Save our Sprays – Keep farming productive

This week Farmers Weekly kicks off a major new campaign aimed at keeping farming productive.

Called Save Our Sprays – or SOS for short – it is our response to impending EU legislation that could wipe out more than 80% of the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that are commonly used on British farms.

The legislation is being driven by the EU Commission, which is eager to slash the number of pesticides used in agriculture, to limit what it sees as a potential threat to human health and the environment. But the legislation is fundamentally flawed.

For a start, there has been no EU-wide impact assessment of what the proposals would mean. Studies in the UK suggest the effects would be serious, with cereal, potato and brassica yields dropping by more than 30% and prices rising by more than 50% in response.

Second, using a hazard-based system to licence products rather than a risk-based one will result in large numbers of perfectly safe and essential products being taken off the market.

The proposal would ban any pesticide containing a substance which is carcinogenic, genotoxic, reprotoxic and endocrine disrupting. The UK’s Pesticides Safety Directorate says this could lead to 15% of existing crop protection products being deregistered, including triazoles and pyrethroids.

But just because a product is “hazardous” does not mean it is dangerous – it all comes down to how it is used and in what quantity. A cup of coffee contains many hazardous ingredients – including known carcinogens – but is not intrinsically dangerous.

The EU Commission’s plans are also badly timed, coming at a time when food security and food prices are top of the political agenda. Pesticides play a crucial role in boosting agricultural output, producing safe and affordable food for the masses. Banning whole swathes of them will jeopardise food security.

Then there is the trade issue. Even though certain pesticides may be banned in the EU, they will continue to be used elsewhere in the world while the food from those countries will be imported into the EU. Meanwhile, pesticide manufacturers will be banned from exporting their products to parts of the world where they could play a vital role in combating hunger.

The proposed legislation is nonsensical. Yet in June, EU agriculture ministers gave their backing to the plans to be rubber-stamped in September.

The proposal will then pass to the European parliament for a second reading in the autumn.

And this is where things get really serious, because in its first reading last year, the parliament also sought to ban all neurotoxic and immunotoxic active ingredients.

Independent assessments say this would wipe out 85% of all pesticides, lead to a massive drop in output and cause food prices to double.

It’s an alarming prospect and one that grassroots farmers need to actively engage in contesting.

Our SOS Campaign aims to help them do just that, proving the tools and information to resist this crazy legislation and so keep farming productive.