Danish experts mull greater pesticide controls

Usage could be cut further but total phase-out would be impractical, expert group hints

Denmark could further reduce pesticide use economically, but a national phase-out would cost too much to be practical, members of a government-appointed expert group said this week. The commission on pesticides phase-out was set up last year to study whether Denmark could go organic and to look at the implications (ENDS Daily 16 May 1997). Members of the group presented their interim conclusions at a meeting on Monday; their final report is expected next March.

Denmark already has a policy to reduce the weight of pesticides used and application frequency by half over the 15 years to 1997. Figures released this summer showed that while the first target had virtually been met, application frequency had only fallen by 8% due to introduction of active ingredients that are more powerful relative to their weight (ENDS Daily 21 July).

Pesticide use could be cut by a further 10-15% without significantly damaging Danish agriculture, the expert commission's economics panel said on Monday. The panel also suggested that some sectors, such as cattle farmers, could phase out pesticide use altogether, while others, such as pig, seed and strawberry producers, would be hard hit if pesticide use were banned altogether.

Denmark already applies less pesticide per hectare than any other EU countries bar Sweden and Finland, according to Eurostat and less than one-eighth the amount used in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, risks to wildlife and humans remain a concern, especially because most Danish drinking water is pumped from groundwater and the country's aquifers are especially susceptible to pesticide leaching.

More cuts in pesticide use would benefit the environment, commission chairman Svend Bichel told ENDS Daily. Without further controls, he said, groundwater risked becoming contaminated with pesticides, threatening drinking water. In this case, Mr Bichel said, Denmark would have to introduce expensive drinking water purification systems. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace claim contamination is already evident and are pushing for a total phase-out of all agricultural pesticide use within 10 years.

The commission is also studying legal implications of stronger pesticides legislation. Any move to totally phase out their use would likely bring Denmark into conflict with EU and international free trade rules, its legal panel said on Monday.

Danish farmers are angry at the possibility of further restrictions on pesticide use. Niels Ilsø, head of the farmers' union and a member of the commission, told ENDS Daily more cuts would be "unrealistic". "We are going to fight this all the way," he said.

Follow Up:
Danish environment ministry, tel: +45 32 92 76 00.

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