Political pressure to ban certain herbicides ‘will only increase’

Concerns over the use of certain plant protection products are among a range of issues set to affect the Irish tillage sector in the future, according to MEP Mairead McGuinness.

The Vice-President of the European Parliament was speaking at an event for north-east growers in Dunleer, Co. Louth, which was organised by Goldcrop.

McGuinness also highlighted the future of the EU budget and the development of an EU protein strategy as other areas for consideration.

She said that a strong defence of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) budget is needed as talks begin about the future size and scope of the general EU budget, particularly in the context of Brexit.

McGuinness added: “There is concern at EU-level about the high dependency on imported protein for the livestock sector. Work is ongoing on this issue and a proposal on a new protein strategy for the EU is expected in the coming months. This could present opportunities for growers.”

The MEP spoke about the increased scrutiny of plant protection products, stating: “Whether it is glyphosate or neonicotinoids, there is intense questioning of inputs used.

“Recently the Environment Committee of the European Parliament backed calls for a ban on neonicotinoids due to concerns about their impact on bees, even when used as seed treatments on non-flowering crops, as residues remain in the soil.

The publication of a report this week has intensified the debate for a total ban on neonicotinoids.

A recent study in the UK investigated the country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees, while a Canadian project studied exposure to neonicotinoids on honey bee health near corn crops. Both studies confirmed concerns about nenicotinoids.

McGuinness said: “With rising concerns about loss of biodiversity and bees in particular, the political pressure to ban some plant protection products will increase, not decrease.”

An example of this is the product Clothianidin, which is a commonly-used seed dressing in this country. There is the possibility of a total ban due to concerns regarding its effect on bee populations.

Referencing this, the MEP said: “There is no alternative treatment for the control of the grain aphid and the rose cherry aphid, which are the main vectors of barley yellow dwarf virus.

The tillage sector will be impacted by these decisions and there is a need to identify new methods and new technologies to combat pests and control disease in crops.

“Work is ongoing in Teagasc to see if new methods can be found to control aphids in cereals. This is important work.”

Moving onto the issue of glyphosate/Roundup, the MEP stated that more than one million citizens have put their names to a petition to ban the herbicide. This is in spite of reassurances from the European Food Safety Agency that the product is not harmful to health.

McGuinness said: “This is a signal for how citizens perceive plant protection products, which are essential for crop health and crop yields.

“We need to begin to look carefully at the available technologies, and work with organisations who have concerns, to make sure that the drive to ban products does not result in widespread disruption to crop production in Ireland and the EU.”