COMPULSORY NO-SPRAY buffer zones around agricultural land have been rejected by the government, despite claims from campaigners that their health has been affected by spray drift.

Junior DEFRA minister Alun Michael said the government‘s top priority was to ensure that the safety arrangements it had in place protected the public.

Although he added: “The independent scientific advice to me is very clear that the existing system provides full reassurance on that score.”

But the minister also announced he had asked the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to carry out a study into the science used to assess risk to people from sprays.

There was clearly a perception that current arrangements were inadequate, so the time was right for a fresh and independent appraisal of the basis for risk assessment, he said.

“That is why I have asked the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to examine the evidence on which the current system is based and the reasons for people‘s concerns.”

Mr Michael said that new legal measures will also be introduced requiring farmers to keep records of pesticides sprayed, which will be made available to the public via a third party.

In addition, a pilot study will be set up to explore how residents living next to farms can be notified ahead of spraying

The announcements follow a formal consultation exercise which was designed to obtain views on the introduction of no-spray buffer zones between fields and houses.

A second informal consultation exercise invited suggestions on measures to improve public access to information on pesticide use activities.

A total of 763 responses were made to the formal consultation on buffer zones and 487 responses were made to the informal consultation on access to information.

DEFRA said the responses to both consultations were polarised, with public and environmental groups largely in favour, and most farmers against the proposals.

Speaking at Cereals 2004, junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty said ministers had looked at the feasibility of buffer zones and concluded it was not an appropriate requirement.

“We are asking the Royal Society to look at health effects (of spraying on local residents) – further science needs to be done but buffer strips do not seem to be the solution.”