The banning of metaldehyde is hugely disappointing and will have a major impact on British farmers and growers.
The NFU’s Plant Health team have been working to keep metaldehyde-based slug pellets available for several years but on 19 December 2018, Michael Gove announced that Defra will not be reregistering products in the UK.
Defra announced that a ban on the outdoor use of metaldehyde is to be introduced across Great Britain from Spring 2020, despite products containing it still being authorised for use in 21 other member states that export food to the UK.
The NFU has worked with the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG) to promote best practice when using controlling slugs. Get Pelletwise is the campaign of the MSG. The group’s aim is to promote and encourage best practice with metaldehyde slug pellets, among agricultural users, to minimise environmental impacts and help preserve the future of metaldehyde as a tool for slug control.
As part of the stewardship, farmers should take an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to slug control to minimise slug infestations and reduce, or remove entirely, the need for metaldehyde treatment.
Metaldehyde as an active ingredient is approved at EU level, but there has been a great deal of difficulty getting products re-registered in the UK.
The Expert Committee on Pesticides, a body that gives advice to Ministers have raised a concern about the risk metaldehyde poses to birds and small mammals. The MSG addressed this risk by producing enhanced stewardship guidelines which we have promoted among our membership.
These guidelines were introduced in Autumn 2017 and as a result many growers switched from metaldehyde to ferric phosphate-based products.
The Drinking Water Directive sets a maximum level of 0.1 microgrammes per litre of any individual pesticide which is permitted in drinking water. While metaldehyde has been found at levels higher than this at abstraction points, it is rare for there to be a failure at tap for exceeding this threshold. However, in their statement Defra stated the reason for the ban was a risk to birds and small mammals.
Guy Smith, NFU deputy president, said: “Today’s announcement is very disappointing and will have a major impact on British farmers and growers. These products have been re-registered for use in 21 EU member states and this ban is another decision that will have an impact on food production in this country. It 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 for agricultural and horticultural crops like oilseed rape, cereals and potatoes which, if left unchecked, can cause considerable damage. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has estimated 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. 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 Metaldehyde Stewardship Group 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.
“Farmers and growers already use a holistic approach to slug control to keep the use of slug pellets to a minimum. 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.”