Image: Tulip fields in the Netherlands
Peter Dejong  /  AP
Tulip fieds like these in northern Netherlands bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the Dutch economy.
updated 10/17/2008 12:45:58 PM ET 2008-10-17T16:45:58

A Dutch farmers' organization has raised the stakes over new Europe-wide restrictions on pesticides, saying the limits could lead to the demise of the country's iconic tulip industry.

"Let us keep using those pesticides we can't do without until we can find alternatives," said Jaap van Wenum, a spokesman for the Dutch Agriculture and Horticulture Organization. "If we're given time ... we can keep this industry in the Netherlands."

EU agriculture ministers agreed in June on draft proposals to tighten the use of pesticides across Europe, banning those that cause cancer or pose unnecessary health risks to humans.

Dutch Agriculture Ministry spokesman Murco Mijnlieff said the Dutch government supports the draft proposals agreed by governments in June because it gives farmers time to find alternatives.

But the European Parliament has proposed an even wider ban.

"If the European Parliament proposals become law, it's a problem ... but I don't expect that," Mijnlieff said.

The new regulations would affect most crops, but tulip farmers said tulips and other bulbs would be particularly hard-hit because pesticides are used to prevent diseases that can prevent bulbs from flowering.

"If a sugar beet is small, it can still be sold, if a tulip bulb is too small it cannot produce a flower" and is worthless, said van Wenum.

Spring fields of blooming tulips and other flowers are a major tourist draw in the Netherlands and sale of the flowers and bulbs is worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, must ultimately implement such regulations and no decision has been made on which proposal to adopt. A vote in the European Parliament is expected in January.

Kathalijne Buitenweg, a European lawmaker with the Dutch Green Left party welcomes the pesticide ban, saying it will help prevent chemicals that can cause cancer, affect DNA and cause infertility from ending up in drinking water.

"On this point, we have to chose for our health," she said. "As far as I am concerned, protecting people and the environment outweighs short-term economic interests."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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