advise from the independent UK Expert Committee on Pesticides, who did not support the authorisation of the use of neonicotinoids, and said "In light of the risk assessment conducted, a reduction in survival of honey bees and impacts on homing flight ability (which also influences survival of foragers) could occur."
So what's going on here? Once again, it appears that the government is using the regulation and control of advertising as a way to give the impression that they are doing something about a complex problem facing society. They're tackling climate change by stopping greenwashing, while authorising the use of pesticides that are banned across the EU. This is entirely reminiscent of the creeping bans on HFSS advertising to show that the government was taking tough action to tackle obesity, while simultaneously failing to do anything meaningful to deal with many complicated underlying causes of obesity. And so the obesity crisis has gone from bad to worse, despite years of bans on HFSS advertising, as well as all other measures that have been kicked into the long grass, according to the whims of the current incumbent of 10 Downing Street. The only noticeable change is that the portly Mr Johnson has been replaced by the svelte Mr Sunak. Is that progress?
Achieving net zero and tackling climate change is going to take more than advertising bans. It's going to require clear, consistent action by government. Good luck with that.
"The government has gone directly against the advice of its own scientific advisors with potentially devastating consequences for bees and other vital pollinators." Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth.