Associate professor of Public Administration and Policy Jeroen Candel addressed members of the European Parliament on the topic of the biodiversity crisis and the need for reforms in the food system. His lecture appeared to fall on deaf ears. ‘It felt a little like the film Don’t look up.’
Candel had been invited by the European citizen’s initiative ‘Save Bees and Farmers’. This initiative, which is made up of 49 organisations from 28 different countries (among which 23 EU member states), presented a petition of one million signatures to the Europen Parliament during a hearing in Brussels last Tuesday. The signers call on the EU to slash the use of pesticides by 80% by 2030 rather than by 50%, as detailed in the Farm to Fork strategy. Candel initiated a petition among European scientists last December. Well over seven hundred scientists responded to his call.
Candel and his colleague Violette Geissen (professor of Soil Physics and Land Management) spoke jointly during the hearing – Geissen led an extensive study on the effects of pesticide cocktails. Candel’s feelings on the hearing are mixed. ‘It was nice to have the opportunity to underscore the urgency of the biodiversity issues on behalf of scientists and calling on politicians to act’, he states. ‘At the same time, it was frustrating that many politicians from the large parties – conservatives, liberals, social democrats – seem to lack a sense of urgency on the topic of biodiversity.’
He continues: ‘It almost seemed as if they did not listen to our contribution. For example, I explained that the food security argument is not based on scientific insights and that the new pesticide degree poses no threat to food security but does the exact opposite. Still, the food security card was played repeatedly. They are very committed to preserving the status quo. It felt a little like the film ‘Don’t look up’: how much clearer mist we make it?
Keeping the pressure on
If Brussels does not want to listen, who will? ‘Many citizens are worried about biodiversity, but there is hardly any media focus on what goes on in Brussels. That is why I am happy about this citizen’s initiative.’ Candel refers to the Green Deal, in which the EU claims to be climate-neutral by the year 205utral by the year 2050. ‘That deal is the result of civilians throughout Europe taking to the streets in 2018 and 2019, demanding attention for the climate. A similar mobilisation, media focus and protests are required to motivate politicians to alter their course on this issue.’
He envisions a two-pronged role for scientists. ‘In addition to the pesticide decree, a nature recovery law, soil law, and legislation on a sustainable food supply are underway. On the one hand, we must keep a critical eye on these dossiers and keep putting pressure on politicians, but on the other hand, we must also offer our help. Wageningen has considerable expertise that policymakers can use to design effective policies.’