29 March 1996

NFU says NVZ decision extremely disappointing

By Liz Mason

GOVERNMENT has finally designated 68 nitrate vulnerable zones in England and Wales at an estimated cost to producers of £3m a year plus a one-off cost of £10m.

The NFU said the move was "extremely disappointing" and officials said the cost figure was a "considerable underestimate".

They planned to study the designations carefully before considering the next course of action and have not ruled out a legal challenge to MAFFs interpretation of the EU directive.

NFU deputy president Tony Pexton said: "We will be exploring every option open to us."

But Alan Woods, Country Landowners Association water policy adviser said legal action would be rather pointless.

"But if the NFU want to spend money on it that is up to them," he added. "It may be that some decisions could be challenged legally but I have my doubts," said Dr Woods.

He said the CLA had asked the government for an assessment of compliance costs in NVZs based on studies of actual farms. If every farmer had to spend £1000 they could probably carry the cost. But if 50% were expected to find £100,000 then that would sound the death knell for some businesses.

Dr Woods also said government had to learn from the review panels assessment when it came to review the zones at the end of 1997 and a look at nitrate sampling methods was needed.

The designations follow several rounds of consultation and advice from an independent review panel. Junior environment minister James Clappison said in most cases government had accepted or acted on the panels recommendations.

NFU deputy president, Tony Pexton, said the NFU would continue to challenge the 50mg/litre nitrate limit on the basis that it had no medical or scientific basis.

"There is a great feeling of injustice in the farming community that it will have to comply with a set of European regulations to tackle problems that are essentially non-existent in the UK."

Nitrates in water had been linked to over-nutrition of the sea and blue baby syndrome – neither of which exist in the UK.

lMAFFspokesman Lord Lucas told peers the government believed the 50mg/litre nitrate standard was "a reasonable figure". "We also believe it is a figure which we shall have to live with," he added.

But though there was a scare some years ago that nitrates could cause cancer, Lord Lucas said: "I think we are quite clear that is not true. We know of no particular reason why nitrates at ordinary levels should cause anyone any problems," he added.