Nimble footwork will be needed to steer British farming through the Brexit process and no more so than in the world of pesticide regulation.
NFU vice-president and Essex arable farmer Guy Smith, addressing members of the Scottish Society of Crop Research (SSCR) at the annual meeting in Dundee, said it would be ’naïve’ to think Brexit could be achieved in only two years.
In the meantime, active ingredients were being lost at an increasing rate.
“The toolbox is becoming worryingly empty and we are seeing our competitiveness eroded. Paraquat, which was banned here 10 years ago, is still used in America,” he added.
There would be dangers during the transition period towards Brexit especially as UK influence within Brussels began to wane.
The UK had in fact been generally supportive of the farming lobby when pesticide regulation was discussed but it was now likely representatives would abstain from voting.
Mr Smith said: “There could be real problems here because once actives are banned they are very difficult to get back.”
Given the tight timescale it was highly likely the UK would simply have to take over the existing EU regulatory framework in its entirety in the first instance.
Critically this would include the principle of looking at the hazard involved in an active ingredient rather than the risk involved in actually using it.
Insisting he was very aware he was an NFU man speaking in NFU Scotland’s territory he nonetheless posed a few questions about devolved policy.
For example would Scotland have its own pesticides regulation authority or would it be the responsibility of a UK wide body.
The latter was preferable, he suggested, to avoid cross border trading and competitiveness issues. He described the possibility of a different approach to GM cropping north and south of the border as being ’interesting’.
Mr Smith also warned of trend towards pesticide approval becoming a populist issue in Europe which politicians were happy to exploit despite the consequences.
Using neonicotinoids as an example he admitted the green lobby had the upper hand to the extent it was now pushing for a ban on their use on non-flowering crops.