16 May 1997

EC heavy metal rules might curb cropping

By Tony McDougal

ARABLE farmers could face serious cropping restrictions under European Commission proposals to severely tighten lead and cadmium levels in cereals.

The commissions Industry department (DG3) has issued plans to cut heavy metal levels in cereals from the World Health Organisation sanctioned 1mg/kg to 0.1mg/kg. Research by UK and Dutch organisations has shown that the tenfold reduction could affect up to 40% of cereals in the more industrialised EU nations.

Ivor Murrell, Maltsters Assoc-iation secretary general, said a survey of 65 malting barley samples last year showed that 25 of these were at or above the proposed 0.1mg/kg setting for lead, though none breached the WHO guideline.

"We took samples from different geographical areas and sent them to a government-approved laboratory in Cambridge. There was no geographical pattern to the levels, the highest recorded was 0.9mg/kg in the south west.

"What annoys us is that there has been no supporting statement to back these proposed changes. There are no health implications or safety requirements. It seems as if the commission is adopting this policy because it is now possible to test at such low levels. At this rate, we will be testing at one part per trillion in five years time."

He added: "We buy 2m tonnes of malting barley from UK growers. If 38% of samples are above the new set level, does that mean we will not be able to buy from these suppliers?"

Jonathan Pettit, NFU cereals adviser, said this was an example of the European Commission wanting to harmonise differing member states legislation. Mr Pettit said the NFU firmly opposed the measures.

"We have followed the WHO safety level, which we can meet, but the farmer cannot control the amount of lead in his grain." &#42