‘No science’ for 5m spray buffer

Government advisers on pesticides have said there are no scientific grounds for the introduction of 5m no-spray buffer zones between fields and houses.

The call for no-spray zones was made in September 2005 by the Royal Commission on Environment Pollution.

But members of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides have published a document this week, backed by 17 of its 21 members, which rejects the concept.

In its report, published in September 2005, the Royal Commission said although no firm conclusions could be drawn on whether pesticide exposure led to chronic ill-health in some bystanders, a link was “plausible”.

The ACP said compulsory buffer zones could be justified on social grounds because it was clear that many people did not like spraying right up to the boundary of their property.

It also supported proposals for the notification of residents and other bystanders about pesticide applications.

But the committee added that to insist on buffer zones to protect public health “is a disproportionate response to scientific uncertainty”.

It also accused the Royal Commission of reaching several of its most important conclusions “after what we consider to be an incomplete consideration of the relevant evidence”.

The ACP said the Royal Commission’s report made no attempt to quantify the reduction in the exposure of residents that would result from 5m buffer zones.

“Nor does it give any scientific rationale for the choice of 5m rather than some other distance.”

The committee added that it thought it unlikely that pesticide toxicity contributes importantly to disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome or multiple chemical sensitivity.

Peter Sanguinetti, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, welcomed the report.

“It says there is no scientific need for buffer strips and we believe that it is important that a decision is made on science.”

But pesticides campaigner Georgina Downs was far more critical.

“To continue to maintain that this is merely a social issue and that many residents are just ‘believing’ or ‘perceiving’ that their health has been affected following exposure to pesticides is grossly insulting and disrespectful to all those suffering ill-health, whether it be acute or chronic.”

Pesticides Action Network UK added that it was dismayed by the ACP’s insistence that it would be disproportionate to adopt more precautionary regulatory controls.

“The science is far from black-and-white here and the ACP is once again giving the misleading impression that they can quantify all these uncertainties,” claimed a spokeswoman.