Farming groups have said they want to see more research carried out before producers are burdened with tighter spray controls.

The influential Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution last week recommended that, because there is scientific uncertainty about whether pesticide spraying can lead to ill health, stricter controls were needed (News, 23 Sept).

The commission has called for 5m no-spray buffers next to homes, mandatory notification of any spraying operations and compulsory membership of schemes like the National Register of Sprayer Operators.

But farm leaders have claimed that it would be wrong to go down the route of further regulation until more scientific evidence has been produced.

NFU Scotland’s combinable crops committee chairman David Houghton, said: “The industry needs scientific evidence to advise it on what can and can’t be done and whether changes are required to the many precautions and protocols already in place.

“At the moment, as the commission’s report itself says, the science is very uncertain.

That makes the case for further research – not further regulations.”

Peter Saguinetti, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, pointed out that farmers needed pesticides to help produce a plentiful supply of safe, high quality, affordable food.

As a responsible industry, it would comply with any new requirements the regulator introduced, he said.

But he questioned whether a 5m no-spray buffer zone should be introduced before it had been seen whether the 2m strips introduced as a cross-compliance measure helped to reduce spray drift.

“If they do decide to go ahead with a 5m buffer, then farmers need to be able to claim it as set-aside,” he added.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach acknowledged the importance of pesticides but said new evidence should be factored into the regulatory regime. The government planned to issue a full response by next summer, he added.

isabel.davies@rbi.co.uk