Spanish vegetable growers are buying in billions of British-bred bugs in an effort to rid themselves of pests without using chemical pesticides.

Up to 70% of the growers in Almeria said they would use the insects to kill smaller disease-carrying bugs such as aphid and whitefly, which have become increasingly resistant to pesticides.

"Over the years in Almeria, they've been chasing pests with more and more chemicals," said Melvyn Fidgett, CEO of bug breeder Syngenta Bioline. "Eventually the pests just build up resistance."

Following successful trials on 500ha last year, bugs will be used on 6,000ha of capsicum peppers and large areas of aubergine, cucumber and tomato production this year. This integrated crop-management approach would halve growers' use of chemical pesticides and improve the quality of their crops, estimated Fidgett

"We breed a predatory mite and a bug for use on vegetable and fruit crops," he added. "The key has been the development of a new predator, which has made the programme a lot more efficient." Bugs wouldn't replace chemicals altogether, but with the bugs keeping down pest levels, pesticide intervention would be less frequent.

The initiative, which is being backed with funds from the Andalucian government, should go some way to mending the region's reputation for vegetable production.

Growers took a hit last Christmas when two separate consignments of peppers bound for Germany were found to contain high concentrations of illegal pesticides, sparking burdensome export restrictions. Growers had been sourcing chemicals from all over the world, many of which were illegal to use in the EU.

Pressure has also been applied by retailers concerned about the safety of crops from Almeria.