Brussels Briefing – 18/07/2008

The Scottish drinks industry is facing an unprecedented crisis because of a new ban on pesticides proposed by Brussels. Producers of beer, white spirits, and even whisky maltsters, may in future have to import barley, wheat and other cereals from France and Spain where the ban will have little impact on farm output.

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The EU is proposing to ban a number of pesticides from use in our farm sector on health grounds. In the new directive, a number of products would be eliminated because they are allegedly cancer-causing, although there is no substantive scientific evidence to prove this. The effects of such a ban are wide ranging. The banning of products like triazoles which are used to control diseases in wheat, barley and other cereal crops, could see losses of 20-30% in yields. Last week the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers voted by a qualified majority — with the UK abstaining — to adopt the proposals by the Commission. The draft regulation will now go before the European Parliament, which predictably has proposed even more draconian criteria leading to the likelihood of even wider bans which could lead to up to 90% of common fungicides being taken off the market.
Farmers in Scotland spray triazoles on spring barley to combat diseases like rhynchosporium, net blotch, eyespot and mildew which can dramatically reduce crop yields and quality. If triazoles are forced off the market by these proposals, it will have a major impact on barley and wheat crops in the UK. Because of our wet conditions these fungicides are essential for healthy crops that in turn are key ingredients for the internationally renowned Scottish drinks industry. France, Spain, Italy and other countries who voted in favour of this ban, did so because in their hot and dry climates, triazoles are not necessary to combat the kind of crop diseases that we face in our wet Scottish climate. The removal of triazoles and other pesticides would force the Scottish drinks industry to import barley and wheat from these Mediterranean countries, with the consequent negative impact on our farmers and on the reputation of our Scottish products. Once again Brussels bureaucrats will have struck a blow against Scottish businesses and handed a major competitive advantage to our EU neighbours.

For once, the UK government is supportive of our arguments on this issue. The government’s adviser, the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) has said that these proposals would be disastrous for crop production in the UK. But needless to say, the European Parliament’s suggested amendments to the directive go even further. The Greens and other do-gooders intend that within five years we will have completely banned 92% of insecticides, 77 to 82% of fungicides and 90 to 91% of herbicides! The folly of such proposals, at a time of rising food prices and food shortages, is absolutely clear. We need the strongest possible protest from the Scottish and Westminster Governments to ensure that the European Commission is forced to think again before they cause irreparable damage to the Scottish drinks industry.