EU Commission set to vote on ban of controversial organophosate pesticides

EFSA concluded that the pesticides in question cause “possible genotoxic effects as well as neurological effects during development” [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Commission is set to vote on Friday (6 December) at the PAFF standing committee on not renewing the approval of two pesticides, chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, which the EU’s food safety agency says may have serious effects on foetuses and children – a claim industry strongly rejects.

The two insecticides, which belong to a category of pesticides known as ‘organophosphates’ and are used on a number of crops, have faced staunch opposition from environmental and health groups, who say the agrochemicals cause major developmental issues in children.

As it currently stands, the EU authorisation of the two pesticides is due to expire on 31 January 2020. If passed, the vote would effectively ban the pesticides from the EU.

However, the vote is being heavily contested, with manufacturers lobbying authorities to extend its legal existence.

The vote comes after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was mandated by the European Commission in July 2019 to provide a statement on the available outcomes of the human health assessment in the peer review of chlorpyrifos, which was still in process at the time.

A peer review is when work is evaluated by several qualified members of a profession within a relevant field. It is used to maintain quality standards, improve performance, and provide credibility.

Accordingly, EFSA provided a summary of the main findings of the assessment related to human health following the pesticides peer review expert discussions in mammalian toxicology.

EFSA identified concerns that the pesticides cause “possible genotoxic effects as well as neurological effects during development”, a finding which they say is corroborated by available epidemiological evidence related to developmental neurological outcomes in children.

As such, EFSA concluded that the pesticide chlorpyrifos “does not meet the criteria required by legislation for the renewal of its approval in the European Union”.

Civil society questions Europe’s ‘perfect’ pesticide authorisation system

No pesticide should be authorised if it is found to have harmful effects on humans, animals, the environment, and the ecosystem, the new coalition “Citizens for Science in Pesticide Regulation” said in a manifesto launched on Wednesday (31 October).

In a letter management consultancy EPPA sent to the Commission on behalf of industry, it states that NGOs have “pressured the European Commission and some member states to suddenly over-react”.

They added that a “rushed scientific assessment of an active substance could lead to an unreliable and non-transparent regulatory process”. 

However, Angeliki Lysimachou, environmental toxicologist and science policy officer at the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) EU, told EURACTIV there have been two studies, as well as “numerous epidemiological studies” that clearly demonstrate the link between chlorpyrifos and significant developmental and neurological issues in children, which includes memory loss, hyperactivity and lower IQ levels.

This is corroborated by a 2016 study published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, which estimated that each year, exposure to organophosphate pesticides, including both pesticides in question, causes 59,300 cases of intellectual disability and the loss of 13 million IQ points in Europe.

While Lysimachou acknowledged that there are less conclusive studies on chlorpyrifos-methyl, she maintained that as the two pesticides have the same mode of action, it should be assumed they carry the same neurotoxicity risks. 

József Máté, communications leader for the agricultural company Corteva, told EURACTIV that Corteva “fundamentally disagrees with the conclusions from EFSA and the non-renewal proposals from the European Commission”.

He stated that “no active ingredient had been more thoroughly researched than chlorpyrifos and the EFSA conclusions do not match the conclusions of other major regulatory bodies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority or the World Health Organisation”. 

Máté added that chlorpyrifos is approved in approximately 80 countries, including 18 EU member states, and used on more than 100 crops.

In order to block the renewal of the pesticides, the vote requires a qualified majority, meaning support from 16 out of the 28 member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population.

Lysimachou said it was “highly likely’ that, in the event of the vote not gaining the necessary support, the Commission may appeal the vote. 

The vote comes against the backdrop of the controversial decision of the Trump administration to reject the scientific conclusions of its own government experts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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