Fruit and vegetable growers could be forced to relocate their crops outside Europe - or stop growing them altogether if new EU pesticide proposals come into force.

This was the stark prediction from growers as the European Commission put forward a new directive that would outlaw a vast number of common pesticides.

Under European Commission directive 91/414, the pesticide approval process would switch from the current risk-based system, which evaluates dosage levels, exposure risks and other factors, to a more black-and-white ingredients-based system.

Pesticides would automatically be banned if they contained any trace of certain elements.

The proposals raise the possibility of growers relocating their businesses to outside the European Union to produce the crops using the banned substances and then shipping them back under more lax import regulations that permit limited use of the chemicals.

One Portuguese supermarket salad supplier was already considering moving to North Africa, said National Farmers' Union plant health adviser Paul Chambers.

Producers may stop growing certain crops altogether if they felt they could not protect them adequately, he added.

"These ideas have been particularly promoted by the EU Environment Committee, which is very green and totally impractical in its thinking," said Chambers.

"This could be enormously damaging to the industry, and some smaller crops could be lost."

Chambers said even large-scale crops such as carrots and peas could be under threat if growers were unable to control problems such as volunteer potatoes - a weed, he said.

Britain's Pesticide Safety Directorate is understood to be arguing against the EU proposals.

The European Agriculture Council next meets on 19 May to discuss the issue.