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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: December 2009

10 - Public perceptions, comparative risk assessment, and future prospects for pesticides



In Europe after the conflict of 1939–1945 food was scarce and the achievements of farmers in raising the yield of staple products, most notably cereals, was closely associated with high levels of fertilisation, better yielding cultivars and the development of pesticides that allowed the selective control of weeds. The intensification and specialisation in farming that followed during the second half of the 1900s resulted from a desire for self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs, and this approach was widely welcomed. In Western Europe following the establishment of the European Economic Community, or European Union as it is now, this drive was aided by generous subsidies raised by taxation and given to farmers in order to encourage output. An impetus was thus provided to maximise yields and consequently, as noted above, fertiliser use greatly increased, higher yielding cultivars of crops were developed, and pesticides came to be increasingly and widely used to protect crops from weed competition as well as attack by pests and diseases. Yields rose in many countries to the point where production exceeded national requirements, and surpluses began to accumulate. For example, wheat yields in the UK increased from an average of 2.5 tonnes/ha in 1947 to 7.5 tonnes/ha in the mid 1990s. The so-called grain mountains that developed in the EU during the 1980s were a direct result of the subsidised drive to increase crop yields.

Similar increases have been achieved with crops in other parts of the world.