Historically, British farmers have supported the European Union, grateful both for subsidies and access to continental markets. Yet most of the United Kingdom's agricultural counties voted "leave." Despite all the talk about immigration, a large part (perhaps the largest part) of the reason was regulation — Brussels-based regulation onerous enough to offset the EU's pluses.
Other than weather, farmers everywhere have one major enemy — pests, meaning weeds, funguses, and insects. In a clear favoring of urban greens over rural livelihoods, Brussels has gone on an anti-pesticide rampage in recent years that has put Europe's rural life at rising risk.
2013 saw crippling restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids, a class of insect control agents. Often used as coating for seeds to reduce spraying, "neonics" are a real benefit for human health and a cleaner environment. The revised rules led directly to loss of large portions of Britain's rapeseed crop to insects in 2015.
This year the target is the world's most popular weed killer, glyphosate. In April, a green-orchestrated revolt in the European Parliament rejected a commission proposal to extend approval of the substance for 15 years. The parliament ignored the European Food Safety Authority's certification of glyphosate as safe, a verdict that would normally have been accepted without question.
The decision came after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a unit of the United Nations' World Health Organization, labelled glyphosate a likely carcinogen. But in a remarkable display of dissent against an international body, leading scientists denounced the IARC report. The scientist on whose data and findings IARC had depended said the handling of his work was "totally wrong." Soon it came out that the agency's principal advocate for the carcinogenic designation drew a double salary, from both the UN and an anti-pesticide advocate, the Environmental Defence Fund. In May, WHO affirmed glyphosate's safety.
But in Brussels the controversy continued and became so heated that dissident members of the European Parliament initiated a no-confidence motion against the European Commission headed by Jean-Claude Juncker. It was after the plan to ban glyphosate came to light that a late May poll showed 58 percent of British farmers favoring divorce from Europe.
Then, days before the Brexit vote, the European Commission took up an issue that farmers found at least as troubling — a long awaited decision related to the criteria and definition for designating "endocrine disruptors."
Endocrine disruptors are substances that, in sufficient doses, influence human hormone systems. The key question was, should the EU take into account strength or potency when classifying something an endocrine disruptor? Or should it recognize that some of the most powerful hormonally active substances, including sunlight, are natural? Many farmers saw the proposal as a move toward banning all crop protection agents.
Naturally no government wants to compromise human health or the environment. But as the experience with neonicitinoids, glyphosate, and now endocrine disruptors has made clear that any move to certify any chemical as safe will be met with angry protests — protests that will be heard and heeded in Brussels, whatever science, common sense, and farmers may say. Meanwhile, American trade negotiators have complained that the expected glyphosate ban ignores science, a warning signal that there will be a price in global trade relations for following zealots.
Some sympathy is due the commission. In classic Brussels manner, it has tried to make concessions to all parties. Avoiding both a ban and the 15-year certification renewal it was up for, glyphosate has received an 18-month extension. An endocrine-disruptor hazard assessment protocol that ignores potency has been adopted, but criteria for stigmatizing products have not been included. The proposed process allows for, in commission-speak, "exceptions" or "derogations" that consider exposure and risk, introducing further uncertainty into a process that now seeks to regulate by exception.
British farmers concluded that Brussels-style regulation had become a convoluted, counterproductive, anti-scientific mess that jeopardized their crops and their livelihoods. Whether they work in agriculture, or manufacturing, or almost any other field, voters throughout Europe have similar complaints about the commission.
With voices in France, the Netherlands, and other EU countries calling for exit votes of their own, the scandal of EU regulation must not be ignored. The continued existence of the Union itself is at stake.
For its future's sake, Europe must draw the right lessons from Brexit.
Dr. Cristian Busoi is a physician and Romanian member of the European parliament. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.