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Pesticides debate heats up after UK’s Food Security Assessment

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 12-Aug-2009

The European Crop Protection Association has expressed concern that restrictive EU regulation on pesticide use could stand in the way of global food security, following the UK’s Food Security Assessment.

The UK’s Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its assessment on Monday, as part of the government’s first major rethink of food strategy since the Second World War. And although environment minister Hilary Benn said that the UK needs to produce more food and become less reliant on imports, opinion is divided on how to boost production.

Director general of the European Crop Protection Association Dr Friedhelm Schmider said: “Sustaining our food supply begins with agricultural policies which understand scientific farming and the natural pressures faced by agriculture. However, European legislation might be pulling us in another direction. Recent legislation on pesticides – a key element of production in any farming system – will ban substances that have been rigorously tested and demonstrated to be below the strictest risk assessment thresholds applied anywhere in the world.”

Schmider’s comments refer to an EU directive passed in January, which is due to be implemented by 2011, restricting the use of pesticides across member states. It will see the banning of pesticides that may have human health implications, “unless exposure to them would in practice be negligible.”

Organic “can deliver”

In response to the food security report, Helen Browning, senior policy advisor for the organic advocacy group The Soil Association, said: "In the face of the huge challenges to worldwide food supplies posed by climate change, diminishing oil, gas and water supplies, we need to completely transform the way we will feed ourselves in the future."

However, she disagrees with Schmider about the best way this can be done, saying: "Food systems must become less dependent on fossil fuels, more resilient in the face of climate change, and able to contribute to the government's pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Farming based on organic principles can deliver against all three challenges."

Dr Schmider, on the other hand, said: “Now more than ever, farmers must be up to date on the latest advances. Future changes in temperature and precipitation will undoubtedly change pest and disease patterns, making crops even more vulnerable and also affecting the volume, price, and quality of our food supply.”

He said that increasing crop yields in order to feed a global population which is expected to reach nine billion by 2050 will rely on science and innovation, “including the use of modern pesticides”.

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