The EU regime regulating plant-protection products is discouraging innovation and hindering the international competitiveness of European farming, the British Crop Protection Council (BCPC) Congress in Brighton heard earlier this month.
"Speakers and delegates were very clear," said BCPC chairman Dr Colin Ruscoe. "The escalating demands and uncertain outcomes of the application of the current regulations are a disincentive to innovation in EU crop-protection technology and so agricultural productivity."
This favours other regions such as North America that have "clearer, less politicised regulatory processes based on sound scientific risk assessment", he added.
Highlighting the recent agreement to allow member states to prohibit cultivating GM organisms on their territory without scientific evidence, Professor Joyce Tait, director of the ESRC Innogen Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said: "We are dealing with a dysfunctional, excessively complex system that cannot be justified on grounds of delivering greater safety or environmental benefits and it is in need of radical revision."
Chemicals Regulation Directorate head of biocides, pesticides and the environment Sarah Shore described working within the EU legislative framework as "challenging", adding: "The UK is pressing for the review of regulation 1107/2009 that the Commission is required to undertake."
Ruscoe said: "We urgently need a reformed regime in which regulators can use scientific risk assessment to protect human health and the environment without prejudicing innovation in crop production as well as growth and competitiveness."
Horticultural pests - Threat to solutions
A company seeking to release genetically sterile versions of horticultural pests is "already being campaigned against", Oxitec lead researcher Adam Walker told the British Tomato Growers Association Conference.
The technique, which relies on sterile male insects mating with females to give non-viable offspring, leading eventually to eradication, has been or is being developed to counter a number of pests, for which it is seeking regulatory approval. Sterile versions of malaria-carrying mosquitoes have already been successfully deployed in Brazil.
But the company was prevented from releasing GM cabbage moths in the UK in 2012 following objections from pressure group GeneWatch UK and others. Oxitec had claimed its insects were "biologically contained" so requirements on open releases of GM organisms did not apply.