Farmers Weekly‘s SOS Campaign comes hot on the heels of a key stakeholder meeting in London where representatives from the agro-chemicals, food and farming industry discussed their strategy for the coming months.

At the meeting, Farmers Weekly Europe editor Philip Clarke explained that FW would be helping to raise the profile of the issue, at home and abroad, to encourage farmers to lobby their MPs and MEPs as the legislation reaches a critical stage.

Farmers Weekly will also work with other EU farming titles through the Eurofarm Group of magazines – of which FW is a member – to get them to run similar campaigns in their countries.

“As we see it, the UK government is already on side, with DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn speaking against the proposals at the June agriculture council,” he said. “The focus of our campaign is therefore very much on the EU and Brussels.”

The aim is to get a joint petition together from around Europe to present to the European parliament’s environment committee when it meets in the autumn to consider the legislation. The campaign will also encourage farmers to write to their MEPs when the time is right, and register their concerns.

While welcoming the initiative, Crop Protection Association chief executive Dominic Dyer said that face-to-face meetings were also highly effective in getting the message across. “Farmers should contact their MPs and MEPs now, book into their surgeries and block up their diaries to make them aware of these serious issues.

“Even better, invite them on to your farms and show them first hand what impact the legislation could have.”

  • At the stakeholder meeting Crop Protection Association chief executive Dominic Dyer explained that, while the Irish and the Polish governments shared the UK’s concerns about the anti-pesticide legislation, the rest of Europe had been much slower off the mark.
    There were a number of possible explanations, he said, including the fact that the whole food chain was less well linked up than in the UK on this subject, so was not being heard.
    The fact the UK had an independent Pesticide Safety Directorate, which had carried out its own impact assessment and put it in the public domain, meant the UK food chain was more aware of the consequences.
    French leader Nicolas Sarkozy was also known to favour more restrictions on pesticides and had made it one of the priorities of the current French presidency of the EU.
    To try and overcome this inertia, the CPA was organising a European “round-table” of EU food chain organisations in Brussels in September.
    In the short term it was also important to keep the pressure up on the UK government to push for an EU-wide impact assessment, before the draft legislation got any further, said Mr Dyer.
    While the political agreement reached by agriculture ministers in June was due to be signed off at the next farm council (29 September), Mr Dyer believed the discussions could still be opened again, if enough pressure was brought to bear. “In politics, anything is possible,” he said.