Farmers and environmentalists are poised to clash over the question of agri-chemicals as the NFU on Wednesday hosts a summit to discuss restrictions on crop protection measures.
A bullish Peter Kendall, in his last few weeks before standing down as NFU president, has come out fighting against further limits on pesticide use that have proven benefits.
In a statement that is bound to infuriate the environmental lobby Mr Kendall – who runs a large arable farm with his brother in Bedfordshire – warns that pressure on what farmers can and cannot use on the land to keep crops healthy and disease free is making it harder to meet the growing demand for food.
And he claims some of the restrictions that are being imposed, often at European Union level, have no scientific basis for the supposed risks they are designed to offset, describing them as “over precautionary”.
He said: “The ever increasing regulatory pressure on effective crop protection means farmers are facing a growing challenge to produce the high quality British food consumers want.
“While the safety of the crop protection products that are used is of paramount importance to all parts of the food chain, it is worth noting that the restrictions on the use of, or the loss of, crop protection products are not driven by human health or food safety concerns.”
Mr Kendall continued: “The vast majority are driven by arbitrary environmental standards, such as the EU’s Drinking Water Directive which has concentration threshold levels which have no basis in human or environmental health concerns, or concerns over the decline in bee populations, which is over simplistically attributed to certain pesticides even though there is no field-based evidence to substantiate this conclusion. It is essential that any decisions made about the availability for use of these products are based on robust scientific evidence.
“Over precautionary regulation relating to pesticides, resistance to technological innovation by regulators, and the consequences of short sighted decisions on issues such as disease, pest and weed resistance, are making it increasingly difficult for farmers to produce the food we all enjoy.”
The aim of the summit is to reach an agreement on the ways forward, in order to tackle the threats of over precautionary legislation and barriers to innovation at an EU and UK level.
Leading figures from farming, agricultural chemical manufacturing, and crop protection distribution will attend, including senior figures from the NFU, the CLA, the Voluntary Initiative and senior representatives from the Crop Protection Association and the Agricultural Industries Confederation will meet at the NFU’s HQ at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.
Mr Kendall said: “It will also look at ways the whole of the food production chain can work together to identify opportunities for improving and enhancing crop protection by existing and novel means, while ensuring a responsible and scientifically robust approach is taken to all regulatory issues.”