George Lyon – Brexit brings a welcome move away from Brussels control on pesticides, herbicides and biotech regulation

George Lyon

Every week UK farmers are being warned by one expert or another of the dire consequences Brexit will have on their businesses.

However, there is one area where, I believe, the UK cannot escape from Brussels control quickly enough and that is pesticides, herbicides and biotech regulation.

The EU regulatory system has been a disaster for farmers.

It is costly, politicised and unpredictable and as a result, investment in new pesticides and herbicides has dried up and many older chemicals have been lost.

The system takes no account of the economic impacts of banning substances or the effect on resistance if you restrict the number of active ingredients.

To make matters worse decisions on many key ingredients have now been hijacked by politics, and science-based decision-making has gone out the window.

The neonicotinoids ban was a classic example of that failure.

Green non-governmental organisations (NGOs) ran a massive campaign claiming the seed dressing was killing bees.

The UK Government, NFUs and others pointed out there was no evidence to back the claim.

They called for wide-scale field-scale trials to be undertaken before any action was taken.

The European Commission ignored these pleas, capitulated to the populist calls for the nuclear option of a ban, robbing farmers of a key insecticide.

Last week the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre presented its findings in private to MEPs on the impact of the ban.

The conclusions make sobering reading.

A large increase in the use of the more damaging pyrethroid insecticide, big increases in crop spraying, increased pest incidence and significant extra costs for farmers.

Amazingly, it cannot find any benefit to bees from the ban.

Yet, instead of pausing, the commission seem hell bent on ignoring the evidence and imposing a further blanket ban on the use of neonicotinoids possibly as early as next month.

The relicensing of Glyphosate was also hijacked by a similar populist political campaign by Green NGOs despite the European Food Standards Agency (EFTA) giving it the all-clear.

With GMOs it has been the same story.

Time after time EFTA has given GM varieties a clean bill of health but EU politicians ignore the science and continue to block their use.

What angers me is the cynicism of Green and Socialist MEPs in the European Parliament who call for large reductions in the use of pesticides – something we could all agree on.

But, in the very same breath, they also demand a ban on the use of new gene technology that could deliver that very goal.

And it is farmers who have paid the price for this failure.

The Great Repeal Act provides the perfect opportunity to dump the disastrous EU regulations and replace them with a UK science-based, decision-making process that provides stability and predictability for investors.

Get it right and the prize will be new investment and new products for farmers to use.

With an election in full swing, now is the time for farm unions to extract a promise from politicians to commit to that goal.

In a post Brexit world UK farmers will have less support and more competition so it is essential they have access to every tool in the box to improve their productivity and profitability.

*George Lyon is a former Liberal Democrat MEP. He works as a senior consultant for Hume Brophy and sits on the board of levy body organisation AHDB