Charles Alluto used his speech at this month’s Chamber of Commerce lunch to hit out at the States’ inaction on a catalogue of environmental matters and its ‘procrastination, lack of courage and conviction and endless unfulfilled strategic objectives’.
Meanwhile, Murray Norton, the Chamber of Commerce chief executive – a former States Deputy – drew the audience’s attention to the lack of any government representation at the event, which this month focused on corporate social responsibility and was sponsored by Ashburton.
He suggested it was not just businesses that needed to be socially responsible, but the States as well, saying: ‘This is the first Chamber lunch I can remember where there has not been a government minister, a politician or a senior officer in the room. If we had a speaker on tax or finance, I bet we’d have sold four tables [to government representatives].’
Mr Alluto, who also called for a rethink of Jersey’s ‘broken’ agricultural model, said: ‘As a small community we have the unique ability to act quickly, decisively and with leadership. We are incredibly nimble when threatened by legislation from Westminster.
‘But in relation to the environment, our government talks big but continues to suffer from procrastination, lack of courage and conviction, and endless unfulfilled strategic objectives.
‘I would therefore urge Jersey’s business community to take the lead, act decisively and recognise that sustainability needs to be at the very heart and core of every business. Not only does it makes economic sense, but acting responsibly for the long-term benefit of society as a whole, is the very ethos of CSR.’
He added that the lack of government representation at the event suggested how seriously the States was taking the issue.
This view was echoed by an audience member, speaking on behalf of farmers, who also criticised the States for failing to support the industry.
As chemicals used in farming have come under renewed focus following the discovery of the weedkiller glyphosate 50 times over the regulatory limit in a stream that feeds Queen’s Valley reservoir, and testing currently ongoing after PFOS was found in boreholes near the Airport earlier this year, Mr Alluto said the quality of the Island’s water sources and soil had never been more important.
He also called for Jersey’s ‘broken’ agricultural model to be reviewed, particularly its ‘incredible reliance’ on chemicals used in farming.
Crop rotation, reducing the number of potatoes planted and diversification all needed to be considered as part of a new model, as well as alternatives to using pesticides and herbicides, he said.
Asked by Jersey Water chief executive Helier Smith whether there should be changes to farming practices and regulation, Mr Alluto said: ‘We would consider the current agriculture model to be broken. This is also considered to be the case in the UK. We are no longer in the long-term going to be able to rely on pesticides.
‘There is going to have to be a complete rethink of what we do. We also have a serious nematode [a type of roundworm in the soil that affects potatoes] problem. There isn’t the kit to deal with that now, as one of the chemicals has been classed as dangerous.’
He added: ‘We have got to be realistic about what we want to achieve, I think we completely need to review our agricultural model and I think government needs to be totally involved in that process. It would be really interesting to do a cost-benefit analysis of the potato industry as a way to see what it brings to the Island as a whole. I think the results would be very interesting.’
Audience member Emma Mourant, who said her husband is a sixth-generation Jersey Royal grower, responded to Mr Alluto’s comments by saying that farmers were passionate about Jersey and its environment and took their responsibilities seriously.
She said that anyone who worked in farming had to go on a three-day course before they could use chemicals and highlighted that the plastic used on Jersey’s potato fields was reused at least three times before being recycled. She added that farmers exporting crops to the UK also helped to keep freight costs down for goods coming into the Island.
‘We are very, very passionate about the local environment and there have been studies done on what agriculture brings to Jersey,’ she said. ‘Local government talks big but doesn’t actually support the local industry.’
The event was the last official Chamber engagement for outgoing president Eliot Lincoln, who is due to be replaced by Jennifer Carnegie next month.