Examination of Witnesses (Questions 32
TUESDAY 30 NOVEMBER 1999
32. Good morning to you all. Thank you for agreeing
to come together. It certainly does help the progress of the Committee
if we can take rather similar points of view, though I am not
suggesting they are all the same, but similar points of view at
one go. It does help progress. I am very grateful to all of you
for agreeing to do that, although I am sure we shall try to let
each of you have your own say on each particular question. May
I ask whether there is anything any of the three groups today
would like to add to what you have already sent in by way of written
statements before we begin questioning? Mr Pexton? Dr Breach?
(Dr Breach) Perhaps briefly to say that
the water companies are separate organisations from the agrochemical
and farming interests. We have a very strong dependency on a healthy
environment and we want to see a reduction in water pollution
and pesticides. We have major reservations about the tax, which
is why we are on this table.
Chairman: Dr Buckenham, is there anything
you would like to add to your statement? Mr Gerrard.
33. May I ask your views on the trends in pesticide
use? We have seen data which suggest some overall decrease over
the last 10 years, some suggestions in changes in the nature of
the way pesticides are being used. Would you comment on that to
(Dr Buckenham) The MAFF usage survey report which
was published this year reviewed pesticide usage over the ten
years from 1986 to 1996. That did show a 19 per cent reduction
in the weight of active ingredient applied once sulphuric acid
was taken out of the equation. They concluded that was largely
a result of newer products which were applied at lower rates and
also greater use of reduced rate applications by farmers. I have
to say that I should be surprised if there were this great overuse
which is being suggested because of the economic aspects of it
for farmers. My farming colleagues may wish to comment on that.
(Mr Pexton) I was likewise surprised at the comments
which were made. May I emphasise that as an industry we are supporting
action to reduce the risk and potential environmental impact of
the use of agrochemicals, but we do not believe that a tax is
the right way to do this. It is a very indirect mechanism, it
is taxing use rather than effect and one of your previous witnesses
said that what we have to do is monitor effect rather than use.
Experience would show that tax really has very little impact on
volume used, it is training that is important and R&D getting
technology into the marketplace. That is happening and that is
why I am surprised to hear the comments of the previous witnesses
because there is economic pressure on us, as has already been
mentioned this morning, but there is also commercial pressure
for us to adopt measures that limit the amount of materials we
use. It is accepted that the marketplace wants us to use certain
materials to provide what the marketplace wants but there is commercial
pressure for us to adopt techniques which make sure we are applying
fertilisers according to analysis, that we are applying pesticides
according, for example, to assessing the threshold of certain
pests and those pests have to reach a level before you start applying
a pesticide, assessing disease risk and planting different varieties
of wheat which have different disease resistant patterns so that
you are minimising the risk of disease attack through your wheat
crop. There is a tremendous amount of pressure there through commerce
that we adopt practices which minimise the use of these materials
and that same pressure is leading us to adopt assurance schemes
which make sure that the machinery we use is calibrated, that
the operators we use are trained, and these are voluntary assurance
schemes where I as a farmer pay in to be independently assessed
that I do meet these standards of calibration, training, storage,
decision making. I am very surprised that the comments which were
made this morning were made in the context of all that is happening
34. If you are arguing that volume and weight
are not an indicator of environmental damage and we ought to be
looking at other measures, what measures should we be looking
at? You are suggesting that the argument that there has been increased
use of pesticides, that increased use of pesticides has caused
problems, is a false one. So what measures can you point to which
suggest that argument is wrong?
(Mr Lunniss) We can only agree probably with the comments
made by your earlier witnesses that you can only measure that
in terms of outputs. One of our concerns about the use of a pesticide
tax is that you are actually trying to measure result in terms
of the input rather more than measuring what you are trying to
achieve in terms of biodiversity or maintenance of plant species.
35. Would you suggest the output measures have
been going in the right direction over the last few years?
(Mr Pexton) Biodiversity action plans are in place.
36. That is not quite the question. I am not
asking what plans are in place. You suggested that the previous
witnesses were wrong and that we should be looking at outputs,
so can you point to outputs which have gone in the right direction
in the last few years?
(Dr Breach) May I make a contribution from the water
industry? We measure outputs in the sense that we measure the
quality of our raw water resources prior to treatment and therefore
we have tracked pesticide levels for some time. What we find is
that there are still problems to be solved, but where we have
seen a reduction is in pesticides which are not actually used
in agriculture but used on roads and railways. If you go back
to the early 1990s, the biggest problem for the water industry
was a substance called atrazine. That has actually decreased significantly
as a problem, primarily for two reasons: one is increased stewardship
and control of its use and also similar products, and a partial
restriction on its use through the regulatory mechanism.
37. How was that product used?
(Dr Breach) It was used to control weed growth on
roads particularly and also on railways by local authorities.
Because it was on hard surfaces it used to run straight off into
the drains and therefore into the rivers and so on. That is one
substance where we have seen quite a significant reduction over
the last ten years in output terms and that was effectively achieved
through the existing mechanisms, plus good practice.
38. ECOTEC are very critical of the level of
monitoring of pesticides in water before treatment. Do you agree
that it is insufficient, or do you disagree with their view on
(Dr Breach) We disagree that not enough monitoring
is done. Monitoring is very expensive. It is probably worth pointing
out that one analysis would cost perhaps £250 to £300.
It is a very expensive analysis, therefore we have to target that
analysis. We do monitor our raw water as well as our treated water
regularly, which we have to do for statutory purposes and we actually
have quite a good record of historic trends in ground water and
in the river systems we use for abstraction. I do disagree with
that general statement. There is always more you could do, but
you do have to look at the cost effectiveness of the sampling
39. Water quality in terms of what you are having
to treat may well be a very important indicator. One of the problems
we picked up earlier is that there is a general view that there
is a reduction in biodiversity, but it is very difficult to pin
down the reduction in a particular species for instance to any
single cause. The argument being put forward for the tax is that
although cause and effect cannot be shown, there is sufficient
disquiet that at all costs pesticide levels should be reduced
and that this is an instrument which may deliver. However, in
fact things like ground water quality, if a lot of monitoring
were to take placeand I appreciate your problems of financial
stringencymight start to provide quite important indicators,
might it not? Do you think the monitoring of water, ground water
and river water, which is being carried out, is in fact sufficient
to build up a pattern of what is happening in terms of pesticide
(Dr Breach) It is providing us with fairly good indicators.
Of course we are not the only ones to monitor; the Environment
Agency monitor and you will be speaking to them later. In fact
the Environment Agency runs a group, a multi-disciplinary group,
on behalf of the Government looking at more effective monitoring
of pesticides and a report is being produced early next year.
A lot of work is going on to collaborate on monitoring to get
the best value from the monitoring programme. My personal view
is that water monitoring is one of the more effective measures
of pesticide output compared for example to much more complex
things like biodiversity.