Concerns were raised at the BCPC Congress about a perceived lack of transparency within the agrochemical industry, which was itself encouraging scrutiny of scientific conclusions.
Because large companies often funded scientific research into agrochemicals, there was a feeling research conclusions were motive-driven, delegates heard.
However, BASF head of innovation and technology policy, Paul Leonard, speaking on the independence of science, argued against the perception; experts influenced science and expert opinion was essential, he said.
Scientists needed to engage with policy makers, he added.
“We want less legislation but legislation that is better thought out.”
The conference also heard lobby groups were demanding more access to data relating to the approval and use of agrochemicals. While at the moment raw data was confidential, it may in the future need to be made public.
Dr Jodie Rettino, principal catchment scientist at Severn Trent Water, highlighted the challenges posed by crop protection products getting into water and also described some of the measures the company was taking to tackle these problems.
Pesticide contamination of raw water was a significant problem and with 200 pesticide active ingredients regularly identified, could be hugely costly for water companies, she said.
“Quinmerac was found at 0.2mg/l at one of our largest sites and went through our treatment process. The waterworks was closed for 14 days and we had to rezone water to provide clean water for our customers.
“After calculations we worked out the total amount of active ingredient was around 4.72kg. This would cost around £40. However, it cost us £150,000 to sort out.
“Annually it costs us £150/mg of water to treat pesticides alone. Therefore, per waterworks it costs about £1 million to remove pesticides annually. This cost goes to the customer.”
Severn Trent Water is using catchment management as a more cost-effective way of reducing pesticide contamination, given it is nearly impossible to treat for some chemicals, such as metaldehyde. Because customers fund this process, a targeted approach is required.
“We are using hotspot mapping which uses satellites to identify areas which are a particular risk due to factors such as soil type, field slope and proximity to water,” said Dr Rettino.
The Severn Trent environmental protection scheme provides funding for farmers within priority catchments with the aim of subsidising beneficial infrastructure. The scheme also partially-funds product substitution, primarily of metaldehyde.
Farmers are paid based on water quality, determined by sampling water upstream and downstream of their land. Water that is ‘cleaner’ than the required standard receives a bonus payment. This practice could be used across a range of pesticides and is an effective way of combating the problem at source, said Dr Rettino.
The Danish approach
The number of pesticides available in Denmark is far lower than in the UK and the use of those which are available is governed by strict rules, relating mainly to timing.
Denmark currently imposes a pesticide tax on crop protection chemicals judged to pose a serious risk to water contamination.
Unfortunately, many highly-taxed pesticides are also those recommended to help prevent the development of resistance in other key actives, so the tax could be seen to be encouraging pesticide resistance but is nonetheless proving effective in keeping water clean.
In addition, farmers in Denmark are required to upload details of pesticide applications to each crop on a field-by-field basis. This creates maps across the country showing ‘pesticide load’.
Professor Per Kudsk, of Aarhus University, Denmark, said the strict regulations had had positive effects, including fostering agronomic innovation and attracting funding to develop alternative control methods.
The Voluntary Initiative who are involved in the Integrated Pest Management plan (IPM) conducted surveys with the aim of discovering what practices farmers were using as an alternative to pesticide use and to avoid water contamination.