No need for panic over farm chemicals

FARMERS in the region may still be feeling the pain from their latest kick in the teeth from EU agriculture ministers last week following their decision to prevent farmers using many readily available pesticides.

Robert Sturdy MEP

FARMERS in the region may still be feeling the pain from their latest kick in the teeth from EU agriculture ministers last week following their decision to prevent farmers using many readily available pesticides.

Nobody cares more passionately than me about safeguarding the public from potential harm from chemicals and pesticides - I have been a rapporteur on this subject and advise the European Parliament on these important measures.

We should not give in to panic and scare-mongering about potential health risks regarding chemicals. Judgements made against the use of certain chemicals must be founded on clear, scientific evidence. Chemicals must clearly be proven to be safe or not. While I would support the substitution of safer chemicals, the industry and farmers need real and practical assurances that alternatives will be found before products are taken off the market if that is the route we follow.


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This ban will lead to the removal from the market of numerous pesticides whose active substances are now deemed hazardous, even though they have been proven safe in risk assessments under the current strict rules.

While public health and the safety of our food and water supply are paramount, we cannot ignore the vital role that pesticides play in ensuring food security. Newspaper headlines today carry regular stories about rising food prices and shortages. This will escalate if crops are not disease resistant and produce reduced yields, with climate change and rising fuel prices adding to all the uncertainties about future crop production.

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It is estimated that potato and wheat yields will drop by at least 30% in the UK if the original proposals to reduce pesticide use by 50% were adopted. Prices would have to rise by over 50% for margins to stay the same, pushing up the cost of food for consumers. Our crops are an essential resource and needs to be protected and sustained. We need to be doing more to feed our nation, not less. Many countries are already imposing export bans on crops in order to feed themselves. Food is becoming a political weapon.

This restriction on pesticides could lead to considerable conflicts with international trade, an area in which I represent Conservatives in the European Parliament. I shall be writing to Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson asking him to explain how proposals on pesticides will affect the plant protection market, as well as restrictions on imports and exports, trade in food goods with depleted stocks.

We have high standards on the quality of food which we want imported in the EU and must maintain them most rigorously. It means that we cannot allow food imports from countries which allow these “banned” pesticides to be used. The EU Commission would be obliged to block these imports, putting even greater pressure on UK produced food supplies and further price rises. It could trigger serious WTO trade problems. And what impact will this have on our supermarkets which rely on cheap imports from countries which could be producing food with “banned” pesticides? The implications of this ban are immense.

I cannot see that the ends will justify the means, that there will be significant health benefits for consumers by banning pesticides that have already been proven safe in risk assessments.

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