bcpc.JPGThe BCPC in the UK hosted a food chain forum in June, attended by growers, advisors, retainers, consumer organisations and government representatives. They came together to discuss the impact of EU’s proposed legislation on UK food production, availability and price. Not an uncommon theme right now in the media.The event was described as a “wake-up call” to the consequences of EU legislation that have so far gone unnoticed. After reading about BCPC’s event, it certainly made me sit up – as the production of potatoes, leafy vegetables and wheat in the UK could fall by 60% having a huge knock-on effect on their price if the legislation is passed.

It all sounds very Doomsday, so I asked Dr Colin Ruscoe, Chairman of BCPE, (the operating arm of BCPC) who organised the Forum, to give me his opinion post the event.

Why did you organise the event?

Quite simply, to understand the impact of the proposed legislation on food production, price and the environment, to communicate the findings – which were only just becoming clear from studies by independent bodies such as PSD and ADAS, the Arable Group and others, to those attending from the Food Chain. It gave them a chance to interrogate the presenters, allow them to voice their opinions – and then communicate further the conclusions.

The figures expressed are astonishing, for instance the proposal to revise the authorization of pesticides could result in 80% of all pesticides assuming these figures are true, what or who is driving this legislative process on pesticide reform?

The proposals have been presented by the European Commission, led by the new Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Androulla Vassilou, who has said she will not allow the use of any potentially hazardous products, and states that the proposals will not have much impact on agriculture. The Commission has a misplaced view that the proposals will reduce risks to human health. It is a typical European story – theproposals have been discussed for over a year, and many have assumed the extreme elements will be talked out – but they disappear into various committees, and get worse. For example the European Parliament has added further restrictions. We are now running out of time – they due for agreement in the next few months and implementation in late 2009 – but we saw them not much more than a month ago.

If you had a chance to talk to Commissioners and MEPs, what would you like to tell them?

Implementation of these proposals will clearly exacerbate the rises in food prices, and prevent the growing of many fruit and vegetable crops in the UK and Europe. Furthermore the proposals will prevent imports of treated crops from outside the EU. The UK should insist that the proposals should not be accepted in the absence of evaluation of results of EU and Member State Impact Studies on impact on agriculture, food supply and price, and health – there should be a proven link, in practical usage, between regulatory application of the proposed criteria and benefit to human health or environment. Europe clearly cannot afford to implement indiscriminate hazard-based cut-off criteria without reference to impact studies on food supply/price, the environment and health across all EU Member States.

Is there really a link between food security and the use of pesticides or is that just industry protecting profits?

BCPC is an independent charity which promotes the use of good science in crop production and delivers scientific conferences and educational publications to this end. It has no direct affiliation with the agrochemical manufacturers. The UK is the first European country to make these assessments – but others in Europe are now following. The Forum clearly showed that the impact of the proposals could not be mitigated by changes to management of individual crops, and so would drive wide-scale changes to UK farm structures, farming systems and rotations. It would also require a different attitude to crop quality from consumers and retailers and would impose adverse changes to diet.

Furthermore, under the Commission proposals it will probably be illegal to import crops treated with pesticides which have been banned in the EU for reasons of consumer safety. This would further escalate food prices and trigger WTO issues.

Post the “wake-up call” was there any agreed next steps from the food chain?

Yes, plenty – there was a unanimous call for further communication and action at the highest political level. Since then the following actions have been taken

BCPC Ministerial Briefs, Press Releases and subsequent articles in the agricultural and horticultural press

Minister for Agriculture
A meeting will take place with Lord Rooker in the House of Lords on Thursday 19 June. It will be led by the British Crop Production Council, with Senior representatives from the Food and Drink Federation, British Retail Consortium, the National Farmers Union, and the Crop Protection Association. It will raise the high level of concern on the impact of the EU proposals, ahead of the Agriculture Council meeting on the 24 June.

Minister for Business & Competition
The Crop Protection Association has written to Baroness Vadera, Minister for Business and Competition, updating her on the outcome of the BCPC meeting and requesting that she bring the impact of the proposed cut off measures to the attention of the Prime Minister ahead of the European Council meeting on the 19/20 June, where rising food prices will be a key issue of discussion

Prime Minister
Richard McDonald (Director General of the National Farmers Union) has met with the Prime Minister’s senior policy advisors and has informed them on the concerns on the impact of the measures on food prices – which will be included in the Prime Ministers speech to the European Council meeting on the 19/20 June.

EU Trade Commissioner
Peter Mandelson has been informed that under the Commission proposals it will probably be illegal to import crops treated with pesticides banned in the EU for reasons of consumer safety, and trigger WTO trade issues

ASDA, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have all been informed of the outcomes by attendees at the meeting

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