No decision has been taken by the government on its scientific advisers’ recommendations to tighten public health laws on crop spraying with pesticides.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ministers requested a policy review four years ago after campaigner Georgina Downs mounted a legal challenge against the government.
She has battled for 12 years against what she argues is a “policy and approvals system that fundamentally fails to protect people in the countryside from pesticides, particularly rural residents”.
Her struggle started after she was regularly exposed to pesticides sprayed in crop fields adjoining her Sussex home. She has since advised thousands of people in rural areas who are also suffering adverse health following exposure to crop pesticides.
The new recommendations from the advisory committee on pesticides (ACP) include that farmers give residents notification before spraying commences and give information on pesticides used.
The current risk assessment under the existing policy assumes people only have occasional exposure to a single pesticide for a brief time.
Downs has always disputed this. “Exposure for rural residents is long-term, chronic, cumulative, and is due to many mixtures of pesticides used on crops,” she said.
Currently it is also assumed that an individual would not be any closer than eight metres from a crop sprayer. The ACP has now recommended that a distance of two metres should be assumed between the sprayer and a resident or bystander in acute and chronic risk assessments.
Although pleased to see an acknowledgement that the existing policy approach has been inadequate, Downs said: “The ACP should have recommended prohibiting crop spraying and the use of pesticides near residents’ homes, schools, children’s playgrounds, etc.
“There has been no UK assessment to date of the risks to health for residents and others exposed over the long term. Therefore under EU law pesticides should never have been approved in the first place for spraying in the locality of such areas.”
The National Farmers Union (NFU) supports the use of pesticides. Don Prendegast, its plant health adviser, said: “I believe the government would support voluntary approaches to providing information such as the Good Neighbour Initiative, developed by the NFU.
“Mandatory prior notification would be difficult to implement effectively, extremely complex and burdensome for farmers.”
A spokesperson for DEFRA said: “Ministers will be responding soon to the recommendations.”