A proposed crackdown on pesticide use could wipe out commercial crop production in Europe and boost imports, British growers are warning. The NFU has slammed proposals from the European Parliament's environment committee to halve the volume of pesticides used and levy a new tax on them. "If it goes through, EU farming will be wiped out and we'll become a nation of park keepers," said Richard Hirst, horticulture board chairman. "Its almost as if the proposal has been written by organic growers." Potatoes would be critically affected because they need regular spraying for blight, he claimed, arguing that blight would ravage the crop in wet conditions of the sort the UK has had this summer. But crops from top fruit to salads and field crops would be affected, leading to a slew of imported products, Hirst warned. "There would be a massive increase in imports from third countries with lower standards," he said. The environment committee's amendments to the proposed Sustainable Use Directive also recommend a 75% cut in the use of toxic pesticides, a ban on spraying vertical crops such as hops or fruit trees near watercourses, and the creation of large buffer zones to separate spraying from public areas. Growers argue these measures would be unworkable and make a mockery of their efforts to act responsibly with pesticides through mitigation schemes such as the Voluntary Initiative. "Pesticide usage in the UK is strictly controlled and subject to some of the most stringent safety measures within Europe," said Chris Hartfield, NFU horticulture adviser. "Rather than making unjustified radical cuts in pesticide use that may actually threaten the sustainability of the industry, we believe the Commission should focus its attention on ensuring the whole of Europe operates to the same high standard." The proposals will be voted on by all 785 members of the Parliament at the end of September. The NFU is urging growers to lobby their MEP now.