Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, Anthea McIntyre, was invited to contribute to the Food and Farming Policy Review of the prestigious political magazine, The House, this week. Miss McIntyre, who is a member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, used the opportunity to write about the EU Pesticides Regulation, currently under review by the European Commission. Miss McIntyre is concerned that new definitions for "endocrine disruptors" will result in the loss of more pesticides and will severely impact on the UK food and farming sectors.

Read the full article below:

A review is underway in Brussels of the regulation of certain plant protection products - that's pesticides to you and me - and there is great concern that the EU will ban a number of important pesticides that are widely used in the UK. The European Commission is reviewing the definition for "endocrine disruptors" and it is widely anticipated that a number of important active substances will be defined as endocrine disruptors and banned. 

In assessing and authorising pesticides, the Commission uses a hazard based approach instead of a risk based approach. To illustrate the difference, take an example like household bleach. Bleach is a hazardous substance that could be lethal if you drank it.  However, if you use it for its intended purpose of cleaning, the risk of death is practically non-existent. If the European Commission applied a hazard based assessment to bleach (as it proposes for pesticides) it would be banned. What we desperately need is a common sense approach!

Last year the European Parliament adopted my report on The Future of Horticulture - Strategies for Growth which calls for a return to risk based assessment criteria for the approvals of pesticides, rather than hazard based criteria. This is crucial for the survival of UK horticulture. Since 2001, farmers have lost more than half of the active substances registered at the time and the loss is on-going. 

My report also calls for the promotion of integrated pest management (IPM). We must support innovation and entrepreneurship through increased R&D in new technologies and production systems. However, IPM includes the use of pesticides and it is a myth that we can sustain sufficient food production without their use.

A recent report by Andersons identified that 87 of the 250 active substances currently approved in the UK could be threatened.  They predict that this will result in lower overall yields, with decreases from 4-50%, and the production of some iconic British foods such as frozen peas, apples and fresh carrots would be severely curtailed. 

Rising worldwide demand for food opens up new market opportunities for our farmers, but these benefits cannot be realised if they do not have access to an adequate range of crop protection products. While over 840 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, Europe, with its favourable soils and climate, surely has a moral obligation to optimise agricultural output and to increase production in a sustainable way with less impact on the environment. Horticulture provides a significant contribution to food security and to the economy. Fruit and vegetables account for 18% of the total value of agricultural production yet they only use 3% of cultivated land.

I live in rural Herefordshire which, as a county, is second only to Kent in its production of horticulture. My near neighbours, the Chinn family, grow in excess of 500 hectares of asparagus, supporting the livelihood of 12 other farmers and employing over 1,000 people. They have considerably reduced the country's reliance on asparagus from South and Central America  and this import substitution is saving an estimated 600 tonnes of CO2 a year.  

It is not commercially viable to grow asparagus as an outdoor crop in the UK without effective residual herbicides. Further losses or restrictions will make things very difficult.  Mechanical cultivation damages the crop so, without new herbicide approvals or the continuing availability of existing herbicides, we are likely to see the end of asparagus production in the UK.

The current EU policy regime for pesticides risks severely damaging UK farming, which is why I am pushing the Commission for an endocrine definition that is led by science. We need risk based assessment criteria for the approvals of active substances rather than hazard based. We need the Commission to develop a clear and consistent regulatory environment, giving farmers and the agro-chemicals industry the confidence they need to invest in new and innovative products.  We all, farmers included, appreciate the importance of regulatory controls, but these controls need to be proportionate, based on clear guidelines and underpinned by robust scientific evidence.

A decision on the final definition of endocrine disruptors will be made following the conclusion of the European Commission’s consultation which closes on 16th January.

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