French agri minister manoeuvres review of pesticide residues onto EU agenda

French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie aims for “control of what arrives on European territory to protect our producers and consumers,” allowing for “internal harmonisation, external control”. [European Union]

The French agriculture minister’s ambitions to link the upcoming pesticides directive review with completely separate legislation on maximum residue limits has confused stakeholders, some of who see it as a covert way to overhaul the current framework on pesticide tolerances.

Julien Denormandie has made no secret of the fact that pesticides are high on the agricultural agenda of the French presidency, as well as being more resolute on double standards when it comes to trade.

As chair of the agricultural Council, Denormandie will oversee the long-awaited revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD), which is expected to be proposed in March.

The SUD, adopted in 2009, aims to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment. However, it has come under fire for the poor implementation in most member states.

As outlined in the Commission’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), the Commission aims to revise the directive to bring it in line with objectives of the European Green Deal and to meet the target of slashing the use and risk of chemical pesticides in half.

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Finding alternatives to plant protection products requires a “coordinated effort” from all member states, French Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili, who presided over the talks with EU agriculture ministers in Amiens from 20-22 January, has said. EURACTIV France reports.

‘Internal harmonisation, external control’

However, the minister has added his own flavour to the revision, including ambitions to ensure reference to a separate legislation governing maximum residue levels (MRL) of pesticides.

“The new SUD must allow for a harmonisation of practices across Europe, and I would also propose, as chair of the council, that this new SUD should include a provision on the maximum residue limits,” he told reporters ahead of his first AGRIFISH Council meeting as chair.

This would allow “control of what arrives on European territory to protect our producers and consumers,” he added, outlining the aim of “internal harmonisation, external control”.

The traces pesticides leave in treated products are formally referred to as residues. A maximum residue level (MRL) is the highest level of pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in or on food or feed when pesticides are applied correctly.

As it stands, the Commission has not outlined plans for revising the MRL legislation.

It has instead taken an individual substances approach, committing to take into account environmental aspects when assessing requests for import tolerances for certain pesticide substances no longer approved in the EU while respecting WTO standards and obligations.

“Priority will, therefore, be given to environmental issues of global concern that go beyond national boundaries,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV back in December.

It, therefore, remains as yet unclear exactly how this ambition to link the two different legislations could be achieved in practice.

Questioned further by EURACTIV on the technicalities of this, Denormandie chose to focus on the need to “build up political momentum” around the subject rather than the specifics.

“The Commission will look at the technicalities, how you refer to each of them, but we have clearly set it out as being a priority,” he said during a press conference on Monday (17 January), adding that “we’re not going to review one of those directives without looking at the other”.

“[We] do not want a sectoral policy that separates itself, we want a complementary policy which ties into with external policy and which is linked to plant health products,” he said, adding that the vision is that “we certainly need to link the two”.

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The chimaera …

However, his comments confused EU stakeholders.

“My first comment is that we were just as surprised as you were by this declaration of incorporation of the MRL issue into the SUD, which as such is not its place,” Salomé Roynel, a campaigner at Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, told EURACTIV.

“At that stage, we do not know more on the concrete way it could work,” she said, adding that, from a regulatory point of view, it “doesn’t really make sense”.

Some other agriculture stakeholders questioned whether the minister had a clear idea of how this could be achieved. In contrast, others suggested it was a way to force the European Commission’s hand by pushing the MRL issue onto the political agenda.

“Once the issue is embraced by the member states as a necessity, and if SUD does not appear to be the right regulatory framework, then the Commission will have to consider an MRL revision,” they added.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/ Alice Taylor]

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