Use of metaldehyde slug pellets must end by spring 2020, following a decision from Defra, but the NFU has warned the move will put the UK at a competitive disadvantage. CPM reports.

The Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced a ban on the outdoor use of metaldehyde, used to control slugs in a range of crops, across Great Britain from Spring 2020.

The decision to prohibit the use of metaldehyde, except in permanent greenhouses, follows advice from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that metaldehyde poses an unacceptable risk to birds and mammals, says Defra.

Environment secretary Michael Gove

A statement from the department issued on Wednesday (19 Dec) said there are other ways to mitigate the impact of slugs through soil preparation, such as sowing the seed deeper into the soil to put it out of reach of slugs.

The secretary of state said he recognised that significant effort has been put into encouraging growers to use metaldehyde responsibly by the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG).

“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. It will be legal to sell metaldehyde products for outdoor use for the next six months, with use of the products then allowed for a further 12 months.

Hugely disappointing

The NFU called the move “hugely disappointing” and said it will have a major impact on British farmers and growers, as well as on food production.

“These products have been reauthorised for use in 21 EU member states,” pointed out NFU deputy president Guy Smith.

“[The ban] 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, he added, with AHDB estimates suggesting that a lack of slug control products could cost UK crop production £100 million a year. “Metaldehyde products play a key role as part of an integrated approach to slug control,” Guy added.

“Farmers are acutely aware of the need to use these products judiciously and to ensure their use has minimal impact on the environment.

“In autumn 2017, the MSG introduced enhanced stewardship guidelines to help increase protection of watercourses and minimise the risk to other wildlife. Uptake of, and engagement with, these enhanced guidelines has been high and initial observations suggest that less metaldehyde was used in autumn 2017.

“While ferric phosphate can be used as an alternative slug control treatment it is possible that resistance could develop, as we have seen with other pesticide products when alternatives have been removed and farmers and growers have been left to rely on one active ingredient.”

Blow to the industry

The decision has been met with great disappointment from the MSG.

Its chairman David Cameron said the news comes as a blow to the agricultural industry, who have worked collaboratively to safeguard what he called a  “key active ingredient for slug control” since 2008.

The MSG said it wishes to thank the industry for the support and investment in stewardship measures that have been adopted.