15 August 1997

Imported rape seed

fuels trade furore

IMPORTED Apex rape seed is causing a stir in the seed trade, with accusations of wildlife and operator risks countered by claims that large merchants are operating a cartel.

Misinformation is being spread to shore up the price of Apex, claims John Stanley of Warks-based Milcote Hall Quality Seeds. He believes the recent fall in on-farm Apex prices can be attributed to his efforts to undercut established trade prices.

Other UK suppliers maintain the imported seed is treated with a pesticide which could harm game birds. "I am concerned about its alleged toxic effects on wildlife," says Neil Pateman of Banks Agriculture.

Barry Barker for Dalgety Agriculture says he was told Sweden had banned it because of its avian toxicity. Imported seed labels do not have hazard warnings printed in English, a fact which could attract Health and Safety Executive interest, he adds.

Cargills Nick Hartwell declines to comment, referring enquiries to Zeneca Seeds as UK agent for Apex.

Milcote decided to import 40t of Apex from Denmark after finding the asking price for a "fair-sized tonnage" from a large unidentified UK firm was 40p/kg up on last year and 25p/kg more than the quoted on-farm price, explains Mr Stanley.

The Danish seed is dressed with Promet (furathiocarb), an insecticide not approved or registered in the UK. Since deciding to import, Milcote and its selling partner, Shrewsbury-based Ridley Seeds, have come under fire, says Mr Stanley. "We have received a deal of flack from some national UK companies who unfortunately have been reduced to inuendo and untrue remarks about the seed dressing.

"We concluded we were being pushed out. Some national companies were trying to keep their margins high by forming a club. Since the imported Apex has been over here the price on farm has dropped quite considerably. So perhaps we have done our bit to reduce on-farm costs for the UK farmer."

"Its the old story of the big boys trying to crush the little guys," adds Chris Hoff, managing director of Ridleys.

Suggestions that the imported material is inferior because it is over-yeared are misleading, he adds. Independent laboratory tests show the imported seed has a germination level of over 95%.

Zenecas Bram van der Have accepts that the strong pound and EU principles of free trade inevitably open opportunities for importers to undercut main UK suppliers of Apex. "My main concerns are that whoever is bringing it in should be able to provide the health and safety data sheets and that the quality guarantees on the seed are the same as given by the UK trade. I understand Promet is a pretty nasty chemical."

Mike Pearson for manufacturer Novartis stresses that the systemic carbamate insecticide Promet is not banned in Sweden, although there is talk of it being phased out. It was trialled in the UK about eight years ago, but not introduced for commercial reasons, he adds.

He refutes suggestions that imported Promet-treated seed is particularly hazardous to game birds. When used as directed Promet has no harmful effect on plants, he adds. "It has only a mild skin and eye irritant rating and is not considered mobile in the soil."n

RAPESEEDRUMPUS

&#8226 Apex seed imported with non-UK approved treatment.

&#8226 Pesticide hazard claims.

&#8226 Importer defends position.

&#8226 Get safety info sheets.

&#8226 Cartel-busting operation?

IMPORTING seed treated with a pesticide approved in the originating EU member state is perfectly legal, because it comes in as a "finished product", says Mr Pearson.

A Pesticides Safety Directorate spokesman confirms that, but adds that the importer must ensure applicable maximum residue level (MRL) and Food Safety Act requirements are also met.

Much imported maize seed is treated with pesticide not approved in the UK, notes Mr Stanley. "It is accepted practice. We have put labels on the bags showing the ingredients and the normal hazard warnings." Health and safety data sheets could also be made available, he adds.

Turn to p59 for arable advice on early drilling for winter wheat