Bracken row grows indiscriminately

Alec Telfer of Broadmeadows Farm disgruntled at the decision to take the spray to kill bracken off the market.
Alec Telfer of Broadmeadows Farm disgruntled at the decision to take the spray to kill bracken off the market.

A LOCAL farming leader has slammed European politicians as out of touch with Scotland’s needs.

National Farmers Union Selkirk branch chairman Alec Telfer’s comments come in the wake of an appeal to use asulam for killing bracken, which failed at the European Commission last week.

He told us: “It’s vexing: this is more spoutings originating from Brussels, from people in very powerful positions who haven’t got the slightest understanding of how things work in Scotland, and they are really not interested.”

The problem has arisen because asulam – trade name Asulox - gained EU authorisation for use as a selective weedkiller by growers of spinach and lettuce. But its use on the salads provoked safety concerns and prompted the ban as the European committee looked at the chemical in terms of what it was authorised for.

Gaining EU authorisation for the chemical’s use on bracken instead would mean the manufacturer, United Phosphorus Ltd (UPL), going through the expensive approval process again.

The latest EU decision means sales of Asulox will end by December 31 and stocks must be used up by the end of next year.

Mr Telfer of Broadmeadows, uses the chemical to eradicate the weed on parts of his 1,500-acre farm and says there is no effective alternative.

He sid: “There is glyphosate, but it is not suitable for aerial spraying.

That’s because it’s too indiscriminate and would affect heather which supports a myriad of wildlife.”

He fears there are wider issues: “There are implications for farmers who are in the bracken eradication schemes and there are issues over land being included for single farm payment and cross compliance penalties. It is very bad news for Scotland.”

NFU Scotland is pushing both the government and UPL to apply for emergency authorisation which would mean farmers could use the herbicide under strict conditions over a three-month period.

NFU Scotland policy manager Andrew Bauer said: “Emergency authorisation would not be perfect. It would call for a co-ordinated approach by all parties – manufacturer, distributor, aerial sprayers and groups of farmers, but it is significantly better than having no access to asulam at all.”

MEP Alyn Smith said the EU decision came as little surprise: “Questions must be asked as to why United Phosphorus, as the sole notifier for this product, relied on a scientific assessment for asulam based on its use on spinach, not least when the European Food Safety Agency had raised serious concerns with that dossier.”

Mr Telfer said: “Farmers would very much appreciate the relevant politicians getting behind it and being determined enough to stand up to Brussels.”

If UPL submits a new application, it could take four years for a decision on approval.