How the Federal Environment Agency Fools the Media into a Trend Against Pesticides

Statistics are often fed with high-profile news in the newspapers. Although occasionally the newspapers find it too convenient for them to spread the numbers themselves. Official bodies exercise the art of shortening a bit too frequently. The outcome may be a blurred picture. One example is the media response to the latest data collection by the Federal Environment Agency.

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) is the central environmental authority of the Republic and is responsible to the Ministry of the Environment. Above all, the UBA should provide the government with scientific assistance, ensure that environmental legislation is applied and educate the public about environmental conservation issues. The latter is responsible for the release of the “Environmental Data” brochures, the latest edition of which was recently released on the issue of “Environment and Agriculture.

2 main “increasing” problems:

1. The UBA selected the comparison period in such a way that 1994 is the starting point for the analysis in which particularly low sales of pesticides were recorded. Conversely, the Federal Office’s statistics stop in 2015, although figures for 2016 are already available. And in 2016, according to the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, there was another decline in domestic sales of plant protection products. The UBA also refers to these BVL figures. The RWI Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Essen named the arbitrary definition of time periods for plant poison statistics as the “un-statistics” of the month last year. At that time it was about the government’s response to a request from the Greens, according to which the total amount of plant protection products applied in Germany had increased by around 4,600 to 34,700 tons between 2009 and 2015 .

2. Problem: The increase from 30,000 to over 40,000 tons of pesticides currently determined by the UBA includes the so-called inert gases. These are means that are used in storage to protect the harvest. Carbon dioxide is often used here. However, these gases have little in common with poison that is sprayed on fields. The proportion of these gases in the total amount of pesticides has increased recently, while the amount of classic herbicides has tended to decrease since 2012. Both points of criticism were identified by the industrial association for agriculture as a “ statistic fraud ex officio” designated. Naturally, however, the press release of a lobby association does not get as broad media coverage as figures from a neutral federal office or even an article by the dpa that is even automatically published in many online media.

What is the obligation of  UBA?

The main dpa text in which this distinction did not occur appeared in numerous print and online publications with a potential reach of millions. How many people have downloaded the UBA’s original brochure and read it up to page 54 in order to get a “differentiated picture”? Neither the UBA, nor the dpa, nor the disseminating media have disseminated false information in this case. Sometimes, however, it is enough to simply omit, simplify or just choose a specific section to influence media reporting. A government agency like the Federal Environment Agency should actually be obliged to a certain degree of neutrality and completeness, even with press releases. “Informing the public about environmental issues is the UBA’s legal mandate”, it says on the homepage of the office. Pushing public opinion in a particular direction should not be part of this mandate.