Danish pesticides plan mollifies farmers

Greater flexibility on exemptions disappoints NGOs, as tough implementation decisions loom

One of Europe's toughest regimes to curb the use of agricultural pesticides was formally adopted by the Danish government last week, amid continuing protests by both green groups and farmers.

Aiming to cut pesticide use by one-fifth, create no-spray zones around water courses and triple the area farmed organically, the action plan has undergone nearly three months of debate since its launch (ENDS Daily 16 December 1999). A crucial set of enforcement procedures to give it teeth is still pending, however.

In a nod to the farming lobby, a system of exemptions will be introduced from the new requirement for phase-out of all pesticides affecting the quality of ground water - the source of all Danish drinking supplies. Farmers growing certain categories of crops and able to show they can comply with detailed use restrictions will be eligible to apply.

The final shape of the law also includes alterations to an accompanying four-year financial package giving more backing to organic farming. Organic pig and poultry production will receive an additional DKr16m (euros 2.15m) over the level proposed in December. Described by officials as a "vital element" in overall plan to reduce pesticide use, the DKr150m package will support extra crop monitoring, IT systems and information to farmers.

The Danish Nature Conservation Council has declared itself still bitterly disappointed with the final form of the plan, and particularly its goal of reducing pesticide spraying frequency to below two a year by the end of 2002. Denmark has struggled to meet previous very ambitious targets - the parliament originally hoped to get applications down to 1.3 in 1996, but only 2.5 was achieved.

Last year, the Bichel committee estimated that a level of 1.4-1.7 was achievable within 5-10 years (ENDS Daily 23 March 1999. "It's still our intention to reduce frequency after 2002, but decisions have not yet been taken about the time frame or the extent," an environment ministry spokesperson told ENDS Daily today. As part of the revisions to the chemical substances act, officials want the power to give each farmer a quota if 2002 targets are not achieved, and to impose stricter restrictions on use near water sources, she added.

Follow Up:
Danish environment ministry, tel: +45 33 92 76 00.

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