Over-regulation in EU farming is threatening crop production, meaning the UK is falling behind overseas pesticide-using competitors, agricultural bodies warn.
Three UK agribodies – the Crop Protection Association, National Farmers' Union (NFU) and the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) – have launched a campaign against what they see as a threat to the British farming sector, as well as food security.
A report from them entitled Healthy Harvest said the three UK producers had lost half their “crop protection toolbox” since 2001 to “overzealous” European regulation.
They said “insufficient evidence” had been used to enforce bans of certain crop protection ingredients and pesticides.
“With looming threats to insecticide and also herbicide availability, it is a real challenge to structure a crop rotation that is sustainable long-term but also allows the business to stay internationally competitive,” the report’s authors said.
The three groups said they would be working with levy and research bodies as well as members of the food supply chain in the UK and Europe to collect evidence on the impact less crop protection products had or could have on UK food production.
Meanwhile, anti-pesticide lobby group Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe told FoodNavigator this was a common “scaremongering” tactic from the pesticides industry, presenting the argument “ban a pesticide and we will go hungry tomorrow”.
‘Flat-lining’ or ‘steady’ production?
The NFU said the campaign was in response to concerns that already “flat-lining” UK crop production would see further decline if more freedoms were removed. The groups said they sought a regulatory environment that would allow crop production increases, rather than one that “stifles it”.
Vice president of the UK’s National Farmers' Union (NFU), Guy Smith said: “The UK is fast becoming an over regulated environment for British farmers who are losing their home markets to foreign farmers who have better access to more effective means of crop production.
“At a time when leading scientists are warning that within a generation the world could be facing a ‘perfect storm’ of food shortages, this is not time to be taking away the tools our farmers need to produce disease free, high yielding crops.”
“British farmers need to be able to use the same, safe technology as their competitors if we are to have a productive agriculture producing healthy harvests,” said Smith.
However, Martin Dermine, PAN-Europe's honeybee project coordinator, said crop production since such bans had been "steady".
Ups and downs
The report outlined that many herbicides such as trifluralin –applied to the soil to control germination of weeds - were no longer available in the EU but were still used widely elsewhere in the world. This herbicide was banned in the EU back in 2008 over concerns including a “high risk for aquatic organisms”, particularly fish.
The herbicide, however, was used extensively in the US, despite the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noting that rats fed the man-made chemical developed tumours in their urinary tract and thyroid, and that the government agency had determined that trifluralin could “possibly cause cancer in humans”. However the EPA concluded that "exposure to 0.0075 milligrams per kilogram per day of trifluralin or less over a lifetime would not result in noncancer [benign] effects".
As part of the report’s missions the agricultural bodies outlined that they wanted “our regulators to use the same risk-based approach to crop protection regulation as used elsewhere in the world so as to allow EU agriculture to remain competitive”.
The report said investment in crop protection research and development was down since such bans had been enforced.
However, PAN-Europe said this failed to account for a possible increase in investment in pesticide alternatives. It added that such a campaign was an old-fashioned approach to agriculture, and instead groups like the NFU should look forward to alternatives.
Dermine from the PAN-Europe added: “We fully oppose to the assertion that EU-regulators ban too quickly pesticides or that EU risk assessment scheme is too heavy for pesticide industry: pesticides toxic to human health are banned only years after the first publications of their toxicity.”