Wednesday, July 09, 2008


On the face of it, writing about European pesticides legislation doesn't appear to be the most fascinating exercise. But this is a subject that is getting everyone very hot under the collar. European legislators want to remove some of the most hazardous substances from use as pesticides--because of their potential to harm people and the environment through misuse. And when they are looking at harm to people, they don't just mean consumers but also the people who apply pesticides.

Such a hazard-based approach annoys lots of people who see this as politics interfering in what was previously a scientific approach. Previously this approach was entirely risk based. A substance can be very hazardous, but in actual day-to-day use pose little risk to anyone because of the way it is used. Conceivably, something that is less toxic, may be harming more people because of the way it is applied (say just before harvest).

In any case, it seems that there is little chance of much change to this legislation when it reaches Parliament for its 2nd reading this year.

A balance of risk. Pesticides keep food edible and cheap. On the other hand they are, by definition, poisonous. Europe’s legislators thus face a dilemma. Jul 3rd 2008

Reader comments:

Random Scientist wrote:
July 03, 2008 18:26
The cost of pesticide tests will go sky high. The market will be handed over to few biggest companies, those which either have some approved pesticides or can afford tests. Did anarchic greens want to create oligopoly of big corporations? Anyway, they did it.

Fastfish wrote:
July 03, 2008 23:27
More proof that we base sustainable population calculation on an unsustainable foundation. The common tone expressed is that there is no point in considering any other option. Can the Economist provide more than a window onto Purgatory or Hell?

Aroman wrote:
July 04, 2008 04:37

I agree with Random Scientist. This "prove that this is safe" policy is the same that we have seen in chemicals (REACH) and medicine. In all cases the effect is the same: old and trusted substances are driven from the market because nobody invests to prove them safe and we are left with expensive substances that for many years will stay on patent. And the threshold for further innovation becomes nearly unsurmountable.

I don't understand why the old policy of periodically outlawing the most unsafe substances has become obsolete.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mine, all mine

The article on June 19th on the endowment effect caused a range of reactions. Some readers thought it was brilliant, others thought it was brainless. The endowment effect is a quirk whereby once someone owns something, he places a higher value on it than he did when he acquired it. I looked at the possible evolutionary origins of this phenomenon in the article:

It’s mine, I tell you, Jun 19th 2008
Mankind’s inner chimpanzee refuses to let go. This matters to everything from economics to law

The reason that the endowment effect still upsets a few people is because it undermines this idea of rational economic man, which has been the core of a lot of economic theory for some years. But behavioural economics and evolution keep chipping away at this idea.

fostercj wrote on June 23 had a different idea for why people keep trying to insist we all act rationally: "That's the endowment effect at work. I'd rather hold on to the theory I've got than trade it even if the new theory is the one I'd have chosen if offered both to begin with. That definitely has some policy implications."

But awinkle on June 22 had a different view: "The endowment effect is NOT irrational. Purchasing items requires time and resources. That is where the added value comes from. If I trade my ashtray for yours, that is a fair trade. If you pay me sticker price for my ashtray, then I have to go out and buy a new one, that is a waste of time for me!table and I'm told to pick one."

Some picked up on the more philosophical aspects of stuff. Genghis Cunn wrote on June 23:
"The Buddha explained the process by which humans develop attachment and craving, a process which with a little training each of us can observe within ourselves."

Along with the article, I co-wrote a jokey leader (op-ed):
The curse of untidiness: DNA all over the place, Jun 19th 2008
Clutter is not just an evolutionary adaptation, but also a business opportunity