Organisations representing farmers and input suppliers in the UK have expressed concerns that overregulation is excessively reducing the range of plant protection products available to EU farmers, thus undermining yields and threatening the competitiveness of EU farming.
In its report “Healthy harvest”, published in June 2014, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) claims that the number of crop protection products coming on the market each year has dropped by 70% since the EU pesticide review. It argues that “insufficient evidence [has] been used to enforce bans on certain crop protection ingredients and pesticides.” The NFU is now working with the European Crop Protection Association and the Agricultural Industries Confederation in collecting evidence to ascertain the actual and potential impact of fewer crop protection products on UK food production.
An anti-pesticide lobby group has claimed that the report is “scaremongering”, and that the review fails to take into account investments in pesticide alternatives.
The NFU is urging members to call for “a level playing field” between the EU and producers elsewhere in the world when it comes to the use of plant protection products.
Currently, according to the latest European Food Safety Authority report, “more pesticide residues exceeding the [maximum residue levels] were found in food imported from countries outside the European Union (6.3%) than in samples originating from EU and EFTA (1.5%).”
Lobbying by UK farmers and crop protection product manufacturers is unlikely to lead to any change in the EU’s precautionary approach to food safety (which places the burden of proof on the manufacturers to ensure the safety of products used). However, the underlying push to level the playing field between EU and third-country producers could see the introduction of increased controls on what products are used in food production outside the EU but destined for the EU market.
This could have serious consequences in terms of costs incurred in finding alternative treatments, strengthening official controls or as a result of reduced yields. If compliance is not achieved, it can also result in increased levels of import controls and an increase in the costs of placing goods on the EU market (see Agritrade article ‘ KEPHIS undertakes research to make case for easing EU import controls’, 10 March 2014).
In this context, ACP governments and exporters would do well to monitor the debate launched in the ‘Healthy harvest’ report, in order to ensure that the production and trade interests of ACP countries are not undermined.