'Farmers are fed up with being the losers in a debate where science is treated with contempt and EU member states act like a school debating society'

AS a student I remember going for an interview in Edinburgh for a fast-track career job in the civil service.

The aim was to make it look not at all stuffy, but that failed over lunch when we were told we could have a drink or a pudding, but not both. So it is with the European Commission.

It tries to show a commitment to science over issues such as gene editing – or in Euro-speak novel genomic techniques (NGTS) – but that crashes and burns when member states ignore the facts to play to the green lobby.

This has been a problem for many years and has become the hallmark of its approach to genetic modification. This came to a head when Scotland's Anne Glover was scientific adviser to the European Commission, with an open mind in the GM debate.

Under pressure from the green lobby that post was scrapped, and so the EU descended into its Luddite approach to science. This is frustrating progress with NGTs and driving a mistaken belief that European agriculture can be built on skewing EU resources towards an unrealistic target for the percentage of land being farmed organically.

Now the problem has emerged with the relicensing of glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide. This has to be agreed upon by December 14 and the commission proposed full approval for ten years. This was based on advice from the European Food Safety Authority and other agencies – advice which came after a year's delay to allow for the evidence to be reviewed yet again.

All seemed set for a green light, but then in the committee of member state experts politics were played. The approval failed to achieve a qualified majority under the EU's complex voting rules. This was because of a large number of abstentions – including by France and Germany for no reason other than to play to green lobby groups back home.

The recommendation for approval will now go to an appeals committee in mid-November, but there is no guarantee the same politics will not be played there. If that happens the commission will force through the decision. If it does not do this it risks legal action over its failure to follow science and its own procedures.

This would however be a rod that the green lobby would use against agrochemicals, claiming Brussels rode roughshod over democracy. This is EU red tape at its worst. The qualified majority voting system was designed to protect smaller countries, but it has too often been used to frustrate progress in science.

There is also a bigger issue, in that if this argument is lost when the science is robust it does not augur well for NGTs or the campaign to ensure practical alternatives are in place before decisions are taken to remove agrochemical and other products from agriculture.

Farmers are fed up with being the losers in a debate where science is treated with contempt and EU member states act like a school debating society. However, there are signs of a fight back and it is not just in Europe.

The left-of-centre government in New Zealand recently lost a general election, and one of the reasons was that rural areas said 'enough was enough' on urban-driven green policies that ignored that New Zealand is still a largely rural society.

Rural areas also played a big part in the defeat of an Australian proposal to grant greater rights to indigenous people. Beyond the southern hemisphere, the EU faces a big test of its green policies in November, with the Dutch general election.

Earlier in the year the Farmer Citizens Movement did spectacularly well in elections to the upper house of the Dutch parliament. This was amazing for a party created in 2019 by an agricultural journalist to give a platform to rural areas squeezed out of decision-making.

The big driver has been the pursuit of EU policies that will reduce the efficiency and scale of livestock production. Those are now being implemented and polls suggest the radical party will do well in the elections. It could in fact shape a new coalition government. If this happens it will be drive similar movements elsewhere in the EU.

Hopefully, some of that radicalism might even rub off for the UK, where farmers are now politically a powerless and largely ignored group, even in the devolved regions, let alone Westminster.