HC Deb 18 February 1988 vol 127 cc724-5W
Mr. Flynn

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) what research is planned into the use of carnivorous slugs, beetles, glow-worms, frogs and microbes as environmentally acceptable methods of controlling gastropods;

(2) if any alternative research is planned by his Department to continue the work recently stopped at Cleppa Park, Newport, Gwent, into the search for a less toxic substitute to metaldehyde for the control of gastropods;

(3) what evidence he has of changes in the level of resistance of gastropods to the toxic effects of metaldehyde; and what evidence he has of subsequent changes in the use of (a) metaldehyde and (b) the more toxic methiocarb;

(4) what information has he of research, currently being undertaken or planned, in the private sector to provide an environmentally benign alternative to the chemical substances now used to control gastropods;

(5) what information he has on research in France of the effect of an increased use of metaldehyde and methiocarb in controlling gastropods on plant growth;

(6) if he is considering introducing legislation to restrict the use of metaldehyde as a control agent for gastropods because of the danger to children and to wildlife;

(7) if he is encouraging research into alternatives to metaldehyde for use in the control of gastropods.

Mr. Donald Thompson

The use of pesticides, including those based on the active ingredient metaldehyde, is subject to detailed statutory controls under part III of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. Under these arrangements, the effects of pesticides on human safety and that of wildlife and the environment are all carefully considered by independent experts before any approvals for use are granted by Ministers.

In the case of slug pellets based on metaldehyde, the potential risks to children and animals are well understood. Product labels are required to draw attention to these risks and formulations contain repellants and dyes to make them less attractive to mammals and birds. Reports of accidents are also carefully monitored and do not justify the introduction of new controls at present.

Nevertheless, it is the Government's policy to reduce pesticide use to the minimum consistent with efficient food production. The main Government-funded research work on slug control is taking place at the Institute of Arable Crops Research, Long Ashton. This includes the prediction of slug damage in crops and the effects of cultivation methods on control. There is also research into biological control, though this is concentrating on the pathogens which specifically attack slugs rather than on the use of natural predators such as slow worms or hedgehogs.

My Department's own laboratories at Slough are investigating the effects of metaldehyde on wildlife and I am aware of industry-funded work at Rothamsted into the production of alternative and more specific molluscicides. I believe that there is also some industry-funded work at Long Ashton on the potential for microbial control, but I do not have details of this.

I am also aware of similar work in France but do not have any information about results in relation to plant growth.

We have no evidence of resistance to metaldehyde in land molluscs and particularly slugs. However, its efficiency as a molluscicide is very dependent on weather conditions at the time of baiting, with humidity likely to reduce mortality. Pesticide usage data for 1983 (latest available data) show use on cereals, arable crops and horticulture of 600,000 ha and 94,000 ha respectively for methiocarb and metaldehyde. The survey of pesticide usage in arable crops scheduled for this year will give an indication of recent changes in usage.

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