Member states have approved new rules to accelerate the approval and authorisation of biological plant protection products containing microorganisms to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides.
The four approved legal acts, given the green light on Thursday (10 February) and expected to come into force by November, are designed to ensure that new biological solutions that can replace chemicals are put on the market “significantly faster”, according to a European Commission statement.
This way, the Commission hopes to arm farmers with new tools to substitute chemical plant protection products.
The news comes as part of efforts outlined in the bloc’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, to slash the use and risk of chemical pesticides in half by 2030 and boost the organic sector and the use of integrated pest management.
The European Parliament and the Council will now scrutinise the acts, and if there are no objections, they will become applicable in the fourth quarter of this year.
Biological pesticides are a form of biocontrol based on living organisms as the active ingredient, such as bacteria, fungi or viruses. These living organisms are naturally pathogenic to, or out-compete pests.
While forms of biocontrol have long been used in the sector, they have rapidly gained attention more recently as a sustainable and viable environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides.
As it stands, more than 60 microorganisms are approved for use in the EU.
However, stakeholders have criticised the fact that they are currently hampered by maladapted regulation, which means that, until now, they generally follow the same regulatory path as chemical-active substances.
The lack of specific regulation means that forms of biocontrol have not yet been able to live up to their full potential, which currently take around a decade to reach the market.
In efforts to address the issue, these acts are designed to reflect the latest scientific developments and are based on the specific biological properties of microorganisms.
“The new acts follows a different approach which is based on the biology and ecology of each microorganism and takes into account the most recent scientific knowledge,” the Commission statement reads, adding that these new Regulations are based on the “most updated science”.
“They make the EU one of the most advanced regulators on the global stage for these products,” it contends.
In this way, the regulatory requirements for microorganisms will be made more ‘fit-for-purpose’ and flexible while also adhering to strict health and safety standards, it adds.
This implies streamlined application dossiers, more straightforward risk assessment, and shorter timelines to access the EU market.
The statement also points out that focusing only on relevant data means less animal testing because fewer experiments on animals will be required, which is another key aim of the European Commission.
Announcing the news, food safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said these acts brought “good news to European farmers to help their transition away from the use of chemical pesticides.”
“The EU has among the highest environmental requirements and a leading role when it comes to sustainability of its food system – today’s announcement is further tangible and concrete proof of this,” she said.
Meanwhile, the announcement was broadly welcomed by the industry.
A representative from Croplife Europe, representing Europe’s crop protection industry, told EURACTIV that they welcome the proposals of adapted requirements for microorganisms, calling it “definitely a step in the right direction to have more innovative biopesticides on the market”.
However, while Jennifer Lewis, executive director of the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association (IBMA), welcomed the Commission’s focus on the issue, she highlighted “little fundamental change” to the existing microbial data requirements.
Calling for more expert input from both the Commission and member states on technical elements of the new rules, she added this was a “disappointing missed opportunity” to align EU Commission policies to the goals of Farm to Fork.
“A fast track system must be implemented immediately for microbials and other biocontrol in order to meet the objectives for pesticide reduction,” she stressed.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]