By Paul Andersen

THE government is not placing enough emphasis on the safe and sustainable use of pesticides, according to a report published on April 5 by a cross-Party committee of MPs.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report said that not enough progress had been made in the first four years of the Voluntary Initiative on pesticides.

The MPs concluded that some of the targets for the area of land under Crop Protection Management Plans and for water quality had been insufficiently challenging and should be strengthened.

The RSPB welcomed the committee”s call for better pesticide management.

Sue Armstrong-Brown, RSPB head of agriculture policy said making crop protection plans a part of cross-compliance, so that single farm payments were dependent on the proper management of pesticide use, would be a major step forward.

CRITICISM REJECTED 

But NFU deputy president Peter Kendall rejected the criticism and said, that the VI had been a success and he was encouraged by the farmer uptake.

“The VI represents a completely revolutionary way of farmers tackling the environmental challenge. We”ve put a lot of effort into making it work, and already, some of the pilot catchment areas are showing reduced levels of pesticides in the water,” Mr Kendall said.

On the whole, however, the EFRA committee found that there was currently little firm evidence of the environmental benefits of the VI.

It recommended that DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the VI steering group “move rapidly” to put in place the arrangements required to measure the scheme”s effect.

The MPs nonetheless called for a renewal of the VI after its current programme ends in March 2006 and for its remit to be re-focused on water catchment-sensitive farming and other water issues.

It recommended that the government “should provide financial support for the national roll-out of the water catchment projects and help facilitate ongoing professional training, using rural development funds”.

The recommendation was welcomed by Peter Sanguinetti, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, who said it was “excellent news” that the select committee had recommended using the carrot rather than the stick to encourage best practice in the use of pesticides.

A pesticide tax would be a “counter-productive stick”, Mr Sanguinetti said.

The MPs, however, did not rule out the idea of a pesticide tax, but said considerably more work is needed to explore the eventual design of such a tax before they can adopt a firm position with regard to its imposition.

paul.andersen@rbi.co.uk