Danish pesticide figures provoke row

Environmental agency admits policy to halve pesticide use has failed to deliver

Danish officials have admitted that a policy to halve the use of pesticides over the last decade has failed, following the release of new statistics on pesticide use. The admission is expected to fuel demands over the autumn for higher pesticide taxes in the short term and a phase-out of pesticide-use in the long term.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published 1996 pesticide statistics. They show that sales fell by 39% from 1981-85 to 1995-96, but application frequency increased by 1%. Both parameters should have been halved by 1997 under a ten-year pesticide action plan. The EPA averaged 1995 and 1996 figures to reflect abnormally high pesticide sales in 1995 in advance of a pesticide tax that took effect in 1996.

Pesticide application frequency is considered an important environmental indicator because it takes account of changes in pesticide formulation such as the advent of more concentrated pesticides. It also reflects some important environmental effects such as immediate impacts on birds during spraying.

According to the agency, it is clear that "the frequency of treatment by pesticides has not decreased as anticipated". "Other methods for controlling the use of pesticides must therefore be considered." It will propose new measures in a report to the parliament this autumn reviewing the pesticide action plan.

Failure to meet the targets was expected, and the agency's report was anticipated earlier this year by the creation of a new commission, which is to examine the economic, environmental and social consequences of ending pesticide use altogether (ENDS Daily 16 May).

The commission is not expected to report its conclusions until the end of 1998. But in a private meeting with politicians today, environment minister Svend Auken is believed to have agreed to ask the commission to present interim findings next summer.

Opposition parties are expected to call on the government this autumn to maintain pressure on pesticide use while waiting for the commission's report. In particular, there will be pressure for higher pesticide taxes and increased support for organic agriculture.

Agrochemical producers say the government would do better to talk to farmers about ways they could voluntarily reduce pesticide use. The Danish Agrochemical Association disputes the use of pesticide application frequency as the basis for debate. Director Per Kristensen told ENDS Daily: "This indicator is used as a tool to measure environmental burden. We say it does not do that because it takes no account of the different impacts of pesticides."

Mr Kristensen said he welcomed the debate on the consequences of phasing out pesticide use. "It could eliminate a lot of misinterpretations about the impact of chemical use in farming and force people to look at the pluses of pesticide use as well as the minuses."

Follow Up:
Danish environmental protection agency , tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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