The head of the European Parliament’s pesticides committee has warned the European Commission about the possible impact on organic wine-growing if the use of copper, a toxic substance according to EFSA and ECHA, is outlawed.
Eric Andrieu, a fierce opponent of weed-killer glyphosate from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D group) is also the chief of the PEST committee, which was created to monitor the transparency of pesticide authorisation in the EU.
Following the heated debate on the re-approval of Monsanto’s glyphosate, the Parliament established earlier this year this special committee in order to examine the authorisation procedure of pesticides in the EU.
Copper compounds, including copper sulphate, are authorised in the EU as bactericides and fungicides. They are approved for use in organic farming, particularly for potato, grape, tomato and apple production systems.
EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) and ECHA (the European Chemicals Agency) have identified risks to farm workers, birds, mammals and soil organisms, as well as the impact of copper compounds on the wider environment. As such, copper compounds are included on the EU substitution list.
On 13 March 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed that the substance “fulfilled the conditions to be met to be regarded as a persistent and toxic substance”.
In December 2017, the Commission and member states agreed to extend the use of copper compounds for one year. Twenty-six member states voted in favour of that while France and Sweden opposed it.
On 23 May 2018, the Andrieu submitted a question to the EU executive about the renewal of the authorisation of copper.
In his question, he noted that he was contacted by all of Europe’s professional winemaking associations, who “wished to express concerns, particularly among organic winegrowers, regarding the draft text renewing the authorisation for use of copper on vines to combat bacteria and fungi”.
“Copper is one of the only minerals authorised under EU rules for use in organic farming,” Andrieu said.
He warned that outlawing the use of copper in 2019 without any “alternative solutions” could mean the end for organic wine-growing.
“If the use of copper is prohibited this would appear to place winemakers, particularly organic growers, in a state of technical deadlock. What does the Commission intend to do about this?” the French politician asked.
EURACTIV asked the MEP if he was concerned about the assessments of EFSA and ECHA as well as if social and economic implications should also be considered when it comes to the re-authorisation of pesticides.
Despite the repeated calls and emails, the MEP declined to provide any answer.
On the other hand, the S&D was particularly critical of glyphosate, despite the fact that it received the green light from EFSA and ECHA.
At an event recently organised by EURACTIV, British MEP Anthea McIntyre (ECR coordinator for PEST), was asked if the PEST committee will achieve results.
“The PEST committee is about politics, we have elections next year and political groups will always come up with an idea, like the PEST committee to leverage it with voters,” she said.
PAN Europe, a network of European NGOs promoting sustainable alternatives to pesticides, stated that copper was proved to be toxic and has to be phased-out.
“The assessment of the toxicity of copper by the EFSA indicates that there is a necessity to phase out this substance within a few years. Until then, the Commission should fix maximum limits of use to protect soil’s health and the environment as a whole,” PAN Europe chemical officer Hans Muilerman told EURACTIV.
Martin Dermine, PAN Europe health and environment policy officer, added that for many productions such as apples and potatoes, fungi-resistant varieties are already available.
“Farmers should focus on resistant varieties and more public investments are necessary to develop more resistant varieties and non-toxic alternatives to pesticides. Pesticides should be used after the many available alternatives as determined by the principles of integrated pest management.”