21 June 2002

Call to name and shame polluters

By Isabel Davies and Johann Tasker

ENVIRONMENTAL watchdogs have claimed that £500m could be saved each year if farmers adopted better environmental practices.

The Environment Agency has accused producers of polluting water, soil and air with chemicals and organic matter, of spreading disease and of increasing the risk of flooding through erosion.

The annual cost of agriculture to the environment is £1.2bn, according to the agencys report Agriculture and Natural Resources. But this is offset by benefits only of up to £900m.

But the negative impact of farming could be reduced by £331m/year if farmers adopted a number of simple techniques, the document claims. And this figure would rise to £525m/year in the long term.

The report calls for on-the-spot fines for bad farming practises. Regulations should be updated to ensure that farmers are adequately penalised for farming in a way that breaks codes of good agricultural practice, it says.

To increase compliance bad farmers should also be "named-and-shamed" in special advertisements taken out in magazines such as farmers weekly, it says.

A pesticide tax and diffuse pollution phosphorus taxes should also be considered, it proposes. Alternatively, the tax system could be reformed to encourage farmers to change their behaviour.

But there are some positive aspects to the report. It says agri-environment support is "money well spent" and believes the governments proposed sustainable food and farming strategy should help farmers meet new standards.

But the report urges ministers to go beyond the policy commissions report recommendation of a modulation rate to 10% in 2004, suggesting it would support 50% modulation in 2006. It also suggests that a government-led development and accreditation scheme for land managers should be set up to improve land management.

Tanya Olmeda-Hodge, head of environment at the Country Land and Business Association, said: "We recognise that there are some environmental impacts from land management as with any other activity , but stress that the financial costs of the options to reduce them must always be borne in mind.

"Imposing further costs on land managers, such as green taxes is not the way forward. They are blunt instruments that will not deliver any environmental benefit, only increase funds for the Treasury." &#42

The Environment Agency wants a pesticide tax to be considered.