Forget damage limitation – it’s time for action on proposed pesticide rules

An EU-wide impact assessment on proposed new pesticide approval measures recently agreed by EU farm ministers is needed to avoid major damage to Europe’s farm sector, says the Crop Protection Association‘s chief executive Dominic Dyer.

As they stand, the pesticide cut-off measures proposed by the EU Commission and agreed by EU farm ministers on 23 June pose a serious threat to the future of productive agriculture in Europe.

And the proposals could get much worse as they enter the second reading stage in the European parliament in October, with more than 80% of agrochemicals at risk. Why have such dysfunctional and disabling proposals progressed so far? And why is the UK one of only four EU member states – out of 27 – to raise serious concerns about their impact and scientific basis?

The loss of so many vital crop protection products will undoubtedly hit crop yields and increase food costs across Europe. With daily headlines warning of the urgent need to tackle soaring food prices and raise agricultural productivity, surely it is time to bring this madness to an end. But what can we all do to stop this legislation entering into force?

As the crop protection industry, we acknowledge our responsibility to ensure decision-makers understand why pesticides are needed, how stringently regulated they are, and how careful stewardship by industry is effective in safeguarding food, health and the environment. We can do this so much more effectively by engaging with our food-chain partners in the farming, food manufacturing and retailing sectors.

With such powerful and influential views ranged against this damaging legislation, it is time to galvanise support for an agriculture and food-chain coalition across Europe – to highlight the benefits of pesticide use and to counter misinformation about the risks.

We must challenge an EU legislative process which allows unelected officials in one directorate of the EU Commission to push forward proposals to remove a significant number of pesticide products, with no evidence of health benefits and without an EU-wide assessment of the impact on crop yields and food prices.

We should seek answers from EU political leaders who agreed to tackle the causes of rising food prices at the European Council summit on 19 June, yet whose agriculture ministers a few days later were rubber-stamping legislative measures set to force food prices even higher in Europe.

As the agricultural industry, we should all take every opportunity to reflect our concerns on this issue with our local MP and MEP in writing and where possible in person. And we should ensure that our trade bodies continue to work together to raise concerns on this issue at the highest political level in both the UK and the EU.

A key objective of all these lobbying activities will be to press the EU Commission to undertake an in-depth, EU-wide impact assessment of how these pesticide cut-off measures will affect crop yields and food prices.

This impact assessment should be completed and made available for public scrutiny before the start of the European parliament’s second reading in October. If this cannot be achieved the process should be delayed until the information is available, if necessary beyond the European parliament elections and the appointment of a new EU Commission in June 2009.

The NCH, a leading children’s charity, recently issued a report indicating that one in five people on low incomes had missed meals in the past year because of rising food prices and that many children are now going hungry as their families struggle to find the money for spiralling food and heating costs.

This should be in the minds of all our politicians, as well as the civil servants in Brussels and campaign groups who are pushing for the removal of essential crop protection tools. They must understand that these measures will deliver no significant benefits to consumers in terms of health and the environment, but will result in more children going hungry as food prices rise even further.

For too long we have allowed the use of pesticides to be demonised despite the huge benefits they have brought to agriculture and food production.

Forget damage limitation. It’s time to stop this process in its tracks.