The banning of Metaldehyde is "hugely disappointing" and likely to put British farmers and growers at a major disadvantage internationally, according to UK farming unions.

Defra has 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 other countries that export food to the UK.

'A competitive disadvantage'

Guy Smith, National Farmers' Union deputy president, said: “Today’s announcement is very disappointing and will have a major impact on British farmers and growers.

"These products have been reauthorised 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 [AHDB] has estimated that a lack of slug control products could cost UK crop production £100 million a year.

“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," Smith said.

“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.”

David Cameron, chairman of the group representing professional uses, the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG), said the news comes "as a blow" to the agricultural industry, which has worked to safeguard this key active ingredient since 2008.

Ben Shapiro, representing the Amateur Metaldehyde Stewardship group (MSA) added: “We are continuing to consult with Defra surrounding the sell-out period for the amateur uses of metaldehyde products.”

The groups wish to thank the industries for the support and investment in stewardship measures that have been adopted.

'Doubling the cost of slug control'

NFU Scotland policy manager Andrew Midgley explained concern that the arsenal of plant protection products available to growers continues to narrow.

“Disappointingly, this ban has come before figures on reduced metaldehyde use and water quality can be analysed. At the same time, the product remains widely available to farmers and growers across the EU and beyond," he said.

“Unchecked, slugs can significantly damage crops of cereals, potatoes, brassicas and oilseed rape. Without metaldehyde, protection products to tackle slugs are narrowed down to ferric-based ones.

The cost per kilo is broadly comparable between the two, but ferric-products require significantly higher application rates, almost doubling the cost per hectare of slug control.

“That is an additional cost unlikely to be recovered by Scottish growers from the marketplace.”