Control of Pesticides etc.

Part of Orders of the Day — Food and Environment Protection Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd 3:46 pm, 26th June 1985

I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 17, line 26, at end insert— '(aa) as to the extent and implications of resistance to pesticides among pests in Britain;'. This amendment brings us back to a point that was raised in Committee, but which, for one reason or another, was not responded to in full.

For a long time there has been considerable anxiety that the very objects for which pesticides are designed are developing immunity to them. Therefore, the pesticides which in minute quantities could kill and control the pests, can no longer do so.

The Royal Commission on environmental pollution mentioned that factor, but said that it found it difficult to get an exact picture of both the seriousness and the scope of the problem. Many scientists throughout the world are concerned that constant use of pesticides is developing strains of pests immune to their toxicity. There is anxiety that what I call the first world war mentality—that is, if there is resistance we put forth even more to overcome that resistance, which develops more resistance—should be avoided at all costs.

The Ministry acknowledged the problem but put it on the governmental back burner by saying that, although there was a problem, it would not occur until the end of the century. But, of course, even the end of the century is only 15 years away and we are talking about a development of other sources of pest control that are effective during that short time.

I think that we all agree that pesticides should be used at the minimum level consistent with being effective. Because there is resistance to a certain pesticide, we do not want to engender the philosophy that the farmer should add a little extra in the hope that it will kill the blighters.

The Minister said that there were 25 strains resistant to 28 pesticides. We have also been told that both fungicides and herbicides are finding resistant strains. The Farmers Weekly on 15 March noted: Earlier drilling of winter cereal and widespread use of fungicides may lead to a sudden rise in MBC-resistant eyespot. People are worried because in the ADAS eastern region the resistant strains had risen by 90 per cent. in the year 1984–85. There are similar quantum leaps in resistance in other crops.

The Big Farm Weekly of 11 April said: The first signs of herbicide resistance in blackgrass have been recorded by scientists at the Weed Research Organisation, Oxford. When I was looking at the fairly daunting forecasts for the size of this year's harvest—that is, if we ever get any warm weather—the problem of blackgrass was central to the question of cereals. Blackgrass is now becoming resistant to herbicides, so a major problem is arising.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the Ministry consults the advisory committee about pesticides so that it can express its view on this increasing problem. There is no doubt that a resistance will occur, that it will take different forms, that it will apply to a wider spectrum of crops and that it will cause many problems.

In Committee, a similar amendment was moved as one of a large group. I am sure that that is why the Minister replied to it with less than her usual thoroughness. I counted about six lines in Hansard—and I was being generous—when I read her reply. But such is the importance of the subject that it warrants a reply. The Government should refer the problem to the ACP at the earliest possible opportunity to determine how it may be overcome and what may be done to avoid resistant strains growing. I hope that the Government can reassure me on that.

I tabled the amendment not to make a party political point or even a point of sharp difference, but to try to make the legislation—as the hon. Lady wishes—as good as we can possibly make it.