CPA chief executive Sarah Mukherjee said at the event, held at the Royal Society in London: "It’s difficult to cut through the tide of opinion with robust science." She said the challenge for the crop protection industry was to move to a "risk-based regime" and there was an opportunity for "science-based, research-driven" policy post-Brexit.
Rothamstead head of chemistry and crop protection Professor Lin Field said it was "worrying some people don’t think we need crop protection" but that would mean less food, which would be less nutritious and safe.
She said crop protection got a "bad press" in the past which "we are still tagged with". She defended neonicotinoids and said field level testing on pollinators was difficult to do and that it was concerning the EU is debating widening restrictions to other crops such as sugar beet.
She added: "We don’t know if we will be able to use neonicotinoids, post EU. My worry is we will just lift regulations from the EU. We have the opportunity to think much more carefully to develop our own science-based and risk-based strategies."
Field said decisions need to be made on "scientific evidence and real risk, not gut instinct and hazards".
She said she suspected a lot of people did not know the difference between risk and hazard-based evidence.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have made manifesto pledges to ban neonicotinoids, while B&Q has banned them for use by growers supplying its DIY/garden centres.
Bayer’s Julian Little brought up the issue of perceived validity of industry-funded science. Field said: "Work with partners can be seen as a disadvantage – ‘you would say that wouldn’t you’ – because funding comes from companies." But she said after public consultations, institutions such as Rothamsted could convince people industry-funding of research will not "compromise results".
She said Brexit could lead to reductions in funding for UK research institutions from Europe.
Speakers agreed lobbying to get across the industry’s messages was important ahead of the election.
Food & Drink Federation corporate affairs director Tim Rycroft said priorities were access to workers, trade and tariffs, Ireland, transition planning and regulation around the Great Repeal Bill, in which he would like to existing regulations then debate after 2018.