18 September 1998

Danish input tax flops

INPUT taxes have flopped in Sweden, failed to influence pesticide use in Denmark and remain far from the agenda in France and Germany.

"Input taxes in Denmark have had no impact on pesticide use," says Per Kristensen, director of the Danish Crop Protection Association. Levies of 13% for fungicides and herbicides and 27% for insecticides were introduced in January 1996, but have failed to reduce product use.

"Our government promised the public a 7-10% reduction in pesticide use, but there was no effect whatsoever." Now the taxes are being doubled. Mr Kristensen anticipates little effect from that either.

"Ministers seem to think farming is like any other market, where a rise in input cost sees a reduction in its use. But they do not understand farming; farmers are up against the weather and nature. If there is a problem it has to be dealt with."

Creating a system to collect the tax cost manufacturers £1m. Running costs are £90,000 a year. A similar system for the larger UK market could cost five times that.

Some of the Danish tax is refunded to growers directly, in the form of land tax compensation. But the rest is spent on environmental research, including an organic farming subsidy. That is a waste, says Mr Kristensen.

"If the money was invested in intensive education for five years the impact would be far greater. It is the misuse of pesticides that needs targeting."

Sweden has already learned that lesson. It dropped its input tax after finding it made no difference to pesticide use. Now a hectare tax finances research and training to help farmers make practical moves to reduce the environmental impact of pesticides.

Despite a strong environmental lobby in Germany, the large farming vote is keeping input taxes off the political agenda, notes Mr Kristensen. The issue has not even arisen in France. &#42