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Will the UK lose its pivotal role in setting biopesticide regulations post-Brexit?

The UK was one of the early pioneers of biopesticide regulation in Europe and since 2006 has implemented a number of measures to support commercialisation and uptake of biopesticide products.

These include an innovative regulatory approach to facilitate and incentivise registration of biopesticide products, and significant funding for research and development of alternative non-chemical methods of crop protection and integrated pest management, as well as technology transfer to end users.

Around 40 biopesticide active substances and 56 products are currently registered in the UK. Most of the products are targeted towards insect and disease control in high value protected horticultural crops although usage in outdoor field crops is increasing. Over 40 macrobial species are also commercially available for control of insect and mite pests.

The UK has some good examples of public-private partnerships where regulatory support combined with targeted biopesticide development is addressing clear gaps in the market and creating strong grower demand for biopesticide products.

More broadly, the UK is widely regarded as a competent and pragmatic regulatory partner in the EU, and hence the potential impact of Brexit is also of interest.

The implications of the UK exiting the EU remain unclear but industry commentators believe that the industry should prepared for change in the regulatory framework in the medium term. Various outcomes can be envisaged including aligning with the EU, aligning with the US, adopting OECD global standards regulation or formulating a UK policy and there may well be other policy options.

The UK Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) is currently viewed as a competent and pragmatic contributor to EU regulatory policy and processes and its departure will almost certainly lead to delays and additional pressure on other member states post-Brexit.

Netherlands set to benefit

Even before the Brexit referendum in June 2016, however, there was concern that the UK was losing its earlier pioneering role, as revealed by an ADAS survey conducted in 2013. Several alternative scenarios are now on offer.

Post-Brexit, the UK might also cede further regulatory influence to the Netherlands, which was another early pioneer in biopesticide development and registration. Backed by a government with strong green credentials and a highly developed horticultural and protected agricultural sector, the Netherlands is considered to be the EU leader in biopesticide regulation.

France is also the second largest market for crop protection products in the EU and a representative of the ‘southern’ zone. A strong enabling policy environment has been in place since 2014 with the French government introducing a number of measures to facilitate the development and registration of biocontrol products underpinned by a new national strategy and regulatory framework.

In central Europe, Hungary has an established history of biopesticide development and use with a well-organised and effective team of experts handling registration of biopesticides and other bio-based products.

Brexit impacts

The potential impact of Brexit on plant protection regulations in the UK remains uncertain but it is clear that there will be both threats and opportunities, according to a new special report titled ‘Agrow Global Biopesticide Regulations 2018’, authored by Dr Philippa Guest.

Several domestic studies have examined the options. Recent analysis by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) suggests there could be at least four possible outcomes: aligning with the EU, aligning with the US, adopting OECD global standards regulation or formulating a UK-specific policy.

Other policy options are also possible and the final outcome will depend on various factors including (most importantly) the UK’s trading relationship with the EU post-Brexit and the issue of ‘equivalence’ of plant protection products, UK agricultural policy and the UK’s obligations under international agreements.

Many pesticide approval holders already think the UK is a small market compared to other potential growth markets for their products. They would need to see the UK as a viable place to develop products for, and the likelihood of that will depend on how close the UK ‘rules’ are to other approval systems, such as the EU.

Complying with multiple regulatory systems creates additional cost which could reduce pesticide availability and add cost to UK farmers.

UK-based SME biopesticide businesses such as Bionema are concerned about potential impacts on research and development. They fear losing access to a raft of important cash support measures from the EU on which they depend to take products to market. Increased development costs seem inevitable especially if they wish to become key players on the world stage.

Ornamental crops

Universities and other research institutions are concerned that a hard Brexit could seriously damage prospects for UK agri-science. One recent example involves notification to Cambridge-based plant science body NIAB that future EU variety testing contracts commissioned directly by the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO), and which might last beyond the envisaged Brexit date of 30 March 2019, would be no longer awarded to the UK.

This would affect work carried out by NIAB on testing of ornamental crop species, valued at around £600,000 per year. More significantly, NIAB is currently the only entrusted examination centre within the EU for 678 of the 864 ornamental species involved.

Conversely, leaving the EU could also present exciting opportunities for the agri-tech sector, especially in crop science where more evidence-based and proportionate regulation of innovative technologies such as GM and particularly the new generation of gene editing techniques.

According to NIAB chairman, Jim Godfrey, the politicisation of these issues at EU level has ‘acted like a drag anchor on EU investment and innovation and, post-Brexit, the UK could be well-placed to cement its position as an international centre of crop scientific expertise, attracting inward investment and developing an export market for technological solutions’.  

A final consideration is the possible impact of Brexit on the rest of the EU. The UK CRD currently plays a very important role as a Rapporteur member state and as a zonal Rapporteur member state in regulatory decision-making.

It is widely regarded as competent and scientifically oriented. Its involvement in the AIR 4 process covers 20% of the active substances. Delays and higher workloads for other member states can therefore be expected post-Brexit.

The Global Biopesticides Regulations 2018 report, produced by IEG Policy’s sister website Agrow, is now available to order from the Informa Agribusiness Intelligence Store. For further information and to purchase your copy, follow this link.  

You can also download a sample copy of the report by following this link. If you would like a free trial of Agrow, or any other Informa Agribusiness Intelligence product, please contact the customer support team.

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