UK produce production could soon become impossible and imports illegal unless action is taken to set minimum pesticide residual levels, the Fresh Produce Consortium has warned.

Following an EU review of the use of pesticides, the UK has found itself high and dry after failing to set its own national MRLs and could now be facing a bill which could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

Previously, EU member states had been allowed to set their own national MRLs, however the UK, rather than draw up its own, simply adopted the generic EU standards. However Brussels has
now announced plans to review MRLs to harmonise levels across the EU. While that review is taking place, the commission is proposing to introduce temporary levels based on a
review of national MRLs.

Douglas Henderson, chief executive of the FPC, said the problem the UK industry now faces in not having set its own levels is that it will have no input and could find itself landed with levels more suited to southern Europe. “If we do nothing we could be faced with levels that could prevent us from growing crops in the UK."

He said the UK would also have to set import tolerances to avoid MRLs of zero on imports, making them effectively illegal.

Tthe country has to set 5,000 MRLs, not including imports, by January 2005. The Horticulture Development Council is looking into the UK side while the FPC is working on imports.

In the meantime Henderson called upon the whole sector to take the issue seriously. “This should be a real wake-up call for the industry,” he added.
Ed Bedington