Response to recent incorrect and misleading articles on pesticides and their regulation by the Guardian Australia

    7 October 2022

    Over recent years the Guardian has been a beacon of fact and reason with its reporting on the science of COVID-19 and the efficacy and safety of vaccines, as well as anthropogenic global warming and climate change. Through its journalism it has adroitly reflected and explained the international scientific consensus on these complex issues.

    However, the Guardian’s recent so called ‘investigative’ series raises more questions about its own political and journalistic standards than it does about agricultural chemical regulation in Australia.

    What the reporter failed to note about the headline ‘Australia authorises 144 highly hazardous pesticide ingredients compared with the UK’s 73’, is that the statistic is a verbatim regurgitation of propaganda from activist organisations in the UK – not a reputable international authority or scientific institution. This is a running theme in the series.

    The departure by the Guardian from expert scientific consensus when it comes to agricultural chemistry indicates a serious double standard for science reporting.

    The Guardian would not run an article written by a veteran climate change sceptic with the headline ‘Report casts doubt on the existence of climate change’. So why entertain an anti-science agenda against modern, science-based agriculture and dress it up as journalism?

    The nation deserves better reporting of complex science and its associated regulation. The Guardian has managed to not only widen the gap between consumers and Australian farmers, but also discredit global safety and trade standards which both Australia and the UK recognise.

    These standards acknowledge there is no one-size-fits-all approach to farming globally, especially when it comes to weed, insect and disease management. Each country has its own environmental conditions that require different farming practices. Hence the UK’s Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) already include import tolerances for chemistry used in Australia and other countries.

    Listing the number of chemicals detected in food tells the consumer nothing of safety. The approach which is used by activists in the US has been resoundingly ridiculed and discredited by experts globally for failing to mention that any pesticide residues found on fruits and vegetables remain well below safety limits.

    I encourage the Guardian to publish the new research that shows even the highest levels of glyphosate detected in Australians are at least 1,000 times beneath Acceptable Daily Intakes. Amounts that the researchers emphasise are insignificant and biologically irrelevant.

    According to the FAO and the OECD, Australian farmers use less pesticide product per hectare than the UK and many of their global counterparts. In fact, Australian farmers use 95 per cent less pesticide now than in the 1950’s to control insect pests, weeds and diseases. This improvement is the result of significant innovations in chemistry through major investment in research and development over many decades.

    To suggest that farmers could simply utilise “alternative” methods with no loss of crop production or quality is false and naïve. The UK relies on imports for at least 46 per cent of its food from other countries. In contrast Australia produces enough food to fill over 90 per cent of its own shelves and export over 70 per cent of production. That cannot be taken for granted.

    If ever there was an example of how an activist campaign can threaten perfectly safe and reliable food supply, this is it. What could have been an opportunity for an in-depth analysis of public policy surrounding the regulation and use of pesticides in Australia, instead incites consumer fear of fresh, nutritious, high-quality and safe Australian produce.

    Journalism that throws decades of scientific data into the ‘too hard basket’ when it doesn’t align with what the reporter has to say, rather than what readers need to know, must be rejected by the Australian public.


    Matthew Cossey

    Chief Executive Officer