Meten=Weten (Measuring=Knowing) started in October 2018 as a citizen initiative. Many of the inhabitants of our municipality Westerveld (region Drenthe) are concerned about the large amount of pesticides used on the flower bulb plantations, and lily plantations in particular. Over the last two decades, these bulb plantations are expanding in our area and more and more land is being bought by ‘flower farmers’. While the Dutch flowers and bulbs are renown around the world, the citizens living near these plantations are increasingly worried. These fields are sprayed with pesticides once or twice a week, which is a lot more often than other cash crops. As a comparison: in The Netherlands, an average of 8kg pesticides are used on one hectare. In the UK this average is 1kg per hectare. Lily bulbs, however, require 125kg per hectare.
The national and subnational governments, however, tell us there is nothing to worry about. So after 15 years of debating and protesting, we as citizens decided to take samples and have these analysed. Through a crowdfunding campaign we managed to analyse 12 samples from our yards and (organic) kitchen gardens. Pesticides were even found in the diapers of children living near the fields. We found a total of 57 different pesticides in these samples, one sample containing even 32 of them. Our research was like a pebble in a calm pond. Our research got to all the newspaper headlines, the national news broadcasts and television shows. But after this, awfully little changed. The government continued claiming there was nothing to worry about, since every pesticide we found fell within the standards. These standards, however, are established per pesticide and little is known about the accumulative effects of different pesticides together. We found an average of 10 pesticides in each sample!
We thus decided to carry out further research. We formed an association that currently has about 550 members, and we took more samples. We found pesticides everywhere, also in those samples taken in the middle of protected conservation areas. We as citizens therefore demand a pesticide-free zone of 100m around our homes, and the protection of conservation areas from pesticides. But our local governments take no action, as they deem the economic gains of a few farmers much more important than the health of its citizens.
In June 2020, the National Health Council – an independent scientific council advising the Parliament and national government – issues a report on the situation. In a nutshell: it confirms that pesticides can cause harm and that their use should be significantly reduced. International research indicates that pesticides can cause Parkinson’s disease, and that they can be harm the brain development of small children. According to scientists, Parkinson is the fastest growing neurological disease worldwide and there is increasing evidence that there is a link to the use of pesticides.
Despite this scathing report, the government is not intending to act as this would considerably hamper the export and the economy. In a world that has to become increasingly more sustainable, more than 90% of the bulbs grown in our area are being exported. They are transported across the globe in order to last no longer than one week as cut flowers in a vase or to be planted as bulbs full of poison in gardens worldwide. And we…? We are left with poisoned farmland with a dead soil, and with pesticides in our gardens and our homes.
This is why the citizens of Westerveld will continue to measure, and protest against this.