26 October 2001

EUcab curbs put on shelf

By Philip Clarke

EURO-MPs have postponed proposed legislation that would have restricted farmers to just a few hours a day in their tractor cabs.

MEPs granted agriculture a five-year exemption to daily limits proposed by the Physical Agents (Vibrations) Directive in a crucial vote in Strasbourg on Tue, Oct 23. The directive was intended to limit exposure to vibrations from machinery to protect drivers from the risk of back damage.

But farm leaders and MEPs successfully argued that the plan was unworkable and based on dodgy science. "It would have caused massive problems and expense for most farmers, many of whom are on the verge of bankruptcy," said LibDem MEP, Liz Lynne.

Member states must agree new rules for agriculture within five years. NFU Brussels director Betty Lee said: "We dont have a problem with that. Weve always said we could accept a limit, so long as it is based on sound science."

New research into tractor vibration is under way at the Silsoe Research Institute, Beds. Further projects are being undertaken in Denmark. When a exposure limit is established for agriculture, there will be a further five years in which to implement the legislation.

But, while pleased with the outcome of this weeks vote in Strasbourg, farm leaders acknowledge that there is more work to be done. "It is imperative that pressure is still maintained as this is only the first stage in the process," said NFU vice-president, Michael Paske.

The parliaments amendments must now be agreed by member states in the European employment and social policy council. In the absence of any agreement between the two institutions, a conciliation process will try to thrash out a compromise.

"We are hopeful that the parliaments derogation for agriculture will survive this process," said Ms Lee. "But there are dangers. The commission, whose job it is to broker a deal, still favours a tighter limit. We are not taking out the champagne just yet." &#42