A more science-based, pragmatic and faster approach to approving pesticides and regulating their use in the UK post Brexit was high on the wish list of many attending the British Crop Production Congress.
The Chemicals Regulation Directorate, responsible for regulating pesticides at UK level, held a workshop where it asked delegates to put forward their priorities for the future of plant protection products.
Suggestions included using a risk- rather than hazard-based system of approval; speed and predictability of the regulatory authority as well as the ability to engage with it; a science-based approach; and regulation independent from EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), seen as being inefficient and ambiguous about its data requirements when evaluating pesticides.
Speaking at the congress, David Williams, Defra team leader pesticides, said: “It is a manifesto commitment to support a science-led approach on pesticides. We recognise the importance of pesticides to food production. Use of hazard cut-offs has acted to almost bar certain pesticides.
“I was struck by the enthusiasm for speeding up the process. The EU process for AI [active ingredient] approval is very lengthy. There is scope for the UK to be considerably more rapid.
“Every time the EC puts out a guidance document it refuses to do an impact assessment. Sometimes there is highly political decision making – glyphosate is an example.”
The uncertainty over glyphosate renewal was one of the reasons many farmers voted to leave the EU, believes NFU senior plant health adviser Emma Hamer. “It was an attack on GM and big multinationals. What sort of system can allow the system to be politicised? It is one of the reasons why farmers voted out.”
She said the UK needed enabling legislation to bring products to market in a situation where pesticide resistance is becoming an increasing problem. “We need more actives not fewer, more modes of action and more chemicals available so we can use fewer of them.”
Ms Hamer also questioned whether separate stores could be set up for trading with Europe or selling on to the domestic market. “If we’re still using glyphosate, for example, but it is banned in Europe, we could use treated crops on our domestic market. We could have central stores – some for Europe and some for the domestic market.”
The Water Framework Directive offered the greatest opportunity for change, she said. “We don’t sell our water to the Europeans so let’s change it.”
Currently the maximum permitted level of pesticides in water is 0.1µg/litre. “One hundred times as much arsenic is allowed in water as metaldehyde with no harm to humans. Why are we working to arbitrary levels? Let’s set some new thresholds that are about safety rather than arbitrary.”
Ms Hamer also hoped the UK would have a voice in a forthcoming review of EU pesticides legislation. “We’re not happy with 1107 [the legislation] but the UK has a very strong voice and is a respected presence on the standing committee. It is vital we have a voice in there. We want a return to risk-based legislation. The worry is that once it’s been reviewed we’ll have no say in it.”