EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 51 ble. The public needs to understand that farmers use pesticides only when there is a reason, at the lowest levels possible (it costs money) and with prevention in mind. There are clear benefits in using them. If a farmer could successfully grow crops without pesticides, surely he or she would. 6. PRESENT PESTICIDES AS PART OF A FARMER’S TOOLKIT USED IN DIFFICULT TASKS Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a good example of how a farmer has many tools to deliver a crop to market, includ- ing pesticides. But these tools need to be of the best quality (farmers generally use the best crop protection tools available). Each time a pesticide is removed from the market (and this is happening in Brussels at an alarming rate), farmers have to look for alternative tools (often older pesticides with less sustainable profiles). The public, especially the media and policy-makers, have to understand that banning impor- tant farming tools is not necessarily a step in the right direction. 7. HIGHLIGHT THE 50-YEAR TREND OF LOWERING DOSE LEVELS, BETTER TECHNOLOGIES The first pesticides on the market in the 1960s were admittedly rather harsh (like any emerging technology). But over the last 50 years, scientists have worked to continuously improve agri-technologies (product stewardship), lowering dos- ages, reducing environmental and health impacts and providing better crop per- formance. Activists like to portray the industry with old images of crop dusters and military grade chemicals - they know the public might be attracted to advanced technologies. Precision agriculture is one such example of an attractive technology that could capture the public imagination if the story is told well. 8. DEMONSTRATE VISUALLY THE VOLUME OF COMPLIANCE RESEARCH STUDIES The pesticide risk assessment process is not widely understood and trust in reg- ulators is declining. Activists have made the process seem sinister: that a com- pany puts a poison on the market with no data, and when cancers start to increase, the company then lobbies regulators to allow them to continue to make profits. If people understood the amount of test- Bruce Ames + coffee + pesticides HELP PEOPLE FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION FOR THEMSELVES. Did you know there are more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than in the pesticide residues of a year’s consumption of fruit and vegetables? 10 ing and compliance measures required before a product goes on the market, and the levels of research required to keep it on the market, their trust in the process may improve. I often hear the terms “10 years and 10,000 pages” to describe how the risk assessment process works. That image needs to be visualised in a way to show the volume of work and research required to comply. 9. PUT TOXICITY INTO A BANALISING CONTEXT Most people are numerically illiterate (they buy lottery tickets to pay off their credit card debt). Expressing toxicity in terms of LD50s to a person who equates “chemical” with “cancer” is a waste of time. You need to put the toxicity into a context people understand. For example, if you get people to remember there are more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than in the pesticide residues of a year’s con- sumption of fruit and vegetables (Bruce Ames), they may begin to understand the risk a bit better (or stop drinking coffee). To say glyphosate has a very low toxicity is meaningless, but if you show how it is less toxic than ingredients found in chocolate or biscuits, maybe they will get it. I call this the banalisation of risk. 10. HELP PEOPLE FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION FOR THEMSELVES An essential element of trust is agency. I fear flying more than driving my car to the airport because I know I am in control of the vehicle. If I can find correct infor- mation on pesticides myself I will gain my own understanding. Any communication effort should leave the audience with a means to find out more information by themselves. When I tell people there are more carcinogens in a cup of coffee, I ask them to Google “Bruce Ames + coffee + pesticides”. There is a lot of information out there, but people need to be sent in a good direction. A passive receiver hears information, an active one learns it. These 10 rules make communicating on pesticides seem easy. Of course anyone who has tried this challenging task will attest it is not. There are many clever and manip- ulative activists who are always one step ahead of you, using fear tools like children, bees and fear of cancer to undermine public trust. NGOs or social media gurus have no ethical codes of conduct restricting their behaviour (so their lies and fear-mongering can be justified in a sort of Machiavellian zealot ethics). Neither industry nor regula- tors can play by the same rules. An important element of trust is the messenger. An industry spokesperson is probably the least credible voice to deliver a positive story on pesticides. Farmers and sci- entists need to step up and be the story-tell- ers. They too will suffer from the continued aggressive assault on agri-technology. I am sure there must be ten more rules to add to this conversation and each pesticide or class of substances are differ- ent. Cultures have different perspectives (many languages consider pesticides as medicines for plants) and there are differ- ent levels of scientific literacy. One point is certain: we have a general idea today what doesn’t work when communicating on pes- ticides. Things can only improve… right? David Zaruk is a professor based in Brussels writing on environmental-health risk policy within the EU Bubble. He writes a blog under the name: The Risk-Monger. The comments in the Risk Corner are his own and does not necessarily represent the views of European Seed.