The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the re-authorisation of glyphosate has set a dangerous precedent for the numerous active ingredients up for renewal in the coming years, the NFU has warned.
Hundreds of active ingredients will need to go through the EU approval process over the next 15 years, including 41 over the next 12 months.
A quarter of the crop protection toolbox in Europe could be withdrawn from the market before the 2018 harvest if reauthorisations are complicated by political issues, the NFU’s analysis showed.
Speaking ahead of the Cereals Event, which begins on Wednesday, NFU vice president Guy Smith and combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly warned confidence in the EU regulatory system had been badly damaged by the glyphosate saga, which is going down to the wire.
Next Thursday (June 23), a European Commission Appeal Committee will seek agreement on a revised proposal to re-licence the herbicide for 18 months, following three failed attempts to gain sufficient member state support for future use of the herbicide in the EU.
If no decision is reached - with Germany’s position set to be pivotal - the Commission would have a week to decide whether to adopt the proposal, as EU rules permit, before glyphosate’s licence expires on July 1.
Some member states, led by France and Italy, with Germany taking a more neutral line, have repeatedly refused to support proposals to re-license the herbicide because of concerns over its safety, despite it being given the all-clear by the European Food Safety Authority.
Mr Smith said: “Glyphosate is a game-changer. The delays in its reauthorisation have highlighted how vulnerable Europe really is when it comes to pressure from NGOs.”
“Precedents are being set. We used to assume if the European Food Safety Authority gave a chemical a positive report, it would be re-authorised. That is no longer a given.”
“EFSA gave diquat a less favourable report than glyphosate. Can you imagine trying to harvest oilseed rape without glyphosate or diquat?” he said.
In addition to the re-licensing process, key chemicals like triazole fungicides are under threat from the Commission’s plans to restrict chemicals deemed to be endocrine disruptors.
Mr Smith said the a situation demanded a fresh approach to the way the NFU lobbies on plant protection products, a process now further complicated by the outcome of the EU Referendum.
If the UK remains in the EU it will increasingly work EU farm body Copa-Cogeca and other Member States farming unions to present the arguments to retain the chemicals on an EU, rather than UK basis, Mr Smith said.
If Britain leaves, then the focus will shift to ensuring Government resources its own Chemical Regulation Directorate (CRD) sufficiently, he added.
Mr Smith said: "The NFU’s traditional lobbying on the major issue of science-based regulation around access to plant protection products remains essential. But I know there is more we can do to up our game ahead of what looks like a very uncertain future for protecting crops."
He added: "This is no advert for the way the EU regulates its agriculture. However, if the assumption is a British scenario would get more farmer-friendly regulation of pesticides that is not something you could taken for granted. as shown with the neonicotinoid application."
Mr Hambly urged the farming industry to work together to prepare its case, including encouraging farmers to be ‘confident in talking more about what they do and telling their stories to regulators’.
He said: “The statistics on plant protection products up for renewal do not paint a pretty picture for farmers – especially given the unpredictable regulatory environment. Our diminishing armoury of actives is under threat.
“This is why I am encouraging farmers to be vocal; we need to talk openly about why we need plant protection products to enable us to be viable farming businesses. If people can find reason to ban glyphosate they can find reasons to ban any crop protection material."