6 August 1999

Pesticide study needs to be reviewed – university

By Jonathan Riley

A GOVERNMENT-FUNDED feasibility study into pesticide taxes has been criticised in a new report on by the University of Wales Agriculture and Land Use unit.

The university report was funded by the British Agrochemical Association and appraised the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions study carried out by Ecotec.

The DETR report looked at the details of how a new pesticide tax might be implemented and suggested that a tax would benefit the consumer and environment.

But Gareth Edwards-Jones, Professor of agriculture and land use studies at the University of Wales, said many of the findings in the DETR report were not sound and needed to be reviewed. Prof Edwards-Jones said the government had suggested pesticide taxes could indirectly benefit human health.

"There are no relevant measures used to assess toxicity that have any bearing on human health. So any government claims of the tax benefiting consumer health should be removed from the rationale for developing a tax.

"If the government is concerned about health why is it considering the imposition of a tax on British food alone? What about imported foods, which now must account for a large proportion of foods eaten by British people. Are they not as concerned about imports?" he asked.

And taxing pesticides was not as straightforward as taxing leaded petrol to persuade people to buy unleaded, Prof Edwards-Jones added.

"The least toxic chemicals are often the newest and can cost 20 times as much as the most toxic chemicals. In this situation taxes alone will not add enough cost and will not encourage producers to use another chemical," he said.

And the report added that less toxic, substitute chemicals were not always available and again a tax would not dissuade producers from using the cheaper chemical.

"So the government cannot guarantee to the public that a tax is a robust method of delivering environmental benefits either."

He also added that no mention had been made in the DETR report of chemicals permitted for organic farms. "They are often very toxic but allowed because they are formulated from so-called natural ingredients such as sulphur and copper. It seems the government has skirted around this issue."

Energy levy will hit producers

GOVERNMENT plans for an energy tax could cost British farmers and growers more than £26m but will fail to deliver significant environmental benefits, according to a new report from the NFU.

Launching the report, union deputy president Tony Pexton said: "This levy would have a severe financial effect on farmers and growers.

"Horticulture and agriculture are continually exhorted to be competitive, yet here is another government-imposed restriction on our ability to be so, with potentially serious consequences for employment and the general rural economy," said Mr Pexton. Farmers and growers should be exempt from the tax, which the government proposes to introduce from April 1 2001 as part of its commitment to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, he claimed.

Last month a report by parliaments cross-party trade and industry select committee concluded that the levy could prove "a blunt instrument which does considerable damage to the sectors of the British economy already struggling to maintain their profitability".

British Sugar, although supporting the objective of an energy tax, has estimated that, even after taking rebates on National Insurance into account, it would cost the business £6m a year.

In its submission to the select committee it claimed the tax could put the British sugar beet industry into "a downward spiral that would have a severe impact…on our business [and] on the agricultural community and the 24,000 UK jobs that depend on sugar beet processing."

British Sugars Paul Gardiner, who is also chairman of the Food and Drink Federations working party on the energy tax, said that it had been estimated that the net cost to the UK food and drink sector could be as much as £150m. &#42

Damage fines delay

PROPOSALS to increase the fines faced by landowners who damage protected areas of the countryside are likely to be delayed by the government, it has emerged.

Plans unveiled this week would force farmers who damage Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) to restore the sites to their original state at their own cost.

But environment minister, Michael Meacher, admitted on Monday that he could not guarantee a place for the plans in next years parliamentary programme.

As well as increasing the fines for landowners, the proposals would also stiffen the penalties faced by other land users who damage wildlife sites. &#42