My Lords, I am afraid that I will add a little un-unanimity to this debate, which seems to have been completely one-sided so far. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register and note that there is a thriving apiary on my farm, to which the greatest threats are from weather and woodpeckers—if noble Lords want to know why woodpeckers, it is because they break into the hives during the winter and eat the queen bee.
Let me state for the record why we need plant protection products. Farmers would love to stop spraying, which is expensive and time-consuming, but they need to produce food in a financially viable manner. I will comment on a few things that have perhaps been taken slightly the wrong the way in this debate. First, no trained, licensed spray operator will spray a field when there is a wind. Secondly, no trained, licensed spray operator will spray in the middle of the day. Thirdly, the neonics on sugar beet that were mentioned earlier were used during a particular window to address a particular problem; there is no general licence to use this chemical.
Farmers and growers need access to safe and effective tools to protect crops from pests, diseases and weeds, so that they can continue to produce safe, affordable food and crop plants. Pesticides, called “PPPs” in the regulation, are currently an important part of the suite of integrated pest-management tools relied on to protect crops. Unnecessary restrictions on PPP use will lead only to reductions in yields and a decline in the productivity of UK agriculture. These reductions will mean an increase in imports from other parts of the world. Also, the environmental consequences of offshoring our production would mean more land being brought into cultivation, exporting our environmental footprint to countries that may be more vulnerable to climate change. This would be especially misguided given the efficiency and high standards of UK agriculture.
There is often a misconception that farmers use PPPs even though they do not need to. In reality, farmers use PPPs only when they absolutely have to, to protect our food supply against the pests, weeds and diseases that would otherwise cause us to lose 30% to 40% of our food production—I repeat, 30% to 40%. When farmers use PPPs, they ensure that they use only as much as is necessary, and they take measures to ensure that they impact only the intended crop.
When introducing his previous amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, questioned the ability of the regulatory system to protect residents living near farms. I reiterate what others have said about the strength of the regulatory system. It is among the most stringent in the world. Limits are set for the safe daily exposure of operators, residents and bystanders to PPPs. These limits are set at levels that are conservative and offer a high level of protection for human health. The current regulatory system for PPPs has been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection for human health, animal health and the environment.
Regarding Amendment 52, the existing regulatory system for PPPs considers the potential impact on bystanders, who are defined in the regulation as
“people who casually are located within or directly adjacent to” an area where plant protection products are applied. Residents are defined in the regulation as
“people who live, work or attend any institution near to areas that are treated with”
PPPs. There is no need for further regulation to achieve exactly the same goals.
With regard to Amendment 53, an appropriate and robust risk assessment is already carried out on all active substances before they reach the market. All products on the market have been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection for human health, animal health and the environment. This includes bees and other pollinators. Insecticides are by their nature toxic to bees and other pollinators. However, the way they are used ensures that the risk of exposure is minimised to levels that do no harm to bees or pollinators. As part of the regulation, an appropriate risk assessment is carried out on all active substances and products before they reach the market.
Finally, consider other likely consequences of these two amendments. With advances in agritech, such as pest monitoring, plant breeding and precision application, it is likely that the use of PPPs and all other pest control interventions can become more efficient, achieving more with less. However, to achieve this, the Government must encourage investment in research and development and provide a regulatory environment which enables innovation in order to deliver the next generation of agricultural technologies and, in the meantime, ensure that farmers and growers retain the tools they need to produce world-class food sustainably and affordably. These amendments would undermine that investment in the future.