A NATIONAL campaign has been launched warning farmers of the risks of buying illegal pesticides.

Watch Out! for illegal pesticides is the message of the 12-month industry campaign.

The Voluntary Initiative (VI) and Red Tractor Assurance is supporting the drive, with funding from the Crop Protection Association, NFU and the Agricultural Industries Confederation.

Trade in illegal pesticides, involving organised criminal gangs, is increasing around the world. These illegal pesticides are untested and uncontrolled and therefore may contain inferior or even dangerous and banned substances.

Their use could endanger the health of sprayer operators, deprive farmers of their single farm payment and farm-assured status, result in crop failure or rejection, create environmental risks to wildlife, soil and water and even lead to prosecution.

VI chairman Richard Butler said: “As every farmer, operator and agronomist knows, responsible pesticide use starts with using an approved product and following the instructions on the label.

“It is really sad that farmers now have to be aware of the danger posed by unscrupulous professional counterfeiters who want to undermine the professionalism and competence of UK farmers and sprayer operators.”

Farmers, operators and agronomists are being urged to: l Buy pesticides only from known suppliers.

l Check packaging is professional, tamper-proof, securely sealed and has full labelling written in English.

l Check the product on the invoice and delivery note matches the product ordered and delivered.

Report suspicious products and suppliers to the Defra helpline on 08459 335577 (calls charged at local rate).