Government admits farmers cannot close rights of way to spray crops

The Government has been forced to retract part of its official guidance on crop spraying, because it erroneously advised farmers that they could close rights of way when they spray fields with pesticides.

When the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a revised version of its code of practice on using pesticides, Pesticide Action Network UK noticed the error.

PAN UK contacted Friends of the Earth’s Rights and Justice Centre, which sent Defra a formal letter. Defra has responded by promising to remove the bad advice from its websites and guidelines sent out to farmers.

But the Government is now going to launch a public consultation into whether the law should be changed to allow farmers to close rights of way when they are spraying pesticides that put human health at risk.

Alison Craig from PAN UK said: “We hope this sends a clear message to government of our intention to protect public health from pesticides and we are pleased that Defra is acting quickly, making legal action unnecessary.”

She added: “We should not be confronted with the choice of either having countryside access – but with unacceptable risks to our health – or protection from pesticide exposure and closed rights of way.”

Phil Michaels, a solicitor for Friends of the Earth, said: “This Whitehall bungle arose precisely because the Government failed to consult as required by law. Had the Government consulted on this proposal then PAN UK and others would have told them that their proposals could not work. The failure to consult properly means that they are now forced to quash part of a published statutory code under threat of public law proceedings.”

Jess McCabe

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