18 December 1998


Farmer victims of the

unnecessarily early

new nitrate regulations

must strike back

…and heres how, from

Alan Monckton

Nitrate vulnerable zones, which start this month, will doubtless be enforced with pettifogging zeal and numbing bureaucratic rules. Why? And what can its victims do to help themselves?

The government says it has to enforce the EU rules and that is true. It does not say that it need not enforce them for another year – the deadline is December 1999, not December 1998. The early introduction is unnecessary and stupid. The government knows that the water framework directive may (and should) scrap the 50mg/1 limit for nitrates in water and that it is likely to become EU law before the end of next year.

Recent research has shown that it is based on three fallacies. First, the limit was intended to prevent stomach cancer which it does not. Worse still, a lower than natural limit may cause stomach cancer and other ailments.

Second, it was designed to prevent blue baby syndrome but its known that it is medically impossible for babies to contract the condition from nitrates. And the UK has not seen a single case of that disease for more than 25 years.

Third, it was to prevent eutrophication or watercourses becoming over-rich in nutrients. It is known that natural nitrate levels do not cause this, so a lower limit is a waste of effort.

NVZs have two functions: to reduce nitrate run-off into surface waters and to reduce nitrate leaking into aquifers. Research published this year shows that phosphates cause freshwater eutrophication. Natural levels of nitrates do not. All EU countries have a soil phosphate surplus but the size of that surplus is the only factor determining phosphate loss into streams and acquifers. Only high nitrate concentrations affect estuaries, natural levels do not; so the 50 limit is a useless limit. No estuary in England has suffered from the eutrophication for many years; that is why.

NVZs, which supply underground aquifers, are based on misguided thinking. Drinking water, at natural nitrate levels, or above, is harmless to health.

The ridiculous pseudo-science of NVZ regulations can be illustrated by considering what they do. They seek to reduce nitrate applications on farmland by about a fifth. Research shows that about 2% of nitrate applied on land emerges from land drains into watercourses, so a leaching reduction of less than half of one percent of applied nitrate will be the effect.

The main reduction will be enforced in the winter months. But that is when rivers carry the most water. The large disparity between the volume of natural water in a river, and drainage water from land drains makes the effect of land drain nitrates on the total nitrates in a river in winter almost imperceptible in nearly all cases. We dont need these expensive regulations – we have no eutrophication to cure.

So what can victimised NVZ farmers do? The farm minister should delay enforcement of the rules for a year. But before he does, an outcry is need from farmers to alert him to what damage his officials have done.

The NFU should act to obtain full compensation for all farmers in NVZ. Why should farmers pay for the governments choice to enforce the regulations a year early? Why should farmers pay for the governments incompetence in agreeing to NVZs when they had a veto in Brussels but chose not to use it?

Farmers should also pester their MEPs to act. It is their vote in Strasbourg which will count. Write to them, talk to them; how can they know your views if you dont tell them?

Why wont the EU not act without further pressure? Brussels bureaucrats are too busy apparently. They have no medical knowledge, they are bureaucrats, not statesmen. They respond only to political pressure. I suggest FW readers ensure they receive lots of it.

Why should

farmers pay for

the governments choice to enforce NVZregulations a year early?


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