In case you haven’t heard the news yet, the European Union has recently decided to issue a two-years ban on neonicotinoids, chemicals that are thought to be involved in the decline of bee populations worldwide. So two manufacturers of neonicotinoids, Bayer and Syngenta, have decided to sue the EU to repel the ban.
Let me get things straight. I am not a biologist, and I know very little about chemistry. So I have no idea whether neonicotinoids are truly involved in the death of bees (as many independant scientists believe), or if it is truly harmless (as studies funded by Bayer have conveniently seemed to find). Since conflicts of interests are generally thought to be a problem when publishing research results, I won’t feel too bad about stating that I don’t trust Bayer’s research one bit, but that’s not the question. The questions, here, are simple:
1) When there is a risk that a product might be dangerous, for humans or for such crucial species as pollinator insects, banning it for a short period to see if things will get better is an Entirely Reasonable Idea. This is, after all, the most unbiased and ecological way you can possibly come up with to find out what the effect of removing it will be.
2) Protecting your financial interests is understandable. Yes, a strong economy is a good thing. But we have to keep in mind just why it is. We need strong economies to give people better standards of living. That’s basically the only use there is to money, and the only acceptable reason to fret so much about wealth. So if the need for a strong economy starts to trump the need for good living standards (for example, because you’re pouring toxic chemicals out into the environment), then someone is doing something really wrong.
3) In democratic societies, governments can be assumed to represent the interests of the people who elected them through a free election. So if the European Union is trying to ban something, democracy means that you should accept that, unless the population itself starts to protest. If companies are allowed to sue governments to protect their own interests, they basically act in direct violation of the democratic process. Having a lot of money and power does not give you the automatic right of forcing a democratically elected government to do what you want. Not happy about it? Get in the queue at the voting booth next time they ask you to, like the rest of us.
4) There was a time in history when central governments existed but had fairly little power, and when power was assumed instead by people with a lot of wealth and workers who depended on them for subsistance, did what they were told and avoided rebellion because it could cost them their lives or livelihood. At that time, populations did have very little say in matters of governing themselves, and independant power units with their own wealth and resources used their power to serve their own selfish interests, rather than the interests of the people. So yes, we do have a precedent for that in history. What was it called again? Oh yes, the feudal system. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like going back there. Even if feudal lords are now called ‘companies’.