Slug pellet pesticide ban could have ‘major impact’ on food production, say farmers

Metaldehyde, a chemical used in slug pellets, will be banned for outdoor use from 2020, says Defra.

Metaldehyde, a chemical used in slug pellets, will be banned for outdoor use from 2020, says Defra. Picture: Thinkstockphotos. - Credit: PA

The government's decision to ban a pesticide used in slug pellets is a blow which could have a 'major impact' on East Anglian farmers, said industry leaders.

The ban on the outdoor use of metaldehyde, which is used to control slugs in agricultural crops including potatoes, cereals and oilseed rape – as well as in domestic gardens – will be introduced across Britain from spring 2020.

The move follows advice from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and the Health and Safety Executive that metaldehyde poses an unacceptable risk to birds and mammals, said Defra.

Farming leaders warned that a lack of slug control products could cost the nation's crop production £100m a year – despite the chemical still being authorised for use in other countries that export food to the UK.

Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said: 'Today's announcement is very disappointing and will have a major impact on British farmers and growers. These products have been reauthorised for use in 21 EU member states and this ban is another decision that will have an impact on food production in this country. It simply gifts a competitive advantage to farmers abroad who will export into our markets using crop protection materials banned in the UK.

'Slugs are a significant pest for agricultural and horticultural crops like oilseed rape, cereals and potatoes which, if left unchecked, can cause considerable damage.'

Initiatives to reduce farming's use of metaldehyde include the enhanced stewardship guidelines introduced in 2017 by the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group, and Anglian Water's Slug It Out campaign, incentivising farmers to use alternatives to keep the chemical out of rivers and water treatment plants.

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NFU East Anglia environment adviser Rob Wise said: 'Farmers, together with water companies and catchment partnerships, have been working on a number of approaches to target the use of metaldehyde to low risk areas, where they pose less threat.

'These schemes have shown that it is possible to continue to use metaldehyde as part of a holistic approach to slug control, without detriment to local water quality.

'Water companies, in particular, have been gearing up to extend these approaches with farmers across more catchments and we are therefore especially disappointed that government has gone for a total ban, rather than focusing on removing metaldehyde from high risk areas.'

Defra said sowing seeds deeper in to the soil may prevent slugs from reaching them, while alternative pesticides containing ferric phosphate provide effective control of slugs and snails without carrying the same risks to wildlife.

Environment secretary Michael Gove said: 'I recognise that significant effort has been put into encouraging growers and gardeners to use this pesticide responsibly by the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group.

'However, the advice is clear that the risks to wildlife are simply too great - and we must all play our part in helping to protect the environment.

'I encourage companies and growers to look at the alternatives, such as ferric phosphate, which is authorised and does not carry similar risks.'

The outdoor use of metaldehyde will be phased out over 18 months so growers have time to switch over to other ways of controlling the pests.

It will be legal to sell products containing the chemical for outdoor use for the next six months, while use will be allowed for a further 12 months, Defra said.

The restrictions will also reduce the possibility of the pesticide contaminating drinking water sources and help water companies continue to meet tough water standards, although this was not a factor in the advice from the experts, Defra said.