HC Deb 28 January 2004 vol 417 cc396-7W
Paul Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what criteria the Government use to assess the progress of the voluntary initiative on pesticides; [150958]

(2) what progress has been made with the voluntary initiative on pesticides; and how many hectares of land are now covered by the Crop Protection Management Plan. [150959]

Alun Michael

The Government have charged the signatories to the Voluntary Initiative on pesticides with reducing the environmental impact of pesticide use and, in particular, effects on biodiversity and contamination of water. These environmental outcomes will be the ultimate measure of success for the Initiative.

However, measuring environmental outcomes is difficult because they are slow to emerge, hard to measure and hard to attribute reliably to a particular cause. Because of these difficulties, the Government also assesses progress with the Initiative in terms of uptake by farmers of the key components of the Initiative. Of these, the most significant are the National Register of Sprayer Operators, the National Sprayer Testing Scheme and Crop Protection Management Plans.

To help test whether delivery of the Initiative will benefit the environment, the signatories are establishing an "Indicator Farms" project to examine the consequences of applying Initiative measures at a farm level. If the results of this project are positive, it will help provide assurance that national uptake of the Initiative could generate national environmental benefits.

Overall progress to date with the Initiative is encouraging. Uptake of Crop Protection Management Plans is ahead of schedule and, after a slow start, applications for the National Register of Sprayer Operators and National Sprayer Testing Scheme have accelerated with the backing of the crop assurance schemes. The Government will look to see this progress maintained and will also look for the most rapid possible progress with environmental outcomes. In particular, the Government will be monitoring the pilot water catchments and the Indicator Farms project.

The Crop Protection Association advise that, as of the week commencing 19 January, around 365,000 hectares were covered by Crop Protection Management Plans.