UK: Andersons report raises fears that availability of UK apples, carrots and peas could be hit by growing restrictions on chemicals

NFU vice president Guy Smith, who farms at St Osyth, near Clacton, describes the Andersons report on

NFU vice president Guy Smith, who farms at St Osyth, near Clacton, describes the Andersons report on the growing restrictions on PPPs as "important and timely" - Credit: Archant

The availability of British foods could be drastically reduced because of growing restrictions on the use of certain chemicals to control weeds, disease and pests, a controversial report has warned.

The Healthy Harvest report released this week by farm business consultants Andersons and commissioned by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and Crop Protection Association (CPA), focuses on the economic impact of plant protection products (PPPs) on UK agriculture and the wider economy.

The Anderson report claims that the production of apples, fresh carrots and frozen peas in the UK is under threat as a result of loss or restricted use of active ingredients in PPPs, but its findings immediately came under fire from Friends of the Earth, which claimed it was “misleading” and that the focus of attention should be on finding alternatives to chemicals.

The report estimates that the Gross Value Added (GVA) of UK agriculture could decrease by £1.6billion a year as a result of changes. Andersons believes up to 44,000 jobs could be lost in agricultural wholesale, the supply chain and the wider food and drink industry if these active ingredients were no longer available.

“The undeniable fact is that over-regulation, both at a European Union (EU) and UK level, severely hampers our ability to provide the raw ingredients for the food and drink we consume.


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“The overly precautionary EU regulation of pesticides used by farmers and growers in crop production is a very good case in point. Since 2001 UK farmers have lost more than half of the active substances approved for use in the EU,” it said.

“This trend is likely to accelerate in light of a current regulatory system that fails to take account of risk and instead focuses on intrinsic hazard. This is despite great strides made by manufacturers in recent decades in producing more targeted and safer pesticides, and by farmers and growers in ensuring they are used properly and responsibly.”

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It added: “The very real fear is that during the five-year life of the newly elected European Parliament the 250 actives still available for UK use could be cut by at least a quarter under existing legislation. Numbers could even halve if further precautionary approaches are adopted.”

The report also found that the UK’s farming profit would drop by 36% from current levels, resulting in structural readjustment in the farming industry.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: “We have been warning that in the lifetime of the current European Parliament, we would face significant threats to PPPs.

“This important and timely report has confirmed and added clarity to the negative impacts that losses and restrictions on PPPs would have on UK food production, on farm and throughout the supply chain.

“It is absolutely essential that farmers have regulation that is risk-based and that it follows sound science to ensure the farming sector keeps growing and contributing to the £97billion UK food and drink industry. For this to happen we need government at both UK and EU level to put British food production at the heart of policy-making across all government departments.”

But Paul de Zylva, Friends of the Earth’s nature campaigner, claimed the report lacked any credible, independent and peer reviewed science.

“Instead of attacking regulations in place to protect our health and wildlife, we should all focus on finding alternatives to chemicals. The evidence is overwhelming that intensive use of chemicals is harming bees and other wildlife and the quality of our water and soils. That’s the real threat to our food security,” he said.

“Some ‘neonic’ chemicals are currently banned because top British and European scientists found they pose a ‘high acute risk’ to bees. That’s the kind of good evidence-based science the NFU and others should be backing.”

Nick von Westenholz, CPA chief executive officer, said the report provided “a clear picture” of the implications of the flawed system that governs pesticide use in the EU.

“Hopefully European policy-makers will now realise how imperative it is to make a proper assessment of risk and impact when they take decisions affecting food production, and to make sure they foster rather than stifle innovation. If not, farmers can no longer expect to benefit from increasingly targeted and effective crop protection products as industry diverts investment away from Europe,” he said.

David Hutchinson, AIC strategy group member, said: “This report highlights the serious effects of policy and regulatory decisions that are not based on sound science. Any crop protection product should be assessed in the wider context of a food production strategy, so that agronomists have at their disposal both cultural controls and a range of chemistry to help farmers and growers sustain UK food production.

“A big concern is that the current EU policy making and regulatory systems are heavily influenced by political considerations and sound science often comes second in assessing agricultural technologies – old and new. In the meantime farming and the wider economy of our food industry will continue to suffer and be placed at an ever increasing competitive disadvantage to those countries outside the EU.”

But Paul de Zylva, Friends of the Earth’s nature campaigner, claimed the report lacked any credible, independent and peer reviewed science.

“Instead of attacking regulations in place to protect our health and wildlife, we should all focus on finding alternatives to chemicals. The evidence is overwhelming that intensive use of chemicals is harming bees and other wildlife and the quality of our water and soils. That’s the real threat to our food security,” he said.

“Some ‘neonic’ chemicals are currently banned because top British and European scientists found they pose a ‘high acute risk’ to bees. That’s the kind of good evidence-based science the NFU and others should be backing.

“On average UK fields are treated with over 20 different chemicals each year. It is not that there are too few chemicals available to use but that there are probably too many. If the NFU, the Government and pesticides industry have done proper tests for the combined effect this cocktail of chemicals is having, I have yet to see them.”

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