An independent pesticides importer has declared a “victory for British farmers” after a crown court judge accused Defra of helping to maintain a pesticides cartel in the UK.

Judge Robin Onions called for an inquiry into the pesticides industry after chemical distributor John Rawlings was found guilty of illegally storing three Italian pesticides.

At as hearing at Shrewsbury Crown Court, Judge Onions said Defra, through the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD), had “unwittingly or wittingly collaborated with chemical companies to maintain a cartel”.

Throughout the seven-day trial, the court heard that UK farmers were forced to pay up to 50% more than farmers in the rest of Europe for identical pesticides.

‘Staggering’

Judge Onions said the “staggering” differences needed to be investigated and said the case should be referred to the Competition Commission.

He also called for Defra and the PSD to write a report on what it had learnt from the case.

Mr Rawlings, who supplies pesticides to about 70 farms in Worcestershire and surrounding counties, had been accused of bringing 14 pesticides into the UK from Italy and the Netherlands without the necessary import clearance from Defra.

He was found guilty of three charges, while the judge ordered the remaining 11 to lie on file. Mr Rawlings was given a two year conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £8500 in addition to his own legal costs, estimated to be £60,000.

‘Counterproductive’

During the hearing, Mr Rawlings claimed he had not realised he was in breach of Defra’s controls as 12 of the 14 imported products were identical to those found in the UK. One of the other pesticides was in different packaging, while another was a different formulation.

“I realise the need to clear and approve new products coming into the UK,” Mr Rawlings told Farmers Weekly. “But obtaining parallel import clearance for the same products shouldn’t be necessary – it’s counterproductive.”

“The difference in price is another big issue. Farmers are not prepared to be ripped off. I’m very proud I have made a stand for British farming and I see this as a victory for the industry.”

Denise Dowen, Mr Rawling’s solicitor, said the case marked a significant step towards fairer regulation of the pesticides industry. “It’s undoubtedly good news for farmers,” she said.

‘Irrelevant’

A Defra spokeswoman said Defra had no involvement with prices and Judge Onions’ comments were “irrelevant” to the PSD and Defra.

“We are interested in the effects on health and the environment,” she said.

“The products Mr Rawlings imported were not the same as the ones available in the UK. If farmers use these cheap products [that are imported without a licence] there’s a chance they could ruin their crop.”