Asulam Appeal Loss a Blow to Scottish Hill Farmers

The key product used by Scottish hill farmers in the battle to control the invasive spread of bracken on hill ground has lost an appeal in Europe today (20 September) and will therefore lose its required approval for use.

The decision, taken by the Appeals Committee in Brussels, means that sale and supply of the bracken control agent Asulam (marketed as Asulox) should end on 31 December 2011 and stocks of the product must be used by 31 December 2012.

Such is the importance of Asulam to hill farmers in fighting bracken spread that NFU Scotland will now call on the UK Government to consider issuing a national emergency authorisation for Asulam.  If successful, this may allow Asulam to be available for use for a few months annually but the conditions of its use will be limiting.

Borders hill farmer and NFU Scotland President, Nigel Miller, who has used Asulam to control bracken on his own farm said:

“This decision on Asulam is a blow for hill farmers and one that will make the annual struggle of trying to contain the spread of bracken even tougher.  The lack of alternative products – particularly products suitable for aerial spraying – means more of Scotland’s hills and uplands run the risk of disappearing under a carpet of impenetrable bracken.

“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. The disappointment we feel will be shared by a wide range of farming, environmental and government bodies all of whom joined us in spending considerable time and effort lobbying Europe on the importance of Asulam to Scotland’s hills.

“Following the loss at today’s appeal hearing, we will now be looking to Defra and its agencies to give consideration to issuing national emergency authorisations for Asulam.  This is something we have already discussed with the department.  While far from ideal, it may give a short three-month window each year when the use of Asulam may be permitted nationally but only under strict supply, storage and usage terms.

“We will also continue our dialogue with the manufacturers of Asulam to ensure that our commitment to pursue emergency use is the reassurance they require to continue producing supplies for use in the UK.

“On a more general level, this whole exercise around a key product for Scottish hill farmers has highlighted the huge flaws that exist in the EU approval process for plant protection products.   Asulam is a product that required approval at an EU level but was predominantly used in the UK as few other countries in the EU share our bracken problem.  

“In addition, the cost to any manufacturer of pursuing the approval of a new pesticide at a European level can now run to tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds.  That level of cost is hugely restrictive if a product, such as Asulam, is only intended for relatively minor use but still requires passing through the full approval process.

“A European report on minor uses is expected later this year but that would appear to be too late in this case.”

Notes to Editors

  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) highlighted to Europe’s Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) in March its concerns about the use of Asulam on spinach.  On the basis of this, SCoFCAH started the process to disallow Asulam use.  Further discussions on Asulam this summer resulted in the referral of the decision to the Appeal Committee.
  • Applications to licence plant protection products for use in the EU have to be made on the basis of a product’s representative use.  When the product’s original licence holder, Bayer applied for the licence, it did so on the basis of Asulam’s application to spinach crops and not bracken.  When United Phosphorous Ltd. bought the rights to Asulam in 2006 they were not allowed to change the terms of its representative use, although the product was barely being used for spinach, rather for bracken and dock control.
  • Asulam is regulated in the UK by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD), an arm of the Health and Safety Executive. 
  • The move to maintain the use of Asulam was supported by NFU Scotland, The Heather Trust, CRD, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), and the Scottish Government amongst others.
  • Member States have the scope to issue ‘emergency authorisations’ nationally to tide them over the period required by a company to make a new submission for approval.  If Asulam continues to be supported and a new application for approval is submitted, it is likely to take at least 4 years before a decision on approval is taken in the EU. Therefore, emergency authorisations would be the only option available for authorised use within this period. CRD would consider any applications for emergency authorisation on a case by case basis.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 156/11

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