EU Pesticide Regulation - Toxic Consequences

31 October 2008

As a member of the Parliament's Agriculture Committee I am hugely concerned that we, the Parliament as a whole, are not adequately considering the implications of the hugely technical pesticides dossier. The aims are laudable, and I support the principle that we shouldconstantly pressure the chemicals industry and Europe's farmers to innovate and find new, safer, products. The Scottish government, and for that matter the UK, have the same view.

But there has to be a balance, and at a time of rising food prices and economic hardship we need to tread carefully. I am firmly of the view that we risk going too far and accidentally making farming unworkable in large areas of the EU, especially the more northern, wetter ones. Many organisations have voiced concern to me over the future sustainability of EU agriculture if the regulation came into force as it stands. Scots farmers and growers too are concerned that if the package bans existing products, where there are no effective alternatives available, then theloss of productivity in agriculture will lower farm output, farm incomes and add to spiralling food prices at a time when we need our farmers to be working at full capacity.

Clearly, the package will change as we vote upon it in a few weeks time, but let us be clear we are far from a workable proposal as things stand and the change must be substantial. I am concerned that we are not giving adequate thought to the consequences of our vote. My concern increasedafter the British Pesticides Safety Directorate published their assessment of the actual impact of the package, setting out best and worst case scenarios in May 08. The figures are stark, and it is folly to suggest that other EU states will not see similar impact.

The PSD report is the only independent impact assessment in the public domain to consider the position of the Commission and Parliament following the first reading. It indicates that cereal yields could drop by between 26% to 44% due to a lack of sufficient products to protect against weeds,pests and diseases. Even on their best scenario, can we afford to risk losing a quarter of Europe's cereal production? A further report by the ADAS consultancy calculates that the impacts of Council of Ministers' cut-off criteria would require a further 750,000 ha to be brought into agricultural production to maintain current food production levels. Even if such land is available within the EU, its cultivation will be at the expense of the natural environment. Last month Cranfield Universityproduced a report which translates yield reductions into increased food prices for EU citizens. It estimates the net effect is a 32% increase in cereal prices, and higher food prices hit the poorest hardest.

The consequences for our already struggling cereals sector are incalculable. And in a vicious irony, if the cumulative effect of our regulation is to shut EU farms down, then we will have to import from countries beyond our control and our citizens will eat the chemical residues anyway.

Both the regulation for Placing Plant Protection Products on the Market and the Sustainable Use Directive are lengthy and complicated. That is not a problem, but the devil is in the detail. I have already stated I agree with the aims, but we need to consider this whole issue more deeply. I, and many farming organisations believe that member states do not fully realise the consequences, and believe the impact assessment undertaken almost two years ago by the Commission to be outdated and inadequate.

As legislators, we have to strike balances and compromises every day. I think we're pretty good at it. On this issue, we want to protect our consumers and farmers from toxic chemicals, and spur the chemicals sector to new innovation while ensuring that Europe's farmers can still feed us. The package before us risks achieving neither unless we make major changes to it.