When Gordon Brown announced that he would not be introducing a pesticides tax as part of Budget 2000 (see related story), he said that a voluntary pesticide impact reduction programme would be agreed with industry. The first step in this process has been taken, with the British Agrochemicals Association (BAA) presenting its proposals for the voluntary scheme.

The Government lists four objectives it expects the voluntary scheme to include. These are:

  • reductions in pesticide use
  • substitution through use of less harmful pesticides or alternative techniques
  • improved pesticide efficiency through better targeting
  • introduction of incentives for environmental protection measures

Despite the Government’s stated wish to see reduced pesticide use as a central tenet of the voluntary scheme, BAA admits that its proposals do not include this. “We can make no promises in agriculture, I’m afraid,” a BAA spokesperson told edie. “We feel that that particular aspect is difficult to deliver. We think farmers are using as little as they can get away with. They’re not using full dosages.”

The spokesperson added that BAA understands that the Government really wants to see reductions in pesticide impacts rather than use and that such a goal can be met without reductions in use.

BAA’s proposals include many measures to fund research into “new molecules”, essentially new pesticides, and to promote Integrated Crop Management. BAA also wants to survey farmers to determine what factors are taken into consideration when farmers decide on pesticide use.

Overall, BAA believes that its proposals are “likely to result in reductions in pesticide usage”, says the spokesperson, but the organisation doesn’t want to set any specific targets.

Considering the long-term future of pesticide use, three technological developments will eventually bring about reductions, says BAA:

  • better use of IT
  • “precision” agriculture
  • commercial growing of GM crops

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental organisations has published its own views on how the voluntary scheme should operate, in the form of a 10-point plan. It says its members are not “irreversibly wedded to a tax, provided that equally effective pesticide impact reductions can be achieved via another route”.

The coalition is dismayed by BAA’s proposals. “They don’t seem to be saying anything more than what ‘best practice’ would say,” Peter Beaumont of Pesticides Action Network-UK (Pan-UK, formerly The Pesticides Trust) told edie.

Beaumont is optimistic that the UK agriculture industry will eventually be forced to change its ways: “Farmers know as well as anyone that if they don’t reduce their pesticide use they’ll be taxed for it. A pesticides tax probably needs to be introduced at an EU level and tied with Common Agricultural Policy reform [see related story]”.

Asked whether the coalition would be willing to sit on BAA’s proposed Pesticide Stewardship Task Force, Beaumont says “not unless it’s completely independent of industry. The question is, should pest control be in the hands of the people who make the chemicals themselves?”

Also included in the environmental coalition’s response to BAA’s proposals is a list of the flora and fauna that are currently affected by pesticides. 13 birds – including the skylark and bullfinch – and 14 vascular plants – including the cornflower and creeping marchwort – are named.

Comments on BAA’s proposals are requested by 14 July – send them to Robert Abel. A meeting of the Government’s Pesticides Forum will discuss the appropriateness of BAA’s suggestions on 21 July.

Members of the coalition urging the Government to introduce a tough pesticide impact reduction scheme are: Pan-UK, the Ramblers’ Association, WWF-UK, Plantlife, Council for the Protection of Rural England, Bat Conservation Trust and Butterfly Conservation.

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