Weedkillers banned in EU crackdown on chemicals

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The Independent Online

The path to the perfect lawn may have just become a little bumpier. More than 80 garden sprays and weedkillers were banned from sale yesterday because of stricter regulations on potentially harmful chemicals.

The new European rules primarily ban lawn treatments which kill dandelions, nettles and brambles. They include some own-brand products from Asda, Homebase and B&Q,

Stores face fines of up to £5,000 if they sell the offending goods, but gardeners can continue to use them until the end of the year. They will not be allowed to store any of them after the end of March.

Environmentalists warned that local authorities would struggle to collect and dispose of the unwanted pesticides. Friends of the Earth said many local authorities, which are responsible for the clear up, were ill equipped to dispose of toxic pesticide waste. It is illegal to get rid of the garden chemicals down drains, sinks or toilets.

"If pesticides are simply thrown in bins they will end up in landfill sites and will end up contaminating our environment," FoE said.

The group said some products were not covered by the ban despite being proven to damage human health, and it criticised the Government for not putting money into projects to find safer alternatives.

"Many risky pesticides have been given the green light, and safer alternatives have not been found for those products being banned," the group said.

The Crop Protection Association (CPA), which represents the pesticide industry, said it had sent letters to 200 local authorities to brief them on the new regulations.

"We have given them sufficient warnings," said the chief executive, Peter Sanguinetti. "Some authorities are already very advanced with their plans and some are not."

The organic movement said the ban on some pesticides marked a great opportunity to promote chemical-free gardening.

Maggi Brown, head of education at Europe's largest organic gardening association, HDRA, said: "There has been reliance on chemicals as a quick fix ... Those people who say you can't possibly grow vegetables, or fruit or flowers, without pesticide should look at the hundreds of thousands of organic gardeners up and down the country and the rest of the world."

The move, led by the European Union, is part of a process to regulate the pesticide industry, which in Britain is worth £416m a year. The makers of the pesticides that were banned from sale yesterday were unwilling to put them through new stringent safety tests.

The industry said the products were mainly older versions of pesticides that had been superseded or were for niche markets and were not worth the estimated £1m cost of putting them through the tests.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the ban came into force because the safety of the products could no longer be guaranteed. Most contained dichlorprop, which the industry said had been rendered obsolete by a more environmentally friendly version of the chemical.

David Bowe, a Labour MEP and a spokesman on the environment, said about 10 per cent of garden pesticide products sold in the UK have had to be withdrawn from the shelves.

"The move to tackle hazards in the garden is a good start, but we must now work to develop a chemicals policy which strikes the right balance between the enormous benefits which chemicals can bring to every aspect of our lives and the need to protect public health and the environment," Mr Bowe said.

Who needs pesticides if you get the kids to do the job for a penny a plant?

"In the home garden, I don't use it, and I don't see any reason for it," says Bob Flowerdew, an expert on Gardeners' Question Time on Radio 4 and an organic exponent.

Instead of weedkiller, his solution for the weed-free lawn is simpler and cheaper - get the kids to do the weeding. "Give them a blunt knife for the thistles and tell them you want to make a witch's potion to exterminate something or other and give them a penny a weed. It's a good way of keeping them out of trouble," he said.

"If you can't get the children to do it, grab a knife yourself. Unless you have a huge lawn, you can do the job very quickly.

"People also cut their grass too short and that lets in a lot of weeds. Raise up the height a little and it stays green without watering," he said. "If you insist on cutting it short, it will brown out more in the summer.

"The books always say buy this fine, expensive lawn grass because it is used by bowling greens. But buy the cheap play-area Timothy grasses, a variety of rye grass. These don't give you a bowling green lawn but they are much tougher.

"The other thing is to sharpen the blades on the lawnmower. Nobody likes shaving with a blunt razor."