Danes moot new fertiliser tax to protect water

Government forges political deals to cut fertiliser, pesticide use to protect water

The Danish government has reached political agreement with opposition parties on policies to cut nitrogen pollution from farms, which could lead to the country's first tax on fertiliser use. It also yesterday took the first steps towards an agreement to cut pesticide use, including a proposal to substantially increase current taxes on pesticides.

With support from one liberal and two conservative opposition parties, the minority coalition government is aiming to reduce annual nitrogen losses from fertiliser application by 100,000 tonnes compared with 1987 levels. The target already exists in a 10-year water protection plan which runs out this year, but has not been achieved.

Under the agreement, farmers who exceed permitted fertiliser application rates could be taxed. But the proposal is just one of the policy tools in the agreement, and the supporting parties have agreed to carry out a more detailed analysis of how the nitrogen load target can be reached before presenting the parliament in February with formal proposals.

The uncertainty has fuelled a political controversy in Denmark. Right wing parties claim they have saved the agricultural industry from new fertiliser taxes, while the Socialist People's Party is claiming the opposite. Meanwhile, the "red-green" Unity Party has complained that the final tax proposal is far weaker than that in an earlier version, which would have taxed total nitrogen losses - from livestock as well as fertiliser application.

In a separate initiative, the government yesterday secured the support of the Socialist People's Party for new measures to cut pesticide use. It will now have to negotiate with other political parties to secure majority support for the deal. The measures include a substantial increase in pesticide taxes as well as a further tightening of Denmark's pesticide approval regime - already considered to be one of the most stringent in the EU.

The agreement also includes a commitment by the government to completely phase out pesticide use in the public sector within five years, to prohibit pesticide use in private gardens, and to impose new restrictions on pesticide-use near drinking water wells.

The deal follows the release of monitoring data by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier in the autumn, which showed that a voluntary programme to reduce the amount and frequency of pesticide application had failed to meet its targets. Earlier this year, the government established a commission to investigate the implications of phasing out pesticide-use altogether (ENDS Daily 16 May).

Follow Up:
Danish Environment Ministry, tel: +45 33 92 76 00.

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