BCPC Congress hears need for IPM, science and risk-based regulation post-Brexit

Defra minister George Eustice addressed the British Crop Production Council’s (BCPC) annual congress in Brighton on the regulatory landscape post-Brexit.

BCPC chairman Dr Colin Ruscoe said Eustice’s address embraced a move to more risk-based regulation, maintaining the tool box of agrochemicals for reasons including management of resistance, genetic technology and innovation generally, and a hint of a more appropriate interpretation of guidance documents.

Eustice told delegates meeting in Brighton that the UK should take its own lead in delivering enlightened, science-based regulation, to improve production of food, health and environmental protection.

He said leaving the EU was right and in five years time we might look back and “wonder what all the fuss is about”.

Eustice added that hazard, risk and precautionary-based approaches attracted “suspicions” from NGOs and/or industry and we should “step back from those well-worn cliches” and think about a new strategy for crop protection.

He said more caution and potential risks meant banning of pesticides and less R&D, as well as greater reliance on existing pesticides and related resistance problems.

The solution is to put intergrated pest management (IPM) “at the heart” of a new approach. He said new breeding techniques were “contentious” and he opposed the EU treating them as GMs.

Resistance over yield is a focus, taking genetic traits from woolly aphid resistant apple rootstocks for instance. He wants more use of natural predators on soft fruit and more use of biocides to supplement use of chemical pesticides. He also mentioned GM insects as potentially useful.

EU exisiting authorisations will be brought across with the Withdrawal Bill, while beyond that Eustice has looked to North America, where he said the evidence-based model works. He said the EU does not always use that method, citing glyphosate and EFSA’s backing of the herbicide.

He said the evidence supported continued authorisation and “we do believe it is safe and we therefore support its authorisation and we’re disappointed other EU states were unable to back it”.

There will be a new agriculture bill in mid or autumn 2018 and a white paper early in 2018.

The BCPC congress focussed on the opportunities and downsides for policy and process of Brexit and how future policy can combine improving agricultural productivity with enhanced environmental resources and safety.

President Dr Colin Ruscoe said Eustice was “clear about his support for a risk-based policy and moving away from arbitrary hazard-based classifications”.

Ruscoe said Eustice had supported chemical technologies and “preserving an array of chemicals inter alia” to support IPM, particularly management of resistance because of the decreasing number of chemical tools caused by regulatory pressure in Europe.

He said: “The UK’s exit from the EU will inevitably and regrettably reduce our influence in EU regulation. But we must remain a key trading partner with the EU, and our challenge will be to maintain good relations with our regulatory colleagues in Europe, whatever the political headwinds.

“So while the UK will seek advantage from the coming separation, we must continue to fight for science-based regulation throughout the continent.”

Ruscoe told delegates that the industry was “often on the back foot reacting to activists” and misinterpretation or undue publicity on adverse effects of chemicals.

He said the industry could be on the “front foot” through embracing new technology such as automation and precision application to “change the game ourselves”.

Ruscoe said scientists reporting results that were not science-based was a “real concern” and was “increasingly worrying”.

He emphasised that risk assessment should take precedence rather than hazard-based evidence.

Chemical Regulation Directive’s Dave Bench said CRD listen to all stakeholders including NGOs: “There will be some who choose to view anything different we do as a reduction in standards but that’s not what the changes of the [EU] Withdrawal Bill are about.”

Defra deputy director for chemicals, pesticides and hazardous waste Gabrielle Edwards said Defra will be “under a lot of pressure” from NGOs focussing on areas on how the Government will manage the situation after the end of appeals to the European Court of Justice on non-implementation end when the UK leaves the EU.

She said there had been questions on maintenance of standards and pesticides, adding: “We will need to be really careful. What to us is a technical change can be seen by others as policy change.”

The Crop Protection Association said it will conform with EU legislation and proceed until exit; continue to develop ideas for proposals; prepare for the pre-transitional phase; and lobby for “workable science-led, risk-based solutions”.

NFU’s Dr Chris Hartfield said the mood at the congress was “quite positive, which might not by expected with concern around Brexit”.

He added: “But we have to embrace EU exit as a real oppportunity for the UK to do things differently in this area of crop protection.”

Hartfield said “foremost” was maintaining the same levels of safety and protection for the consumer and the environment but “actually there is a real opportunity to be grasped about doing things differently in the area of crop protection, which could deliver some real beneficial outcomes for farmers and growers”.

He said while the EU Withdrawal Bill will “lift and shift” from EU to UK law, there will be points that can’t be transferred because they refer to, for instance, collective decisions or EU institutions “so it’s almost inevitable from day one after exit we are going to be following the same rule of law but in the way its implemented there is going to start to be more divergence straightaway”.

He said this could put us in a place where it might make it difficult to trade with the EU but re-iterated that there is a lot of opportunity to do things differently in the UK, particularly as the UK has always been “vocal on science and evidence”.

This could be in areas such as glyphosate and neonicotinoid regulation, which are both going through EC processes.

AHDB’s Dr Jon Knight said what is needed is “a coherent long term plan (10 years) to transition to biologically based IPM production systems,” as well as:

  • Farm support for transitioning to new approaches
  • Payments for more environmentally benign production
  • R&D Investment and incentives for development of new technologies (precision, biopesticides etc.)
  • An enabling policy framework for pesticide approvals

Training and upskilling of farmers, advisors etc.

(Originally published on Horticulture Week http://www.hortweek.com and reproduced with permission)

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