Banning “hazardous” pesticides from EU food production represents a “win-win” for consumers and the farming industry, according to Hiltrud Breyer, the German Green MEP who is guiding the controversial proposals through the European parliament.
Ms Breyer is due to table her report into the revision of EU Directive 91/414, governing the approvals of pesticides imminently. The fear is that the parliament, influenced by Ms Breyer and her fellow Greens on the environment committee, will stick with the package it agreed at its “first reading” last October.
This built in additional “hazard criteria” when deciding whether to approve a pesticide or not which, according to the UK Pesticides Safety Directorate, could wipe 85% of current products from the market.
But Ms Breyer, addressing a recent British Chamber of Commerce conference in Brussels, insisted that the plan was a “win-win” for the whole food chain. Consumers would get safer food as the new generation of pesticides came through, and the environment would gain as water quality improved.
Ms Breyer added that there would be plusses for manufacturers and farmers too, as they would have an incentive to provide better pesticides. “This could give farmers a competitive advantage as they will be able to say they are producing pesticide-free food,” she suggested.
But her claims were vigorously contested by pesticide manufacturers, farmers and other MEPs.
Klaus Welsh of agro-chemical company BASF said there was a “perfect storm” brewing, with world demand for food outstripping supply every year. There was therefore an urgent need for technology and innovation to boost food output and enhance food security.
But the introduction of hazard criteria, which would outlaw products just because they contained traces of hazardous material, was against the “very spirit of innovation” and would put sustainable agriculture at risk.
Suggestions by Ms Breyer that the industry would quickly be able to develop replacement pesticides were unfounded. On average it took 10 years to develop a new product, at a cost of over €250m.
Philip Huxtable of JSR Farms in Yorkshire said that, without triazoles for dealing with septoria in wheat, yields would drop 25%. “We know that world population is increasing and the available land area is shrinking. Yet now the EU is planning to take away the tools of our trade, by limiting the number of crop protection products,” he said.
East-midlands MEP Robert Sturdy criticised the “hypocrisy” of stifling productive farming at a time when world starvation was increasing. “How many people have died from eating food containing pesticide residues in the EU?” he asked. “Compare that with the numbers who have died in Africa from having no food.”
There was also widespread criticism of the fact the legislation was being pushed through with no proper impact assessment. This is a key demand of the Farmers Weekly SOS (Save Our Sprays) Campaign But Ms Breyer said this was nothing more than a delaying tactic.
* Have you signed our e-petition yet for our Save Our Sprays Campaign? If not please visit our campaign website.