EU parliament votes by sweeping majority to ban farm pesticides
British government strongly opposed to EU measures which, say critics, may put winter vegetables such as carrots at risk
Ian Traynor in Brussels
Tuesday 13 January 2009 15.18 GMT
Vegetables – carrots
The European parliament today voted by a sweeping majority to tighten the use of pesticides in agriculture and to ban 22 treatments, a decision that critics say could wipe out British carrots.
The British government and the Conservatives are against the legislation, but the ban and restrictions were carried by a vote of 577 to 61, putting pressure on the 27 EU member states to support the decision.
Greens celebrated the vote as a victory for environmentalism. But the farming lobby warned that the restrictions were pointless, would wipe out harvests of winter vegetables, and push up food prices during a European recession and worsening unemployment.
The proposed legislation places tight curbs on crop-spraying, bans the use of pesticides near schools and hospitals, and proscribes 22 chemicals, some said to be carcinogenic.
The Green MEP for the south-east, Caroline Lucas, hailed it as “a new milestone for environment and health protection”.
“This regulation, the first of its kind in the world, will bring clear health benefits and improve both food and water quality in the EU,” she said.
Critics argued that the benefits are unproven and that the harm ascribed to the banned or restricted substances was also not based on evidence. Rather, the draft legislation was based on the “what-if” or precautionary principle.
Labour, Conservative and SNP MEPs were all against the decision which still has to be agreed by the 27 governments of the EU member states to become law. The British government is expected to oppose the ban.
Ministers still have the last say. Britian’s environment secretary, Hilary Benn, said: “These regulations could hit agricultural production in the UK for no recognisable benefit to human health, and we are being asked to agree to something here when nobody knows what the impact will be. While we have managed to secure some improvements surrounding the use of certain pesticides, the UK does not support these proposals.”
Robert Sturdy, a Conservative MEP on the EU parliament’s environment committee, said yields of carrots, cereals, potatoes, onions and parsnips would decline. “The parliament’s overzealous approach will take a vast number of products off the market,” said
“This law will drive up the cost of the weekly food shop at the worst time for British families.”
The National Farmers’ Union, which fought the proposals, denounced the bans and curbs as damaging for British agriculture and a threat to food production at a time of potential food shortages and rising prices. The Soil Association ridiculed arguments that the pesticides were needed to maintain crop yields.
If turned into law, the tighter rules would be phased in from next year with the aim of halving toxic substances on plants by 2013.
Labour and the Conservatives are both calling for an impact assessment of the measures before the bans become law, amid claims that the legislation could see British food production fall by a quarter.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009