Page last updated at 09:05 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 10:05 UK

EU to tighten pesticide controls

Crop-spraying in Chesham, UK (file pic)
UK farmers worry that the new rules could cut yields

EU agriculture ministers have approved stricter controls on the use of pesticides, after two years of debate.

The package - which still needs the backing of the European Parliament - would force farmers to abandon substances found to be toxic to humans.

Carcinogenic chemicals or those harmful to human hormones or reproduction would be banned. Pesticides would no longer be approved nationally, but regionally.

Hungary, the Irish Republic, Romania and the UK abstained from the vote.

UK Environment Secretary Hilary Benn argued that more scientific studies were needed to assess the likely impact of the controls.

"We cannot support measures that would have significant adverse impacts on crop protection," he said, quoted by the Associated Press on Monday.

But the Slovenian Agriculture Minister, Iztok Jarc, said the rules - replacing the EU's 1991 pesticides legislation - would ensure "the high standards needed to prevent harmful effects of plant protection products on human and animal health or the environment".

'Little evidence'

Many Euro MPs have called for even tougher controls on pesticides - and the package may be amended accordingly by the parliament in the autumn.

Environmental consultancy ADAS says yields of key crops such as potatoes and wheat could fall by 25% under the proposed EU ban.

A British farmer interviewed by BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme objected to the new pesticide rules.

Kit Papworth, spraying fungicide on wheat in Aylsham, north Norfolk, said that replacing triazole, for example, "would make a significant difference, both in cost and yield terms... at a time when the UN is calling for more food to be produced".

"The alternatives are not ideal... they will reduce the yield, and reducing supply tends to increase prices... There's very little evidence to suggest that anything that's being talked about is actually harmful," he said.

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