The UK biostimulant industry is facing an extensive review of the regulatory environment relating to the ability of UK farmers to apply them after September 2022. This legislative review (DEFRA, Project 31280 “Creating an Enabling Regulatory Environment for Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers”) has come about under the EU withdrawal agreement, as within it the UK signed up to the EU Fertiliser Regulation, (EC) 219/1009.

From initial contact with ADAS/DEFRA and the documents circulated in April this year, there seems to be little ‘consultation’ and ‘evidence evaluation’ but rather a pre-determined course of alignment with the EU legislation. DEFRA is due to publish the consultation for industry comment in August 2021, before starting to develop the draft legislation in December.

Under this European regulation, biostimulant manufacturers and importers will be required to conduct the same level of environmental, safety and field trials that are required for pesticide registration. However, unlike pesticides, they will not be able to make any claims of plant strengthening or reduction of biotic stress, even when proven. The worst of both worlds.

Simon Fox, Managing Director of Emerald Research Ltd (ERL) points out: “The absurdity of the proposed legislation would mean farmers are, for example, unable to use dilute seaweed extracts or fulvic acid on food crops to resolve biotic stress, while the public is free to purchase both seaweed and fulvic concentrate capsules over the counter as supplements to directly ingest!”

Simon also points out: “Within the industry, I have had numerous conversations and we are all at a loss for the need for regulation at all. In my 40 years’ experience, there have been no health and safety concerns related to biostimulants that we can find or that have been reported. However, if more regulation is a political requirement, I would be happy to see guideline regulation in the form of a much lighter touch self-certified CE mark type, such as those currently in use in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. These are all examples of countries where a ‘light-touch, self-certified approach’ is successfully applied and where biostimulants are positively excluded from pesticide regulations.”

Even under the EU withdraw agreement, DEFRA does not have to align with Europe. A precedent was set when the UK government decided to vary the implementation of the EU regulations of REACH with its own amended version, REACH UK.

By taking either a ‘non legislative’ or ‘light-touch’ approach, the UK government will enable farmers and growers to be at the forefront of sustainable agriculture. Providing them with the capability of delivering the aims of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) and continuing to provide them with one of the main tools for reducing their reliance on fertilisers and plant protection products, helping nature to help itself. This consultation, if untaken correctly, provides the Government with the opportunity to step out of the shadow of Brussels, to think independently and take a safe ‘common sense’ approach, aligning itself with established regulatory systems that are already delivering safe and sustainable food production and a reduction in pesticide use. After all, isn’t this why we left the EU?