Industry wants pesticide rules examined

Industry figures are pushing for EU member states' environment ministers to set up a working group examining controversial new pesticides legislation, which was adopted this week despite the best campaigning efforts of the UK horticulture industry.

The Placing of Plant Protection Products on the Market regulation and the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive were approved by MEPs on Tuesday (13 January).

But after months of intense lobbying from industry groups, an amendment drafted by the HTA and Crop Protection Association (CPA) and proposed by UK MEP Robert Study that called for an EU-wide impact assessment was pulled from the agenda at the last moment for procedural reasons.

CPA chief executive Dominic Dyer has pledged to keep up the pressure on Defra secretary Hilary Benn to push for a European Council working group to carry out its own impact assessment. Benn was set to meet CPA and NFU representatives yesterday (15 January).

The legislation still has to be formally ratified by the council, comprising member states' relevant ministers. "That should not be just a rubber-stamping exercise," stressed Dyer. HTA director of business development Tim Briercliffe agreed: "There is potentially scope for further action."

The lack of an impact assessment has been criticised by key figures across the sectors.

Benn said he was deeply concerned: "These regulations could hit agricultural production in the UK for no recognisable benefit to human health. We are being asked to agree to something when nobody knows what the impact will be."

Briercliffe said: "We are appalled the EU does not seem to want to understand what the full implication of this legislation will be."

Amenity Forum chairman Jon Allbutt agreed, calling the withdrawal of the impact assessment amendment "a very serious development". "In public amenity areas we still have to go through the process of exactly how we're going to take this into domestic legislation. I share everyone's concern about an impact assessment - many businesses and local authorities may not be able to afford alternatives to herbicides and fungicides," Allbutt said.

Dyer added: "There are still questions to be asked, particularly on issues like the definition of endocrine disruptors ... Although the compromise position is an improvement on where we were 12 months ago, we are still left with potential problems."

NFU plant health adviser Paul Chambers told HW that the temporary definition of endocrine disruptors - which classes any chemicals which are reproductively toxic as an endocrine disruptor - was problematic. It could mean that products are lost which may not have been banned under the permanent definition, set to be produced in four years.

He added: "We are very frustrated because there is a feeling this is being railroaded through.

"There is still an enormous amount to be worked out. We know there will be big impacts for horticultural crops such as carrots, onions and parsnips."

Being able to "react quickly enough" would be a major concern, said HDC communications manager Scott Raffle. "To lose significant numbers of pesticides in one fell swoop is a big challenge," he added. "It takes years to develop alternatives and it will be hard for ornamentals and food growers."

HOW PROFESSIONALS FROM ACROSS HORTICULTURE REACTED TO THE EU VOTE

"There has been a real lack of science during this process but sadly most MEPs were too scared to be perceived as anything other than green. Growers have been put in an awful position. We have now perhaps one chemical to treat each pest and disease." - Michael Smith, chairman, BPOA technical committee

"From a grounds maintenance point of view, to go down the route of using alternatives to pesticides such as steaming or flaming would be a 70 per cent increase in costs. If you take into account non-chemical control of invasives in landscaping projects, it is 10 times the cost and it's not always effective." - Neil Huck, technical director, BALI

"There have been far too many pesticides used in the past, but this legislation is bonkers. We should lobby the prime minister. We don't have to ratify it." - Steve McCurdy, managing director, Majestic Trees

"We now have no weed killer for carrots and parsnips or insecticides for brassicas. This will have a huge impact on cost of production. I hope our colleagues in Europe begin to understand what they have done. We are looking at how we can emulate what we do indoors on outdoor crops. But it will mean lower production at higher cost." - Graham Ward, chief executive, Stockbridge Technology Centre

"It's disappointing that the EU-wide risk assess- ment was thrown out. We need to think very carefully now about how we can help growers produce crops." - John Adlam, consultant, Dove Associates

"The implications for consumers are going to be drastic and members will be hit quite hard. Our product range and how our crops are grown are going to be big issues. We've gone over the edge at a time when research been cut down. Are we ever going to be able to produce fresh food in this country?" - Martin Evans, chairman, British Carrot Growers' Association

"For fruit production, the compromise is much less harmful than the original. But the lack of definition for endocrine disruptors means some uncertainty. The number of insecticides that will be lost is small. But for fungicides, the situation is more negative. A large number of triazoles will be lost, which are important for mildew control in soft and top fruit." - Dr Jerry Cross, EMR.


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