Anti-bracken spray firm urged to fight EU ban

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.

FARMING UNION leaders are meeting the makers of a bracken-killing chemical this week to urge them to apply for emergency authorisation for farmers to use it.

The appeals committee at the European Commission last week rejected a bid to stop a ban on asulam – marketed as Asulox – which farmers say is the only effective way to beat bracken

The problem has arisen because the product 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 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.

Selkirk farmer Alec Telfer, of Broadmeadows, uses the chemical to eradicate the weed on parts of his 1,500-acre farm.

Mr Telfer, who is chairman of the National Farmers Union (NFU) Selkirk branch, said: “It’s vexing. There are other herbicides but they are not suitable for aerial spraying because they’re 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 policy manager Andrew Bauer said: “We will be urging the manufacturer to apply for emergency authorisation to allow asulam to still be available in future years. This is something that we have already spoken to Defra about and we will meet with the chemical manufacturer this week.

“Emergency authorisation would not be perfect. It would restrict use to a three-month window which 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.”

NFU Scotland president, Nigel Miller, who has used asulam to control bracken on his Stow hill farm said: “Asulam has a hugely beneficial role in hillside management and, almost uniquely, its continued use had been supported by farmers, land managers and conservationists alike, who recognise the dire consequences for our countryside if we cannot keep bracken in check.”

A Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) spokesperson said SNH ideally would want bracken controlled by non-chemical means but went on: “We would support the use of asulam which is much less harmful to other vegetation than the alternative broad-spectrum products.”

MEP Alyn Smith said the EU decision came as little surprise.

He commented: “It is up to the scientists on that committee to evaluate the risks associated with a product based on the information provided in the scientific assessment that had taken place, for the use to which the product is to be put.

“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.”

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