Safety focus for new pesticides body

A greater emphasis on regulation enforcement could benefit the industry.

Following months of intense lobbying by industry over the EU pesticides legislation, it might seem that ardour for the issues has cooled.

But the climactic decision in the European Parliament in January is not the end of the story - implementation of the new rules is set to be a lengthy and confusing journey.

This is the part of the process that is unlikely to make the national headlines but will prove pivotal in ensuring that growers and the amenity sector get the best possible deal.

The Regulation Concerning the Placing of Plant Protection Products on the Market will come into force around the end of 2010, while the Sustainable Use Directive must be implemented in UK law within two years of publication.

There has been a raft of work happening behind the scenes, along with governmental changes that could impact on the way the rules go forward.

The launch of the new Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) this month - formed from a merger of the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) and the Chemical Assessment Schemes Unit - brings the PSD within the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

It is a move that has been cautiously welcomed by key campaigners on the pesticides legislation trail.

Although it means a shift away from Defra, there could be advantages in the regulatory function and enforcement responsibilities held by the HSE.

Crop Protection Association (CPA) chief executive Dominic Dyer said: "On the enforcement side, with importation and illegal use of pesticides, we think there is a more effective legal base.

"It is a better team than we have had at Defra because the HSE will be more active on enforcement.

"However, we need to make sure we don't lose influence at Defra."

Defra will still get involved on policy issues arising through the CRD but will stay out of enforcement.

The new directorate is headed by former PSD chief executive Kerr Wilson as director and a directorate management team drawn from the former Chemical Assessment Schemes Unit and PSD.

NFU plant health adviser Paul Chambers said: "There is a potential issue there because now that the PSD comes under the HSE, it is reporting to a different minister. When it was proposed a couple of years ago, we were fully in support of it joining the HSE because it keeps the regulators together. There are a lot of similarities so it is a better fit."

Chambers said PSD staff were still struggling to rebrand and call themselves CRD, but the move into the HSE made sense in terms of bringing pesticides and biocides - which were already dealt with by the HSE - under one roof.

Wilson said: "Bringing together the delivery of HSE responsibilities for pesticides, biocides, detergents and industrial chemicals into one directorate has the potential to provide all stakeholders with a better regulatory service."

HTA director of business development Tim Briercliffe said there were some concerns about the PSD's shift.

He said: "We would have preferred it to stay within Defra. Although Defra has moved to a more environmental remit, it still has a strong base in the horticulture sector. The HSE is really just a health and safety enforcement body so we were concerned there wouldn't be the same understanding of why pesticides matter to the industry.

"But we will work closely with it to try to make sure it continues to understand (this). We need to ensure the goodwill and support that previously came out of government is seen through into the way the UK implements this."

The CRD will be consulting with industry on how to implement the legislation - but for now, there has been no strong start on that process.

The major issue is the slow progress of legislation through the network of various European bodies.

Although the new rules were expected to have been rubber-stamped by the Council of Ministers last month, it now looks likely that won't happen until at least May or June.

And while the final text has not been formally ratified, it means the UK cannot yet begin consulting.

"We are at an in-between stage because some of the work can't start until the text is officially agreed and published," explained Chambers.

"Things could change at the council stage, but no one expects it to. The CRD can't start consulting yet, but it is beginning internal discussions on it."

For the amenity sector, the grounding of a useful relationship with the HSE began in October, when parliamentary under-secretary Lord Bill McKenzie - who has responsibility for the body - pledged his support at the Amenity Forum conference.

Amenity Forum chairman John Moverley said communication of the issues from the sector into the new directorate could make a difference.

"We hope this will improve communications at a critical time in our discussions on proposed changes to pesticide agreements. I hope to get an early meeting with key people in the CRD so the issues and needs within the amenity sector can be discussed," he said.

In addition, consultant Richard Minton - who was appointed secretariat to the CPA Amenity Group earlier this month - said he hoped the involvement of the HSE would tackle dodgy contractors. He added that if best practice was not carried out across the sector, it could eventually lead to even more stringent controls. "We need the local authorities to come on board and be much more stringent about the type of people they employ," explained Minton.

"I hope the involvement with the HSE will help with that - we need its support and for leaders to go to local authorities and ask if they are sure that all weed control activities are being carried out within the law. If they are not, local authorities need to be aware that they are being watched."

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