UK says it will ignore medical advice on pesticide-spraying

A pesticides sign

Medical experts and campaign groups say sprayers should be required to notify the public

Public will not have to be notified when crops, fields or parks are being sprayed with pesticides potentially harmful to their health, despite warnings from the British Medical Association

Campaigners have reacted with dismay to a Defra announcement that farmers and greenkeepers will not be required to notify residents when they are spraying pesticides.

The British Medical Association (BMA) had advised the government that it should introduce mandatory notification of spraying to alert 'vulnerable groups such as those suffering from respiratory problems'. Defra's own consultation on the issue admitted that the public believed the current voluntary approach was not working and that public signs indicating spraying had taken place should be compulsory.

However, the government has ignored the public and medical profession, saying: 'We do not believe it is appropriate to introduce a statutory requirement for operators to provide advance notice of planned spray operations to members of the public living adjacent to sprayed land.'

Pesticide campaigners said the government was pandering to the interests of industry. 'The reason they are not prepared to do anything is their ideological dislike of regulation, it is not based on science,' said Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN-UK) policy officer Nick Mole.

The UK is required to show how it will meet new EU rules on pesticides due to come into force at the end of 2011. Defra said it only planned to make 'minor changes' to existing voluntary measures, which will mean calls to ban pesticides in areas used by vulnerable groups, such as school playing fields and parks, will also be ignored.

Farming minister Lord Henley defended the move, saying he was following 'sound scientific evidence'.

'By making a small number of changes to our existing approach, we can continue to help feed a growing global population with high-quality food that’s affordable, while minimising the risks of using pesticides,' he said

Pesticide campaigner Georgina Downs said it was 'outrageous' for Defra to suggest it had no compelling evidence to justify a ban on the use of pesticides in certain areas.

'The prohibition of the use of pesticides in the locality of homes, schools, children’s playgrounds, hospitals and public areas is absolutely crucial for public health protection, especially that of vulnerable groups,' she said.

Nick Mole said a 'key opportunity' to bring in a targeted reduction in pesticide use and advance notification warnings had been missed. One that 'gives lie to David Cameron's view to make this the greenest government ever'.

Useful links

Responses to Defra consultation on pesticides

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