Farming groups and an environmental charity have clashed over a report which claims the availability of iconic British foods could be drastically reduced by regulations on pesticides.
Commissioned by the NFU, the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and the Crop Protection Association (CPA), the study looked at the economic impact of plant protection products (PPPs) on UK agriculture and the wider economy.
The report says that the production of apples, fresh carrots and frozen peas in the UK is under threat as a result of loss or restricted use of active ingredients in PPPs, which safeguard healthy growth.
The implications for the control of weeds, disease and pests in key UK crops would also have an impact on the Gross Value Added (GVA) of UK agriculture, including horticulture, which would fall by £1.6bn a year.
But the Friends of the Earth charity has attacked the report, saying that it is “dangerously misleading”.
Andersons’ report says that thousands of jobs would be put at risk if PPP products were banned while UK farm profits would drop by 36% from current levels, resulting in structural readjustment in the farming industry.
NFU vice president, Guy Smith said: “We have been warning that in the lifetime of the current European Parliament, we would face significant threats to PPPs.
“This important and timely report has confirmed and added clarity to the negative impacts that losses and restrictions on PPPs would have on UK food production, on farm and throughout the supply chain.
“It is absolutely essential that farmers have regulation that is risk-based and that it follows sound science to ensure the farming sector keeps growing and contributing to the £97bn UK food and drink industry.
“For this to happen we need government at both UK and EU level to put British food production at the heart of policy-making across all government departments.”
Nick von Westenholz, CPA chief executive, said: “It provides a clear picture of the implications of the flawed system that governs pesticide use in the EU.
“Hopefully European policy makers will now realise how imperative it is to make a proper assessment of risk and impact when they take decisions affecting food production, and to make sure they foster rather than stifle innovation.
“If not, farmers can no longer expect to benefit from increasingly targeted and effective crop protection products as industry diverts investment away from Europe.”
But Paul de Zylva, Friends of the Earth’s nature campaigner, said: “This dangerously misleading report lacks any credible, independent and peer reviewed science.
“Instead of attacking regulations in place to protect our health and wildlife, we should all focus on finding alternatives to chemicals. The evidence is overwhelming that intensive use of chemicals is harming bees and other wildlife and the quality of our water and soils. That’s the real threat to our food security.
“Some ‘neonic’ chemicals are currently banned because top British and European scientists found they pose a ‘high acute risk’ to bees. That’s the kind of good evidence-based science the NFU and others should be backing.
“On average UK fields are treated with over 20 different chemicals each year. It is not that there are too few chemicals available to use but that there are probably too many. If the NFU, the Government and pesticides industry have done proper tests for the combined effect this cocktail of chemicals is having, I have yet to see them.”