Planting Dutch flower bulbs is a multi-million dollar industry, which also creates beautiful landscapes every spring. But this industry has a dark side. Few sectors use as many chemical pesticides as in bulb cultivation.
The chemicals protect the bulbs from disease and fungus, but they’ve also been linked to harming human, environmental, and animal health. Pesticides used in the bulb industry according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Harmful to insectswhich is linked to Parkinson’s disease, irregular heartbeats, and childhood leukemia, among others.
Research conducted by the RIVM in 2019 showed that people who live near fields of bulbs, pesticide residue was in their urine. This also applies to people who lived more than 500 meters away from this lamp field.
negative health effects
The products used have been tested and approved by the board for a Plant Protection and Biocidal Product (CTGB) license. But that doesn’t mean they’re also safe, says Professor of Soil Degradation and Land Management Violet Jessen.
“For many of the about 500 substances authorized in Europe, potential health effects for humans and the environment have been clearly described by the FRA,” Jessen says, referring to the European Food Safety Authority.
For these substances, the risks are limited to small amounts. This is why there are threshold values that must not be exceeded. “These rules are based on single agent exposure,” Jessen says.
Mix in the pesticide
But humans and the environment are exposed to a combination of factors. “We have seen in research that people ingest many substances through food. Mixtures are also found in air and house dust. Absorption by inhalation, and the risks associated with it, have not been much researched. The risk models used do not take such factors into account.” of pesticides.”
Geissen stresses that the farmers cannot be blamed. “They use the permitted substances, in the permitted quantities. The government should apply the principle of caution.”
In line with European Commissioner Frans Timmermans’ Green New Deal, the EU has an ambition to drastically reduce pesticide use in agriculture – by 2030 use should be halved.
While this is a big task for many flower bulb growers, there are also growers who long ago stopped using chemicals.
Organic follicle cultivation
Annelies Timmerman already in 2001 decided to switch to organic farming with her husband, Peter. After the red deer they kept on their farm in West Frisian Benningbroek were culled at the beginning of this century due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, they decided to take a different route and switch to organic flower bulb propagation.
“We started at that time because of the economic story,” says Anneliese. “After our deer were slaughtered, the Agricultural Extension Service came to us and said there was a huge demand for organic produce.”
Organic bulb cultivation requires a different approach than regular cultivation. “The biggest difference is the fertilization and crop protection products. They are of natural origin.”
In addition, much attention is paid to the soil in which the bulbs grow. “We assume the soil is healthy. The healthier the soil, the fewer additives you need to allow the plant to grow,” explains Anneliese.
Organic farming also has disadvantages compared to regular farming, which uses pesticides, says Annelies: “We plant thinner, so more wind blows through the crops. As a result, plants dry faster when wet, and less fungus. But it also leads to less productivity.”
Anneliese sees traditional farming facing increasing constraints. “There are fewer and fewer allowed, Mr. Timmermans come up with everything that puts a line in the bill of a lot of growers,” she says.
According to Professor Jessen, it is important that the government not only restrict the use of pesticides, but also support bulb growers in switching to new systems.
“You can’t blame the farmers for everything,” she says, “they are entrepreneurs who have to make a living.” “Farmers are often blamed, but it’s not fair. They’re in a pattern they can’t easily break out of.”
According to Geissen, in addition to reducing harmful substances, the government should focus mainly on innovation. “Now is the time for the government to push modern technologies such as precision farming, for example through robots that control weeds and modern forms of farming. This gives farmers the opportunity to transform their systems.”
In addition, consumers have to get used to higher prices. “We have to go for fair prices,” Jessen says. Jessen suggests prices go up, though the government could get involved. “If you look in the long term, at what pesticides are doing to nature and the ecosystem, the price we are paying now is much higher.
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