Michael McCarthy: A scientist with the credentials to take on Defra

Dr Watson is not quite a household name, but he could be Britain's most widely distinguished scientist

Share
Related Topics

You've probably never heard of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development. The name wins no prizes for memorability. Even the abbreviation (IAASTD) hardly trips off the tongue, which is probably the reason why the exercise has never caught the public imagination.

But this colossal three-year study of the global food production system, involving nearly all the UN agencies and published in 2008, is the most comprehensive assessment of the future of agriculture ever undertaken, and the person who oversaw it all as its chairman was Bob Watson, the chief scientist at Defra, Britain's environment department – the man now asking his own questions about neonicotinoid pesticides.

Dr Watson is, bizarrely, not quite a household name in the UK, but in terms of the appointments he has held, he is easily Britain's most widely distinguished scientist.

For five years from 1997 to 2002 he was the world's leading climate change figure, as chairman of the IPCC, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (before being succeeded by Dr Raj Pachauri, whose tenure has proved so controversial). He has been head of environment at the World Bank, associate director for environment in the Clinton White House and director of the science division of Nasa.

Now he sits in Westminster looking at the future of agriculture in Britain, and the fact that this is the man who has a wider vision of agriculture's future than anyone else in the world, adds considerable resonance to the fact that neonicotinoids and their problems have caught his attention, when the rest of Defra is busy assuring people that such problems do not exist.

Neonicotinoid use, promoted by the German agribusiness Bayer, is surging: well over 2.5 million acres of crops are now treated with the chemicals in the UK – all with the public hardly realising it. The parallels with GM crops and Monsanto a decade ago are obvious, and this is an issue which is not going away – it is only just beginning.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Hardware Engineer - SW London - £35,000 plus benefits and c

£28000 - £35000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Hardware Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Sales Account Manager - OTE £30,000

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Company is looking for B2B...

Recruitment Genius: IT Production Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in Multi-Channel Di...

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Web Developer / Software Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Engineer is required...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts

Björt Ólafsdóttir
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor