5 December 1997

Pesticide tax attacked in cleaner rivers quest

PROPOSALS to clean up rivers by introducing a tax on pesticides and fertilisers have been attacked by industry, which claims self-regulation through the adoption of Integrated Crop Management is the way forward.

But environmentalists say the proposals, released by environment ministers for consultation, will help clean up waterways by reducing the leaching of nitrates and phosphates into rivers.

With 40% of river length in England and Wales failing to reach acceptable water quality standards, the paper, based on the "polluter pays" policy, stresses that farmers, industry and water companies will be charged for causing pollution.

It says farmers could either be charged when a product is bought, or a tradeable permit scheme could be operated in a small area to limit pesticide use to the minimum necessary for effective pest control. But no estimates of cost are given.

And it recognises that any tax should be properly targeted to pesticides that cause pollution, yet remain simple to administer.

Patrick Goldsworthy, British Agrochemical Association technical director, questioned whether a pesticide tax would limit use, adding that it would create an unlevel playing field and undermine the regulatory process.

He warned that farmers would end up buying products in France and Germany, where there is no tax. "By regulating the product, government is saying it is safe if used correctly. Is it trying to undermine this process?"

David Heather, Fertiliser Manufacturers Association deputy director general, said it was ridiculous that farmers faced being penalised for growing food. He added that there was no evidence that farmers were using nitrates excessively, arguing that self-regulation through education and training was the way forward.

Peter Beaumont, Pesticides Trust director, who sits on the governments advisory committee, the Pesticides Forum, said that if taxes were imposed, they should not be biased towards certain products, such as organophosphates or synthetic pyrethroids. That would simply result in farmers moving to alternative, less heavily taxed chemicals.n

WORST POLLUTANTS

(according to the Environment Agency)

1 Diazinon (organophosphate)

2 Cypermethrin (synthetic pyrethroid)

3 Propetamphos (organophosphate)

4 Isoproturon