Chemical deadlock threat to UK food supplies and farm livelihoods

Picture by Ross Parry/Tom Maddick.
Picture by Ross Parry/Tom Maddick.
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Political deadlock over the reapproval of the world’s most widely sold weed killer has been lambasted by farmers and industry leaders who say it threatens livelihoods in the countryside and risks significant damage to the economy.

Just two months remain before the active chemical ingredient glyphosate is effectively banned across Europe after European Union states failed to vote decisively on whether to approve its relicensing for 10 years.

Ian Backhouse, who farms near Goole and is Yorkshires representative on the combinable crops board at the National Farmers Union. Picture by Terry Carrott.

Ian Backhouse, who farms near Goole and is Yorkshires representative on the combinable crops board at the National Farmers Union. Picture by Terry Carrott.

Sixteen countries, including the UK, were in favour of a renewal, but the vote fell short of a necessary majority, with Germany and Portugal opting to abstain.

Glyphosate has long been used on farms as a herbicide to control pernicious weeds before planting, avoiding more expensive cultivation techniques such as ploughing which can be more damaging to biodiversity and cause greater soil erosion.

Environmental groups have lobbied for glyphosate to be banned across the EU over health concerns, despite a ruling by the European Chemical Agency earlier this year that glyphosate should not be classified as carcinogenic.

Amid the deadlock, the European Commission is now expected to consult member states on whether a shorter licence renewal period will convince enough countries to support glyphosate’s reapproval before December.

Ian Backhouse, who farms near Goole and is Yorkshire’s representative on the combinable crops board at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said the situation “endorsed more than ever” why some farmers voted to leave the EU.

“This is flying in the name of science and if that’s the way the Commission makes decisions, we are better off out of it,” he said.

David Blacker, who farms north of York, said the deadlock was “absolutely incredulous”, adding: “It makes a mockery of the authorisation process in the EU and discredits the science that the decisions should be based on.”

According to one MEP, West Midlands’ Anthea McIntyre, the delay plays “fast and loose” with farmers’ livelihoods and food security, and leaves farmers “staring over a cliff edge” as they face losing their most effective means of protecting crops.

Sarah Mukherjee, chief executive officer of the Crop Protection Association, accused politicians of ignoring independent expert regulators around the world who agree glyphosate is safe, “for no good reason, other than a misguided, ideological opposition to modern agriculture”.

Too many countries “caved in to a concerted highly politicised scaremongering campaign”, was the view of Tim Breitmeyer, deputy president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

Meanwhile, Guy Smith, the NFU’s vice president said the political indecision has huge implications for farming in the UK and across Europe who use glyphosate to grow crops that help produce safe, affordable, high quality British food.

DAIRY FUTURES AT A CROSSROADS

Any mishandling of Brexit could be the breaking of a resurgent dairy sector, industry leaders have warned.

In a new white paper Dairy UK said milk prices are on an upward trend and demand for dairy is growing globally, despite increased anti-dairy activism.

But if British trade with the EU ends up being based only on World Trade Organisation rules, UK producers would face prohibitively high export tariffs and the cost of EU dairy imports into the UK would spiral, the trade body said.

Dairy UK chairman Paul Vernon said “no effort can be spared” by Whitehall to secure a positive Brexit outcome.